autumnal: after Brahms


Was it the last lake swim? Driving home from a chamber music concert, the Lafayette String Quartet and James Campbell, I was thinking about the Brahms Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet in B Minor, played against the backdrop of the harbour itself, grey sky, long branches of Douglas fir: autumnal. James Campbell and the Quartet are favourites in our music school, having performed many times over the 15 year duration of our summer chamber music festival, now memory, though a concert series is still scheduled throughout the year, or was, until Covid, and has now resumed. I was thinking about the Brahms, how the opening bars provided the melody and how it was maintained so beautifully throughout the 4 movements. How the piece spoke of autumn, of nostalgia, moments of darkness as the clarinet and the cello conducted their low agreements. In the second movement, the gypsy vibrancy, the melody returning, changed in the fourth. The grey sky, the deep green branches, the sound of a boat engine at the end of dock providing a distant obligato. We stayed for the reception, happy to see old friends, to remember other concerts. And driving home, the sky was clear again, though rain is promised, has been promised, is falling elsewhere. I want a swim, I said, and John waited in the car as I changed out of my dress and pretty boots, came out wrapped in a towel. There was no one at the lake, the sun had already disappeared, though soft light remained. Entering the water was like entering the opening bars of the Quintet, deeply autumnal, my arms pushing out (my hands numb with cold), turning, turning, the water clear and alive as the runs of clarinet, no sound, no boats, John on a bench waiting. When we came home, I could not get warm. I was thinking of the autumn sky, the cold water, how every note of the Brahms Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet was held in the lovely room on the edge of the harbour, its tenderness and melancholy filling us all, even the empty chairs, and I could not get warm, sat in the big rocking chair with a glass of vin mousseux (ok, two glasses), the long night gathering its stars.

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