Saturday was a sad day. It was sad in more ways than one. It's all got to do with love. I was extremely unhappy. In the afternoon, I met a friend. She poured her heart out to me about her relationship with her other half. Her love for him had withered. It had been draining away, slowly and imperceptibly, over more than a dozen years. It had been eaten away by the invisible nibbling of the silent monster called time. Their relationship had gone without fresh emotional nutrients for far too long. Now nothing is left but its dessicated form, like a completely worm eaten fruit whose seed at its core has been reduced to little more than its husk.
She told me she could no longer see any meaning in continuing the relationship. I agreed. Her children are now all grown up. She had a house to her name and sufficient savings. He too had alternative accomodation and sufficient income to see him through the rest of his life. His retirement did not bring any significant change. It was a torture to have to see and to live with a partner whom one no longer loves and who effectively has become a stranger! Her children, who have been observing their relationship at close quarters, agreed too to her taking steps to end such a relationship which has ceased to have any meaning for either of them The final liberation from the marital bond will at least give her back the freedom she gave up for the sake of her family for such a long time. More immediately, it would relieve her of the obligation of having to see him day in day out without having anything meaningful to say to each other.
I thought that after I gave her my opinion, the sense of sadness which began to pall over me as I was listening to her tale of sorrow would pass. It did not. What I could hardly bring myself to believe my eyes and my ears was the bizarre phenomenon that she talked to me about her marriage in an almost emotionless tone, her eyes staring vacantly into the air. It was almost as if she were recounting to me the tale of one of her distant friends! Once the full impact of that thought sank in, her accumulated sorrow hit me like a hurricane. I felt so sorry for her. How many times one's heart must have been broken before one could be reduced to such nonchalance, I asked myself. The relationship was killed not with an axe. Nor was it reduced to smithereens by a hammer. It was killed by a noiseless, invisible poison called indifference. Her suffering is not the suffering of hurtful words one heard in a verbally violent quarrel. There had not even been any quarrels! The marriage had died, in the most horrible silence. Madame Bovary could at least look forward to a new relationship with an interesting young man. She did not even have that!
I kept asking myself, how could the creator of this world, if there should be one, have created a world in which this kind of things could happen? How did she manage to continue such a relationship in which there is not even any active hatred? The relationship (I would hesitate to use the word emotional relationship because there is no longer any), had died long ago, not with a bang, without not so much as a whimper! It had simply vanished into thin air, like the water in what used to be a pond! It was so sad. Yet I heard it. It's true!
After the talk, I had to hurry home to get the ticket for the evening's concert at the City Hall. But somehow, my mood for listening to the music was gone. But having bought the ticket, and with hardly more than an hour before the start of the concert, I could hardly give it to a friend, it being a Saturday evening and such of my friends as would enjoy classical music would certainly have their social time table all booked. After a quickie snack at home, I walked to the City Hall, like a ghost, my mind still filled with sadness. I was just in time. All my friends were already there.
The concert began. It was an all Schumann programme, by the HKPO under de Waart: Manfred Overture, Op 115, Paino Concerto in A minor, Op 54, Symphony No. 4 in D minor. The Piano Concerto would be played by Chen Sa whom I already heard once.
The Manfred Overture is based on the Romantic tale by Lord Byron about the guilty sorrows of a nobleman arsing from the death of his secret lover. He tried to summon up 7 spirits to help him forget but they didn't help. He therefore wandered through the Alps trying to seek relief from his guilt but eventually chose to commit suicide rather than seek Christian redemption.The work was composed between August and November 1848. It was said that Schumann was so touched by the story that he couldn't sleep the night following his first reading of that story. It's a very forceful overture that opens with a three note motif which quickly drift into half tones giving it a very uncertain quality as if one were entering into a strange and unfamiliar territory but the sounds of struggle quickly appear, became stronger and stronger until at the end it quietens down to almost silence, perhaps signifying his death. It has a very haunting melody. Was he making any reference to the relationship between his wife with Brahms?
Then we had the performance from Chen Sa. As on the previous occasion, she entered the stage in her typically great strides and then swung both her shoulder and hands on the piano seat to concentrate and then started off the Piano Concerto by hitting the principal motif which was then continued by the orchestra. It has a melody very familiar to all music lover in which the piano and the clarinet play against each other, which is then endlessly repeated against the background sound by the whole orchestra, joining in contrast. The second and third movements, intermezzo and allegro vivace were played without a break. It was a very controlled piece demanding a great deal of very subtle play and although it can be quite energetic in places, it certainly is not the type of Liszt virtuoso pianistic piece which the people of his age had come to expect. It's quite lyrical. Schumann is always great on lyrical melodies. I like it. And Chen Sa played even better than last time, much less strident. Her phrasing is always very clear and unambiguous but she can also play poetically and softly too, especially those passages requiring almost continuous waves of sound blending into each other.
The final piece was Schumann's No. 4 Symphony. This is again another romantic symphony with a very classical structure which Schumann started almost immediately after finishing his third. It's a symphony with a very simple structure, using some very old forms like the passacaglia in its 4th movement. It opens with the orchestra playing the first theme, the second theme being introduced by the cello, and is in sonata form, the principal motif of the second movement being played by the winds and the second by the cello with the orchestra and ended rather softly. The third movement was in more or less scherzo form and for the first time, he uses the triangle to add to the rustic atmosphere. The final movement was very energetic and the symphony ended with a climax. But the music was also sad, not quite rousing. I like its principal melodies which are so hauntingly beautiful. But I was still under the shadow of the mood of the afternoon. When I walked home amidst all the youngsters going to Lan Kwai Fong with devils' horns, witches hats on their heads, superman, spiderman, clowns, ghost masks, daggers in their heads and plastic tridents or brooms, swords etc in their hands or wings or colorful capes on their backs for the halloween, its felt strangely incongruous with my mood. In fact, by contrast, they made me feel even sadder and more morose.
It was a good concert, but the music is not elevating like those of Shastakovich, Beethoven, Mahler etc and even the energetic passages were not without hints of underlying unhappiness. Especially after the events of the afternoon, I was overcome by melancholy and low moods. As I listened, the thoughts of what I heard in the afternoon kept intruding from time to time. I felt guilty why it was that some people in this world but not me should suffer so much that they have become numbed to their own suffering. And why should Brahms suffer for being unable to be united to Clara Schumann? I tried the Buddhist technique of interrupting my thoughts but it did not work. For the first time, I did not go with Mr. Chu and my other friends for the usual after concert snack and simply wanted to go home. I went straight to bed! I did not even have dinner!