Liszt’s Harmonies du Soir, ft. Maryland Running Back Anthony McFarland

Blessings! Blessings of chaos upon us all! Bama lost! Oklahoma didn’t lose, but their win delivered just as much entertainment as if they had! Kentucky extremely didn’t lose to LSU and is playing for the SEC East this upcoming Saturday! And Scott Frost is coaching a very good team that loses in painful ways – he has nearly made Nebraska as sympathetic a program as UCF was! The ability of the sport to deliver completely unexpected outcomes that have narrative is one of the shining merits of the sport, and it shone very brightly this past weekend.

Ohio State is the primary team of the Zach Walters Appreciation Guild, and they beat Maryland as convincingly as could be expected Week 6. This, too, is chaos – they changed DCs mid-season and are committed to chaos as an organizational principle (and the contradiction there is haha don’t worry about it). Ohio State, as of Week 6, seems like it might have some defensive deficiencies, but it’s not clear what they are, since Ohio State has decided to mask their real personnel issues with manufactured ones, like ‘Hello Let’s Play 15% Of Our Roster Out Of Position And See What Happens.’ More to the point, whatever sins do exist on defense are forgiven by the fact that Ohio State’s offense is possibly the best it has ever had and almost certainly the best in the nation.

The Guild does not endorse this hubris, and reminds ourselves of the truth that C.J. Stroud has uttered: Life Hurts. And that’s something the Guild embraces with a smile, just as it celebrates and embraces Ohio State’s most bleak football moments, like when Ohio State traveled to Annapolis in 2018 to play Maryland. Ohio State narrowly won that game, in Annapolis in late November, 52-51 in OT. Ohio State won it narrowly, but did certainly win. I hear the reader say, ‘Maryland would have won if they had simply completed the pass on the 2-point conversion in overtime.’ The Zach Walters Appreciation Guild will inform you that Ohio State should not have lost in such a a scenario, since the Maryland right tackle was 5 yards off the ball, blocking the defender covering the open man. It’s not clear whether that penalty is Ineligible Receiver Downfield penalty or Offensive Pass Interference, but it’s definitely not No Penalty. Some readers may say the Guild is being a “snitch” to point to uncalled penalties, but if that’s the case, these crude readers – yes, you – shouldn’t have brought the subjunctive into this conversation. That was a mistake. You don’t understand – you really should not have done that.

The subjunctive describes realities that might have been or could have been – one reality that was, undisputedly, was this: Anthony McFarland ran for 297 yards against Ohio State. This day, when Maryland put up a transcendent Wisconsin vs Akron stat line against Ohio State, was one of the beautiful stars in the constellation of memorable college football moments, even in a loss. McFarland’s effort made him one of only two players to rush for more than 200 yards against Ohio State since 2000, joining Tevin Coleman’s 2014 effort. On his 4 longest carries, Anthony McFarland rushed for 235 yards, which surpassed Tevin Coleman’s stellar 215-yard day. When faced with this, one asks how and why it happened.

The answer to that is that we simply will never know. We will never know why or how Anthony McFarland ran for 297 yards against Ohio State, including 235 yards on his 4 longest carries. As Facebook influencer C.S. Lewis wrote, “The instrument through which you see God is your whole self. And if a man’s self is not kept clean and bright, his glimpse of God will be blurred.” The more immoral a person you are, the less you understand about Anthony McFarland. The more your soul has been debased with perverse arts like schematic analysis or statistics, the more blurred your view of Anthony McFarland running for 297 yards against Ohio State, including 235 yards on his 4 longest carries.

If it defies understanding why Anthony McFarland ran for 297 yards on Ohio State, including 235 on his 4 longest carries, then the only thing we can attempt to do is relate to this effort by means of music on a spiritual level. We must take in this effort, not as a schematic exercise, nor as a statistical exercise, but as a spiritual renewal. The music in question is No. 11 in Franz (Ferenc) Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes, the work titled Harmonies du Soir. There is a question that exists in each fella and/or/nor lady who calls themselves an Ohio State fan: which passage in Harmonies du Soir corresponds to each of Anthony McFarland’s 4 longest runs, totaling 235 yards?

They don’t want you to listen to Ovchinnikov’s rendition of Liszt’s Harmonies du Soir, so you need to click through to listen to all 9 minutes of it

Q1 14:10 – 81 yards, Measures 24-29

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way: Anthony McFarland’s first long run, totaling 81 yards, corresponds to measures 24-29.

