The Fifth


I spent my birthday evening with myself, myself and the deep, dark sky, clouded except for a single star, moonless, deep, cold. The 5th of March is a moody day—a book that once claimed to tell the meaning of each day of the year called it the Day of Heaven and Hell—sometimes presaging spring, but more often than not, still locked deep in winter’s grasp. When I drove home tonight, there were the remnants of a light dusting of snow, and little cat footprints by the door when I got out.  And new things inscribed above my heart, a deeper understanding, layers and layers of meaning.

The celebrating was yesterday—the prime rib dinner, the cake. Today there was work, a staff meeting to attend. Cake, yes, but not in my honour. But yes, cake.  I found connections in the music I chose, over a quarter of my day devoted to it. First, the morning commute, the Shostakovich 7th (premiered on this day in 1942). Second, the Shostakovich 10th, whose second movement was allegedly a “portrait of Stalin”, he who died on this day in 1953.  The third, for the train ride home, the Shostakovich 4th, because it is Tuesday.  And then the Shostakovich 8th, paused between third and fourth movements while business was accomplished, then resumed. And finally, the 5th.  The 5th, which was my first, thirty-four years ago.  (34. A Fibonacci. Just sayin’.)

There is a tendency among aficionados of any artist of any type to discount an artist’s most popular work. It’s a sign of devotion to proclaim love for the more obscure, the deep cuts, the works only a fan would know. (Shostakovich 13th quartet, I’m looking at you.  Guilty.) But a work does not get the popularity of the Shostakovich 5th without good reason.  It is apparently the most-performed 20th century symphony.  I can understand why.  It is an outwardly extroverted work, in a major key, not too long, and quite accessible.  You can enjoy the 5th without thinking much, and it reels you in cleverly, hiding many secrets beneath its skirts.  And that’s where the aficionados can look at each other knowingly.  We know about the wrong notes, the forced rejoicing, the sarcasm, and above all, the third movement that has the ability to reduce the unsuspecting into a pile of quivering goo—particularly if you know why.

I was coming down the mountain on the 403 this evening as that movement reached its climax, and the lights of Hamilton swung into view, and I felt a little shiver. City lights have ever done this to me, hinting at the thousands of souls just beyond my reach; I see their lights but will never know them. Swinging around onto the QEW, across the Skyway bridge, now moving into the final movement, the lights of the steel plants, blue and orange flames dancing amongst smoke, a scene from Blade Runner—or perhaps a memory of New Jersey, driving into New York City in the vastness of a March night thirty-four years ago.  A yearning still pure after so many years, of potentials and possibilities, of places I dared not to venture but looked upon with longing.

You always remember your first. The Fifth will always be that for me. It will always be worth listening to.  And my own meanings will always layer upon its own.

Five more days.




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