Tuesday, July 26, 2005


I knew something was up. The sign next to the refrigerator read: "white wine in the frig". (Perhaps: the frigging fridge? the frigate?) On a nearby shelf, my newly acquired Mozart action figure was lifting his left hand dramatically up to pounce upon a Quaker Oatmeal Bar, balanced cleverly upon a pair of Sunmaid raisin boxes to simulate a piano. Though unsettled by these backstage oddities, I went bravely onstage to deliver a delicate Mozart duet, and then an impassioned Piano Quartet of Joseph Suk. Well, not all the notes were there, but... something was communicated. Meanwhile, all my ill-sorted, bulging bags were outside in the car, saying take me! take me! check me in at baggage claim! And then, too suddenly, I was whisked--no, I whisked myself?--away to the airport, and without setting my head down again on a real bed I have managed to eke out 40 hours or so, split between Seattle and Vermont. A giant pair of plastic woman's breasts stood at the gateway to my Vermont destination... as you may have guessed, now I am in a dubious dorm in Marlboro, in a warm dusty barren room, with nighttime's bugs pressing at my window screens, and two empty suitcases, and I am sitting on a metal folding chair, at a student's industrial desk, next to two army cots--and a copy of the Mozart Wind Quintet is lying open on the desk, like a reminder of civilization. (Outside, I hear "do you know where the hooch went?" And off the hooch-seekers go.) I am not tired, because Seattle is back 3 hours and I am still partly there... but I cannot address myself fully to Mozart either; he is too demanding.

I am thinking about my transition from place to place, and the whole summer already, and all the little things that strike the memory. Pitiful, hapless details: the detritus of festivals. In my bag, now veteran of several festivals this summer, I find:

1) a scrawled note (perhaps by Unabomber disciple?): "Tuned 7-8-05"
2) the business card of Cathy L., "Professional, Limo-Style Taxi Service"... the card does not mention her propensity for cannabis, easily sensed upon proximity
3) deodorant (thank goodness, that's where it is)
4) USB and other adapter cables of unknown usage or origin
5) the business card for "Pho of Aurora" (i.e. Crazy Pho Lady of earlier post)
6) twelve wadded-up Starbucks credit card receipts
7) the email address, scrawled on the back of a program, of the lovely bartenderess from Boone
8) fifteen used boarding passes and a partridge in a pear tree

What a bizarre thing it is to pack up your mini-lives (for that is what festivals are, summer camps for adults, where your roots grow in and you tear them out), and set off for others... Enough uprootings in a row, and you have, voila! the monotony of difference. Somehow between hello and goodbye you should be able to say something different, to take another path. (Roland Barthes: "those who never reread are condemned to read the same story over and over again...") How to tie it all together? How not to be overwhelmed by the accumulation of these bizarre facts, the history of your life?

This all sounds very overdramatic and kind of contemplative in a dark way, which is only understandable given my redeye flight and my long lazy swimming session in the afternoon and two beers and probably also the sun and heat which got to my head today... But the point being I have left Seattle and now I am in a whole other Petri dish of people and situations (Marlboro) and it will be an effort to dip myself in, commit myself, and get out while the getting's good. I can distinguish certain brain states: like the totally involved, fairly carefree state when I am working on a piece --because you really NEED the whole brain to play the piano, to make a piece work... in fact you need more, you need at least all you've got... and then, when I come out of the glare of the work, my brain is a deer in the headlights of contingencies, of these bizarre, strung-together, random events, emergences and subsidences of people/ things/concerns... of "normal life," which is so much less organized than music. The brain is underused, and prone to pick up on peculiar details. And perhaps I don't have a strong enough balance right now of real, non-musical concerns, so that these transition moments and their salient details can make me feel odd, bizarre... my mind's a bagful of neglected boarding passes... Right now, that's where I am: I am one unmoored ship, heading off to crazyland, and I hope to drag my blog readers down with me! Hooray!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Meaning of Chorale

Yet another coffeeshop: students finishing papers behind me, a couple finishing (amicably?) their divorce settlement to my right, three men forming a start-up on the patio, and to top it all off: some man continuously clearing his throat, an act which produces a bizarre sound, quasi Fat Albert (It is a four-part chorale: studential giggle, strained financial discussion, business bravado, and finally the Fat Albert basso continuo: ahhh, the counterpoint of coffeeshops!) Oh, and it's a barista's birthday, they are lifting a cake over the counter and singing and cheering. Grrrr. I have had a rough couple days, with the onset of some cold/flu thingy and yet--no rest for weary pianists--the concerts continue to come on, every two days... I'm industrial-strength miffed.

