Show me your image in some antique book
Since mind at first in character was done
That I might see what the old world would say
To this composed wonder of your frame
Whether we are mended, or whether better they
Or whether revolution be the same
And then there's the way that music itself transports us into a different time-scape, one in which time seems to stop, or move at a different pace from normal life. It doesn't always happen, but when it does it can be sublime for the audience and for the performer. I remember distinctly that it happened one spring when I performed the Chopin Barcarole at Oxford, during graduate school. I went into a trance and it really felt as if the music was doing something to the fabric of time, stretching it, unwinding it, repairing it, folding and pleating it.
There's an excellent article by Burckhard Bilger in The New Yorker that came out last month, in which Bilger anatomizes David Eagleman, a neuroscientist and author who is fascinated by the way that the brain registers time differently depending on the situation. The brain can appear to stretch time, for instance, during a near-death experience. Eagleman has begun studying musicians. I'm more interested in what happens to our perception when we feel like we have somehow walked outside of time. You feel it in the early stages of a romance, when you stay up all night and the night seems to go on forever and ever and then suddenly it's daylight and whoops, it didn't go on forever and your romance grinds to a bumpy halt (cue Romeo and Juliet 3.5).
There's also the weird sensation we get when we remember and try to relive those moments. For me, they are all connected to music. When I play a certain piece, like Schubert's G flat major impromptu, or listen to one, like Beethoven's A Minor quartet Op. 132, I am again transported by memory to that place where (when?) time stood still. Only instead you can't get it to stand still again, and the experience is somehow cheapened. That's why we sometimes cry, because we know we can't rewind. And of course the experience of loss is heightened when it's Schubert or Beethoven, because somehow in their music, they both seem to yearn for the same thing and yet remain profoundly aware of its futility. When adolescence hit me like a giant blow to the head, I would listen to my favorite childhood record, Mary Martin in Peter Pan, over and over again, tears streaming down my face as I mourned my lost innocence. Ovid was right: change is the only constant. But sometimes I think I feel it a little too powerfully.
I recently learned that an old boyfriend, now a friend, has gotten married. I am happy for this old boyfriend, and very happy in my current relationship. I also have very powerful and intense memories of my time with the o.b. (old boyfriend), and most of these memories are strengthened by their association with music. Listening to him play the last movement of the Beethoven Op. 109 and trying not to look at his facial contortions, crashing through the fugue of the Schubert F minor fantasy together, lying side by side on his tiny bed staring at the ceiling and trying not to move, listening to recordings of the Beethoven trio Op. 70, No. 2, and to Op. 132.
We went our separate ways. We parted amicably (in fact it was the most amicable and satisfying break-up I have ever experienced). We dated other people, we stayed in touch as friends. We saw one another once in a while, and when we did, we went to musical performances, and it was not without awkwardness, confusion and nostalgia. I know people always select which memories to retain and then we edit and modify them, usually unconscious of what we are doing. Maybe the o.b. remembers things differently, or different things.
A small part of me wants to believe in revolutionary time. Not that everything repeats itself exactly, but that the past is still animated, that these old memories are somehow alive and ongoing. A part of me really wants those two young people listening to that quartet on the floor of that tiny Oxford room six years ago to go on listening to it and to go on thinking that time is standing still.