Years have a rhythm we only hear in historical echo. The year Norman died – the year of grief and awakening and regret. The year of the big relapse – the year of fear and calm and silence. The year I left my job – the year of certainty and apprehension and panic. Maybe it’s just because I’ve had a particularly dramatic run of years recently that this has been brought to my attention. Certainly I don’t think I knew this before, felt this before, heard this before. But I have been aware of it the last couple of years. I’ve also realised that the rhythms are carrying forward into the years ahead, building into some complex percussive symphony; the motifs and embellishments of one year weaving themselves into the next. So far the music seems at least vaguely cohesive, a sense of some kind of logic and structure, but with hints that it, I, might be heading more towards Boulez than Bach.
Is this just getting older? Time running out, choices become more pressing and poignant? I’ve always thought of music as something that adds to life, is somehow part of but separate from my life, But perhaps music reflects life more than adds to it; perhaps music is just our attempt to make audible that harder to discern symphony that builds achingly slowly across our lives? Certainly the instinct to make and enjoy music is so strong, much stronger than the instinct to make and enjoy art (at least if we judge by simple metrics such as how many of us engage with it regularly in our lives), that it suggests a connection to it that is stronger than mere entertainment. Our forebears were no strangers to this notion. The Music of the Spheres – the idea prominent from Classical times through the Renaissance that the planets create in their movement a harmony of supreme beauty – suggests a tendency to use music to make sense of deeply unknowable things. (It’s no coincidence that the idea of the Music of the Spheres lost currency with the advance of Science).
Perhaps I hear this music of the years now because I am learning to accept the unfathomable, unknowable, uncontrollable nature of life? When I was younger I needed to believe that we, I, could know and tame “life”. But just as with the passing of time I have come to appreciate and enjoy dissonant and atonal music much more, so too I have learnt to appreciate life’s mysterious and untameable experiences. Do I need to know and tame existence? Do I believe in the possibility of knowledge, control? Or I am happy to believe in the Music of the Years, as my ancestors believed in the Music of The Spheres?
But else, in deep of night, when drowsiness
Hath locked up mortal sense, then listen I
To the celestial Sirens’ harmony,
That sit upon the nine enfolded spheres,
And sing to those that hold the vital shears, 65
And turn the adamantine spindle round
On which the fate of gods and men is wound.
Such sweet compulsion doth in music lie,
To lull the daughters of Necessity,
And keep unsteady Nature to her law, 70
And the low world in measured motion draw
After the heavenly tune, which none can hear
John Milton, Arcades (1633)