Three Improvisations on Music

by George Szirtes


Cheap music is not as cheap as it was. One can wander in its corridors for hours before emerging. It’s the leaving that’s expensive. Always something to be paid, and then the tip in the form an encore which takes its time fading.

Listen, someone is playing an accordion as though it were an organ. It is all vox humana and not a particularly clear voice either. It’s merely a mouth organ with legs and a ridiculous wing that spreads and closes.

Cheap music keeps low company. It hangs around street corners and at disreputable stage doorways waiting for the star to emerge but when the star walks by music is ignored. Cheap music makes music out of that.

My father blew a serviceable mouth organ round the boy scout fire. His symphonic arrangements lurched and hobbled in the moonlight.


Under the music another music, below
that another that is hardly music but noise –
something wells in the throat of the day

and day gives forth, lends ear, pronounces
one syllable then another and begins
to whistle or hum or tap its delicate fingers

on a windowsill or on the edge of a plate,
searching for the hidden, for the sound
time makes as it passes, for the measure

it moves to, for the melodic shift in pitch
that opens on a glimpse of a whole landscape
through which music can begin to move

as though it belonged there, as if it was
the place that produced it, as if it were natural,
neither building nor fluid architecture.


In a notional Paris of the imagination
cafés make their own music which is
not all Piaf and Prevert but a darker tide
boring under all thirty-seven bridges
that municipal authorities provide.

Music has its own administration,
is more like river than street, more like dream,
more sea, more rain, more thunder, sun and cloud
and yet we make it rounded on a theme
and run it through its paces soft or loud.

Music and words: the nature we invent
as consolation out of joy or pity
to turn what happens into an event
as complex as a murder or a city.

Last updated December 21, 2022