Skip to content

Saturday morning quotes 4.36: A rift in the lute

January 17, 2015

“It is the little rift within the lute,
That by and by will make the music mute,
And ever widening slowly silence all.

The little rift within the lover’s lute
Or little pitted speck in garnered fruit,
That rotting inward slowly moulders all.”

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892): Merlin and Vivien

We write today in unaccustomed silence–or at least lack of music–as one of us attempts to heal from ‘a little rift’ in his person, in the way of a surgical incision inflicted on his spine a few days ago.  Neurosurgery – and its recovery – is a delicate and painful business, not entirely unlike the business of peeling away the layers of nuance and meaning in some of our favorite music.  We ignore or gloss over the ‘pitted speck’ at our peril:  it will continue to fester or at least annoy, drawing our attention away from the business at hand, and eventually becoming impossible to conceal and even destroying our pleasure in the music.

We believe that part of the reason our music affects listeners as it does – aside from the undeniable fact that it is wonderful music, of course – is that our approach to interpretation involves a slow, patient, investigation into the unique characteristics of each piece, each composer, each era.  When asked, as we often are after a concert or lecture-recital, how we know how to apply appropriate ornamentation or ficta or pronunciation, we reply that our musical instincts are informed by our research.  We are, first and foremost, musicians who, like most music-lovers, respond to the music and the poetry on an emotional level.  The years of research into the theory, or the rhetorical style, or the poetical form; or the immersion into 16th century social and political contexts enhance our own appreciation and delight in the layers of meaning behind the beautiful sounds.

We are continually rewarded with little “aha!” moments:  recognizing an obscure allusion to some historical event or bit of poetry that would have been instantly felt by listeners when the music was new.   Likewise cutting out the ‘little pitted speck’ is always worth the trouble:  investigating an awkward line of poetry that just doesn’t seem to make sense can pay off when we are rewarded for taking the time to look something up in Cotgrave’s 1611 Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues rather than in Larousse’s latest and we uncover an unsuspected bit of wordplay lost on the most fluent 21st century linguists.

…And we are itching to get back to it!

Donna Stewart

  1. Dan Winheld permalink

    Never mind the music, best wishes for a speedy & complete recovery. But very appropriate observations, and what a wonderful bit from Tennyson.

    • Thanks, Dan. He’s doing remarkably well, and we’re hoping to get him home tomorrow. Here’s hoping this is the first and only post written in a hospital room!

  2. Betta permalink


    It was good to hear that the surgery is over and recovery has begun.  You and Ron are much in our thoughts and we encourage you to patience in the healing and rehab.  It will take time and the patience can be the hardest part for scholar/artists whose minds (and hands and voice) want to do more, soon.We are off to see grandchildren tomorrow and not at St. Luke.  Please keep us updated from time to time.

    Best wishes,Betta

  3. Linda deMerle permalink

    Donna and Ron,

    To fast healing! I am also looking at spinal neurosurgery in the near future. I underwent, yet, another, in 1979, which resulted in a long, slow recovery, so I am hoping that these 35 years later, for much less trauma.

    Be at peace and trauma-free, or, at the very least, reduced and feel better, soon!

    Linda DeMerle-Tubbs


  4. Fervent wishes and prayers for a quick and complete recovery! Thank you for another fascinating unquiet thought.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: