I’ve been trying to find a portion to post, to give you some idea of the argument, but that is hard to do without copying out pages and pages. Yet in the midst of it, there is this. After a night of being “caught in one of those cyclical rows that reignite every time you think they’ve come to an exhausted close” with his wife, and not being able to see any way out of the sorrow, the author goes to a café to nurse his misery along with a coffee, and someone on staff plays a tape of the Adagio from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. This is what comes next in the book (I’ve posted a youtube of the piece below, and if this paragraph doesn’t make you want to listen, then don’t).
If you don’t know it, it is a very patient piece of music. It too goes round and round, in its way, essentially playing the same tune again and again, on the clarinet alone and then with the orchestra, clarinet and then orchestra, lifting up the same unhurried lilt of solitary sound, and then backing it with a kind of messageless tenderness in deep waves, when the strings join in. It is not strained in any way. It does not sound as if Mozart is doing something he can only just manage, and it does not sound as if the music is struggling to lift a weight it can only just manage. Yet at the same time, it is not music that denies anything. It offers a strong, absolutely calm rejoicing, but it does not pretend there is no sorrow. On the contrary, it sounds as if it comes from a world where sorrow is perfectly ordinary, but still there is more to be said. I had heard it lots of times, but this time it felt to me like news. It said: everything you fear is true. And yet. And yet. Everything you have done wrong, you really have done wrong. And yet. And yet. The world is wider than you fear it is, wider than the repeating rigmaroles in your mind, and it has this in it, as truly as it contains your unhappiness. Shut up and listen, and let yourself count, just a little bit, on a calm that you do not have to be able to make for yourself, because here it is, freely offered. You are still deceiving yourself, said the music, if you don’t allow for the possibility of this. There is more going on here than what you deserve, or don’t deserve. There is this, as well. And it played the tune again, with all the cares in the world.*The book goes on to tell me that the novelist Richard Powers has written that the Clarinet Concerto sounds the way mercy would sound.