Sunday, September 5, 2010

Why does K.282 open with an Adagio?

Possibly the most beautiful picture to have come to my attention on the internet, the photograph of which this is an excerpt happened to land within my sight at the very moment when I was contemplating a posting on the photography of Miroslav Tichy. Munching a very good tea cookie with a Fentiman's mandarin orange soda at a roadside boulangerie down the road from Mr Madison's Montpelier - minding one's business, in other words, as scrupulously as one could - the Moravian madman fell rather naturally to mind. But I have to say, his works have been blogged to death, and Sanford Schwartz's elegant review of a current show in The New York Review of Books allowed me to feel that the schtick had been satisfactorily extruded. In that review, Schwartz had exhausted every reasonable excuse for what he invited us to call, "blur."

It was upon seeing this picture that I realised, blur is not what intrigues me in Tichy (as it isn't, for Schwartz). Nor is it any comparison with Seurat or Turner, to which this picture lends itself, because this is not an exploitation of the distribution of pigmentation on a screen. It's an opening of the screen. I do not believe this fragment furnishes those structuring clues which assure us of mortality. One feels a closeness with Ryoan-ji in this picture; with quantum physics, from Heraclitus to Pauli and Dirac; and possibly with God - as in the one Oppenheimer remembered.

But the picture is grounded, in the end; and this is the vision which begs the question, why did Mozart open his sonata with an adagio? I have presented only its upper fragment, because no one could bear to share this picture without predicate of its defining context. The authorities - Arthur Hutchings for Robbins-Landon, Alfred Einstein, Charles Rosen - are endearingly bemused by the 19-year-old Mozart's flouting of convention in this gesture, although they hastily agree, the adagio is "affecting." Einstein insists (Mozart: His Character, His Work, OUP, 1945) the composer "was not himself" - as if anyone you or I could possibly hope to meet, would ever know.

Preserved for cherished retrospection, as the blogger-photographer originally presented it, this picture then opens up into a 2nd movement of minuets of high spirits, each one inscribing the blithest and sweetest impressions in the sand as any child might leave, celebrating a birthday at the Point Reyes National Seashore.  


At its native blog, this entry is filed with reference to the prose fiction of William Maxwell; and it is not difficult to see intimations of So Long, See You Tomorrow in this porous, luminous grain. 

But the sonata simply could not have made sense of its own dances, central as they are to its disposition, without benefit of laying this extraordinary screen for them to trample. Of course this is what the composer was doing. I don't believe Mozart ever made it to the beach; but no one can doubt his perception of possibilities which were uniquely his, before he laid his own transfiguration upon the open parchment, to be inherited forever, as here.

Photograph lent by Beth Nelson ©
Performance, András Schiff, 1980, Decca ©


  1. Laurent, so excruciatingly Beautiful, inspired in the most elementary terms By you today.pgt

  2. If only one could ever be so elementary, LA. Thank you vm for your encouragement.