The river craft moves slowly upriver in the heart of Terra Magellanica,
this forest land of earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions,
sitting low in the mud-coloured water, laden with its cargo
of appoggiaturas, mordents, sarabandes, gavottes and trills,
along with Domenico Zipoli in his black cassock, lately of Rome, Florence, Bologna
and Naples, scene of his famous contretemps with Scarlatti, père.
A white miasmic vapour covers the river and forest until burning off midday.
Large clumps of water-hyacinths and water-lilies floating by,
seething with venomous snakes like Medusa hair,
endless swampland, seas of pampas grass, forests of jacaranda.
With dusk settling in, the burrowing, metallic roar of cicadas,
and later in the depths of night, the sounds of a jaguar rending the flesh
of a sleeping Guarani or wayward Christian, enjoying a tinkle behind a tree.
Susan Alexander-Max is recording Zipoli’s 1716 Sonate d’Intavolatura
on an original Cristofori gravicembalo col piano e forte
in one of the André Mertens Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
on a beautiful fall afternoon in 1992, the famous entrance steps of the museum
littered with tourists and locals taking in the sun and grand old mansions
across the way, Beaux Arts, Second Empire, foliage in high colour in Central Park.
The most beautiful keyboard timbre on earth, along with Silbermann’s fortepiano,
1749, dismissed out of hand by Johann Sebastian Bach as ‘insufficient’,
falling somewhere between the harpsichord and modern piano, most deliciously.
Domenico Zipoli never heard or played on either, more’s the pity, but not for us,
one disc, and one only, currently available from Amazon for $99, a steal.
These Suites, in B minor, C minor and D minor, published in 1716,
with their ‘exquisitely timed modulations, tuneful, concise and never dry’.
Alligators bask, half-submerged, in the shallows along the river banks.
Our Soldier of Christ penetrates ever deeper into the green enamel sheen
of the tropical rainforest, this ‘inland China’ between the two great rivers,
lianas with their yellow, red and purple clusters of blossoms, hanging
like enormous bunches of grapes overhead within reach of the boat,
monkeys and parrots chattering away, thickets of wild orange, lemon and lime,
red earth the violent tropical rains turn into a red paste.
Scarlet and blue macaws soar overhead like brightly coloured hawks,
Crimson carpets of verbena, the devil’s trumpet, yellow Datura.
The dark young Guarani boy in white, swinging the censer, tower bells sounding,
and the organ blast of a diapason reverberating throughout the jungle,
then slowly subsiding, until swallowed by insect whirr and birdsong.