Somehow I forgot entirely that I have a CD of Gorecki’s first two string quartets, performed by the Kronos Quartet. I took it off the shelf last Friday, after I learned of Gorecki’s death, and brought it into the car with me.
Even the cover looks bleak. I should have known.
Early evening on Friday, I was driving to Stamford. It’s not a city I know well. It reminded me a little of Hartford: a downtown nearly dead after the workday, wide streets built for traffic rather than for walking, with a small area of restaurants and bars around a couple of theaters. It was dark outside and desolate, and the stark first quartet, with its harsh dynamic contrasts, was not reassuring.
On Saturday morning, I was driving east on I-84 on my way to hike another segment of the Mattabesset Trail. I saw a billboard that said, in white letters on a black background: “After you die, you will meet God.” A red line, like that on a heart monitor, spiked across the black stretch. I wasn’t clear on its meaning: was it a threat to behave nicely during my days on earth? A warning that I’m being watched? An admonishment to drive safely and not kill people?
Whichever it was, it combined with whichever movement of second quartet I was listening to to make me feel like the universe was giving me a grim message.
I’d like to hear these two pieces live. I’d also be curious to hear the first quartet played less severely; I’m not sure how well it would work, if it would take the muscle out the piece, but the Kronos recording felt a little heavy. Then again, maybe it was the billboard.