when, in the first movement of the Emperor Concerto,
as Beethoven tried to out-boom Napoleon,
a woodpecker countered with gibbers
and Bronx cheers. Next, every sprinkler
on the grassy amphitheatre squeaked on,
scattering listeners as if the Little General’s cavalry
had thundered, sabers flashing, from the woods.
The Rondo took a whupping, too,
when a squirrel in the oak tree that shaded the stage
began banging acorns off the soloist
and his ebony Grand. The setting sun
scorched through the dark columns of trees
behind the stage, as the squirrel fled,
and a new soloist marched on. Her blonde hair
glowed, angelic as the tones she drew,
just tuning, from her violin. We strained forward,
envious, as her hands caressed Tchaikovsky.
She was deep into the canzonetta
where he mourns his unconsummated marriage,
when a woman’s voice rose from the woods:
“Oh God,” it trilled, a clear coloratura. “Oh, oh, oh!”
What could the soloist do but keep playing?
What could the conductor do but wag
his baton, grown uncomfortably phallic?
What could the damp audience do but shush
our children, pretending not to hear
the woman’s sobbing obbligato merge
into the theme? And when the finale began,
allegro vivacissimo, and the soloist lashed
her instrument into a gallop, it seemed natural
that the woman’s cries should intensify,
and the soloist draw strength from her
as together they approached that last exhausting run
up the scale of passion toward the summit
from which, gasping and quivering, they flung themselves.
When the paroxysm was done, and the conductor
dropped his hands, and the violinist
(on whose slim legs, seen through her violet gown,
I could have played a pretty tune) lowered her bow,
the applause that surged up out of the wet grass
was for the woman in the woods as much
as for the soloist, her head bowed, smiling. Spent.