I've played many pieces since getting here--Dvorak D major Piano Quartet, Strauss Piano Quartet, Shostakovich Quintet, Schubert Adagio and Rondo--but the piece that is still sticking in my mind, making me happy, is the Brahms A major Piano Quartet, which I played in North Carolina. As I drove, the last night, over back mountain roads, towards Greensboro (my birthplace)... I found myself needing comfort, which Christian and right-wing talk radio did not seem to provide (to each his own). Instead, then, I played over and over in my head passages from the A major Piano Quartet. The entire black, curvy drive was surreally lit by this sunny piece.

For me, this is one of the holiest, most sacred of pieces, perfect in every detail. But very serious, intelligent musicians have suggested that the opening theme of this piece is evidence of Brahms' mediocrity... an aberration, a mess. It is true, it is an odd opening theme... made of chords more than melody (there are too many chords for the melody). And yet it would be "fine," except for an odd move to F#-major in its fourth bar, sounding a little forced, ill-prepared, artificial... the A# jangles like a "mistake" against the A, the main note of the piece... of course this artificial (let's say "extraordinary") event, once accepted, clearly poses itself as a premise for the whole piece, as a protagonist. Perhaps the piece, its vast structure, requires an initial suspension of disbelief. Perhaps any vast structure does.
I remember thinking, when I first looked at the score, what a stupid theme it was... what an idiot.

It is a very difficult theme to play because you want to keep the legato of the melody, and yet each chord must have its integrity, must be beautifully voiced, entire. But when it feels good, it feels GOOD; your hands move from chord to chord, as if running over, caressing, the roots of harmony ... and the best feeling, the real satisfaction, comes at the recapitulation, when you play the same theme down an octave... the lower, richer register making it sound like a chorus of horns or a men's chorus, something deep, the root, basis, the fundament. There has been much Romantic angst in the development, and now... harmony.

The four-part harmony of Bach chorales is, in a sense, an "archaic" item, an anachronistic insertion in the more homophonic world of Romantic music; but, paradoxically, can also be seen to underly everything, the whole of Western classical composition (the art of counterpoint, etc.) In the Mendelssohn C Minor Trio, which I also happily played in North Carolina, a chorale makes two entrances in the last movement, and in that case the chorale stands out as an "other," as a symbol, a triumphalist religious moment which Charles Rosen (I think unfairly) labels "kitsch."

I was listening in my car to some Bach chorales I played on a recital with the Ives "Concord" Sonata (!) and even though I theoretically played the damn thing, I was stunned at how beautiful the harmonies were, at how they illuminated the simplest notes: going up and down the same old (in this case, G major) stupid scale seemed like a magical journey.

In the A major Piano Quartet, the chorale element intervenes not in order to give the music some "plot." It is not triumphalist at all (unlike the Mendelssohn), and if it is religious it is utterly nondenominational. When you hear the chorales in that piece, you hear pure voicings; the chords are objects of contemplation; the piece suddenly becomes communal, "harmonious;" the basic building blocks of Western harmony are beautiful for their own sake (and not for the sake of where they are going)... harmony as solace, as shelter (from the storm of rhetoric, of musical plot). This is made clear in one of the piece's most extraordinary moments: in the slow movement, after the pianist "lets loose" with an anguished, full-throttle outburst, the height of Romantic direction and pouring-over... after this, the strings play the only thing "they can," a quiet, intensely beautiful chorale. Opposed to Romantic outcry... but somehow also its answer and source, its vanishing point.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


