A Union Hammered Out in Music

Clarisse and Walter are at the piano. A messenger arrives to announce Ulrich’s impending visit.

When Ulrich’s note arrived Walter and Clarisse were again playing the piano so violently that the spindly reproduction furniture rattled and the Dante Gabriel Rossetti prints on the walls trembled. The aged messenger who had found house and doors open without being challenged was met by a full blast of thunder in the face as he fought his way into the sitting room, and the holy uproar he had wandered into left him nailed to the wall with awe.

The next instant, Clarisse and Walter were off like two locomotives racing side by side. The piece they were playing came rushing at their eyes like flashing rails, vanished under the thundering engine, and spread out behind them as a ringing, resonant, marvelously present landscape. In the course of this ride these two people’s separate feelings were compressed into a single entity; hearing, blood, muscles, were all swept along irresistibly by the same experience; shimmering, blending, curving walls of sound forced their bodies onto the same track,bent them as one, and expanded and contracted their chests in the same breath. In a fraction of a second, gaiety, sadness, anger, and fear, love and hatred, desire and satiety, passed through Walter and Clarisse. They became one, just as in a great panic hundreds of people who a moment before had been distinct in every way suddenly make the same flailing movements of flight, utter the same senseless screams, their gaping mouths and starting eyes the same, all swept backward and forward, left and right, by the same aimless force, howling, twitching, tangling, trembling. But this union did not have the same dull, overwhelming force as life itself, where this kind of thing does not happen so easily, although it blots out everything personal when it does. The anger, love, joy, gaiety,and sadness that Clarisse and Walter felt in their flight were not full emotions but little more than physical shells of feelings that had been worked up into a frenzy. They sat stiffly in a trance on their little stools, angry, in love, or sad, at nothing, about nothing, or each of them at, with, about something else, thinking and meaning different things of their own; the dictate of music united them in highest passion, yet at the same time it left them with something absent, as in the compulsive sleep of hypnosis. (I,150,151)


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