Four Bach Cantatas
Cantata 3. My Heart is Full of Longing
(“Herzlich Thut Mich Verlangen”)
By Ash Warren
After reading, the author invites you to listen to Wilhelm Kempff (above)
Marais stood at the window and watched her as she threw open the gate and rushed into the street. It would be the last time she would ever see her, and he knew it.
He didn’t usually accept students, but the moment he saw her, he had felt something inside himself open, like ice cracking on a warm day or a shaft of light reaching inside a darkened room. And on each of her successive visits, that feeling had grown until it filled his waking hours and haunted his dreams.
For in Laure, his Elizabet had come back from death, from the shadows and the wastelands of the next life where she had wandered all this time. She stood before him now, hardly changed, full of life, breathing and beautiful, her long golden hair massed like a thunderstorm about to break on her shoulders, her light-blue eyes the very same, her walk, her voice, her steady gaze unaltered since time had taken her.
It wasn’t really her, he knew. Yet the resemblance was so strong, the presence so similar that he was defenceless before her, like a kite being pushed about in a strong wind. Even in the way she spoke, he could hear that same timbre, feel that same comfort in her tone.
Today he had stood with his back to her, watching her in the large mirror hanging over the fireplace. She was playing the cantata Herzlich Thut Mich Verlangen, and Marais felt his heart would also break, such was the emotion that Laure, who was undeniably talented, was able to bring on that quiet winter morning.
It was at that moment that the memory of another day came back to him to him, and with an unexpected force. It was also a sunlit day in an open field, a family gathered for a picnic, a little breeze playing in the leaves of the chestnut tree in whose shade they had spread their blankets . And here was Elsa, Elizabet’s little sister, who wanted to play with the new camera he had brought with him.
‘Let me take a picture of you and Elizabet. OK? Please?’ she begged.
And he had let her.
The scene now came back with astonishing clarity. Elizabet sitting at his feet, and he watching her, his mind filled with a sudden and shocking awareness of his love. And how at that very moment there had also been a strange feeling of dread, that nothing so perfect could ever endure. That this was just a fancy, just a bubble blown by a child, drifting in the sunlight.
‘Hurry up then Elsa. We’re waiting.’ Elizabet had said.
‘OK! Smile!….oh… this will be a nice one.’ Elsa said happily.
There was a click, and it was gone.
The room was quiet. Laure was sitting silently at the piano, waiting for him to speak. Instead he came and sat down next to her on the stool.
‘You’re crying.’ she said.
Her words woke him from his memories, brought him back to the present, if that was indeed where he was, for the past and the present had somehow blurred and become one, like a kind of twilight, neither day nor night.
He looked down at the keyboard and at the music assembled on the rack and saw it for the first time for what it really was: a wall. He understood for the first time that while music had reached out its hand to him with the possibility of wholeness, of tenderness, he saw he had had used it to remain separate, to brick up that part of himself that knew grief and to be a buffer to the act of intimacy with others.
He looked up at her and as he did so a door long closed within himself slowly opened. Laure was looking into his eyes and smiling and he saw that a strand of her hair hair had fallen loose and lay close to her cheek like a bird’s wing that is not quite folded. He reached out and touched that hair, feeling it’s lightness, struck with a sudden and physical memory.
He kissed her. And as he did so there was a frisson between them of something unbearably close and at the same time startling in its separateness. He knew she felt this too for she struggled in his arms, fighting him with a desperation and a violence that made him desperate and violent as well.
And then it was over, almost as quickly as it began. For a long moment everything just stood still, like nothing dared move. The music waited on the rack, the mirror hung quiet upon the wall, the fire crackled softly in the grate, the sunlight lay motionless upon the wooden floor and yet, she was gone.
To be continued…