I would really like to post right now, but it is a beautiful, searingly clear Seattle morning and out there in the wider world there are coffeeshops and parks and pines and blue shining bays. I mean, really, which would you choose? Unfortunately, today, I have some five hours of rehearsal, during which I will NOT be sailing across Elliott Bay to some distant island and watching the Olympic mountains come closer and closer, and drinking rosé. (Yes, I have a standing offer, which I have to refuse). The coffeeshops here ... I just stepped out of one, with a large Americano in my slightly singed hands (no java jackets!) ... and the people in them seem to be perfectly typecast for coffeeshop-people: a blondish, late twenties fellow with a pensive look and a Hawaiian shirt, smoking in his flipflops on the entrance ramp, probably contemplating his next short story for workshop; a dark-haired fellow with an intense face, looking like a hipster evolving into a therapist; a pert woman with red hair, numerous piercings, a blue t-shirt and a Red Sox cap, joining a much larger table of pert, sassy ladies... They are like extras, hired by some producer (God perhaps, the God of the Pacific Northwest) to appear charming and fascinating (though indigenous), grungy yet sexy, to make you want to sit over a big creamy dark cup of espresso and stare at them, and write silly blog entries.

Anyway, I said I wouldn't post, but here are some bits from The Symposium that I am really enjoying:


"No god is a philosopher or seeker after wisdom, for he is wise already; nor does any man who is wise seek after wisdom.

Neither do the ignorant seek after wisdom. For herein is the evil of ignorance, that he who is neither good nor wise is nevertheless satisfied with himself: he has no desire for that of which he feels no want...

Who then ... are the lovers of wisdom, if they are neither the wise nor the foolish?...

They are those who are in a mean between the two; Love is one of them. [Emphasis shamelessly added] For wisdom is a most beautiful thing, and Love is of the beautiful; and therefore Love is also a philosopher or lover of wisdom, and being a lover of wisdom is in a mean between the wise and the ignorant."


Love itself (a "great spirit... intermediate between the divine and the mortal") is just one (!) of the myriad lovers of wisdom? I "love" that. I'm sure this translation is mangled, but somehow I don't care. (How often do you read one translation of a poem and you go to another and the line you loved is suddenly totally flat? This happens to me a lot. Which do I prefer... my own happiness or an accurate translation?) At one moment, also, Love seems to be a great spirit, at another, a kind of poor relative of the other gods, at another, Love transmutes from person to principle. Love is one of us! But not.... This business of love as a mean, as an intermediary, not as an absolute ("neither mortal nor immortal"), but something in between, relative, connecting, is opposed to this (more expectedly Platonic) conception of beauty: "beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things." Another extraordinary, paradoxical image. I'm a sucker for paradoxes. I am now looking out the window longingly from the computer/piano room: through the window, the beauty of the sun outside and Seattle waterscapes; to my right, the piano, the beauty of (for example) the slow movement of the Mendelssohn d minor Trio; and if I jump in the car, the beauty of the people happening to be in the coffeeshops, their ever-changing congregation. How can I possibly choose?

One more quote:

All creation or passage of non-being into being is poetry.

Why do I feel that even my choice, what to do today, how to relate to the sunlight, what coffee to drink and how to savor it, how to play certain Andante tempos, how to quell my jealousy that my computer illiterate hosts just bought a 17-inch Apple Powerbook ... all of this passes from non-being to being, is being created every second (against, or with, my will)... all of this could be my poem of the day.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Crazy Lady Pho

I was on the brink of devastation. My colleague, the violist Toby Appel, gave me the worst possible news: my usual Pho joint was closed.

On concert days I insist on regular, predictable food. As if they are mini-birthdays, any departure from my desires, any obstacle, makes me irritable, petulant, a fussy child. I do what I do those days, and woe betide those who tell me otherwise.

