Jan 25, 2016

Day four. Still trapped.

As many Baltimoreans are still held in captivity by the historic snow that battered much of the East Coast over the weekend, the more restless among us are finding Jean-Paul Sartre’s (misquoted) assessment of other people a little more relatable as cabin fever turns even the loved ones we share space with into unintentional antagonists.

In cold times like this when our Netflix queue runs low, we find ourselves with an overabundance of spare time to create a classical playlist based on the many stages of Snowzilla that we’ve experienced thus far.

Stage 1: It Begins
Hrim by Anna Thorvaldsdottir

Try as we may, no one gets a bleak, snowy landscape like the Icelanders and their language reflects it. “Hrim” as explained by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir in a recent episode of WQXR’s Meet The Composer, is the Icelandic word for the process of frost forming on a surface — starting out in a single point as crystals grow and multiply. Thorvaldsdottir’s piece of the same name captures that natural sensation, which might be observed on say a cold windshield as an omen in the waning hours ahead of the storm as many hurry out on a last-minute grocery run to battle one another for the last frozen pizza.

Stage 2: The Blizzard arrives
"Chasse-Neige" by Franz Liszt

Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No. 12, given the title “Chasse-Neige” or snowstorm, depicts whipping wind gusts and endless snow flurries. Though at a little more than 5-minutes long, Liszt’s snow sketch might not capture the epic duration of the latest storm. However, based on our back-of-a-napkin math, it would take approximately 342 listenings of “Chasse-Neige” to really feel like you’re getting the full Snowzilla experience.

Stage 3: It is kind of beautiful
Symphony No. 1 by Tchaikovsky

In the immediate aftermath, before plows try to rediscover asphalt and backs are thrown out trying to shovel, the drifts and curvature of the snow is undeniably gorgeous. For this moment, we have Tchaikovsky’s “Winter Dreams” symphony.

Stage 4: Lonely figures trudging to 711
“Der Leiermann” (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man) from Wintereisse by Franz Schubert

In an incredible interview with NPR from a few years back, dancer and choreographer Bill T. Jones shares a touching and heartbreaking story of seeing his father caught in a snowstorm, which “Der Leiermann” brings back for him. “There’s something about art,” Jones said when talking about the piece, “That can be, yes, depressing, but helps us bear the pain through sheer beauty and intensity.” For Schubert, the bleak and harsh character of winter echoed the melancholy and somber mental landscape of the song cycle’s protagonist. Gloomy and lonesome, Wintereisse might as well be seasonal affective disorder set to music. Hear “Der Leiermann” here and the full Wintereisse song cycle here.

Stage 5: Shoveling
The Iron Foundry by Alexander Mosolov

With a break in the snow, desperate people make it out of their homes with shovels and lawn chairs in hand. Soviet composer Alexander Mosolov’s short piece “The Iron Foundry” captures not only the mechanical, repetitive nature of this kind of work but also the rancor of car tires spinning in the snow and feverishness of this ultimately Sisyphean task.

Stage 6: Waiting on the plows
Ghost Train by Eric Whitacre

In the darkness and awaiting rescue, the shovelers have freed their cars from the snow somewhat but peer into the distance longingly for the heavy mechanical hum and headlights of a plow to cut its way through the storm.

Stage 7: Cabin fever
Kafka Fragments by György Kurtág

As rescue seems distant and the initial adrenaline and glee of being snowed in with loved ones and roommates wears away, the trapped become restless as the walls of their homes seem closer together than they were the day before. For this we have György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments, which Los Angeles Times Classical Critic Mark Swed wrote “all but defines claustrophobia in music.”

Stage 8: Emergence
“Wachet Auf” (Sleepers Awake) by Bach

Rossini’s “Call to the Cows” from William Tell and Grieg’s Morning Mood are also options in case Bugs Bunny hasn’t completely ruined them for you, but as life slowly returns to normal (and we say on faith that it eventually will), Bach’s “Wachet Auf” sounds as the snow-captive emerge from their restless slumber.