The soul is a dish that is eaten alive (Béla Bartók, Romanian Folk Dances)
First move: tanc bot / Jocul cu bâtă [Hunger]
The sound of Arthur Willner floated through a room that was made up of five pieces of furniture, a piano, eight people and some houseplants. The version of the Romanian Folk Dances that was playing was the product of Willner's transcription, that's why I say Eight people instead of Seven. There was someone peculiar by my side, and with him I had a cordial and somewhat pleasant conversation. It wasn't a dream, but it felt like it. Through the silence and the voices began to slip the first movement of Bartók's Dances, in an insightful and enveloping way. Someone put them on and we shut up. And someone else said Let's take that down.
But nobody got up to take that away.
"Well, it's not their fault.
-Neither do I.].
Bartók began writing them in 1915, and in 1915 the German army was attacking the Russians, and in 1915 Lanoe Hawker was awarded the Victoria Cross. And Bartók lived in the world of 1915, with his eyes fixed on a piano that was his own war and his own army. Despite the world, in that year, Bartók was beginning to create one of the darkest works in the history of music. The Romanian Folk Dances are the closest thing to a period of mourning that I have ever heard.[—It makes me angry. If they removed it… It makes me want to eat a soul.
-Hold. Let the hunger advance.].
This move sounds awesome. It sounds like an advertisement, a bucolic salon. It plays in A minor, and it makes me panic. It is suspiciously large in its color.
Second movement: Braul / [The hunt]
[—How is that about eating a soul?].
He owed a silence to the Romanian dances. I had to forgive myself and forgive them. Certainly music is not to blame, but music almost always has its own name and a memory that we want to make alien. Music hurts and saves just as hands can hurt and save. It had already happened to me Rusalka by Dvořák, which was for years my adored opera. Until one day they broke it in front of me and then Rusalka acquired —like the Romanian Folk Dances— a cursed and unforgivable air.
The second movement, specifically, pokes fun at sadness despite being terribly sad. It is like a tickle made with a sharp object. Salon tickling and silk tickling. A nervous, mocking laugh. It forces you to test your strength with sound. And the sound wins. Almost always.[—First you have to find one.
"Is there anything that should not be done?"
While it was playing, it seemed that the house was filled with dancing ghosts, and it seemed that suddenly something happy and harmonious was playing. And it seemed that all the happiness in the world was contained in less than a minute. I listened without paying much attention and walked to the piano. I played for a couple of seconds, my fingers digging into the keys with the precision and incoherence of a meat fork. Horrible sounds came out of me. I hit it on five notes at once. Rage. But already the second movement was over.
Third movement. topogo / [The food]
[-It is easy. Eating a soul is an almost musical process, and extremely delicious. You can talk with your mouth full while listening to music you still haven't forgiven. It is a necessary process for forgiveness.].
A truly beautiful soul has to sound like topogo, to calm and circular torment. A volcano that threatens and does not know the danger it represents.
What I like the most about this dance is its darkness, because it is not a sad darkness but rather disturbing and red (a wine-red). Like the blood that doesn't know how to spill after the wound. That day's version was cleanly played by a violin. I like the violin versions better than the flute versions, although I prefer solo piano. It's a few seconds going around in B minor. A few seconds of unforgivable torment. But torment can be negotiated and forgiveness can be negotiated. It's a pity that I didn't find a way to do it at that time.
Bartók stabbed me in the chest like a silver fork, but I couldn't cry. I guess the music believed that my soul was lodged there. And from there I cried. Without tears. Without blood. From the memory and in a silence similar to that of the masses. Bartók wanted to eat the soul of the piano. The sadness became deep and conscious. I barely smiled. There was a yellow light, and it was becoming hostile.[—It is carefully dissected, so that it does not break. The soul is a dish that is eaten alive.
—How do you eat? With your hands?].
Fourth movement. Bucsumi tanc / Buciumean [Preparation]
It seems that it is finally calm and that there is no longer a need to swallow dry. Regards. Regards. Regards. Now nameless and now faceless. Just as lacerating in memory, anyway.
Bucsum's dance breaks into a light frenzy, with a bound joy, which is not joy at all. That's where they want to cry. But you can't either.[-Nope. I'll explain. The first thing to do is to look for a substantial soul. You melt it little by little. Never do it on purpose, it's an intuitive dish. There has to be something bittersweet. There has to be a minimum dose of sweetness. Minimum. Almost nothing.].