In Seattle, every concert day, after dress rehearsal, this is what I do: I cut via backroads, through industrial zones and car repair shops and adult bookstores, and other businesses of dubious aspect, and settle myself in the most dubious of all: Pho of Aurora. From the parking lot, the view through the steamy kitchen's back door is not enticing... it promises nausea, not nutrition... but one day, in the distant past, like Columbus sailing westward, I was brave or hungry enough simply to walk in, and so a compulsion was born.

A compulsion? An addiction. I was hooked, not by the broth, nor by the voluminous fatty tendon, but by the place's unearthly patroness. How can I describe her? Though she presides over the dumpiest Pho joint in Seattle, she dresses each day as if descending, reluctantly, to the ballroom of the Palace of Versailles. White lacy gowns, powder blue dresses, purple velvet: no outfit too outlandish, no makeup too heavy. Radiant, resplendent, she finds it enough to exist: she does (nearly) nothing, she simply talks. But it is not normal speech, it is closer to incantation ... an unearthly voice ... she delivers, I think, sermons from the noodle god. Vietnamese from her mouth is a garden of fascinating, dangerous phonemes, sounds foreign to human cords. She "talks," and I slurp, and since no one responds (several younger people seem to do all the actual work of the place, while watching Vietnamese Idol), I assume she is talking to herself. Or she is very, very frustrated. Or both. How many hours have I spent, speculating as to what she might be saying? Perhaps in my belongings, my heirs will find endless sketches for a (sadly) unfinished novel: Thoughts of Crazy Lady of the Pho. It will be my masterpiece.

A calendar next to her each month presents a different beautiful Asian model (a modest centerfold calendar), and it appears she dresses partly to match the woman on the wall. Though timeless, and anachronistic, she's in cahoots with the calendar! Her acolytes dress in deliberately shabby American garb, torn jeans, faded T-shirts. All business is transacted with them (she is too noble for this menial work, though her nobility is confined to this one dreary room). If I go up to pay, and none of her assistants are there, she will condescend to take my money, but only--get this--after putting on white silk gloves. My fellow noodle-eaters--truck drivers, mechanics, a decidedly blue-collar crowd--seem to accept all this... to accept their queen... they, like I, respect the place's bizarre order; they laugh only on the inside.

So with a heavy heart, I went by to see the place closed up, to bid it goodbye. But imagine my delight. Toby was wrong... it was still open (though in even more disrepair than before). I walked in, joyfully, saw that the personnel were EXACTLY AS I LEFT THEM last year, and ordered my noodles promptly. What do they think of me? I only come for a week or two each summer, show up quite regularly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (and on no other days), and then depart. I never speak to the help; we never penetrate each other's mysteries. Are they curious about me? Do they wonder why a nerdy fellow with scores and books, and with a taste for really spicy soup, comes in like a token breeze of summer, and spills broth all over chamber music masterpieces? Does my pageturner at this festival ever wonder at the red and brown stains on, say, the Shostakovich Quintet?

For me the lesson (the warning) of the summer festival season is mystery, variety, youthfulness, love. (I have been rereading The Symposium.) What do I mean by that? Though the piece (any piece, whatever) has been played many many times for numerous festivals and often in the same way... all those qualities (mystery, variety, etc.) are still valuable, necessary, even: indispensable. Why would I go into Pho of Aurora? Totally arbitrary. Why would Crazy Lady dress up (at no minimal effort) to sit there, a useless appendage, every single day? In summer festivals, preparing these familiar pieces on short notice, we tend to have scads of "sensible" rehearsals, putting things in place, balancing them out, being mature... and sometimes as I go through the season of this sort of rehearsal, I find myself wanting to say totally unsensible things, to take unseemly rubati, to be contrary, simply cause the spirit seems to boil up inside of me, something feels too familiar, too confining, too conventional. I could easily, in these situations, become like the Crazy Lady of the Pho... sometimes indeed I do feel like I'm dressed in the wrong outfit, speaking the wrong language to no one, a nutcase babbling to himself at the piano. And perhaps that is when I am happiest.

Friday, July 08, 2005


Rule #1: Pursue hints of unexpected pleasure. Rule #2: relax. These rules are applicable to both life and musical interpretation.