Measures 24-29

The parallels between this run and Measures 24-29 of Transcendental Etude 11 scream at you. The screaming voice is one you know well, and one you have tried to bury – the voice of every other possible you that could exist right now but have been killed one-by-one by time and the elimination of possibility. This voice screams: this parallel between Anthony McFarland’s first run and these measures is obvious because measures 24-29 are the most arpeggiated section of a piece that relies heavily on arpeggio, akin to how this 81-yard run by Anthony McFarland was the longest run on a game defined by long runs.

Measures 24-29, Accompanied by Anthony McFarland running for 81 yards

See how the kinetic arpeggios, which are less broken chords than individual notes in Ovchinnikov’s interpretation, match with the kinetic duo of Matt Canada and Greg Schiano, where one motion man creates a complete overload to the field. As McFarland breaks away, we hear the left-hand chord progressions descending and the right hand ascending, a bright chaos that laughs and tells us knowingly – you know this story, because you’ve heard it before. We, of course, had heard it before many times in 2018. And we’d hear it again.

Q1 9:05 – 75 yards, measures 79-87

This one is cheating a little bit – I included only a portion of measure 79 here.

Measure (partial) 79-87

These parallels do not scream at you; instead, the parallels yowl and bleat at you like an uncanny valley humanoid you can’t visualize very well but are disturbed by. This bleating, which again comes from within you, from versions of yourself which might have been but are not, concerns you. ‘Is that voicelessness what I would have been if things were only a little bit different?’, you ask, pondering measures 79-88 and how they relate to Anthony McFarland’s 75-yard run against Ohio State. Yes. The line between you and the villains of the world are circumstance. You chalk this difference up to your character – what is your character but the circumstance that allowed you to think the way you do? Don’t pretend this voiceless monstrousness, which exists in a brutal worldwide prominence today, is something you never could have been. Power structures don’t propagate due to individual immoralities; the structures exist to ensure and to themselves propagate the immoralities.

Nevertheless, you get the gist of this bleating, which states that this run by Anthony McFarland is one of the most familiar feelings of both the Maryland game and Ohio State’s 2018 season as a whole, making it the perfect match for these measures, which signal the grand emergence of the main melodic line of Harmonies du Soir.

Measures 79-87, Accompanied by Anthony McFarland’s 75-yard run against Ohio State

Measures 80-87 harbor the 8 measures that contain the central melodic line for Harmonies du Soir. In these two measures, and within the recurrences later in the piece, we have one of the most triumphant (literally, these bars are to be played trionfante) and grandiose themes in Liszt’s prolific catalogue. The ‘transcendental’ in the title of the ‘Transcendental Etudes’ refers to the execution required to play it, but the melodic line is overwhelming enough to itself be called, colloquially, transcendental.

The strongest parallel between these measures and this run is in its context. Harmonies du Soir – Evening Harmonies – refers to a sunset, and the work is an ecstatic portrayal of that subject. In the Romantic zeitgeist, the sunset did have substantial importance as one of the most striking natural phenomena (which is certainly true), and by virtue of being this striking natural phenomenon, was assigned a nearly-spiritual significance by the Romantics. The wits and scoffers of the 21st century can laugh about the audacity of these fuckin nerds, but the 19th century was very bleak. Don’t be rude. They’re trying very hard and dying young.

A similar sentiment – that you can be rude about, but shouldn’t, because you’d be wrong – is the idea that Ohio State getting pantsed on a national stage by someone other than a title contender is likewise spiritual experience. Ohio State losing reasonable games (Clemson in 2019) inspires a full year unhinged conspiracy theories from the most conspiracy-driven fanbase of all. Ohio State losing unreasonable games or being run-all-over by Rondale Moore, Akrum Wadley, or Anthony McFarland gives rise to The Purge: Big Nut’s Big Day. We should admire the instances that create this spectacle as a near-divine experience, identical to how the Romantics viewed the ecstatic sunset-inspired melodic line in Harmonies du Soir.

With that context, the play itself was this: Anthony McFarland ran through an enormous running lane with one point of failure for the defense. One of Malik Harrison or Davon Hamilton probably should have had that gap. They probably didn’t need both Tuf Borland and Chase Young playing the read, particularly when Tuf was 17 yards from the play. But as said earlier, any attempt at schematic analysis is arrogance, so the Guild washes its hands of these sick devices.

