2nd Movement: “A Cloud Hangs Over Me”
(Twenty Four Hours)
Smerdyakov, the bastard Karamazov half-brother, an epileptic, says of his illness: “It stops and goes away, and then it starts up again; I could not regain my reason for three whole days.”
Twenty Four Hours is quiet, loud, quiet, loud, slow, fast, slow, fast. Almost a proto- ‘math-rock ‘song. A relation of mine (who’s a massive Joy Division fan like me, who suffers from epilepsy, unlike me) once said that this song possibly incorporates elements of epileptic seizure – the fast oblique loud bits being the fits. Could be. Could also be about blaming yourself when things go wrong, frustration and rage turning inwards, love lost, clinical depression – many things. Me, I think it’s about (and I’m not kidding here) the eternal human need and inability to create a time machine, and the irony of that in a world that’s pathologically obsessed with ordering itself around the numbers on the face of the clock. Intense gravitational forces preclude the making of a time machine, apparently.
The monochromatic vibe of Twenty Four Hours, and the lyrics and the playing, somehow, have an element of dark comedy. There is no stop; rewind; fast-forward, it is saying, with the faintest smile and darkest laugh. It reminds me of Laurel and Hardy in The Music Box – Chaplin and The Marx Brothers may have been funny, may have been genius, but comedy-wise there isn’t much that compares to Stan & Ollie trying to get a piano up a flight of stairs. It is art. It is also (of course) based on the Greek myth of Sisyphus, the kid who has to push a massive boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down and the task to start again. Twenty Four Hours suggests every day being like the job of Sisyphus, physically and mentally.
“If people could see into my heart, I would almost feel ashamed. To me, everything is cold – as cold as ice.” Mozart again. Indeed, the second movement of K.550 is – make no mistake – a sonic cathedral of ice. Mozart’s 40th Symphony is described in no weak terms by the German musicologist Alfred Einstein (no relation to Alf Garnett) who saw its key-changes as “plunges into the abyss of the soul, symbolised in modulations so bold that to Mozart’s contemporaries they must have seemed to lose their way entirely, and so distant that only Mozart himself could find the way back from time to time”.
Neal Zaslaw’s definitive book on the context of Mozart’s symphonies calls K.550 “a mournful hint at what Mozart might have composed had he lived a normal lifespan” – essentially that Mozart was just hitting his stride, when the finishing line receded suddenly into the distance. The prize was taken away from him. I can’t help wondering, either, what Joy Division could have achieved under different subsequent circumstances.
To be continued …