Two nights ago, at dinner, a lovely bartenderess. Same bartenderess (go figure!) shows up at coffee joint while I am blogging yesterday, chats me up. I took the hint, and invited her to join us for drinks/dinner last night, and there she proposes going to hear some zydeco being played at the Boone Saloon. FANTASTIC! I discovered the real reason to come to Boone. I watched people totally consumed with pleasure: good old (and young) country boys, whose faces seemed at first reticent and reserved, began to stomp the floor with contagious musicality and abandon, with unmistakable unfeignable joy in life; and the girls were bouncier, a little goofier, floating all sorts of hilarious and eclectic moves around them... I remember thinking I have never enjoyed a dominant-seventh chord more (it was prolonged so long, almost like Tristan and Isolde). Though it was a bar, the music and the dancing were clearly the main thing, much more so in some ways than in the classical concert hall, where the focus is enforced. I don't want this to be another "I wish classical music were more unbuttoned" post, but .... what can I say? I wish classical music were more unbuttoned, but only in a certain, not vulgar way. (Carnegie Hall, but with pool tables?) The Boone Saloon didn't feel vulgar at all, though the floor was sticky with spilled beer and people wore wide-brimmed cowboy hats and there was a hefty mean-looking bouncer at the door: not even seedy, just: real. I think it was the music that did this, that made the space perfect. It was fantastic to watch the violinist too, who looked completely uninvolved, almost moronic; his bow arm barely seemed to move; and yet his playing was super-energetic, uplifting. There's a lesson for my own piano playing in there. I followed both rules above by the way: I pursued the hints, against better judgement, and I got an unexpected pleasure, and my elation relaxed me.


To quote (or rather paraphrase) Alex Ross, "there is no specifically musical reason for including" the following, but it seemed noteworthy. As last night's bartenderess (which is not same as earlier bartenderess) served us our appetizers, she regaled us with a tale of tooth damage. An old chipped tooth had become rechipped, and she had gone to the dentist to have it repaired. Lest this not be sufficient detail, she drew us a diagram (no, this is true, this actually happened) on a cocktail napkin, which we could study next to our bruschetta:


Magnificent. Especially the way she scribbled horribly with the pen, nearly tearing the napkin in two, to indicate the irritated part of her tongue. I have tried to simulate this, as best I can, with my laptop trackpad. Why did this dose of dental reality not turn me off as I sat at the rather fancy bar, preparing to eat? It seemed merely hilarious and not disgusting. This would never happen in New York; nor would the repair of said tooth cost a mere $22 (I am not kidding, that is what she paid). Have I seen people dance like that in New York either? I have to admit I will play the last movement of the Brahms A major Piano Quartet quite differently tonight, with a little hillbilly in my gypsy.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

What's The Score?

I have been blog-lazy; no more. I've been storing up thoughts about scores and musical interpretation, which sounds like a truly annoying and boring post, and probably is.

Basically, I've been trying to find a recording of Davidsbündlertänze (by Robert Schumann) for my new friend X. X does not demand anonymity, I just enjoy naming him/her X. I have dibbled and dabbled, online and elsewhere, and due to the nature of the piece, it's fairly easy to extract little bits -- it's a piece made of little bits, a meal of German, evocative, romantic, elusive tapas. I won't name names, but I've consulted quite a few recordings and found none remotely to my satisfaction. The problem, you may say, and I will say, lies with my unending need for satisfaction rather than the artistry of the various recordings... So far, I have not recommended X a recording. (V. Nabokov, when asked "what's your favorite book?" answered: "the one I am about to write.")

Inciting event: X and X's colleagues were arguing with me in a bar that Schumann really was not such a great composer after all. Well into my second, or third, Belgian ale, my arguments distilled themselves frighteningly into a very narrow retort: simply the word "Davidsbündlertänze," nearly screamed, several times in a row, with accompanying head-shakes and signs of distress, like those of a mental patient. Feeling rather replete, I adjourned to the facilities. Upon my return, my argument was not augmented: I simply kept saying, overly loudly, in the Irish pub, the title of my favorite Schumann work, (I feel sure I was the only one in the pub using that particular word, possibly ever) which seemed to me the purest, most eloquent defense of Schumann's genius ... How I longed for the powerful, calm derision and reserve with which, say, Mitsuko Uchida might have looked upon persons who dared to question Schumann; if only I had been able to consult her as to what to say, what to do. I could almost see her, perched over an Egg McMarlboro (at Marlboro, of course), her eyes narrowing ... I myself was a clown in comparison.