The important thing here is the spiritual connection between the two. The quickly moving right-hand chords in measures 80 and 81 are uncommon chords for the period but extremely effective at setting up the resolving chord to start measure 82, just as Ohio State’s front-seven confusion is effective at setting up Brendon White to look like someone asked to perform an unreasonably difficult task of making a true 1-on-1 open-field tackle in a gap that is 5 yards wide. The resolution of both – the missed tackle, the chord to open measure 82 – are exquisite.

But the first repetition of the melody isn’t the end of the melody – the play isn’t over. There is an otherwise-identical one-note shift of the melodic line (same key) as it repeats. As the grandiose line repeats and McFarland breaks into the open field, the left-hand rhythm gallops along, serving as a constant to both create an unsettling urgency in the music while keeping us anchored in the moment, much as LB#32 galloping behind a dreadfully fast ball-carrier served as a steadying counterweight to Ohio State fans’ grandeur, reminding us that our favorite football team is mortal.

Q2 13:22 – 52 yards, Measures 116-127

Measures 116-127

The parallels here are simple. The voice inside you pointing out these parallels does not scream about this one; it does not howl, nor does it bleat. It is, in fact, silent. It wants to see what sort of parallel you’re going to draw, because it wouldn’t be the first time you screwed something up or stretched the truth just because you felt like you had a point to make. How much have you grown since the last time you made a stretch and made an argument because your pride in the moment demanded it? Have you, at all? Are the selves that could have been today – would they be succumbing to that sort of pride? ‘Not all of us would have this sort of corrosive pride,’ their gazes leer.

The Guild does not have time for this really ambiguous blending of the first, second, and third person – really, the Guild started using the second person as an affectation because it was our impression that you, the reader, were experiencing the same thing as the current writer for The Guild, which I guess isn’t happening. The alternative selves that the author might have been are here before me, just parking themselves in my kitchen, providing commentary on my Anthony McFarland-to-Harmonies du Soir parallels, and telling me firmly ‘we should be alive right, not you.’

Still, if these alternative selves are going to just keep sitting there, silently telling me about the parallels between Anthony McFarland’s 4 longest runs on November 17th, 2018, and a prominent but very niche romantic/impressionistic composition, I have to keep writing. I mean, they’re just perched on that goddamn counter stool like – are you a goddamn bird? Jesus. Get these binoculars out of here, you voyeur. You only exist in the subjunctive – you aren’t real.

Measures 116-126, Accompanied by Anthony McFarland’s 52-yard run against Ohio State

These measures consist of a cadenza followed by a reprise of the melody; it is a clean parallel. Canada’s motion results in an opening, McFarland runs free, and Meyer gets mad. The cadenza is dramatic, as Ohio State is trailing by 14, but resolves to the familiar, triumphant main melodic line as McFarland bursts through the nonexistent 3rd level and runs free for 52 yards. The second line of the melody, rhythmically identical to the first but shifted one note down the scale, shows Meyer entirely at a loss watching these events before his eyes. But just as the first and second phrases of the melody are two different versions of the same thing, the run and Meyer’s confusion are also two versions of the same thing – one wouldn’t be happening if it weren’t for the other. These explosions happened in the Iowa game in 2017 and in the Purdue game in 2018. It was preventable, and if he could understand it, it wouldn’t be happening – which is not the first time that happened, and would not be the last, strengthening the parallel with measures 116-126 – it is a formal reprise.

If the coach pictured on the screen didn’t have health issues, he would still coaching at Ohio State in 2021. I don’t like that subjunctive at all. Like the others, that subjunctive reality is in my kitchen. I want it to get off the counter – ARE YOU A CAT, JESUS, URBAN, YOU’RE TOO OLD TO BE ACTING A BUFFOON NEXT TO THE COFFEE MAKER – before it breaks something.

Q4 11:45 – 27 yards, Measures 96-103

Measures 96-103

As a point of clarification, these measures do precede the passage that was matched with the 3rd run at Q2 13:22. This is a spiritual journey to discover understand Anthony McFarland running for 297 yards, 235 of which were on 4 carries, by means of Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No. 11, Harmonies du Soir. It’s not a chronological history.

