"Casa Batlló", Harold Meltzer's Latest Work

"Casa Batlló", Harold Meltzer's Latest Work

26 November 2023 /Announcements

First Thoughts on Harold Meltzer’s latest work, “Casa Batlló”

Vassar College
Music at the Loeb
November 17, 2023

with Raman Ramakrishnan, cello, and Thomas Sauer, piano


I’m first struck by an alluring, puzzling frisson, a sense of working out a deep issue, with a chilling feeling of unease. I quite like the transition where the tune is reimagined, as in a broken mirror. Later, I’m struck by a quiet sense of hope that brings solace at 11’ and again, amplified at 11:45 or so. What I remember following is a striking progression toward a moment of starkness, a thinning out of the texture. And there is so much more than what my words cannot muster. It’s wonderful and powerful.

That’s my purely musical first impression. One does not have to think about the title, but it’s a fun exercise to imagine moving around in Gaudi’s Casa Batlló, from floor to floor, room to room.

That inchoate sense of unease – some of the rooms have a sinister quality.

Is it the sense of the brutal and scary aspects of nature (This is not just me; see Poe and the sea, Auden on the sea, see Edmund Wilson on Auden and the sea, see Harold Bloom on Whitman and “negative nature”)?

The columns outside the big windows look like bones. It’s a bit unsettling and in Harold’s musical telling of his experience in those spaces, by 11 minutes you’re starting to feel at home in it, even joyful.

Here, Meltzer brings attention to something that I had not noticed about Casa Batlló. The bones are on the outside. Inside, the columns are architecturalized. The house next door (by Puig?) is fantastic neo-Gothic. The interior columns in front of Casa Batlló’s big windows are only a bit more organic than Gothic columns. Gaudi distances himself from Gothic and the neo-Gothic architechts, how? The vines and leaves and other organic ornaments at Mont-Saint-Michel are typical of Gothic all over Europe. Gothic is already very organic.

I had not interpreted Gaudi quite this way. I come to an insight about Gaudi from Harold’s music. Gaudi’s organicism differs from Gothic in that he allows more than a faint whiff of the sinister aspects of nature. But interesting that the bone-like columns are outside and the inside are more like Gothic arches and not so creepy.

In some Gaudi attics we feel we are inside a whale. Often we are inside a nautilus. We do squirm in our bodies and we distract ourselves in various ways to find peace in these bodies. Gaudi has us in living machines that remind us that we are living machines, constantly dressing ourselves in a manner that might let us forget we are trapped in bodies.

Once again, Meltzer’s musical works do not rely on a program. Interpreting is what some of us do, and there will be many ways to interpret Meltzer’s latest work. Meltzer’s Cygnus piece, “Brion” is about Carlo Scarpa’s Brion-Vega Cemetary. There is also a sense of how we feel, moving from one sculpture to another, and there is an element of discomfort as we remember that we are in a cemetery.