Four Bach Cantatas: Part 1 | Ash Warren

Love is lost to the melancholy sounds of Bach in part 1 of this serial by Ash Warren.


 

Four Bach Cantatas:

Cantata 1. Come Sweet Death (Komm, süsser Tod)

By Ash Warren

For the Hindsight Isn’t 20/20 Award


[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jc2hjkMmtv4&w=560&h=315]

 

The author recommends the above be played during reading.

Marais sat alone at the end of the churchyard on an old wooden bench, hidden among the fallen leaves and the ancient black-trunked yew trees and the crumbling gravestones. From here he could observe the tiny stone doorway of the Church of Our Lady of the Nazarene which opened directly onto the road and where the villagers were gathered round waiting for their first glimpse of the happy couple. In fact the level of interest in this wedding had been high ever since the bans had been posted on the signboard outside the old Hôtel de Ville, not only because of the couple themselves, but also because it had been so many years since the village of Aubers had actually seen a wedding that the priest, Father Jacques, had found himself obliged to write to his superiors for a copy of the service.

Finally the bride and groom emerged into the warm glow of the late autumn afternoon, and Marais breath caught in his throat at the sight of her.

Laure was wearing an old fashioned lace dress that had been in her family for generations, her loose blonde hair falling over her bare shoulders which gave her a slightly wild look, like an animal that had not quite been tamed, while her long veil floated behind her in the breeze like the incense from a thousand prayers. Some people started to throw flowers, and as the sun began to sink over the rooftops the last rays lit up the yellows and golds of the autumn trees that lined the street outside and, catching her dress, turned it the colour of candlelight and ember as she stood against the white stone.

He watched her as she gave her hand to her husband who happily escorted her down the steps of the church and then observed them as they made their way down the cobbled street, borne along by the crowd of well-wishers to where old Clairmont the mayor was hosting the reception with as much pomp as he could muster for his son and new daughter-in-law.

Gradually the noise of the throng faded into the distance and a deep silence returned to the churchyard, where the smell of freshly turned earth and rotting leaves seemed to wrap itself around him like a shroud.

Finally he stood and began to make his way to the little gate behind the church which let itself into the lane. From there he walked slowly up the steep road, pausing now and again to catch his breath, leaning with one hand against the cold stone walls of the houses.

The clock on the in the village square struck four in the gathering dusk and the air was sewn with the chill of the coming night.

He must go home now and prepare for his journey, he thought. One last thing to do.

Eventually he gained his house at the top of the hill, and pushed open the rusting iron gate that opened onto an overgrown walled garden where a huge old elm held court behind a long disused fountain which, like most things in the house now, was no longer in working order.

He had given Alice, his maid, the night off before he left and he found his dinner waiting for him in the dining room. He pushed the plates aside though and sat down at the plain wooden table where he took from his coat pocket the letter from Philippe, which had arrived by the last post yesterday. He read it through one more time, very slowly, looking for a single word, just one word.

He found it quickly. There it was, halfway down the page in Philippe’s elegant and old-fashioned copperplate:

‘daughter’

He sat with the letter hanging from his hand and his pipe unlit in the other for a long time, staring at the framed photographs that stood on the grand piano in the middle of the room. The same room where he had taught her while the sun had streamed through the big bay windows and where they had sat together while he watched her play, gently correcting her, coaxing the correct intonation, forming the myriad vocabulary of sound. Where he himself had learned to play as a child and where he had studied the works that he had later conducted, the works of Bach in which he had been a well-known specialist, the great Passions, the endless inventions and cantatas and fugues. The same room where he had…

And now this.

A letter from Philippe, his old friend in Marseille whom he had not heard from in over thirty years. A letter which spoke of someone he had spent his life trying to forget, but who had not forgotten him, and with good reason. He had written to tell him of her death, and of how, with her dying breath, she had said his name and the name of one other.

He walked over to the old gramophone and lifted the needle onto a record he had chosen. The great low note beginning the cantata ‘Komm, süsser Tod’ began to fill the room and he smiled softly to himself.

He went into his bedroom, changed his clothes, and opened a small cabinet set into the wall next to his bed with a tiny key on his watch chain. There, from an old tin box, he took out a small black onyx comb wrapped in wax paper and with it, a small silver locket. He lay down on the bed with his hands over his chest.

It was in this fashion that his maid found him in the morning. His eyes were open, as if searching for something on the ceiling, and one hand had fallen to his side, still grasping the black onyx comb. The other held the silver locket tight against his silent heart, opened to reveal on one side the face of a smiling young woman and, tucked into the other, a tiny lock of blonde hair.

The gramophone needle was still clicking in its groove, like someone beating time.