Existential Sneeze

2012-08-29 – My eyes water a lot at this time of year. I used to have allergies in the late summer and early fall, but when I was in my twenties I had a three-year series of desensitization shots and was cured.

My tears now are existential tears, shed for the sufferings of humanity. For in Jewish tradition, this month (the month of Elul) is a month of reflection leading up to Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).

When my reflection is particularly intense, I sneeze an existential sneeze. It has nothing to do with the pollen count.

If you want to hear an orchestral version of an existential sneeze, click here to listen to a YouTube recording of the Hary Janos Suite by Zoltan Kodaly, performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Willem Mengelberg conducting. The sneeze is the first couple bars of the suite. You’ll know when it’s over; it’s only six seconds. But listen to the rest of the suite when you have time (23:30 in this performance). It’s a nice piece of music.

The suite comes from an opera by the same name, which is a story of a soldier who sits every day in a tavern telling all sorts of wild stories. The composer says: “That his stories are not true is irrelevant, for they are the fruit of a lively imagination, seeking to create, for himself and for others, a beautiful dream world.”*

Kinda like the Republican National Convention.

According to Kodaly, when a story is told and a listener sneezes, the sneeze is a confirmation of the truth of the story.  An existential sneeze. For the sufferings of humanity.

* Eösze L. Zoltán Kodály – His Life and Work. Collet’s Holdings Ltd, London, 1962.

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