These parallels are not screaming, howling, or looking hungrily at me. The alternative selves of mine who told me about the parallels are calm. They are soberly chanting, advancing step-by-step, a legion of alternative realities advancing in a steady but inexorable march. They demand what they call ‘their just desserts,’ and The Guild doesn’t know what that means, so The Guild will explain the Liszt-to-McFarland parallel while jogging quickly outside its cabin. If this narration seems a little bit out of breath, don’t worry about it, I’m fine,

Measures 96-103, accompanied by Anthony McFarland’s 27-yard run against Ohio State

This run is quite a bit different from the other three. Of the four runs – totaling 235 yards, of the 297 total on the day – only on this one did McFarland need to put any unusual effort into it (usual effort being ‘P5-quality starting running back’, which is an impossibly high bar). Obviously, he needed to run quickly and with strength, but on the first run, he was totally untouched, on the second, he needed to shrug off a checkmated Brendon White, and on the third run, he needed to hit the hole and keep running through for 52 yards. This run was the first of the four required a change of direction outside of a large, pure perfect circle, so it is adorned with the celebratory, triumphant marcato chords characteristic of the interlude between instances of the melody.

Additionally, the first 3 runs (totaling 235 minus 27 yards) all took place in the first 17 minutes of the game – this one does not take place until the fourth quarter. The segment bookending the triumphant measures – measures 96 and 97 before, measure 102 and 103 afterward – are much more discordant than the rest of Harmonies du Soir as a whole, since – tied at 31 in the 4th quarter – there was reason to believe that Maryland would win at this point, a prospect equally frightening to both Maryland and Ohio State fans. This fear manifests itself as the discordance of the bookend measures.

One last thing on this one – I need to try to get this in, because I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to avoid the advancing armies of the subjunctive without breaking into a dead-on sprint. Anyway, the clip closes with Meyer set to some ragtimey music that makes him seem like a deeply distressed silent film villain whose plot to tie a young maiden to the railroad tracks was foiled. Parallels can explain themselves from here. God, alright, that might not have been graceful, but I’ve got to get moving, I don’t have much time or oxygen to spend on some 3-year-old Maryland game.

I have been on the run for, I think, 3 days at this point. Or 2 nights and 3 days? 3 nights and 2 days? Shit, I don’t know. It’s bad. I’ve been keeping my distance, but the legions of the subjunctive are going to catch me. They’ve got me beat for endurance and supplies.

I told you from the outset you shouldn’t have brought up the subjunctive when talking about the 2018 Maryland game. Judging by their ghastly chants, these subjunctives came to be because you started talking about realities that ‘might have been’ if Maryland had completed that 2-point conversion pass. The Guild just wanted to write a little blurb relating a wonderfully rare Ohio State opponent performance to a somewhat inaccessible piano composition as a spiritual exercise, but no, couldn’t just have that, could we? Just had to get these spirits from all these other realities that might have been haunting me.

I can’t believe this. A writer of the Zach Walters Appreciation Guild is going to be sacrificed by the hosts of the subjunctive because you couldn’t help but summon them. Idiot. Why now, of all times, would you talk about the Chaos that Might Have Been? I’ll grant you – the whole sport has been relative chalk since Clemson’s 2016-17 title, a full five years, and when we get six compelling weeks of chaos, you start lamenting some chaos that didn’t happen in 2018. A&M’s upset over Bama is only as momentous as it is because Bama is the sport’s tyrant, and because toppling that tyrant is a monstrous feat. If these subjunctive upsets were all indicative wins – if they all really happened – then the ones at the top of the sport wouldn’t be true monsters. If these teams at the top were no longer monsters with an reputation gained from an overwhelming amount of wins, then upsetting one doesn’t constitute slaying a monster. These upsets are special because it takes an incredible amount of execution and/or luck needed to make one happen.

And there is magic even outside of those efforts. Maryland did not beat Ohio State on November 17th, but Anthony McFarland did run for 297 yards, the most since Biakabutuka in 1995. On 4 runs, Anthony McFarland and the Maryland O-Line made Schiano and Meyer look completely foolish, and those 4 runs alone constitute a rare Brilliance that should be admired. And while Ohio State did not lose, this effort alone still was a historic day in the indicative, in the reality that Is. If 2021 returns to chalk and we do not see another major upset from here on out, then we don’t need to lament that the top teams aren’t losing, we just need to wait – the chaos will come to our sport, sure as the sunset, if without its regularity – and while that happens, we need to embrace the small, beautiful chaoses – the Anthony McFarland supernova games – that happen while we wait. And if we are in the midst of a chaotic season, then we need to appreciate each flicker of disruption we see as a gift that will tide us through the lean years.

But you just couldn’t be content with that college football world and appreciate it for what it is, could you? You just had to bring up the subjunctive, what might have been, and now I am being hunted by the hordes of my might-have-been selves, by might-have-been 2021 Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer, and countless other nameless realities that aren’t but could have been.

The Guild is enduring some lean days now. It will be signing off until it can shake the alternate selves pursuing it. Wish it luck.

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