Winter finally arrives. For days repeatedly I’ve been listening to Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1, music that lightens and warms up the chilly dark night. Whether this is a better choice than going to one of the numerous Messiah concerts in the city is hard to say. But I’m allergic to festivity anyway.

Mendelssohn and Handel are both Germans, yet both possess a distinct trait of Englishness. It’s hard to say what exactly it is. Probably, it’s an effortless balance between the intimate and the magnificent, the sentimental and the visionary, the private and the public.

As anything in the art of music, this Englishness is the ideal, not the reality. Reality is always unbalanced – history is able to proceed precisely because of this unbalance, the personal manifestation of which could be seen in people’s miens. Many a time you see individuals of shallow character with perfectly dignified appearances and manners, or individuals of depth with confused and panic bearings. This is true now as this is true then.

George Gissing wrote in the last turn-of-the-century: “So striking is the difference of manner between class and class that the hasty observer might well imagine a corresponding and radical difference of mind and character. In Russia, I suppose, the social extremities are seen to be pretty far apart, but, with that possible exception, I should think no European country can show such a gap as yawns to the eye between the English gentleman and the English boor. The boor, of course, is the multitude; the boor impresses himself upon the traveler. When relieved from his presence, on can be just to him; one can remember that his virtues … are the same, to a great extent, as those of well-bred of man. He does not represent – though seeming to do so – a nation apart. To understand this multitude you must get below its insufferable manners, and learn that very fine civic qualities can consist with a personal bearing almost wholly repellent.”

Speaking of Russia, I still haven’t finish Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, a very awkward novel about the new and totally confused middle-class and urbanites.

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I love Handel. This is a thought crossed my mind again last night when Karina Gauvin was singing arias from Alcina, the so-called “last great opera” of the composer, accompanied by the ever lively and energetic Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Gauvin conveyed a great sense of drama, particularly in the final excerpt, the Aria Ah! mio cor!(Act I, sc. 8), when the enchantress (or “witch” if you like) Alcina was heart-broken by the fact that she had lost her magic over boyfriend Ruggiero:

          Ah! my heart! You are scorned!

          Stars! Gods! God of love!

          Traitor! I love you so much;

          How can you leave me, alone and in

          tears, oh gods! Why?

Then she regained her composure and the dominatrix attitude returned:

          But can this be Alcina who grieves?

          I am Queen, an there is still time;

          Stay here, or die; suffer eternally,

          Or return to me.

But in the end, she realized with profound sadness that after all her lover was gone for good:

          Ah! my heart! &c.

How many times in our life has our sense of invincibility suddenly been defeated decisively by the feeling of vulnerability? Is this why this music about a fabled witch brought tears to my eyes? I love Handel – all the sadness in his music actually brings me strong physical pleasure and fulfilment.

Gauvin gave an encore, Handel’s Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo (Act 2). The audience, most of them in their 70s, gave a warmer-than-usual response (Toronto audience were particularly cold this winter for unknown reasons).

I must admit my eyes occasionally wander around concert halls when I am not able to commit 100% to music. On the first half of last night’s concert when Locatelli’s music was played, I was looking at two people in the orchestra seats. One was a slender teen with dark curly hair and a big pair of glasses; the other seems to be his mother, a woman in her late 40s with glorious red hair and Margaret Atwoodish facial feature, impeccably dressed. They sat very close to each other, almost leaning against each other, and both were paying intense attention to the musicians (and supposedly the music). This kind of intellectual dimension of mother-and-son intimacy is so moving, if they are indeed mother and son.

Here is a recording of Joyce DiDonato singing Ah! mio cor!:

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