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Painful listening

Painful listening

25 March 2006

12:00 AM

25 March 2006

12:00 AM

Back yet again in the dentist’s chair last week, where time compresses, yet elongates, into infinite present as if there were no events or memories in-between each visit. No ‘laughing gas’ these days (‘breathe deep: now blow it away — one, two, three’). Consciousness is unbroken, every sense screwed to its highest pitch — the swish of suction is Niagara, the whiff of sulphur in the oral salves, the rubber gloves against the gums, a personal affront, the battering at one’s ivories like Nibelungs at the rockface; and the pain — dull or acute — an amplified sopranissimo saxophone with lasar attachment at the threshold of perception.

Thus the foreground. The background is classical music. My courteous torturer placated my supposed tastes with Mozart’s Greatest Hits, an end-to-end loop of incongruous juxtapositions that would have had me roaring in protest had I not been pinioned supine on the deceptively easy chair. It began with The Magic Flute overture, continued with the slow movement of the clarinet concerto, upon whose suave calm the dies irae from the Requiem burst in like the unnamable stranger in Larkin’s ‘Aubade’. After this, the record was lost in professional noise, desisting for momentary snatches of anonymous rococo chit-chat — the side of Mozart unkindly but not unfairly compared by Glenn Gould to ‘an interdepartmental communication’. Next to be recognised, one of those (slightly interdepartmental) horn concertos. Then more bubble and bustle, the Figaro overture. After this The Magic Flute’s came round again. I begged for contrast and was granted, first, a husky-voiced Haiwaiian guitar-strummer. Then an international barbershop group swooning in syrupy slurps over Neapolitan songs, to me parodistic but intended, apparently, to be both serious and sincere.

Music better fitted to the circumstances comes easily to mind — the torture scene from Tosca or the beatings-up in The Miraculous Mandarin; the excruciation of Florestan in his darksome prison, of Tristan or Parsifal in their mental and bodily anguish, the procession of nuns towards the guillotine in Poulenc’s Carmelites, Mélisande’s maddened husband dragging her to and fro by her lovely long hair, beautiful Billy Budd twisted up on the yardarm, the stigmata in Messiaen’s S. Fran


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