Old Friends—Good Friends

mozart“It’s not the mature Mozart—oh, my no.  Such a difference.”

“Really…” I said, my rising acidity suggesting anything but a question. I assumed the hint to end the conversation before it began could not be missed. I was wrong.

“Good heavens!” I could tell from my dinner partner’s pinched nostrils and pained expression I’d stepped on his toes, klutz that I am. “There’s none of the complexity; the depth; the heightened sensuality… nothing at all of the maturity to come!”

“Sounds like a vintage wine parody.” I fought with myself to control the urge to say so, and lost. My partner slid a sideways glance my way as if the outrage made a direct gaze out of the question, more respectful than I deserved.

“Well.” He sniffed again. “Perhaps you don’t know Mozart very well.”

“Indeed I do. As a matter of fact he’s an old friend; a very good friend.”

Apparently convinced he was seated next to a maniac, my dinner partner leaned away, pushing back in his chair and muttering an excuse about the buffet line. I nodded my approval graciously, I thought, hoping in fact that he’d get lost in it; him and his exclusivity. Do we less-than-brilliant creatures really need to be told we’re unable to appreciate the finer points of culture? Is intellectual superiority really necessary to experience the emotions aroused by something creative and exhilarating? Are we not allowed to enjoy the taste of a wine we don’t know anything about? I let the soothing flavors of sunshine and good soil slip down my throat, enjoying the momentary peace and what I assumed was probably a lovely, earthy Italian Barolo. Ha! You see? I do know something after all.

An old friend, whether it be a glass of wine, piece of chamber music, or emotional connection is so much better when it’s a little un…unexpected, unpredictable, unannounced, unpretentious, unassuming, and most of all, unconventional. Oh yes, Mozart is not only an old friend but also a good friend, and one doesn’t have many of those, so I know the difference. But that gives me pause. Are old friends not always good ones because I’m not who they thought I was, or because I just don’t want to be, so I’m not sharing their umbrellas anymore? It seems one’s oldest friends can let one down the hardest, so expectations on both sides must be out of line. In that case, perhaps Mozart isn’t an old friend after all, but just a very good one.

I well remember the first time I met him. I was standing in the middle of a little crafts store in a brownstone, listening to and enjoying his Sinfonia Concertante (without knowing it). The Christmas holidays had just started, so shopping with my children in the ‘Performers’ Outlet’ seemed an unusually pleasant pastime, a more creative and thoughtful adventure than shopping in a department store. I knew nothing of classical music, except that the geniuses in my class in school sometimes studied it, but I’d had no other exposure at home or through friends. It seemed the exclusive right of those of rare intellect. The rest of us had classic Broadway, Jazz and Folk Music in the 1950’s, to say nothing of Rock-and-Roll! Yet I noted the way the Sinfonia Concertante calmed and soothed me, caught my ear for harmonies and heart for rhythm, and recognized I’d undoubtedly bought more that day because the music had put me in an unusually good mood. That was the start of my classical music education and introduction to someone who was to become a very good friend, as well as many others over my adult lifetime.

Why is he still such a good friend? Mozart didn’t follow the rules unless he made them himself. Always, I’m aware of how open he is to the human condition, how unafraid of new things, how honest about the confusions of our lives, how understanding of our competing inner voices, and how totally accepting of a wide variety of contrasting thoughts at the same time. He’s always on our side no matter who we are, and that inclusiveness is why even those of us who can’t appreciate all the nuances of his genius still relate to and love his music. I’ve always felt such optimism and hope, such encouragement and acceptance in his message that I know we would have been good friends, are good friends as a matter of fact. Would that others we know and have called friends could be as thrilled to come along with us wherever we go with as much acceptance and spirit. I’m always grateful for the fact that Mozart missed the stultifying expectations and prescriptions of a music conservatory education. He wouldn’t be such a good friend to us all today if he hadn’t.

I note my dinner partner hasn’t returned, and in fact is nowhere in sight. I wonder if he’s finally understood that Mozart isn’t who he thought he was. Probably not. He didn’t seem like someone who could easily come to that kind of acceptance. It’s more likely that he’s realized I’m not the kind of dinner partner he expected me to be when we first introduced ourselves at our appointed place cards. Expectations can have unexpected resolutions, and Mozart would be the first to agree. It’s a good thing my dinner partner and I weren’t former old friends, because we most certainly wouldn’t be good ones anymore. But I suppose one doesn’t necessarily expect a new acquaintance to fill that role, ‘though it can happen. One serendipitous encounter shopping for Christmas presents or sitting next to a stranger can produce unexpected results. They’re the best kind, like Mozart’s resolutions or the unassuming acceptance of a good friend.





2 Responses to Old Friends—Good Friends

  1. I suspect that most great artists, bricklayers, intellectuals work to affect the masses no matter what class or station in life. Most are genuinely surprised when someone comes along and attributes some certain, ultimate, universal meaning to their work.

    Your dinner friend symbolizes a need for hierarchy and exclusivity. I remember someone explaining that they moved the original Met from its original 14th street location because the elite were upset that more of the ordinary classes were coming to enjoy the opera.

    Especially with old friends one must accept change and diversity and divergence in opinions and attitudes. We grow differently and are shaped by different experiences. Thus the idea or ideal of friendship goes beyond similarities. In today’s culture people claim they have 100, 400, 1000 friends. It use to make be envious, since my good friends number close to the number of my fingers and a few toes. Then I discovered they are talking about Facebook. And the concept of Facebook is to match people with similar ‘Likes.”

    Great friendships seem to be about sharing differences as well as likes. Joining in the adventure letting our curiosity take us to the land of uncertainties and not worrying about holding our class and social standing by using false exclusive knowledge to hold onto power.

    Mozart is a good friend because he never intended his friends to hear his soul in the same way. In fact he would delight in knowing that audiences heard his music differently and brought their own unique life experiences to the act of listening. Unlike your dinner partner he would have been appalled at trying to fence the understanding of his work in a particular way.

    I have an older friend who learned years ago to be intolerant of certainty. Before she would sit down at a dinner party or a concert she would ask the people next to her, “Are you going to be one of those who are rigid in your opinion? If so I won’t even bother talking with you.” Kind of abrupt and rude, but it usually had the affect of either beginning a deeper rapport or signaling to her unexpected target and my friend that there was no purpose in going further.

    In the end, like music, literature, or brickwork, the connection has a mysterious element, but I am sure it includes an ingredient of acceptance of differences, and neglect of hierarchy, the understanding that equality and even likeness should celebrate diversity.

    Thanks for a provocative essay and stick with good friends.

  2. Really listening, acceptance, lack of judgment, openness to the moment, and joie de vivre These are the qualities of friendship that transcend time and place.
    Music I is a lovely metaphor for these qualities because music touches the soul.

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