The church was hot.
The evening itself wasn’t sweltering, but the small historic church in downtown Boston had absorbed plenty of heat and humidity. It was so toasty that I broke my usual rule and went into the sanctuary with my shoulders exposed (since it was a Methodist church, hopefully that was only a venial sin).
A friend was giving an organ recital and I fortuitously had an off-night from rehearsal. As I settled into a pew and curled my legs up under me (decorum strike two. I’m sorry, but my feet don’t touch the floor!) I noticed Couperin was on the program. At that moment I was really in the mood for some Couperin. It was second in the concert. There was only a little Bach standing between me and the Messe pour les couvents.
Not long after eight o’clock, Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G minor began to sound through the old building. At the first notes, I felt as if I had wronged stalwart Johann by lusting after François. There he was, firm as ever, every note exactly where it should be, perfect in structure, melody, and harmony.
It doesn’t hurt that Paul can really play. It also doesn’t hurt that the organ was fine. Any instrument can be played loudly, but a good pipe organ should make your teeth rattle a little bit even on a pianissimo.
The notes surrounded me and I was drowning in perfection. The street woman who screamed for 15 minutes prior to the recital was silent. The city buses and ambulances were inaudible. There was only one sound, one I could feel as well as hear. The precision of Bach’s music was too much for me. I took off my glasses. I needed one sense to be blurry while another was engaged so acutely.
Near the end of the piece a cooling breeze blew through the audience. Was this the same wind that blew over Bach during all of his years of productivity? I felt that it could only be God’s breath, that Holy Spirit that is always and everywhere caressing our creative sparks into flame.
What works of art do you find so beautiful you almost can’t stand it?