Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lena Concertante in D Minor


Okay, that title was all embellishment, but the effect is the same.

Quite unexpectedly, as I watered the parched front garden, I reached between the Dwarf Fountain Grass and the Lena Scotch Broom to wet the Northern Sea Oats Grass (Chasmanthium latifolium) and heard a distinctive maraca-like rattle: the black, pea-like pods of Lena emitted an unexpected Latina sound, a counterpoint to the Blues performance of Verbena and the Euphorbias on the other side of the garden. A veritable international music festival—right here in my garden—could now be added to Wilmington’s rather impressive (and surprising, for a small “city”) list of summer festivals!

My purist critic, of course, will no doubt remind that the maraca hardly constitutes a concertante (I know that, but I rather like the aural and visual juxtaposition of “Lena” and “Concertante”), and most likely its musical emission is not in the key of D minor. So why propagate such falsities?

In her afterword to Katharine White’s Onward and Upward in the Garden, Jamaica Kinkaid mused that “a real gardener knows nothing at all of garden design; the design of the garden comes about through love. Things have been chosen, not with any regard for theory, but from love of a particular plant, an obsession with a particular plant, a particular feeling for a particular plant.” Real gardening actualizes the “meandering spirit, deliberate and haphazard, carefree and yet not, around and in a space large or small, with the world in mind, and also nothing at all in mind.”

Put differently, real gardening is an exercise in unplanned delight!

Thus my Scottish Lena, instead of donning the bagpipe, plays her Latin American maracas, which mimic the haphazardly placed Northern Sea Oats Grass’s panicles of flat, green flowerheads that shimmer and undulate and rustle in the breeze in a sort of North American rubato.  

And as for D Minor, well…How fitting! Beethoven composed his inimitable 9th—officially, “Op. 125 Choral,” but perhaps more colloquially known as the “Ode to Joy” in honor of the symphony’s fourth and final movement which is set to Schiller’s eponymous poem and is belted out by 4 soloists and a chorus)—in the key of D Minor, a move than made Bruckner apprehensive about writing his own 9th in the same key (though he did it anyway). If inimitable, it nevertheless inspires, as it did Dag Hammarskj√∂ld, the 2nd Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The Philadelphia Orchestra performed Beethoven’s Ninth—the SG’s favorite—on UN Day following  Hammarskj√∂ld’s tragic death in a plane crash. He devoted his poetic 24 October 1960 UN Day address to analogizing the Charter to the symphony. “Beethoven,” he asserted, “has given us a confession and a credo, which we, who work within and for [the UN], may well make our own. We take part in the continuous fight between conflicting interests and ideologies which so far has marked the history of mankind, but we may never lose our faith that the first movements one day will be followed by the fourth movement. In that faith we strive to bring order and purity into chaos and anarchy. Inspired by that faith we try to impose the laws of the human mind and of the integrity of the human will on the dramatic evolution in which we are all engaged and in which we all carry our responsibility.

So perhaps it inspires because it is inimitable.

D Minor is the scale of counterpoint and chromaticism, and therefore an appropriate key for the garden sinfonia concertante. The flatness of the rattle and unexpected sounds, the juxtaposition of hues of green and a myriad of textures, combine to produce an elegance of spirit that few designs, if any, can rival. Kinkaid captures the point well: “[I]n the beginning was the Word; and then the Eden, the garden, among the last things to be created. After that, the whole drama began.”

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