Listen to the clarinet standing alone. Listen to the battle story. The nervous thrumming strings are the racing hearts of memory. Now the brass! The first clashes build to tempestuous thunder and then collapse. But the winds rally! The theme! It is time for the theme! But as strongly as it begins, it fades away, and the orchestra waits, poised.
It runs now! It leaps from hillock to hummock, climbing the hill, tumbling down the other side and struggling back again. Build with the music, climb and chase that singular trumpet. It rises above the mad to-and-fro to call out, “Here! The standard is here!” Then it is swept under the tide, the onslaught of strings, only to rise again, with the French horns to pull it through. Will the theme come again? Is it time? See, only pockets of fighting remain.
Now the skirmish gives way and the dead rise from under their flags and join hands. They walk now in the pastoral gardens with the strings and flutes. Their lives elide one into the other until, swaying before us, they dance. Dead and dancing in this former battlefield. Sinking into their ephemeral legs, they give color once more to those last battle lit moments. The war arises again, but closer now, just before us. Crouching low, and everywhere rebuffed from escape. Running again. Once more cut off. Once more the dead. Now they yield up their forms and their dance dissipates.
And in their wake, remember. Remember the trumpet that held aloft the standard. Remember the building, the crash, the cannons. La Marseillaise! La Marseillaise! Mercy, La Marseillaise.
It’s all falling now, sliding block from pillar, then sinking, and sinking again, and lying flat against the earth to creep forward violins and cellos in hand. Hear the cymbals! Look at them march together in the cacophony of bells. They are running down the hill, running, and the standard is carried now by many, reverberating even as it fades.
Do you hear it in the distance? The cavalry? They ride on light feet that grow heavier as they wade into the parade. The processional! The dead beckon once more, they beg us to dance with them, a final explosion to put paid every fallen one. Let the music carry the pennant! Sing them! Do you hear them singing? The cannons, the cannons bellow victory, and at last, the theme. Finally the theme comes back. Strong this time, certain, sweeping across everything with a trumpet’s speed. And it is done; it is won. Won and done, and the cannons blast triumph while the bells clang release. The brass and the strings, the drums and the winds, they play together the final certainty.
And that, your honor, is how the officer clocked me at 103 in a seventy mile per hour zone.
Author’s note: This is a work of fiction. It isn’t even a particularly accurate recounting of what the piece was intended to represent. I first heard the 1812 overture when I was playing flute, which was somehow supposed to substitute for our nonexistent string section in 8th grade honor band under a director who went by Strider. (Awesome guy; I was not an awesome flute player, and I think I only got in because I had the perfect audition piece.) Anyway, the song has stuck with me as one of my favorites, and it was playing on the radio after I dropped the kids off for school. Since I had no passengers, I turned the radio to eardrum blasting volume and hummed along badly. I did not get a ticket, didn’t even get pulled over. Also, it was only eighty mph. And only during the cannon-y bits.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.