The Compact Disc set arrived yesterday. I have always been a fan of the Saint-Saens Piano Concerti from the time I first heard them back in 1979. However, until I put the first of the discs in the player yesterday afternoon, and heard the french horns open the Concerto #1 with the orchestral response, I didn’t realize how deeply this music had affected me.
You see, it was the background music of an affair, of a romance that morphed into a marriage. I don’t know the precisely first time I heard them. The pianist on that first recording , on vinyl, of course, was Aldo Ciccolini, a great interpreter of Saint-Saens. What I remember was a dinner at her house. There were grilled chicken breasts, and a salad with slivered almonds and mandarin oranges on romaine, tossed with olive oil, lemon juice and parmesan cheese. Rice? Perhaps. Memory goes in and out. But there was wine, dry white wine, that generic “Chablis” that came in a three liter jug. She was very genteel and tastefully decanted that dreadful swill into a lovely decanter with a lovely stopper, etched glass at the base with a solid glass sphere atop it. The dinner and the music were pleasant and cordial. We talked of our pasts. I came with the baggage of a broken marriage, she with a live-in relationship that did not end well. We drank more wine. We were not yet lovers.
To reciprocate her invitation, I invited her to dinner at my apartment. I fixed the quiche Lorraine I learned to make from The Joy of Cooking. We had a pleasant dinner, although the news that day featured a plane crash and an execution. We talked some more. Then we made love for the first time. I remember the skirt she wore, a pale blue skirt with flowers on it, in a very light material and it draped beautifully from her full hips. She proudly told me later that she had a “black lady’s ass”. She did.
We went on trips together in her blue 1970 Olds F-85. with a cassette player. The pirated cassettes of the Concerti went with us. We drove to Highlands, North Carolina to see a friend of hers. A great trip. Sex. Wine. Pot. Music, Saint-Saens. A few weeks later we drove to Utica, New York where she interviewed for a college teaching position. By then we were deeply in love. I was ready to quit my job and follow her to Utica if she were hired. And again we listened to Saint-Saens in the blue Olds as we explored the countryside of upstate New York, towns like New Hartford that featured a green town common reminiscent of Norman Rockwell. We went to Cooperstown to the Baseball Hall of Fame, where we both concurred that one old baseball glove from the 1930’s looks like any other old baseball glove from the 1930’s. We went to the Oneida Community, where John Humphrey Noyes, in 1848, founded the commune that would spawn the flatware manufacturer and Noyes would experiment with a group marriage, what we would consider polyamory today. Plus ca Change… eh? More Concerti and the Septet in E Flat, Op. 85, filler on the album, but a perfect gem in its own right.
The music played on that summer. We discovered we both loved sailing. One Sunday night, after a day on the water, we made love on her green printed sheets that featured sailboats and wooded islands, evocative of Maine, I guess. That night, I proposed. She accepted. We smoked more marijuana, listened to Paul McCartney sing Maybe I’m Amazed, made love some more.
Maybe it should have stopped there. Maybe I would have grown up sooner, quit drinking sooner, stopped using sex as if it were another drug sooner, faced my demons sooner. Maybe there would not have been the penultimate nightmare of divorce, the ultimate nightmare of her untimely and secretive death. Mixed in with all that pain and all that folly was all that love and hedonism and passion. That’s right, our deepest yearnings.