How to listen to slowness: Handel Minuet in G Minor
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keepSteady thy laden head across a brook;Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.(from John Keats’ “To Autumn”)
I’ve been spoiled by some amazing foliage in my lifetime, having spent so many years in and around New England. I spent fall of last year in Bavaria, which boasts its own fairytale charm in October, November. But really, Korean falls are second to none. Right about now, every road is lined with immoderate bursts of gold, auburn, canary, crimson. God dipped his paintbrush and is drenching his canvas of hills and ridges in color. I can’t help but imagine that even the most unsentimental mind might start to give into the insistence of nature’s poetry.
I was driving to work this morning, luxuriating in the carpets of red and yellow unfolding across my path. Roads relatively clear and serene, since it’s a Sunday. And this came on the radio, Handel’s Minuet in G Minor. It was one of those almost comically perfect scenery-music pairings.
How to listen
Listen, and trace the unfolding of the main melody, which repeats four times, each a gentle re-consideration of the original thematic idea, slowly building in tension and complexity. Notice the subtly different mood of each rendering.
Then about halfway through, listen for a change, the “response,” the “bridge,” so to speak.
I always imagine that a piece of music contains a conversation — two parties in this case, but in more complex polyphonic pieces, more than that.
Listen for how the two melodic lines (left hand and right hand, if you play the piano) flow alongside, crossing, rubbing against one another. Notice the two trills, happening in succession; one a statement, the other, a whisper.
A hushed chromatic (that is, notes climbing up or down one by one, step by step, as in a staircase) sequence follow. There is some sadness, a questioning, a hesitation, a lifting, a resolution — a sighing folding.
Then the original idea, the main melody, repeats, but it feels different from the first time. It talks back, bringing the conversation to a close, leaving a space that is so much bigger than what the piece opened with.
As I drove, allowing the music to re-organize the air around me, it started to feel like a seduction to the idea of slowness. This minuet is a very slow march. It occurs to me now that it might also be a very slow dance, which a minuet is supposed to be.
There is so hurry — the deliberately languid, soporific pace is a gift. You can bend time, stretch it out, let looseness flow, and in the process, alter your experience of the same feeling and understanding.
Slowness creates space that one passes by in a hurry. We escape the go-go-go frenzy of a chattering brain momentarily so that we can come back to waking consciousness with a greater measure of presence.
More, better, faster is not always a virtue. A verbal argument is not necessary when we have a musical idea such as this; a musical idea can only ever be an invitation, a seduction, which is better.
Lastly, I leave you with this quote from Milan Kundera’s novel Slowness, a book I read with great relish many years ago.
“In existential mathematics that experience takes the form of two basic equations: The degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.”