Three o’clock in the morning music


I used to subscribe to Stereo Review in the early 1970s, and I read their articles – especially their record and music reviews – very religiously; they were a huge part of my musical education. (Oh my god, was it really forty years ago?) Anyway, one of the reviewers, when discussing one of the Schubert piano sonatas, described it as “three o’clock in the morning music.” And I knew what he meant: dry intimate personal quiet music. I think each of us must have his own type.



I don’t want to sound like a snob, but my three-in-the-morning music is the Beethoven quartets (especially the late ones) and the Scriabin piano music.



Why? It’s like listening to the musical equivalent of Morse code. There’s rhythm and harmony there, and sometimes even (especially in Beethoven, but in Scriabin too) something like melody, but the reasoning – the logic that leads from note to note, passage to passage – goes beyond words.



I’ve been listening to the Razumovsky quartets every evening now for about two weeks. I turn on the CD around 10:00 pm. I don’t really listen – not intently – but then again, yes I do. I know it by heart, and it throbs in my head. It’s quiet, and intense, and gentle. It’s playing right this moment as I write this.



There’s a famous moment in Aldous Huxley’s “Point Counter Point” in which a character listens to the third movement of the Beethoven A minor quartet, having arranged his own death and while waiting for his killers to arrive. For him, the music is perfect – so much so that everyday life, in comparison, become worthless.



I get quite the opposite message from this music. Beethoven called it his “Heiliger Dankgesang,” his Holy Song of Praise. It is quiet and lovely and passionate. I hear nature, and humanity, and simple earthy gestures, and simple tunes that weave together to make a grand perfect structure.



What’s that line from Auden? “Nothing is better than life.”



I agree.



And I think Beethoven (and even poor crazy Scriabin) agree also.



Even at three o’clock in the morning.



About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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