Friday, March 9, 2018

A Wagner Matinee by Willa Cather Analysis

The majority of literary works of American author Willa Cather were linked with the place where she had passed her youth: Nebraska, the USA. A Wagner Matinee is a story about the perception of the classical music by the woman who kept her passion for music through severe life in the prairies.

The narrator, whose name was Clark, studied music in Boston. He had got a letter from his uncle reading that his aunt Georgiana from Nebraska was arriving the next day. He hardly recognized her in the train because her harsh life in Nebraska had changed her appearance dramatically. Before she moved to Nebraska, she was a music teacher at Boston Conservatory. During her vacation in Nebraska, where her ancestors had lived for generations, she met a boy who became her friend. He followed her to Boston and eventually they got married and moved to Nebraska.

They had no money. Their life hardships in the prairies were described in this paragraph:

"They built a dugout in the red hillside, one of those cave dwellings whose inmates so often reverted to primitive conditions. Their water they got from the lagoons where the buffalo drank and their slender stock of provisions was always at the mercy of bands of roving Indians. For thirty years my aunt had not been further than fifty miles from the homestead. "

The current appearance of Mrs. Georgiana didn’t have much in common with young Mrs. Georgiana who taught little Clark literature and arts. She avoided talking about music. The reason was explained by the narrator in this episode:

"I had found among her music books, she came up to me and, putting her hands over my eyes, gently drew my head back upon her shoulder, saying tremulously, “Don't love it so well, Clark, or it may be taken from you. Oh! dear boy, pray that whatever your sacrifice may be, it be not that.

Now the Aunt Georgiana came to Boston and Clark decided to invite her to a concert of classical music, to Wagner Matinee. It seemed that the thoughts of Mrs. Georgiana were far away from the concert hall, "she had forgotten to leave instructions about feeding half-skimmed milk to a certain weakling calf ... She was further troubled because she had neglected to tell her daughter about the freshly-opened kit of mackerel in the cellar, which would spoil if it were not used directly."

Clark thought that the invitation to the concert might have been a mistake, this world of classical music was dead for her forever. After the first music composition passed, her attitude to that event changed dramatically. "The first number was the Tannhauser overture. When the horns drew out the first strain of the Pilgrim's chorus, my Aunt Georgiana clutched my coat sleeve. Then it was I first realized that for her this broke a silence of thirty years; the inconceivable silence of the plains."

Not everyone is capable of appreciating the beauty of the classical music.

An ear for music is a gift of nature which some people get at birth. The writers, journalists who write about classical music often describe it using images of beautiful nature, recollections of something pleasant. Willa Cather used another method, she described the perception of music by a person who sincerely loves it. 

Willa Cather conveyed to readers the awareness of the beauty of music. That is a wonderful feature of reading: people who stand far away from the area which is described in literary works could get immersed in unfamiliar settings and situations. Severe life in prairies, a gentle feeling of music, the perception of beauty are the subjects of the exploration in this story.


Here is the link to the text of the story:
http://www.thomas.k12.ga.us/userfiles/257/Classes/70504/userfiles/257/my%20files/new%20folder/reading-a%20wagner%20matinee.pdf?id=113758