It came out of the blue. A normal journey, radio on. Pick of the Week.
Victor Hugo’s adulterous shenanigans, Queen Victoria’s dresser, Brigitte Bardot talking about a London pub. So far, so Radio 4.
And then the violin started.
It was just an excerpt, part of a thing about a concert violinist (Joshua Bell, if you’re interested) pretending to be a busker, and the effect this harmless deception had on the passers-by. A familiar story from a few years ago. A nice stunt – uplifting, if you’re in the mood.
But what stopped me in my tracks (not literally – I was driving up the A3 at the time) was the piece they selected.
The Sarabande from Bach’s 2nd Partita in D minor, as familiar to me as any violin music can be to a non-violinist – without the physical experience of playing the music, the muscle memory that connects you with it in a particular way, you are always one level more removed from it than the player, but I know it pretty well nonetheless.
I hadn’t heard it for, I should think, thirty years, but there was a time when that Bach (it has five movements: Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande, Gigue, and the monumental Chaconne to finish) was all I listened to, the one and only, on a loop at home, in the car, in my mind.
And the version I listened to, and the prime reason for the listening, was on an old BASF cassette, recorded from Swedish radio in the late 60s. It remains the only recording in existence (as far as I’m aware) of my father playing unaccompanied Bach. Which is a nice thing to have, even if the reason for my obsessive listening back then was a melancholic wallowing in grief – grief it took me quite a while to shake myself out of, partly, I suspect, because of my habit of listening to my father playing unaccompanied Bach on a loop.
Grief can be like that – circular. And, in a perverse kind of way, pleasurable.
Those opening notes, heard out of the blue like that, set my synapses fizzing – is it synapses that fizz? Something brainy, anyway – and while I was quite aware that it wasn’t him on the radio, the sound was so evocative, so linked in my memory with him, that for a nanosecond I could picture him playing it.
Which, again, was a nice thing to have.
And it set me thinking about the wormholes down which a particular sight, sound, touch or smell can send us, and their unpredictability – and a couple of minutes later, because of those connections, I suddenly felt the distinct smell of linseed oil in my nostrils, which was impossible, but also quite understandable, because while my father would be practising his violin I would be in another part of the house, lovingly infusing the blade of my cricket bat with linseed oil in preparation for the coming season, and that daisy chain, from Bach to my father to our house (which I always remember in the sun for some reason), to the heat of 1976 to linseed oil, just goes to show you what an extraordinary thing the human brain is.
Anyway. Readers familiar with my father’s playing (that dates you) won’t need telling that it was good. If you’re not familiar with his playing, might I, in an entirely unbiased way, point you towards some Mozart?
Happy New Year.
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