As those who read my last post are aware, I have not been in the highest of spirits of late. I took the train home from university the other night with my morale situated somewhere about the level of my shoe soles. My brother was teaching late in Paris and therefore could not come and fetch me at the station as he usually does, so I faced a long walk home. My briefcase was filled with the latest batch of papers to mark and weighed a ton at the very least. To cap it all, it was a wild and windy night, and I was gloomily certain the heavens were going to open up at any moment and pour a torrent of water onto my unprotected head.
As I stepped out onto the wide bridge that spans this particular stretch of the Seine, the wind struck me with full force, nearly driving me into the railing. I had to bend over almost double in order to make any headway. It only slightly abated when I turned onto the long oak-lined avenue which runs parallel to the river and leads to the race course, and the mews where I live. To my right stretched the vast training paddocks and arenas of the race course, deserted at this late hour; to my left a light occasionally winked at me through the woods, from beyond a pair of wrought-iron gates. It was almost pitch dark and above me the great trees tossed their heads, creaking and groaning in the gale. It was a night fit for a witches’ Sabbath – I half-fancied I could hear their shrieks on the wind as they swooped madly past on their broomsticks high overhead.
Wearily I trudged down the beaten earth track, muddy and slippery with rotting leaves at this time of year, stumbling occasionally in my high heels (a few more tramps like this one and they will be fit only for the bin) and my briefcase dragging at my wrist and shoulder a little more with each passing step. I hummed as I walked. I didn’t pay much attention at first – I am almost always humming something or other, and it can be as much a sign of boredom as of contentment – but the tune wouldn’t let me be. Surreptitiously it crept up on me, repeating itself over and over again, gradually growing louder, tugging me away from my dark thoughts, till I was compelled to give it my full attention. It was the opening theme of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto n° 1.
In spite of myself, I smiled. There is something wonderfully uplifting about those opening bars, with the deep resonant boom of the brasses and the piano’s dramatic first chords, followed by the singing of the violins as they pick up the theme. They trigger a powerful physical response in me: something wells up within me, beating against my chest like a great bird desperate to escape, my throat chokes up, and at the same time I feel a deep urge to sing too, to burst into a torrent of melody, to soar on a torrent of sound like the lark on the morning air. And soon I was indeed singing, without a care for who might hear me – though who could have heard me above the rush of the wind, even supposing anyone had been out? Defiantly I sang, and the piano’s chords rang in time to the rhythm of my footsteps. For the concerto had become a war chant: I flung it out as a furious challenge to the night, and the storm, and the never-ending road. And as I sang, I laughed breathlessly at the picture I must present to the wondering eyes of the rare drivers who passed me: a crazy woman, with hair whipping at my face and coat billowing and flapping about me like a sail, with burning eyes and mouth wide open, stomping through the woods while with my free hand I pounded at an imaginary piano as if I had been Martha Argerich herself!
By the time I reached home, I was quite cheerful.
“What happened to you?” my brother asked when he came in, cocking a quizzical eyebrow at me.
“Tchaikovsky”, I answered.
© Florence Berlioz 2012