Romanian dances were initially written for piano. That's why I like the versions where only the piano is heard so much. But when the violin sounded — late at night — it seemed to me that I was listening to Bartók's footsteps through the villages of Romania, searching for the sounds like someone groping for a piano in a dark room.
The room was still dark, except for a yellow light by the piano.
Bucsum's dance sounded so beautiful that it made me want to grab the sounds in my hand and put them in the water. But I didn't do anything. I brought my knees together and raised my head, like someone who knows that a joyous movement is coming.
It is the saddest move of all. It's all despair together.[—You may think not, but when a soul is prepared, it is one who suffers initially. The alien soul does not know what is happening. It hurts, but he doesn't know. There is always the terrible feeling of opening something sacred. It is a pain that comes from another place. A pain in A major. It passes soon.].
Fifth movement. roman polka/ [Feast]
He is truly happy. It is the return of a joy that previous movements had deprived me of. A return. Music resurfacing from itself and for itself. At that point, already exhausted, I wanted to walk a little. People kept chatting happily, softly. And I was happy. For the first time I really laughed and for the first time I remembered clearly. There was a sound outside, like rain. But it was probably the noise from the recording. These dances are not to blame for anything. Neither they nor the unforgiven Rusalka. Nor I. Nor the piano that received five notes of punishment. Not even your own soul. Nor the stranger.
This polka is a very old Romanian dance that Bartók wanted to transform into his own dance. But nothing is entirely his own. Romania invading the living room of that house. Bartók sticking out his long fingers and digging his nails into my chest, as if my chest were alive.
But nobody noticed. I clenched my hands and swallowed. That was doing me physical damage. Real.
I kept listening.[—Once everything is ready, how is it done? How can it be eaten?].
Liszt had already done something similar with the Hungarian Rhapsodies: extract madness from the sounds of a people. The madness. The sadness. Peace. The sound of every town is a rhapsody and it is a maniacal dance. It doesn't matter what place it is. The music of certain composers only knows how to subtract the most terrible, and perpetuate it in a macabre way, like someone who opens a soul with the precision of forks.
Sixth movement/ approved / Marunțel [Forks]
During the almost six minutes of the piece, I had an empty feeling in my chest. I had woken up twice. The first, to get to the piano; the second, to walk a little. Then all was silence.
The last movement is a dark party and it is a spectral dance. It's all the memories dancing at the same time, with that lavish modulation, with that almost superhuman speed. It was a quiet evening. The last part made me very angry. I wanted silence inside. I felt that something was breaking, that my teeth were sinking into some corner of memory called soul or called Romanian Dance, and even Rusalka.
Maybe I was talking to myself the whole time. Perhaps the music came to forgive my memories and filled my room with ghosts. Again. It's always the same.[—It is eaten in a peculiar way. The bearer of the soul—that is, the subject—must tie your hands behind you, so that you are glued to the chair, sitting down, like in bad kidnapping movies. He thinks he's subduing you. It's kind of a spiritual role-playing game. But in reality it is he who is being subdued. It's going to push your face into the plate. You are going to eat without air. You're going to hear how it creaks. The soul is made of the songs you condemned. And it is the most serious taste. It is a dish that is eaten alive and with fear, because all those songs can drown you.].
When the piece was finished, I asked to play the third movement again. They told me yes, of course. I didn't want to stay with the joy. Joy intoxicates me. And it makes me sick. It fills me with cold lights. I don't know who was the person with whom I had my dialogue and with whom I heard the six movements at once. He was an unhappy young man, a guest with whom I had the good fortune to speak. But I do not know. I do not remember his name. That wasn't my house, and that wasn't my sofa, and that wasn't my piano. It wasn't my party.
I have a horrible grudge against Bartók and all those dances. And if I didn't know how to forgive them, it was because of me.[—What's the use?
-No problem. It is a painful, useless and irreversible game. An extravagant dish that you can perfectly do without.].
Later in the evening, there were fewer of us left. Someone sat at the piano. I got up. I walked away from there. I ordered half a glass of water.
There was a very big emptiness inside. Again.
I passed the back of my hand over my mouth, I had the sensation of having come out of one of those grotesque banquets where everything is silver and meat.
There was a regret. I was full and tired. Mental bulimia. Desire to return the sounds to the corner where they slept. But they were already awake and I don't know how to deal with the irrevocable.
There was a bittersweet taste too. As if I had been forced to eat, one by one, all the viscera of my own soul.