At about three minutes and fifteen seconds into Chopin’s “Raindrop” prelude, there is a musical phrase so evocative, so strangely transfixing.
The prelude opens with a pleasant melodic theme laid over repetitive mid-range notes that suggest (to me) the slow dripping of water through wide deciduous leaves, maple leaves perhaps. It’s a sound you’ll never hear while the rain is actually falling (it’s too quiet not to be drowned out), but it slowly steps forward and lingers afterwards. Then, about a minute and three-quarters into the piece, the clouds begin to heap themselves up slowly, ominous and black, until they are immediately overhead. There is a brief, violent downpour. The skies soften for just a moment and then begin to mass themselves for a second assault. There is another ferocious burst.
Then in the immediate sequel, a moment resembling nothing so much as the vanishingly brief convex that chases an ocean swell, there comes the marvelous phrase. In the rest of the prelude there is nothing like it for texture or character. There’s something arch and almost sinister in it, but majestic; vaguely threatening but stark and blameless as a bare mountain of creviced granite, sleek and steaming after a summer shower. It’s the commentary of stone spires that drink in rainwater clawed from the ragged edges of clouds.
The phrase repeats itself once, but softer, and then resolves into a reprise of the opening melody measured out in the perseverating drips that fall between the leaves.