One of my recent anxieties has been whether I have lost any of my memory since having that brain haemorrhage.
I was always really proud of my ability to recall facts, even conversations, in pretty accurate detail.
The haemorrhage which the neurologist let me see on the MRI images taken just after I was hospitalised, showed that is was in the left temporal lobe which seems to control speech, verbal memory and other language functions.
I hated the idea of any of these functions being damaged as I guess I have always been a left temporal lobe kinda guy. So ever since I regained consciousness, I have tested myself on my memory and mostly passed.
I wrote two poems in hospital to test my verbal recall and went out of my way to remember obscure names from the newspapers.
Apparently, though, it is impossible to bleed in your brain without causing some brain damage so I have kept up a continual observation for any noticeable deterioration.
I have obviously been very lucky in that nothing very significant is observable to others. However, I feel that I may have developed a form of speech hesitation, a bit like a stammer but without the stutter. I know what I am going to say but the words just don’t appear. Generally they arrive moments later so this may not be apparent to other people most of whom think I talk too much anyway.
This is a minor inconvenience at worst and I may well be able to train myself through it.
Sometimes now I do forget names, something I never did before the haemorrhage…well, so I thought. In reality I suspect that I did forget words, just like everybody does but now I am in danger of obsessing on any lost word or name.
I was thinking about a 17th. Century Bohemian composer yesterday morning who wrote some strangely beautiful violin pieces called the Rosary Sonatas. It was a random thought. I had developed an interest in this composer on a visit to Salzburg where he had been an honoured composer and violinist.
I owned a much played cd of this music and I could remember that the violinist was Andrew Manze but, no matter how much I tried I could not bring the composer’s name to mind.
Of course I could have gone to find the cd but that would not do and, on and off, throughout the day, I struggled to bring back this name. I knew it began with the letter B but that was as far as I got.
I wont tell you the answer just so that you can suffer like I did.
This was not a minor moment forgotten from my past. I had travelled to Salzburg with a collection of works on cd by this composer who had become an intriguing new voice to me. The kind of discovery that awakens one’s tired taste buds. He was someone who had been neglected by posterity until recent times and he now adds a different dimension to our knowledge of Baroque music.
When walking round Salzburg Cathedral, I recalled a magnificent recording of a gigantic mass written for the space and attributed to composer B. I had played the music on the train journey from Stuttgart to Salzburg and I would have no problem recalling the notes to this day.
But that name – it never came back until I did admit defeat and looked it up.
I wrote in one of these blogs that I am now finding that my levels of concentration have recovered so much that I am now listening to classical music again.
I may well return to a project which I have been pursuing for some years now. Forgive me, I know that I have always shown some signs of obsessive behaviour. I decided that I wanted to revisit classical music, to try to listen to it again with fresh ears and to fit all those many pieces that I have loved into a historical context and, yes, into a chronological order.
So I began with the Gregorian chants from the 11th. Century and worked my way forward – never allowing myself to listen to any piece of classical music written after the specific date I was concentrating on at that time.
This detailed study, amongst other things, brought long familiar works to my ears as if they were freshly written and also brought forward composers, like Mr. B, who were completely new to me.
Before my haemorrhage I had reached 1856 and the works lined up were Wagner’s resplendant Die Walkure, Berlioz’s dramatic and exquisitely beautiful Les Troyens, Bizet’s Symphony in C, a joyful expression of young genius but also two rather dull symphonies by Gounod (Symphony No. 2 in E flat) and the Danish composer Niels Gade (Symphony No. 6 in G Minor).
The Wagner, Berlioz and Bizet are works I have known and loved for a long time but they have stayed gathering dust on my shelves. I just haven’t been able to revisit them. I hope that this will change now that I am, I hope, recovering. The Gounod and the Gade, I played in hospital and wondered if I had lost my interest in classical music. Playing them again last week, I decided it was not my brain that was to blame but that these symphonies are just plain boring both composers did a whole lot better elsewhere.
So, now, far from thinking that it is always my brain that is at fault, I believe I am re-discovering my critical abilities….or at least my prejudices.
I will be seriously concerned though if I find Die Walkure dull when those wild women, the Valkyries ride through the air again or when Brunhilde is put to sleep on a rock surrounded by fire by her grief-stricken father, Wotan, the king of the gods.
Please brain, let me enjoy this wonderful music again.
And please memory, keep in place all those works, over the nine centuries that I have studied and loved.
But maybe I should remember that sometimes it is not a bad thing if other people think that you have become forgetful.
I knew an elderly lady once who had as good a memory as anyone else but a pathological fear of small talk.
If well-meaning friends or relations asked her what she considered to be dull questions like, “What was the weather like with you yesterday?” or “How long have you lived in your flat?” She would answer with undue speed, “I can’t remember”.
It became a mantra….it meant I cannot be bothered to think about anything so uninteresting.
I might adopt that habit.
But I also plan to test my memory with those works from the eleventh century until 1856 every now and then in these blogs. I might even get to 1857 one day. Your indulgence please.