Scordatura, literally "discord,” means
any unusual tuning of a stringed instrument

For the fifteen mysteries Biber’s mysterious
scordaturas made the fiddle
sing new resonances, stark
or mellow timbres. It’s a trick,
to enable otherwise awkward chords,
make octaves easy, or parallel thirds …

The spirit leaps—it always does
at certain kinds of music, at
animal cries, or the wails of babies,
lovers, the newly bereaved. The devil
plays on the fiddles of our heartstrings,
with scordaturas to silence angels
or make them weep. He’s showing off
his virtuosity, and we
applaud his instrumentalism
until our red palms sting in the pain
of dungeons, sick rooms, or, on stages,
Oedipus’ howls, or Lear’s rages.
Their echoes resonate, enlarging
our own distressing repertoires.

David R. Slavitt

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 11 Number 2, on page 45
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