Political Insurrection and the Symphony – Mahler and Freud Meet in Leiden II:II:1

The subject of the poem “Insurrection” is the search for clarity of content in a chosen form. The forms selected are political insurrection and the orchestral symphony, both constrained by the norms of place and society. The setting is in the Hungarian forests, where the insurgents are, and the nearby Esterháza Palace, where Haydn is performing another of his symphonies.

The poem is published by The Nashwaak Review of St. Thomas University, in Fredericton, New Brunswick. I have visited the campus often, and close friends taught there. This is my work’s eighth appearance in The Nashwaak Review.

St. Thomas University, Fredericton, NB (Courtesy: www.apala.ca)

St. Thomas University, Fredericton, NB (Courtesy: http://www.apala.ca)

“Insurrection” is the opening poem of “Passacaglia Pier,” the middle section of “Covenant of the Lost Arias,” which forms the second part of four parts of the book Mahler and Freud Meet in Leiden.

The epigraphs to the section are intended to underscore the relevance to modern time and the mutability of expression of a constant that, however modified or disguised, remains immutable. The section itself discusses the same two themes as this poem treats of. The epigraphs are:

was du bist, bist du nur durch Verträge
what thou art, art thou only through treaties
— Fasolt to Wotan, in Richard Wagner, Das Rheingold, 2

and

Mortal Dreams of the Demigod, Bach BWC 582

Johann Sebastian Bach, Passacaglia and Fugue in c minor, BWV 582. Heard played by Sharon Pond at the Casavant organ in Christchurch Cathedral, Fredericton, New Brunswick, December 5th, 2008.

Ten of the fourteen poems in this section have been published, several by the same Nashwaak Review, and others in Saskatoon’s Grain, the Federation of BC Writers’ WordWorks, and in an anthology of Edmonton’s Stroll of Poets.

***

Insurrection

From inside Esterhaz emanate the frail sounds
Of an evening’s symphony by Haydn, while
In the forest the darkness whispers like flutes
And crackles like the breaking notes of hunting horns.

The insurgent lies and waits, furtive in needs and longings,
The moisture of the night weighing upon his clothes,
Sleep dropping onto his eyes. They close slowly to
The nearly unheard coda of a movement played muted and sostenuto.

In the disconnections of morning, staggering away
From skirmishes to rejoin the partisans, he searches
For songs concealed in the countryside. Banished men,
They are unexpectedly fraught with freedom, contemplate
Form that explores content, like the composer who makes clear
An ever-present newness, as if all truth were its statement.

***

In the 18th century, Hungary was part of the Habsburg Empire, though the Kingdom was fiscally and politically independent, having its own parliament and maintaining its own citizenship. The principal joint affairs were foreign policy and defence. There was little insurrectionary activity of effect after the Rákóczi uprisings in the first decade of the 18th century until the commencement of the Napoleonic Wars almost a century later.

Esterháza Palace, illuminated at night

Esterháza Palace, illuminated at night

Esterháza Palace was built in the 1770s, and is near modern-day Ferdőd. Joseph Haydn was its Kapellmeister. It is his use of form, specifically symphonic form, that the poem refers to. An exceptional and representative symphony of his many of that time would be La Roxelane, number 63 in C major. The first movement modifies the form of the overture, the originating predecessor of sonata-allegro form, towards the form of the latter. The first hundred bars of the second movement, in the form of double variations, are made highly expressive by the device of their being played con sordini, that is, with the strings muted.

 

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