Endless pulse and heave of tide,
Slosh and skip of sea-deep swells
Pull the islands of the sky,
Push the currents in the flying trees,
Beat like bells inside
My passion-scented sight,
Touch the torches dancing
On the edges of my skin,
Slip like sugar birds between
The evening's dream of breeze
And a sheen of ocean
Lit against the dark,
Lost to words by sun,
Entire beaches lost to life
And brides to night,
Where the winds of water,
Blasts of heat, like timpani
Burst inside the wrist,
Until the liquid lamps
Of childhood tremble into mist.
This is a description of playing a cadenza, an improvised personal commentary a pianist makes on the action to that point, amalgamating, summarizing, excerpting, varying, and improving on what the composer has already presented.
Most cadenzas are set in stone by composers, due to prior abuses by musicians without adequate gifts. This hasn’t stopped pianists and violinists from providing such improvisations over the years. Horowitz even rewrote Rachmaninoff’s first piano sonata, with the composer’s blessing. Recently, Volodos has significantly deepened Liszt’s darker compositions on his album Volodos Plays Liszt with his own additions, using Liszt’s notes as outlines of his own vaster visions. Although his additions are mainly based on adding virtuosic scales, octaves, arpeggios, and broken diminished chords to the underlying Lisztian themes, the pieces are enlarged by Volodos’s talent for collage. Pianists with enormous techniques like Cziffra or Godowsky tended to overwhelm the music with clever overlays, but Volodos is quite well-balanced between substance and brilliantine. This on-the-fly creation provides an insight into the process of composition. Performance at its best seems composed on the spot.
This is a metaphoric description of performing a concert, not just playing the piano. There is an added adrenaline to the challenges, discipline, and spontaneity needed for live performances of complicated music. This, rather than being a word fugue, is a word rhapsody, a more freeform imitation of the way a performance develops, relaxes, builds to a climax, and tapers off.
It is also a description of both a beach sunset and the blood’s pulse when it is exposed to music or beauty. Within its simple description is a darker threnody of looking back on a youth spent at the beach, the agony of leaving the beach at sunset, a kind of petit mort, the sheer frustration of being unable to verbalize the rush of ions, the appeal of waves, air, sun, and night at the beach.
The honeymooners hidden in this poem lose their virginity as day loses the light, as youth fades into age, as waves end in spray.
So the palmate, palm-like hand, the pulsing wrist of the pianist, and the wash of tropical air weave around each other to present the immense joy and simultaneous sadness of the loss of the world with experience, with age. The world winds down each evening like music, and takes us with it.
Sugar birds flit between the trees and the sea, torches flicker inside the wrist, and sound and sight are interwoven like music and the sea, never settling down into acceptance until the very end. Images are crisscrossed and reversed, until the chaos and eddies of water, words, and music combine, I hope, into a resonant imitation of all three.
The poem is meant to explain the threads of passion and nostalgia that lie nascent in our blood and emerge only through the excitement of love, concerts, or sunsets. Each line echoes with accents of air, water, blood, and music, but ultimately explanations fail and we have to sit back and let the ineffable paint unknowable and yet elucidative pictures. Art defies facts to prove unprovable acts. Rhymes occur here and there, the way the facets of a wave catch the sun sporadically.