Lukas Foss was music; he could transport you, make you forget where you were.
'The melting major to minor chord at the very end,' Lukas enthused, hands massaging the air between his chest and the dashboard, 'is original here. Some say that this is where Mahler got the idea for the same effect in his sixth.' We were riffing on Beethoven's third, the great 'Eroica,' the score of which sat on his lap, the piece I was driving him to the Performing Arts Center to rehearse with the Milwaukee Symphony, for whom he was then (this was the early eighties) serving as Music Director.
'At the end of the second movement, I'm going to try something interesting: as the theme disintegrates—the part marked sotto voce—I'm going to remove players one by one from the tune.'
'Like Beethoven's hearing leaving him. Cool. How do the players feel about the idea?'
'Oh, they are not too happy. They are a little cross about the scherzo, too.'
'I'm making a little Rossini-esque accelerando through the theme so that it sounds like nervous laughter.'
'Beethoven's nervous breakdown?'
'Night fears following the loss of his hearing....'
'Chattering teeth in a death skull...?'
'Worse. The effects of lead poisoning.'
'Wow,' I said, turning the wrong direction on to a one way street. The sound of horns.
'What's that?' asked Lukas, abruptly conscious of his surroundings.
'We're driving the wrong way down a one way street,' I answered, as mildly as I could.
'Oh,' he replied, completely disinterested. 'Then, when the finale begins, the variations are a triumph of the...'
I pulled over. We were now five minutes late to the rehearsal and I was hopelessly lost, even though I had grown up in Milwaukee.
'... a triumph,' I attempted to complete his thought, 'of the rational, conscious mind, expressed through the excercise of craft that composing variations requries, over the irrational fears of the subconscious?'
'That's interesting you should say that,' he smiled. 'I've always thought that fugue, so rational, was, in the end—take the Grosse Fuge—his avenue for exploring madness.'
And so the conversation continued, as I drove us around for another ten minutes, exhilarated not only by the wrong turn but by the fact that I had completely screwed up the simple task of getting the Maestro to his rehearsal on time that I'd been assigned and by the welcoming embrace of Lukas' wonderful, joyful mind and musical spirit: he had literally made me forget where I was. And so the musical conversation between us continued for another quarter century.
The last time I saw Lukas was a few months before his death. My wife and I sat immediately in front of him and his son in the mostly-empty Miller Theater at Columbia University where his Time Cycle was being performed. We visited awhile. I told him that Time Cycle had not only transported me, made me forget where I was, the way he himself had when we first met, but that it had also made me forget what time it was, and he squeezed my hand, eyes twinkling. He asked after my brother, sent his love, reached out to pat my wife's pregnant belly to greet our son, and said, 'Welcome, Little Man.'
After his piece the audience whooped and hollered. Lukas asked, 'But nobody knows I am here. Should I go up?' His son said, 'Yes, of course.' He did, and received a long, loving, appreciative ovation.
Lukas was music, and profoundly worthy of love. We remained faithful friends for over a quarter of a century, and I shall miss him more than I can say.
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