The First meeting of Petrarch and Laura - Maria Spartali Stillman
The first meeting of Petrarch and Laura - M. Spartali Stillman
Some weeks ago we talked about the bad auditory memory, about how we lose our ability to evoke sounds that we heard only once, no matter how impressive they were. On that occasion I was afraid that the post was too long so I left something out for a new one; this week I go back to this subject although, I'm afraid this post seems to be written by Captain Obvious. Anyway, if you get tired while reading, please don't give up without listening to the song because, believe me, it's very worth it.

At the end of that post about memory I wondered whether to attend a recital and listen to the recording later, allow us to evoke what we felt at that moment. I think that we all know the answer, and that's why we hesitate before listening to it again, we might even wait for a few days or we just put it away sine die. We know, suspect or fear that it can’t possibly be the same.

But why? From an acoustic point of view, it can’t be the same because what reaches our ears at the concert hall is different from what comes through a loudspeaker; no matter how good is the sound engineer (the less we notice him, the better he is) the information that reaches us is another. So simple: if it's different we can't hear the same (thank you, Captain Obvious!)

From an emotional point of view, it can't be the same experience either because non-auditory stimuli are also different; our perception is influenced, among other things, by concentration and willingness. One thing is being sit at the concert hall with the texts on your lap, in silence and watching the performers (yes, our auditory perception is conditioned by what we see, things of the brain) but another completely different to be at home listening to the radio. We listeners aren't passive subjects, we get involved, and at the concert hall, the bond created between performers and us is virtually impossible to reproduce at home.

While attending the recital by no means our senses are deceiving us, nor we indulge ourselves in autosuggestion, that's not the idea. What we feel is very real. It's just that the experience is different so our reactions are also different (thanks again, dear Captain). Do not fall into temptation of thinking that the authentic sound is the recorded one, you’ll just feel upset. Yes, you'll probably hear some unorthodox things that during the recital you missed. So what? It doesn't mind. If we split hairs here, what if the "real" sound was what we hear without any mediator between the musicians and us? That one that vanishes immediately?

So, to the question “will I feel the same at a recital than listening to a recording?" my answer is "Thank God not" Because if both were the same, what would be the point of attending the recital? We’d better accept that we are talking about different things here, and if we are lucky enough to get the recital's recording, we shouldn’t feel (too much) disappointed if we can't rekindle everything we experienced at the concert hall.

For me, live recitals are the exception, something only available from time to time, a celebration. Whereas recordings are commonplace, familiar, always available. In a way so ordinary that we tend to forget their huge value. This week we are listening to Luciano Pavarotti, accompanied by John Wustman, performing Pace non trovo, one of the Tre Sonetti de Petrarca by Franz Liszt. Is it a luxury to have such a performing at your fingertips (literally…) or what?

By the way, I've just realized that Petrarch's poem and the one of Michelangelo that we listened two weeks ago are so much alike...
Pace non trovo 

Pace non trovo, e non ho da far guerra;
E temo e spero, ed ardo e son un ghiaccio;
E volo sopra ’l cielo e giaccio in terra;
E nullo stringo, e tutto il mondo abbraccio.

Tal m’ha in prigion, che non m’apre, ne serra;
Ne per suo mi riten, ne scoglie il laccio;
E non m’ancide Amor, e non mi sferra;
Ne mi vuol vivo, ne mi trae d’impaccio.

Veggio senz’ occhi, e non ho lingue e grido;
E bramo di perir, e cheggio aita;
Ed ho in odio me stesso, ed amo altrui;

Pascomi di dolor, piangendo rido;
Equalmente mi spiace morte e vita.
In questo stato son, Donna, per Vui.

I find no peace, but for war am not inclined;
 I fear, yet hope; I burn, yet am turned to ice;
 I soar in the heavens, but lie upon the ground;
 I hold nothing, though I embrace the whole world.
 Love has me in a prison which he neither opens nor shuts fast;
 he neither claims me for his own nor loosens my halter;
 he neither slays nor unshackles me;
 he would not have me live, yet leaves me with my torment.
 Eyeless I gaze, and tongueless I cry out;
 I long to perish, yet plead for succour;
 I hate myself, but love another.
 I feed on grief, yet weeping, laugh;
 death and life alike repel me;
 and to this state I am come, my lady, because of you.

(English translation © Lionel Salter)


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