There are many ways one could write about a musical work. There is analysis, evaluation, criticism, and narrative to name only a few. Each of these ways provides opportunities for different kinds of learning about and experiencing of music, and so each has value as a learning activity. I think that the narrative is in some ways the most natural, the most enjoyable, and even the most beneficial for many listeners. It combines expressing emotions with unleashing the imagination to create images and stories to interpret what is heard, while allowing for the more technical aspects of music such as form and structure to be set aside from conscious attention. These may surface in the narrative, but only organically, not as a dedicated task to be completed.
In listening to “La vallee des cloches,” the fifth piece in Ravel’s Miroirs, I was compelled to set down a narrative as I listened, and found my enjoyment of the piece increased during the performance, and my memory of it more enjoyable after the music had stopped. What I wrote made a decent story, and also reminded me of the music I had heard, allowing me to audiate it as I read my narrative. I would like to share it with you here. I invite you to listen to this wonderful music as you read, and then you will be able to fully share in my experience of this music.
Two delicate tones, spacious between, followed by a delicate ripple of finely tuned sounds, the delicate tones still heard in the background, at first remaining where they were and then venturing out, exploring the landscape created by the ripple. The tranquility of being gently coaxed into the image was rudely intruded upon by a boorish clang, out of place, unwelcomed, and soon joined by others similarly disagreeable. The ripple was disturbed, veering off from its recently well-accustomed path, clearly distressed at being disturbed.
The ripple then stopped where it was, just watching with trepidation the uninvited visitors move about, and wondering what they would do next. Then a solitary one, also out of place but hinting at kindness while exuding strength as a lone rescuer determined not to make too bold an entrance, appeared, and offered hope of returning to the former calm so recently enjoyed.
And so it happened: or nearly so. The tranquility returned, but tinged with an apprehension that had not been there before; an apprehension laced with the memory of what had just happened, and the realization that it could happen again. Gradually, peace increased, brought I suppose by the solitary rescuer.
There now was a confidence and even strength that bolstered the peacefulness, and worked to subtlety change the character of the ripple, which stood firm rather than gently. All became quiet, and looked around.
Darkness descended. Not an evil or fearsome darkness, but one that brings the hope for a better day. The ripple was filled with passion and love, though it knew not for what. It was a new feeling never before experienced. But it slowed the ripple, even as it stirred about pensively until at last it slumbered in the night. Dreams of longing and desire for something unnamed filled its sleep.
As the night progressed, the ripple tossed and turned. At last the dawn of the new day broke. The ripple began to move about as it had at the start of the previous day, but it was different. There was darkness, a loss of innocence and welcome naiveté that on the previous day had been lost forever.