Davidsbündlertänze is full of clowns and clowning, the boisterous Florestan messing around with the ruminative Eusebius... full of moments of silliness, but that kind of humor which is so extraordinary and manages to coexist with the most unbelievable, haunting sadness. (The humor that virtually generates that sadness.) That would almost seem to be the piece's premise: the posing of funny, displaced fragments and their metamorphosis/assembly either into crazy, lopsided dances, or long lyrical outpourings, or laments, or whatever: come what may.

So there I was listening, to my favorite moments in one of my favorite pieces, and so often the pianist would seem to miss the "main point," that is, the sort of overarching gesture, mood, gestalt of the thing. And I would say to myself: you are imposing too much of your own desire on this! Try to listen impersonally, to see what they see. Because these are serious artists, they see important things. And so I would try again; I would start the track from the beginning, and try to listen through their lens, pay attention to their priorities, hear their desires. Sometimes this works for me, but in this piece I could NOT. I had to give up too much, it was too painful, too many intervals went unnoticed, too many searing moments passed by, it just couldn't make emotional sense to me. I gave up, unhappy, kind of exhausted. I took the coward's way out: I went and played it myself.

I think (and this may be partly the cause of my unhappiness, above) this is one of those pieces with an amazing plural--whether because of its "loose" structure, or its dependence on fragments (where just a few notes are made to take on a lot of meaning), or its utterly Romantic frame of mind, its intense if brief emotional states. We are used to saying and thinking that a piece has any number of possible interpretations, and we are used to hearing the expression that certain performances/recordings can be considered fairly "definitive." I would like to express my total detestation of the word "definitive;" a performance is never a definition, unless we are willing to reconsider entirely our definition of definition.

We classical musicians lurk under the idea, a burden, that there may be, hiding in the score, somewhere, some "true" interpretation of a piece, some original composer's intent. But I have begun to wonder if even the composer, as he puts his notes down on paper, considers the score-as-written already, partly, his enemy? (It limits what he has to say, what he has meant to say; on the other hand, it lets the piece loose from the limits of his mind, opens it to other, maybe lesser, minds.) We say, casually, that a musical score "lends itself to many different interpretations," which is a sort of cliché which makes us comfortable with the difficulties of scores. I want to go further:

A musical score does not just "allow for" differing interpretations, for disagreements; it provokes them. This is because a set of notes will inevitably suggest nuances that cannot be simultaneously realized--which are antithetical to each other. The score is a provocateur, a trickster (although it is of course also a comfort, a guide, a resource). It contains paradoxes, and thus makes consistent, complete definition impossible.

This is truer of some scores than others. Every performance leaves out, by definition, a good deal (an infinite amount) of the score, of its possibility. This would seem to be a negative view of performance, from a performer. What does the performer put in its place, how does he/she fill the space cleared away, the destruction wreaked, by his/her choices? I have to admit I tend to distrust those colleagues of mine who seem to know every dynamic, dot, dash, and marking of the score, every last articulation and expressive indication, and who seem to feel they "know the score" as a result (not that it is bad to know the score well!)... I guess it is an emotional thing, I always prefer to think of the score as harboring yet some unknown, as a jungle whose overgrowth will not be pruned, penetrated... I hate to think of it as a cleared field, as laid bare, too clear, too evident, prematurely disillusioned. Only with the performance is the score temporarily bare (temporarily absent), and then from the moment of applause onward the score reasserts itself, just as impossible to untangle.

