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Month: February, 2013

“Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould”‏

to my mind, one of the best films Canada has
had to offer, a study of the musical giant which
is probing, perceptive, and profoundly revealing,
and the impersonator, Colm Feore, is impeccable,
superlative, rendering the mystery of flights of
inspiration vivid and comprehensible, he is,
seamlessly and completely convincingly,
Glenn Gould     
Glenn Gould is of course identified with his
book-end interpretations, his first release and
the interval of not quite thirty years for him to
further appraise these epic pieces, both issues
are considered monumental, defining cultural
moments, both eclipse, have eclipsed, any
other, even celebrated, performance
the reference in the film’s title is to these  
Goldberg Variations, of course, composed
of thirty variations on an opening “aria”,
which is repeated as a “coda”, an ending,
a musical last word, for a total of 32
but I submit that the place of Beethoven’s own
could not possibly have been overlooked in
the movie’s title, considering especially the
inclusion of that specific number, despite,
incidentally, the missing hyphen, an infelicitous,
I think, literary licence 
the Thirty Two Short Films are themselves,
not incidentally, a set of 32 filmic, note, 
variations, on the subject, in this instance, 
of the player himself, Glenn Gould
may his star shine bright forever    

“An Etude in Cross-Pollination in Bee Major” – Bud Glory‏

 An Etude in Cross-Pollination in Bee Major
Bouncing, boundless butterflies,
Bouncing in the balmy breeze,
Bouncing in the boundless skies,
Bounce between the brown-barked trees,
Bounce on by the bumble bees.

Buzzing, zipping bumble bees,
Buzzing in the zesty skies,
Buzzing in the zesty breeze,
Buzz into the butterflies,
Bumping—making butterbees. 
                  Bud Glory – nom, surely, de plume 

                                               such as also, incidentally, 
                                               Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll,
                                               George Orwell  
                       at ArtlessPoems 
do not miss his bio under “Preface“, one of the
most entertaining pieces of writing I’ve read in
a long while  
A MoonLit Walk“, another of his poems, is one
of the most irreverent, rating a hilarious 5-star
The One I Love“, a love song in the metric guise
of a nursery rhyme, innocent and utterly guileless, 
is also close to my own besotted heart, note,
incidentally, the Fauvist influence

Paganini’s 24 “Caprices”‏

having heard one Caprice of Paganini it’s not
much of a stretch to want to hear them all, and 
to my delight and utter astonishment they are
available presently on the Internet in a
presentation so extraordinary it seems 
accorded by the very gods, the violinist, an
unchastened Prometheus this one, Alexander
Markov, delivers unadulterated fire, he is, it is, 
astounding, nothing short of outright Olympian
you’ve already heard him play the 24th, here are
the Capricesare for Paganini what the
“Études”, opus 10, opus 25were for Chopin,
each was exploring the intricacies of his own
particular instrument, which results to date
remain the standard, the Everest to be
conquered, of either by any aspirant
how do you keep your knees from knocking,
first of all, up there, in those headlights, I
would wonder of the performing artist, the
rest being of course, I’m aware, pure but
metaphysical merely physics, moderately
only incomprehensible  
Alexander Markov is fully at home in these
pieces, making them electric but for a picayune
quibble, being of Russian extraction he is not
the Paganini I would want him to be, sensuous
and seductive instead of the more Nordic
commanding and fiery, the Mediterranean
Paganini was famously, after all, a Lothario,
a Casanova, with an especially lubricious,  
apparently, fiddle
Paganini, incidentally, wrote the Caprices 
between 1805 and 1809, smack in the middle
of the Romantic Period, you can hear the altered
audience in the distant concert hall, surely not
the aristocrats who would’ve found this music
presumptuous, impudent, in their privileged
salons, but throngs of the newly franchised –
note the French root in the word “franchised”,
probably stemming from the very French
Revolution – who were looking towards their
bold and liberated future
the music is strictly rhythmic, which is to say,
still Classical, keys don’t change within the
individual pieces, the harmonies are still
sufficiently tonal not to distract, though the
melodies are not simple to follow, the stage
is being set for more abstract stuff, Beethoven,
for instance, writing at the same time, being
much less eccentric, and again maybe less
Mediterranean in his own always nevertheless
beguiling flights of Romanticism  
psst: the performance takes place at the
          in, I believe, 1989, for your info 
          note, incidentally, the white tie and tails,
          an aristocratic, which is to say, atavistic, 
          even then, notion
          we will always, all of us, conspire to 
          seem noble

“Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini”/”Variations on a theme of Paganini”‏

a friend wrote me, after my most recent instalment
about musical variations
, a few very probing

I delight in sharing them



An interesting counterpoint to your comment about variations being an “intellectual” form of composition. This is
only in the best of cases — the cases that have survived to this day.

