Hearing Secret (Werckmeister) Harmonies by Sheila Seacroft

Published on: March 23rd, 2004

HEARING SECRET (WERCKMEISTER) HARMONIES

by Sheila Seacroft

Harmony is the key – Janos believes in the benevolence of the universe through harmony & balance – the music of the spheres? Everything is rational, nothing to be feared once you understand it. He explains that eclipses have rational explanations – the darkness is not to be feared, it won’t last, light will always come back, in fact it’s always there. He makes chaps in pub part of the harmony of universe. Every creature is in harmony, world is a wonderful place if you can just understand it, fear can be explained away.

Film isn’t really set in Hungary, it’s any time, anywhere , nor is it political in contemporary events sense – fascism is philosophy before it’s historic or political. We are actually on the ‘darkling plain’ (see below). Meanwhile Eszter is trying to hunt for truth by undoing the harmonies created & sustained by western culture (Werckmeister), going back beyond Bach and age of reason, it might be truer music but is discordant. Seeking truth & authenticity isn’t always a good thing. Beauty isn’t necessarily truth. The beautiful things of European culture exemplified in music are really based on a slight tweaking of reality.

Janos is essentially pre- darwinian medieval type, with overlay of age of reason (from Eszter?). He wants to see whale as example of wonder of God’s creation, world, splendour of existence, whatever, another part of the order of the universe. Unfortunately he’s wrong. The prince (of darkness? [theological] or Macchiavelli’ s Il Principe? [political]) is in charge of whale, which however magnificent it’s been (which we get a feeling of), is smelly, decaying, corrupted, just a thing, being used by evil people.

Auntie Tunde offers alternative evil force, dances to a different tune, military marches – typically the two evils use each other to corrupt citizens, second night they are no longer dancing to the music of spheres, have become chaotic evil. This also personified by those awful children, (babysittees from Hell!) wreaking destruction, clanging instruments, harmony’s gone. Hospital attack reversal of normality, unreason, chaos – long take of march on it quite terrifying. Beautiful glittery street of previous night now full of rampaging purposeful mindlessness. Circles of dance have become corralled straight lines ( humanism taken over by fascism). Devastation at hospital more harrowing to watch because NOT choreographed & amateur. Agree with you, though, re sight of the old man improbably stopping them in their tracks, sentimental, why? So this is world Janos can’t get out of, even down railway tracks – There is no change of place, in fact. Finally musician views devastated whale/world as it really is, that’s the truth at the end, & that’s the ‘harmony’ he’s been trying to rediscover.

The world, which seems
So various, so beautiful, so new
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain
But we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle & flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold

by Sheila Seacroft