Jack avoided people. He liked to stay in his room and read Beckett or Joyce or Yeats, or sleep all afternoon, or, if atmospheric conditions were just right, he’d listen to the program of classical music from KDKA in Pittsburgh. Every Saturday, of course, he joined the family in the living room for the live Texaco Metropolitan Opera broadcast. Everyone said Jack had a great tenor voice, but he hardly ever sang, and toward the end he abandoned music altogether.
My mother said that before the illness permanently settled into Jack’s psyche he’d sit alone at the piano and play melancholy pieces. One afternoon my mother came in and heard him doing the Marcia funebre of the twelfth Beethoven Sonata. “Pretty gloomy stuff, eh?” he said.
Mom sat down, put her arm over his shoulder. She replied that it was indeed depressing, but then what about this sudden change of mood just two minutes into the movement? All these bright shimmering major chords in a triumphant and especially cheerful march? It brings a smile to your face, doesn’t it?
Jack shook his head. No, in this part Ludwig is being ironic and cynical. He’s saying, yes, there’s happiness in the world for a few lucky people, but the rest of us? Forget it. If I recall correctly, the man wrote fantastic music he could never actually hear himself, except in his imagination. How could he avoid negative thoughts?
Mom disagreed. No, Jackie, there isn’t anything cynical about these shimmering major chords, they’re the real thing—the pure joy of being alive on a sunny spring day. It’s unmistakable.
OK, he said, maybe you’re right. But so what? The key returns to minor and we resume the dirge, the lament, the procession to the graveyard. Which is precisely where we all end up sooner or later.
Oh, Jackie, don’t be such a sourpuss! Come on. Let’s dance!
My mom was like that. Always looking at the bright side.
Until, of course, she met my father.