Sunday, May 19, 2013

`With Unusual Satisfaction'

We spent the day helping a friend and her daughter move out of their house and into an apartment. The sky was cloudless and the thermometer topped ninety degrees. It was the first time this year I felt the heat radiating off sidewalks, cars and building. The day before, professionals with a truck had moved the heavy stuff, including her recently tuned spinet piano. During a break from hauling boxes, she sat on the bench, riffled through sheet music and played Handel’s “Sarabande,” the “Moonlight Sonata” and Für Elise. She’s had a rough time of late and seemed utterly absorbed in her music. When she finished she turned around to look at me and said, “The acoustics are really good in here. That was satisfying.” 

James Boswell, who died on this date, May 19, at age fifty-four in 1795, writes in his London Journal (1950) on Feb. 2, 1763: “I read, wrote, and played on my violin with unusual satisfaction.” In a footnote to this sentence, the editor, Frederick Pottle, points out: 

“It must seem rather odd that Boswell has not previously mentioned the fact that he could play the violin, or that he had a violin with him. At various times in his life he played the violin, the flute, and the bass viol, but probably none of them very well, for there is no record of his playing with others. He loved to sing, and had a good ear and a good voice.” 

Our friend does play well. Above her piano on the wall hangs a framed black-and-white photograph of her thirteen-year-old daughter playing the bass clarinet.

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