The Future Age by Xin Chua

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The Future Age By Xin Chua, Graduate Student After a concert given by the Takåcs String Quartet, one of 6 performances featuring the complete Beethoven String Quartets The quartet raises their bows, draws forth the lively theme of the first movement, as if raising a wind through tall grass. The music flows through the hall, lifting the hearts of the audience, but it does not stop there. Unbeknownst to everyone in the concert hall, the stirring quality of the music radiates far away from its source, crossing cities and plains, lakes and oceans, as it heads toward a vast cemetery in the middle of Vienna. Beneath the light of the moon, the music ripples across the rows and rows of white tombstones until it finds its creator’s. There, the music seeps into the headstone, sending out its insistent herald. And from his empty stasis, Beethoven stirs. His spirit drifts, a fine mist, passing through stone and soil and back to the world of the living. As the sound bubbles through him like a hot spring, he starts to take the shape he'd assumed in life. His wild mane forms, his intense gaze, even the scars that marked his face. He is too old for vanity; he has already died once. Besides, he thinks, as the magnetic draw of the melody transports him to its source, all that matters is the music. The fall breeze is cool and sweet, and that pleases him. It is a fitting mood for contemplation. He leans against the wall of the concert hall, the brownstone solid and textured against his back. From the stage, the musical lines intertwine, bounce off that mixture of unyielding stone and granite, till his form quivers with the vibrations. His music has been brought to life, in a way that only a performance can. In composing, he'd built variation and transition upon motif to form an elaborately balanced edifice. The manuscript testifies to its towering magnificence, but on its own, the music remains static. He relies on the players to impart the necessary dynamism, through the continuous micro-alterations they make as they play into each other: the cello sending down the steadying roots of a tree, the violin leaping from branch to branch like a bird. It took him a long time before he understood this interplay, and longer yet before he felt his work deserved inclusion alongside that of Haydn and Mozart. And it took longer still before some of his works were appreciated. He remembers snapping to naysayers that Opus 131 was for a later age. In those days, the quartets had chafed at the demands of a half hour of unrelenting music, pushing themselves to their limits to hold the attention of the audience as the piece progressed from its melancholic opening to its towering climax. But through performance after performance, as the next great quartet learned from its predecessor, the raw focus and effort mellowed into a more exploratory sound, a tide that carved the shore away to reveal a new formation underneath, revealing depths that even he had not imagined.


It was not only the technical understanding of music that had evolved, but the musicians themselves. No two storms are the same, and the raindrop-patter of the pizzicato has carried a different touch across time. When it was first played, the memory of the war had clung to the fingers of the musicians, with the notes echoing of the twang of bows and the whizz of arrows speeding through the air. The fingers playing today hold memories of information plucked on a keyboard, generating an electrical signal that races down the reflective walls of optic fibers. These arrows do not strike the flesh, but the mind; do not leave wounds, but ideas--all enough to destroy and remake the dynasties of their day. The listeners have changed, as well. What once caused audiences to frown and fidget in their seats now causes their shoulders to settle in comfort, as the familiar became clichĂŠd and the heretical became familiar. He'd sought to push the boundary of art, lead the charge of the tides. To hear his work described as 'classical' reminds him both of the relentlessness of time, and some gratitude that his spirit has been remembered, can be brought to life again through these performances, even if only for a short while. As the echoes of the final fortissimo fades, so does the attraction holding him to this spot. He begins to drift again, over this strange and unfamiliar land. Outside the auditorium, amidst the rustle of leaves in the wind, comes the sounds of youths practicing, their voices infused with enthusiasm and life. He hears the boom-chick-boom of their a capella harmonizing, the sharp, synthesized ring of a cellphone sounding from a distance, and the whispers of melodies to be formed tickle in his mind. He no longer has a physical body to write these melodies down, but he can sense the minds of those who would. As he passes these thrumming currents of creativity, he gives those brainwaves a gentle pluck, sending echoes of his music into the future.