In the period in which I centred my dissertation studies — the 1820s and 1830s in Paris — the bane of reviewers’
existence was the steady stream of variations for flute, for piano, for oboe, for every conceivable instrument from
every possible performer who wanted to make his mark as a “composer” as well as an instrumentalist. It was,
shall we say, a form of composition “light,” something that minor talents could write if they weren’t capable of
writing a longer form, such as a sonata.

And yet we have impressive sets of variations in the canon today, from composers such as Bach (the Goldbergs),
Haydn (his delicious piano set in F minor), Mozart (Ah vous dirai-je, maman), Beethoven (the epic C minor
variations that you rightly point to), Schumann (Symphonic Etudes), Schubert (last movement of the Trout Quintet),
Brahms (the Haydn & Paganini sets), Liszt (his Totentanz for piano & orchestra), Tschikovsky (Variations on a
Rococco Theme for cello & orchestra), Rachmaninoff (Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini), Dohnanyi (Variations
on a Nursery Rhyme), and Lutoslawski (Paganini Variations for 2 Pianos).

As you can see, the most fertile source of variations has been Paganini’s 24 Caprices, to which Marc Hamelin has
added his own contirbution:

The form has come a long way …



I will gratefully accept implicit acknowledgment,
in his having confirmed me in my assertion, that
variations “in the best of cases” burn bright, are
“rendered transcendental”, timeless, much as my
friend states, “This is only in the best of cases”, he
says, dotting his contention with a peremptory
“only”, and I’m just fine with that, especially in
the light of so many, as he lists, “only{s}”

thanks, Donald

meanwhile the addition of a most recent set
of variations, this one on a theme of Paganini
played right here at the Chan Centre in
Vancouver by the pianist who composed it,
Marc-André Hamelin, delights and astounds

it is the same theme, incidentally, as in
the wondrous Rachmaninoff composition
for piano and orchestra, essentially a
piano concerto but without the pauses
that would indicate alternate movements,
a unified musical concept therefore is in
order for its name, Rachmaninoff called it
his Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini“,
though he could’ve easily called it his
Variations on a Theme of Paganini“,
for being just that, a set of variations

I even called them his Variations for
years before smartening up, though I
don’t remember the exact date

rhapsody is a much more Romantic term,
you’ll consider, and if Rachmaninoff was
anything at all it was ever Romantic, despite
being nearly a century late, the Rhapsody
was written in 1934, one of many similar
musical atavisms

his Variations follow the Classical fast,
slow, fast template, in passing, variations 1
to 10 are fast, 11 to 18 slow, positively
melting, in fact, unforgettable, the rest, 19
to 24, again fast, in the very manner of the
concerto, just to confuse you, to push
the limits musically of evidently ultimately
arbitrary notions of form, another
particularly philosophical investigation


