What is the theme of "The Concert" by Lisel Mueller  

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“The Concert” by Lisel Mueller consists of seven two-line free verse stanzas and a final verse consisting of only a single line.  Each of the couplets identify and describe an instrument found in an orchestra, assigning each its own personality based on its construction and purpose.  This personification suggests that...

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“The Concert” by Lisel Mueller consists of seven two-line free verse stanzas and a final verse consisting of only a single line.  Each of the couplets identify and describe an instrument found in an orchestra, assigning each its own personality based on its construction and purpose.  This personification suggests that each instrument in an orchestra is a different being, and contributes to the full sound of a piece of music in its own way.  When, for example, she states that “Drumsticks rattle a calfskin/from the sleep of another life,” she alludes to the materials from which the drums are made, which gives the drums they’re particular timbre and place among the brass and winds and strings.

At first Mueller designates the individuals behind the instruments:  “the harpist believes…” and “the French horn player believes…” but after the second couplet she implements synecdoche (in which a part is used to represent a whole, or vice-versa), to make the instrument itself stand in for its player – “the piano believes…” and “the strings are scratching their bellies….”  This obviates any distinction between a player and its instrument – the two are one, and as one form a new being that performs its own necessary function within the orchestra. 

Structurally, each couplet is a full sentence, with a subject and a predicate, until we get to the penultimate verse, which begins with a conjunction:  “because the supernatural crow/on the podium flaps his wings.”  Here we find the cause of this harmonious individualism:  all of these personalities are awoken because of the control of the conductor over the orchestra; without this “crow” there would be no cohesion amongst all the instruments and players.

The poem is dedicated to the late, great conductor and composer Dimitri Mitropoulos.  The final line in the piece, the only one to stand alone, tacks this thought onto the end:  “and death is no excuse.”  The poem was written for Mitropoulos, who must be the “supernatural crow” mentioned in the work – a crow often being a symbol of death – and so we can assume that he especially is capable of bringing out such living harmony in both his conducting and his composition.  And his legacy will live on in his works, perpetuating this ability of his to see instruments as extensions of the lives that control them, as well as to harness their differences to work in unity, each according to its construction.  Just because he has passed away does not mean his works will cease to hold this beauty and this meaning.  The poem is in remembrance of his skill.

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