When the concertmaster gestures to the oboe,
silence flutters through the massive hall.
Then comes the tuning up. Before that, though—
go back. Before the obedient violin falls
to his A, before the flutes, trombones,
and tuba head like horses in the same direction
to plow and plant one of Beethoven’s
great fields. Go back.
Hear the nickering run
of a scale, the brash cymbal. A bright lash
of squeaks, the wigged-out chug of a bass viol,
scripscraps of bang and clank, a swirling flash
of flotsam. Go back to unselfconscious style
before style. A grace that’s not yet botched—
before they know they’re being heard or watched.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.