Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Barberian Moment

The climax of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings may be one of the most sublimely beautiful in all string-instrument literature. Leading up to it, the slow, writhing theme ascends and descends through the orchestra, moving almost seamlessly through the cellos, violas, and violins, always reaching for some unknown apex but never quite attaining it. Then, after the instruments have slowly moved up in their range, they reach the highest limits of their register - the cellos at the end of their fingerboard, the first violins so high that performers have to count ledger lines to find their notes. They come to rest on the inverted tonic chord. That fortissimo floating minor chord moves to a Gb major chord, and the phrase terminates with an unusual cadence, a Cb chord with a clashing major seventh resolving to Fb major, while the orchestra maintains the elevated dynamics. That last chord is held for a long, fermata-ed 6 beats before it is released, and then the orchestra holds a momentary silence - a "grand pause."

There is something triumphantly transcendent about those few chords, with their high register and inverted voicing (meaning the main note of the chord is not the lowest note heard). After a tortuously slow rise, moving one step back for every two steps forward, the music reaches its destination, the sonorous summit.

But the climax is all too brief, and its terminal grand pause is followed several repetitions of its closing cadence, transposed, subdued, and lowered. It is almost as if the orchestra is tries, valiantly but futilely, to recreate that gloriously climactic moment before resigning itself to continuing on with the rest of the music.

For Sundy and me, this last week has been reminiscent of a Barberian climax, a time we have been able to spend together, with no pressing worries or cares. We have gone on multiple walks, visited Denver landmarks, eaten out, went on a road trip to eastern Colorado, and just sat and talk, enjoying each others' company. The time has been a blessing, a time for us to draw closer as a couple. That will end tonight, though, with a cadence of Sundy's homemade berry crumble and vanilla ice cream. Tomorrow we will move on to the next part of our lives' song - that of a medical student couple. Wish us luck.

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