(Poem #963) Concerto for Double Bass
He is a drunk leaning companionably Around a lamp post or doing up With intermittent concentration Another drunk's coat. He is a polite but devoted Valentino, Cheek to cheek, forgetting the next step. He is feeling the pulse of the fat lady Or cutting her in half. But close your eyes and it is sunset At the edge of the world. It is the language Of dolphins, the growth of tree-roots, The heart-beat slowing down.
Pity the poor music critic - his is a hard lot indeed. The inimitable Frank Zappa put it best: "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture"; the task, though not insuperable, requires a sure hand and a delicate touch. And a good ear, not just for the music being described, but also for the language used to describe it. Too much detail , and the audience miss the symphony for the staves; too little , and they're left groping for solidity in a mist of vague verbiage. Which is why I'm not a fan of the excessively literal approach to music criticism; I find it tedious and uninspiring at best, actively off-putting at worst. In seeking to reduce music to its descriptive essence, this approach lessens its emotional impact. What's called for is something altogether more subtle and elusive. An approach which eschews direct expression for suggestion and hint; an approach which replaces acres of detail with a few carefully chosen phrases. An approach which seeks to reproduce the experience, not just depict it. The approach, in short, of poetry. John Fuller uses precisely this approach in today's poem. The first two stanzas are spent on the physical aspect of the performance. But instead of painstaking (and boring) detail, the poet uses metaphor: the double bass is a dancer, and the musician is a suitor whispering into her ear. Or the double bass is a fat lady , and the musician, running his bow athwart its strings, is a magician cutting her in half. Or the musician and the instrument are two drunks, the former's wandering fingers buttoning up the latter's long coat. The third stanza is where the poet really comes into his own. The music itself is not described, either structurally  or interpretatively . Instead, Fuller dives straight into the heart of the musical _experience_, with words that evoke the same reaction as the notes themselves: "But close your eyes and it is sunset At the edge of the world. It is the language Of dolphins, the growth of tree-roots, The heart-beat slowing down." This is where the poetic approach scores over the descriptive one, and this is the high point of the poem. You can almost hear the throb of the bass, the deep resonances, the long silences, the power and the stillness. Beautiful. thomas.  "Delicate glissandi on the strings make way for a single, clear high F on the piccolo, a note which heralds the entry of the woodwinds in a complex fugal setting. These in turn are swept away by a strong, almost chromatic brass line which is augmented by the occasional incursions of tympani and cymbals."  "A hushed prelude sets the stage for a driving, swirling mid-section, leading into a climax which is all emotion, a maelstrom of triumphant passion."  "It ain't over till the fat lady sings" - hence the comparison, I suppose. [Biography] Born in Ashford, Kent, the son of the poet Roy Fuller and Kathleen Fuller. He was educated at St Paul's School and New College, Oxford. He lectured in New York and at Manchester and became a fellow of Magdalen College Oxford in 1966. His first publication Fairground Music demonstrates an early mastery of the different forms of conventional verse and an ability to write descriptively with wit and sophistication. His subjects are wide-ranging. His skill is also apparent in the next volume, The Tree that Walked. One of his best known poems is The Most Difficult Position, a wonderful pastiche that describes a famous battle of chess between two 19th century masters. All his poems are technically sophisticated. -- [broken link] http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/poetry/john_fuller.shtml