Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Musings on Marriage

“You know, that cantata—BWV 162—actually wasn’t as middling as I thought it was,” I told Lady. “And in some respects, it’s far more interesting than the other two….”

“How so?” said she.

“Well, the text that Bach chose is so unlike the text for the other cantatas for the 20th Sunday after Advent. It actually fits much better with that dreary parable.”

“Oh dear,” said Lady. “First I have to deal with poets all week, and now you present me with parables. Remind me.”

“The king who can’t get anybody to come to his son’s wedding. And then when he does, some guy shows up badly dressed, so he’s banished and sent away, to great weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

“Ah yes,” said Lady, “a not-too-subtle reference to those who refuse to marry their soul to the son of God—and we all know who that is. Interesting how the religious so often intersects with the erotic. Look at The Song of Songs—pretty steamy stuff.”

“Yup, and that’s true for the cantata BWV 49; even the title, “I Go and Seek with Longing,” makes it quite plain. So in this cantata—which has no choir, by the way—we have the bass being Jesus and the soprano being the soul. And it’s clear, they can’t wait to get it on. It’s really less about the wedding than it is about the consummation.”

“Religion as the great sublimation of the erotic,” said Lady. “I always get a kick out of seeing a nun, and silently saying to myself, ‘ah, one of Christ’s many brides…’”

“Quite a metaphor,” I said, “if it is a metaphor. Should we do a Google search? Something like, ‘are nuns really the brides of Christ?’”

“Well, they’re wearing wedding rings, aren’t they? Though it begs the question, if nuns are the brides of Christ, what exactly are priests?”

“Well, obviously they’re not going to go there,” said Lady. “So they skip from husbandry—not the correct word, I know, but is there husbandhood? Anyway, they go straight to being fathers, never husbands.”

“Curious,” I said, “so men are not to be given religious eroticism, but women are? A woman can lust to be united with Jesus, but a guy cannot? Women—those delicate, pure, sexless people, until seduced, of course, by the devil?”

“Yup, we, the weaker sex. Sorry, bud—we get to marry Jesus, you get to venerate Mary.”

“There’s something seriously screwy about that. Anyway, I think BWV 162 is much more on track, psychologically speaking. Because the bass aria that begins the cantata puts it right out there: He’s going to the wedding, but he sees the bread of life and the poison of the soul. And he continues the contradictions all the way through the piece. Heavenly beams and hellish flames—you know, that sort of thing….”

“Not sure I follow,” said Lady.

“Well, every wedding represents the birth of a new person, because marriage changes you. You know that. And isn’t it obvious that a bad marriage will be more about hellish flames than about heavenly beams?”

“Absolutely,” said Lady, “and I see what you mean. I look at Nico, sometimes; his marriage to me certainly put his life on a different track. Yes, he’s happy with me, but sometimes I wonder: how would his life have been if he had stayed in France?”

“Or if you had moved to France….”

Lady shuddered.

“But the effects of a marriage are more subtle, I think. So subtle that no one ever knows—even the couple themselves—exactly what is going on in a marriage. Though I do have this theory: you can tell when a person has been physically loved. Don’t know how, but you can.”

“Something about the energy, I think,” said Lady. “But I know what you mean. I would have been an absolutely different person, if I hadn’t married Nico. And even if I had married somebody just as good—well, I’d be different.”

“It’s such a risk, when you think of it. You’re tying your life to another person, but what will happen to him or her? There was a point when I thought I had rheumatoid arthritis—just as Raf’s mother does—and one of my first thoughts was how much his parent’s lives had been changed by that disease. So how would it have changed ours?”

“Well, there’s also the possibility that your spouse could win the lottery,” said Lady, always of a more cheerful mind.

“Very true,” I said. “Raf’s been trying for years, up to the point of consulting an astrologer, who told him the precise time to obtain the winning ticket. So there he was, in the bodega in Chicago, and the lottery was something obscene like 60 million. So what does he do? Joins the line—which has snaked up and down all the aisles of the store—and then, when he gets to the cashier, he announces that he’ll have to wait for three minutes, since the time wasn’t auspicious….”


“Well, we were younger then,” I said. “Though I nearly went from being married to being widowed. Chicago is a hard-scramble town….”

“So I’m told,” said Lady. “Anyway, are you telling me that you now like the heaven-and-hell cantata better than the religiously erotic one?”

“I think they’re both good,” I said. “And both valid, though for some, one may be more valid than the other.”

“Well, I’ll go with the religiously erotic,” said Lady. “That’s how it worked out for me.”

“Me too,” I told her, “not that there haven’t been a hellish flame or two….”