psst: here’s the original theme of Paganini,
his 24th, and last, Caprice

Beethoven – 32 Variations In C Minor On An Original Theme, WoO 80‏

of all musical forms variations lend themselves
best to intellectual speculation, which is to say, 
by way of concepts, words, objects of rational,
cohesive, not nebulous, thought
it is immediately evident that a set of variations
considers the many facets of a given subject, in
music represented by a theme to be analyzed,
dissected, explored and, in the best of cases,
rendered transcendental  
this is of course also the case in any science 
it is more difficult to so investigate a waltz, a
sarabande, a rhapsody, which speak a much
less literal language usually, unless of course
the verbal construct itself has been applied to
the composition, The Carnival of the Animals
or Pictures at an Exhibition“, for instance, but
that’s putting the cart before the theoretical
horse, unfair and unethical 
variations demand inherently cerebral 
participation, a considered evaluation, a
nearly literal result, music finds its one-way
ticket thereby to veritable language
around the same time as he wrote the
“Waldstein” Sonata, 1806, Beethoven wrote
Theme, WoO 80, my very favourite of his
sets of variations, courtesy here of the
inimitable Glenn Gould
note, in passing, the similarities between
the two contemporary works
of the C minor Variations, however utterly
improbably, played by one Ivan Moravec,
an earlier great, accompanied by immensely
helpful annotated commentary the sum of
which is hugely more telling than its mere 
point form parts, sharpening in the process,
inconspicuously but highly effectively, one’s
aesthetic pencil, pulse
what could be more fun than that
variations, incidentally, are a most democratic
form, where every iteration is the equal of the
other, given always, however, that fixed and
intractable initial model
an interesting interpolation, incidentally, that, 
philosophically, of course, speaking, asking,
as it does, does democracy require, rest on, 
a founding contextual blueprint, in light
especially of the infinite number of those
blueprints possible
is our democracy merely an arbitrary, and
only contingent, shade, therefore, of that 
ideational abstract
you decide
psst: WoO is an acronym for Werke ohne
          Opuszahl, or, in English, works
          without opus number, Beethoven
          seems to have been completely
          unconcerned with naming his
          compositions, that he’d written the
          music had been apparently already
          quite enough   



Beethoven: Sonata no. 21 in C major, op. 53 (Waldstein)‏

the “Waldstein” Sonata, no. 21 in C major, opus 53, is
one of the few compositions that Beethoven named
himself, which is to say that he dedicated it to a
friend and patron, Count Ferdinand Ernst Gabriel
von Waldstein
, if you can call that naming it

the ones with descriptive titles, the Moonlight, the
Pastorale“, The Hunt“, for instance, were mostly so
labeled by his publisher for ease of identification in
the growing market place, a more affluent merchant
class eager to take on the refinements of the nobles,
see such an instance of social mobility, however
lampooned, updated and upended, in again the
engaging and not at all unperceptive The Beverly

this means that the suggestive names we’ve come
to associate with his sonatas, Moonlight”, Pastorale“,
The Hunt“, were never conceived as such by
Beethoven, his compositions were ever purely musical
inventions, or more accurately inspirations, prophetic
pronouncements of a much more oracular order,
like Prometheus Beethoven was delivering nothing
short of fire

to match music to specific visual, or even emotive,
cues, incidentally, Pictures at an Exhibition“,
The Carnival of the Animals“, for example, came
later, already a nod to Beethoven’s even indirect

that titles were given to music, rather than the more
clinical and mnemonically difficult numbers, which
is to say, not easy to remember, isn’t very different
from the evolution of popular music in the early

the Beatles, you’ll remember, had cuts on albums
that had nothing more than their group name in
the titles, or the title of one of the album’s cuts,
“Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” came
along to change all that, we saw the birth of the
concept album, where the whole extended affair
becomes a musical metaphysics, this is no
different from the move from the music of Mozart
to that of the more expansive Beethoven, music
is no longer a ditty but an extended technical
and philosophical text, listen to Pink Floyd take
on this mantle superbly in the Seventies, the only
other body since ever to effectively challenge
Beethoven in that especially rarefied field, with
the probable exception of the sublimely expressive
Schubert perhaps, who died much too young for us
to tell, for him to have decisively dialectically proven
himself beside these erudite peers, all having,
however, found ways to have us touch beyond the
sky, the very infinite, and into the no less infinite
confines of our more private and secret selves

what they state is that creation itself, absent any
other meaning, remains potent, perhaps even
ultimately redemptive

creation as a bold and noble response to eternity,
art as affirmation

you’ll note here that the structure of this sonata
is entirely Classical, unity of tone, unity of pace,
and the eventual return of the initial melody,
essential Classical components, what has
changed is the personal bravura of the composer,
Beethoven is not playing for the aristocratic court,
but for a wider, an infinite, audience, he is
pronouncing his and, by extension, our own place
and validity in the universe, by our ability as humans
to create, to respond creatively, and even sublimely,
out of only our otherwise flailing and indeterminate

it is the Romantic response to the waning belief
in God, and incidentally a profound spur to,
argument for, our present notion of inalienable
individual rights

the personal soul has taken over from the earlier
unchallenged deity, the wavering concept of God
has had a seismic fall, and all the king’s horses
and all the king’s men will never be able to put it
together undiminished again

Beethoven is showing us that future


psst: Helena Bonham Carter plays excerpts from the
Waldstein“, incidentally, in A Room with A View“,
a movie entirely worth a revisit