Johann Joachim Quantz's Five Lessons

--W. S. Graham

The First Lesson


So that each person may quickly find that

Which particularly concerns him, certain metaphors

Convenient to us within the compass of this

Lesson are to be allowed. It is best I sit

Here where I am to speak on the other side

Of language. You, of course, in your own time

And incident (I speak in the small hours.)

Will listen from your side. I am very pleased

We have sought us out. No doubt you have read

My Flute Book. Come. The Guild clock's iron men

Are striking out their few deserted hours

And here from my high window Brueghel's winter

Locks the canal below. I blow my fingers.



The Second Lesson


Good morning, Karl. Sit down. I have been thinking

About your progress and my progress as one

Who teaches you, a young man with talent

And the rarer gift of application. I think

You must now be becoming a musician

Of a certain calibre. It is right maybe

That in our lessons now I should expect

Slight and very polite impatiences

To show in you. Karl, I think it is true,

You are now nearly able to play the flute.

Now we must try higher, aware of the terrible

Shapes of silence sitting outside your ear

Anxious to define you and really love you.

Remember silence is curious about its opposite

Element which you shall learn to represent.

Enough of that.  Now stand in the correct position

So that the wood of the floor will come up through you.

Stand, but not too stiff. Keep your elbows down.

Now take a simple breath and make me a shape

Of clear unchained started and finished tones.

Karl, as well as you are able, stop

Your fingers into the breathing apertures

And speak and make the cylinder delight us.


The Third Lesson


Karl, you are late. The traverse flute is not

A study to take lightly. I am cold waiting

Put one piece of coal in the stove. This lesson

Shall not be prolonged. Right.  Stand in your place.

Ready? Blow me a little ladder of sound

From a good stance so that you feel the heavy

Press of the floor coming up through you and

Keeping your pitch and tone in character.

Now that is something, Karl. You are getting on.

Unswell your head. One more piece of coal.

Go on now but remember it must be a1ways

Easy and flowing. Light and shadow must

Be varied but be varied in your mind

Before you hear the eventual return sound.

Play me the dance you made for the barge-master.

Stop stop Karl.  Play it as you first thought

Of it in the hot boat-kitchen That is a pleasure

For me. I can see I am making you good.

Keep the stove red. Hand me the matches. Now

We can see better. Give me a shot at the pipe.

Karl, I can still put on a good flute-mouth

And show you in this high cold room something

You will be famous to have said you heard.



The Fourth Lesson


You are early this morning What we have to do

Today is think of you as a little creator

After the big creator. And it can be argued

You are as necessary, even a composer

Composing in the flesh an attitude

To slay the ears of the gentry. Karl,

I know you find great joy in the great

Composers. But now you can put your lips to

The messages and blow them into sound

And enter and be there as well.  You must

Be faithful to who you are speaking from

And yet it is all right. You will be there.

Take your coat off. Sit down. A glass of Bols

Will help us both. I think you are good enough

To not need me anymore. I think you know

You are not only an interpreter.

What you will do is always something else

and they will hear you simultaneously with

The Art you have been given to read. Karl,

I think the Spring is really coming at last.

I see the canal boys working. I realise

I have not asked you to play the flute today.

Come and look. Are the barges not moving?

You must forgive me. I am not myself today.

Be here on Thursday. When you come, bring

Me five herrings. Watch your fingers. Spring

Is apparent but it is still chilblain weather.


The Last Lesson


Dear Karl, this morning is our last lesson.

I have been given the opportunity to

Live in a certain person's house and tutor

Him and his daughters on the traverse flute.

Karl, you will be all right. In those recent

lessons my heart lifted to your playing

I know. I see you doing well, invited

In a great chamber in front of the gentry. I

Can see them with their dresses settling in

And bored mouths beneath moustaches sizing

You up as you are, a lout from the canal

With big ears but an angel's tread on the flute.

But you will be all right. Stand in your place

Before them. Remember Johann. Begin with good

Nerve and decision. Do not intrude too much

Into the message you carry and put out.

One last thing, Karl, remember when you enter

The joy of those quick high archipelagoes,

To make to keep your finger-stops as light

As feathers but definite. What can I say more?

Do not be sentimental or in your Art.

I will miss you. Do not expect applause.