Last night Olivia and I went to Trauermusik: In Commemoration of Dr Julieta Alvarado-Rieppel, Dr Rieppel’s solo piano (and harpsichord!) recital.
The place was packed. Mostly it was older people, and almost all the professors I know were there: McLean, Kolnick, Williford, both Zarzanas, Day, Butler; the retired Dean. The young folk from the orchestra, the Music program, and Music Street took up the front row: Megan, Anni, Olivia, me, Joel, David, JP, Margaret, Mary, Maddy, and I think one other. (So many of the young folk are leaving soon, that I think it was good we were in the front row where he saw us and knew we were there.)
(David came in and sat down in the middle of the front row of the middle section; then Joel came in, and sat down on the far left of the left-hand side. David looked disappointed. Then Joel got up to come sit by me, on the right of that row, and David looked hopeful, and then when Joel sat down still on the wrong side of the aisle from him, all of a sudden — whoosh — he was no longer in the middle of his row but on the end as close to us as possible, with the end of the harpsichord coming between. When JP came in he tried to shoo David back toward the middle, but he stayed put.)
Dr Rieppel came in, sat down without saying anything, and played Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue from memory. It was one he and Julieta both learned at the same time in their days at the Conservatory, she on harpsichord and he on piano. He said they used to spar over which one suited it best; silly, of course, because Bach wrote it for harpsichord.
The next piece was something by Haydn, then a concerto for harpsichord and piano, called Julieta’s Sarabande, which he’d commissioned from a good friend of theirs. To do it he had to play both instruments at once, one hand on each.
On the harpsichord he played an aria from Bach, whose name I’ve forgotten (we didn’t bring our program home, as it vanished) but which sounds very familiar, from a book she’d been playing from, and which was lying on her desk, when they took her to the hospital.
The next day Mrs Zarzana talked to us and said Dr Rieppel had told them he didn’t want her remembered as just another cancer victim. We only saw her once, at the concert at St Paul’s, but the way he talks about her (and he does — quite a lot) we do get a sense of her being a real living being and not a cancer victim at all.
Trauermusik is music for grief, and all the music had something to do with that, of course. (He was crying by the time he finished the first piece, and a lot of people confessed to not being able to hold out to the end.) The last piece, though — !
She was Catholic, and I’ve been told he’s high-church Anglican (which is very similar in most things, except when it comes to the authourity of the pope), though he talks about going to mass at the cathedral, and you can already tell there’s a Christian worldview even when he doesn’t talk about religion.
I’m assuming my readers are familiar with Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories; if you aren’t, before you go through the rest of this post, you ought really to read it. I doubt you’ll understand the rest if you haven’t.
If you are ready to proceed, listen to this piece, all the way to the end. (It wouldn’t hurt to turn the volume up.) Listen to it not as background music, but pay attention to it. (Don’t watch the video, though; I find that distracting. Focus on the sound. Incidentally, the pianist in that recording was Dr Rieppel’s teacher once.)
At the end, after that crashing angry part, you’ll hear a new tune come in. That’s not just any tune. That’s “Whate’er My God Ordains Is Good”.
When Olivia and I heard it, during the performance, first we were amazed because that made the piece even more perfect than it already was; then we were sorry for those who didn’t get it, and were missing such a big piece of it; and then I at least (can’t speak for the already speechless Olivia) thought That’s Tolkien — that’s eucatastrophe — hope. That’s the turn toward joy.
“It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is euangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy — joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”
At 7:30 this Monday, in Antonello Hall at MacPhail in the Twin Cities, Dr Rieppel will be repeating this recital.