Title­less Ef­fect


Special Focus - - Contents - Zi Zhongyun 资中筠

In the do­main of clas­si­cal mu­sic, it seems that name­less mu­sic is al­ways fa­vored over those bear­ing a name partly be­cause “words make it cheesy” and mu­sic should be “be­yond words.”

In the case of the fa­mous

Moon­lightSonata , I am still fas­ci­nated by the beau­ti­ful story of Beethoven meet­ing a blind girl play­ing the piano un­der the moon­light that I read about while I was in elementary school. Since then, the melody has been closely as­so­ci­ated with the calm at­mos­phere of a moon­lit night in my mind, and, in par­tic­u­lar, I am deeply im­pressed by the first move­ment, which is smooth and fath­om­less against the blue sky, echo­ing the same tone as one Chi­nese poem’s: “A bright moon rises over the sea, from far away you share the mo­ment with me.”

Then one day, a Soviet war film named Cha­paev , which was re­leased in China in the early 1950s, shat­tered my pre­vi­ous im­age of the sonata. In one scene, the lit­tle brother of a vet­eran orderly in the White Army vi­o­lated the mil­i­tary code and was sen­tenced to death by the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer. The docile orderly had al­ways been loyal to the of­fi­cer, but his brother’s death sen­tence had given birth to a de­sire for re­venge. In that mo­ment, the of­fi­cer was play­ing the first move­ment of Moon­light

Sonata . The orderly, stand­ing be­hind the of­fi­cer, stepped in time with the mu­sic. With a dag­ger in his hand, he hes­i­tated for a mo­ment, and then the black rage rose in his heart and fell with the piano’s melody. As his mur­der­ous in­tent reached its cli­max, the orches­tral mu­sic and the in­stru­men­tal ensem­ble in the film to­gether cre­ated a hor­rific at­mos­phere, as the mu­sic cy­cled through its crescendo like waves crash­ing on the shore. I was stunned, and the mu­sic had done its job.

I have never thought that the first move­ment of Moon­light

Sonata could be har­mo­niously em­ployed to cre­ate a scene of mur­der. Per­haps it was a kind of ironic ef­fect, and I mar­veled about the tal­ented Soviet artist that had come up with such an idea. This, in turn, best in­di­cates that our un­der­stand­ing of mu­sic is an en­tirely sub­jec­tive mat­ter, and it is im­pos­si­ble to curb our imag­i­na­tion ac­cord­ing to its name. This film scene has left a deep im­pres­sion on my mind, and it has for­ever changed how I in­ter­pret a mu­si­cal piece.

(From ThereIsaPiano , Beijing Pub­lish­ing House. Trans­la­tion: Zhu Yaguang)

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