I do love words, and even though I’m trying not to buy any more religion books (I do have a very large and free theological library at my disposal after all), I may buy this one. Because Francis Spufford has a delightful way with words. He writes here about Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, a piece I hadn’t realized that I remembered from my music history classes.
If you don’t know it, it is a very patient piece of music. It too goes round and round, in its way, essentially playing the same tune again and again, on the clarinet alone and then with the orchestra, clarinet and then orchestra, lifting up the same unhurried lilt of solitary sound, and then backing it with a kind of messageless tenderness in deep waves, when the strings join in. It is not strained in any way. It does not sound as if the music is struggling to lift a weight it can only just manage. Yet at the same time, it is not music that denies anything. It offers a strong, absolutely calm rejoicing, but it does not pretend there is no sorrow. On the contrary, it sounds as if it comes from a world where sorrow is perfectly ordinary, but still there is more to be said.
I had heard it lots of times, but this time it felt to me like news. It said: everything you fear is true. And yet. And yet. Everything you have done wrong, you have really done wrong. And yet. And yet. The world is wider than you fear it is, wider than the repeating rigmaroles in your mind, and it has this in it, as truly as it contains your unhappiness. Shut up and listen, and let yourself count, just a little bit, on a calm that you do not have to be able to make for yourself, because here it is, freely offered. There is more going on here than what you deserve, or don’t deserve. There is this as well. And it played the tune again, with all the cares in the world.
The novelist Richard Powers has written that the Clarinet Concerto sounds the way mercy would sound, and that’s exactly how I experienced it in 1997. Mercy, though, is one of those words that now requires definition. It does not only mean some tyrant’s capacity to suspend a punishment he has himself inflicted. It can mean – and does mean in this case – getting something kind instead of the sensible consequences of an action, or as well as the sensible consequences of an action. Mercy is …
This quote is from this article about the peculiarity of belief.