Rooke loved the logic of the notation, the way the fundamental unit of the breve could be broken into smaller and smaller pieces. Even the quickest hemi-demi-semi-quaver was part of that original breve, the sonority unheard but underlying and giving meaning to every note.
Then there was the machine itself. An organ was nothing more than dozens of tubes of air. Every pipe had just one note to sing, was incapable of any other: one pipe, one note. Each stood in its place alongside the others, its metal mouth open, full of air waiting to be moved. Sitting at the keyboard twenty yards away at the other end of the chapel, Rooke would play a chord and listen as each pipe sang out its note. He almost wept with gratitude that the world could offer such a glory of sound.
He sat in the chapel for hours picking his way through fugues. A dozen notes, hardly music. But then those few notes spoke to each other, subject and answer, by repetition, by diminution, by augmentation, even looping backwards on themselves in a course like the retrograde motion of Mars. He listened as if he had as many ears as fingertips, and, like a blind man, could feel textures that were barely there. At the end of two or three pages of music he would hear all the voices twining together in a construction of such dizzying power that the walls of the chapel could barely contain it.
Others, tiring of the sound of Buxtehude and Bach for hours on end, would complain there was no tune. That was exactly the thing he liked best about a fugue, the fact that it could not be sung. A fugue was not singular, as a melody was, but plural. It was a conversation.
On the organ bench he sat through hundreds of sermons, his back to the crowded pews, and he mumbled the morsels of bread and sipped from the chalice with the others. But the God of sin and retribution, of the mysteries of suffering and resurrection, did not speak to him.
He had no argument with God, but for him God was not in those words or those rituals. He had seen God in the night sky long before he understood its patterns. There was something about the way the body of the stars moved together as one that he had always found miraculous and comforting.
On the long winter evenings Rooke would slip outside, past the kitchens, and stand in the yard looking up. In the cold the constellations were close and brilliant. He was comforted by the way you could always find the Charioteer and the Little Bear circling the sky together. Each sparkle did not need to find its way across the darkness alone but moved together with its fellows, held fast in its place by some mighty hand.
That the moon was sometimes a sliver and sometimes a plate had seemed when he was a child to be a sly trick. But when he understood the reason, he was awed. There was a pattern, but he had been looking for it on the wrong scale. A week was not enough to see it, a month was needed.
He hoped that all understanding might be as simple as a matter of scale. If a man had not a week, not a year, not even a lifetime—if he had millennia, aeons—all the seemingly erratic movements of heavenly bodies and earthly vicissitudes would turn out to have meaning. Some kinds of order were too vast for a human to know. But below the chaos of a single human life, you could trust that a cosmic breve was sounding.
As the chaplain had his Gospels, Rooke had his own sacred text in which his God made Himself plain: mathematics. Man had been given a brain that could think in numbers, and it could not be coincidence that the world was unlocked by that very tool. To understand any aspect of the cosmos was to look on the face of God: not directly, but by a species of triangulation, because to think mathematically was to feel the action of God in oneself.
He saw others comforted by their ideas of God: as a stern but kindly father, or a brother sharing a burden. What comforted Rooke, on the contrary, was the knowledge that as an individual he did not matter. Whatever he was, he was part of a whole, one insignificant note within the great fugue of being.
Excerpted from The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville Copyright © 2009 by Kate Grenville. Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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