To take up this thread of "definition," I love the notion of every word as a "fossil poem." (Words as active, not passive, webs of force, not solid, named things--read Hugh Kenner's The Pound Era...) Think, if we reawaken each of a word's origins, etymologies, mythical antecendents, the primal acts of classifying, connecting, understanding, which finally gave way to the "civilized" word, its so-called definition? Poems do indeed reactivate these sense of words ("give words back their tribal meaning," is this Mallarmé?). Okay, in this sense, I could imagine a "definitive" performance, one which makes the musical word active, definitive not as in "really getting it right", not as in just-as-the-composer-"intended" (How do we KNOW the composer had a single intention? Don't we think the composer might have been just as mystified and overwhelmed by the options of his own notes?), but as in opening up some active possibilities of the piece, working backwards to origins and forwards to consequences, an act which I think is closer to "un-definining" the piece, removing it from the dictionary... freeing it.

For an example of the sorts of notes in Schumann that particularly defy this notion of "definitive," perhaps:


It is a waltz, (a waltz in fragments) that much is relatively certain (this notion of waltz is somehow extramusical, right? it brings in a whole cultural world, codes of nostalgia, loss, experience)... but which notes to "go to," which to emphasize, and how? Nothing is more idiotic than the comment in rehearsal, the agreement to "go to" a particular note... how will we go there? Rhythmically (by rushing, ritarding)? Dynamically (by crescendo, diminuendo)? Texturally? Emotionally? The possibilities are infinite, and each has a satisfying opposite. Everything is going or coming, to say "let's go here" says (almost) nothing.

For you music readers, including X, if you do not feel a shiver of pleasure, a moment of "perfect Schumann" at the end of this last example, when the second voice enters, at the "wrong time" (in the middle of the established grouping), and deliberately in order to form a dissonance with the upper voice... (C against B) ... if you don't "get that moment," if you aren't waiting to see in what beautiful fashion the wrong-note B will resolve, you are voted off the Schumann island. (You non-music readers, just listen to the last track, shouldn't be too hard to follow). This dissonance, which is just the edge of longing to which the preceding fragments allude, becomes generative, becomes an obsession; the waltz, though sad and gentle, is suddenly full of these dissonances which need to be resolved, which create more, the sense of clash, every note's (by turns) inability to live with itself:


... a stream of consciousness leading from that first entrance of the "second voice," from that generative dissonance, following the idea of the dissonance to whatever consequences ... and another stream, gradually attempting to "fill in" the fragmented waltz, to swing gradually from halting pairs of quarter notes into a more typical, dotted waltz rhythm (see example above, second measure, A G F E): this second stream, an urge to find melodic/rhythmic continuity. Two streams, and many others which we haven't mentioned, and how can you possibly feel them all while playing? Not to mention, in public? All these are in the score, simultaneous, clamoring: a bewildering cacophony of thought. The score is impossibly demanding.

The streams seem to lead gradually downward, smoothing out their dissonances, to this "answer":


Yes, it is the same sixth leap which began the waltz, G up to E, but now instead of fragments and half-steps and half-phrases, there is just a long, unbroken, lilting descent... I adore this final phrase, partly because I feel it is not enough, it does not really, truly resolve; but it is heartbreaking for me: the essence of tenderness, too late. I have words for this final phrase; I have written them in my score; but I will never tell anyone; anyway, they are nonsense words, meaningful only for me, German words with no grammar whatsoever. (Tribal meanings?) Can I say that this beautiful phrase "resolves" the previous longing and dissonances? Yes and no, I'm not sure that I totally "understand" the relation of the final phrase to the rest... it is a meager connection, sustained by slight threads of thought, threads that can never be definitive.

It is totally infuriating to imagine a music theorist at this point trying to describe the form of this last piece. (Is it ternary? binary? modified binary? Arrggghhh!) With a piece like this, Schumann seems to satirize even the idea of musical form, the notion of completeness, and its relevance. And it was infuriating to hear all these beautiful, sensitive versions which did not capture even an iota of my tremendous emotional attachment to this last waltz... they were all incomplete somehow. I can't help thinking of my own hypothetical version. Someday, when I return to this piece, my version ... will hopefully be even more incomplete, even less definitive.