… as she teaches me the special care necessary when playing variations (don’t study them linearly! focus on structural similarities not visible in the melody! play in a sequence of different ways (eyes closed, fingers lingering not pressing the keys, air playing, repeating note names, mute playing, etc.) each passage…) I start to see the potential dreariness of variations not well played out, the possible drift into vapidness … and by symmetry, the extreme richness and brutally meditative mind state that may be attained when really playing variations linking the various possibilities opposing richness and structural similarity…

the final movement of Hob. XVI 24 (cf. Richter)

Enigma Variations (not the Elgar orchestral piece, but the Aciman novel) is a long-winded, extremely well-crafted extended novella. Aciman takes up the main subject of his now very famous Call Me By Your Name and literally unfolds it through variations in later life, variations of an early, burgeoning sensual/sexual experience of ¿love? that leaves a boy, a man, marked throughout his entire life, and whose many additional loves are lived as variations of some sort of the first (unaware) one. Paolo falls in love (without really knowing it, without even being able to detect it, let alone phrase it, without as much as a language for his feeling of infatuation) with a cabinet-maker, a falegname in an island off the coast of Italy where his family spends summers. Paolo, at twelve, slowly discovers his own love for twenty-something year-old Gianni, for his hands and nails, for his trim frame and green eyes, for his face he doesn’t dare look directly – and in uncovering his own outsidification and othernessifaction ends up building from rough pieces a language for what his eyes, his racing heartbeat, his breath, his arms, his skin hair raising, his balls tickling, his ¿unwanted? erection have already given him the knowledge he cannot yet phrase… This first theme, so reminiscent of Elio’s story in Call Me By Your Name, has later some variations. Alternating love for women and for men, in a kind of odd nod to Virginia Wolff’s Orlando, the rest of Paolo (later Paul in New York)’s loves continue playing a note of untold arousal, mental courting, projection of images, smells, textures that Paul knows are often best left unexpressed. A triumph of the non-explicit (made explicit in Aciman’s prose, of course). An endless set of variations of his early theme.

Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations (mentioned often in Paolo’s conversation with his father in the island in Italy, hummed by both to the exasperation of the mother, as a secret key-code between father and son) – and then Paolo’s understanding of his own father’s infatuation with the same young man that he as a young adolescent lived through – Paolo’s un-judgmental and again implicit camaraderie with the memory of his own father. And the Diabelli underscoring those memories.

Photographic variations (on Finnish glass geometries):

Mathematical variations are always tricky. In some unacknowledged sense, whole swaths of math are really sophisticated variations on themes. But we do not really, we do not truly call them that, we do not truly think in those terms. Usually.

(I feared when first seeing this overhanging Möbius strip that it would be too contrived, too cliché. The Möbius strip is an almost immediate image coming to mind when evoking the main theme of the Salón Nacional de Artistas this year, “the reverse/back of the threading/of the weaving” (el revés de la trama) and the special exhibition Aracne’s Fable under the curatorship of Alejandro Martín. Yet on second view I found this variation on a classical theme, by Adrián Gaitán, very powerful. The heavy physicality provided by the used mattresses, apparently taken from some whorehouse in Cali (at least according to our guide at the exhibition). And that seems to be the case. The mattresses, made of cheap polyester-like material, woven and rewoven and repaired after many uses, bear stains and traces of bodily exertion, of many possible sexual acrobatics but also of sweat and blood, sperm and urine, vaginal and anal secretions, saliva and tears; all those human fluids and traces of people (and suffering and moaning and exploitation and delight, money transactions and childbirths and hopes for the lives of those children) also woven into the fabric, also immanent and impossible to efface. All that heaviness turned by Adrián Gaitán’s variation into a floating symbol of a primal kind of reversion, into a pristine and ideal and immaterial shape.)

Piotr Anderszewski. Un voyageur intranquille.

Trains and piano. I could take a trip by train forever, never quite stop, and be the happiest man.

This is what Bruno Monsaingeon’s documentary does (yes, the same Monsaingeon of Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations Documentary of yesteryear) with Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski.

In the documentary, Anderszewski goes around Poland, then on to Budapest and finally to Paris and Lisbon, on a special cart of a Polish train he adapted, with his piano. On his way, he plays, he stops in Poznań, Budapest, Warsaw, Zakopane, Paris, Lisbon and gives recitals. He visits his Hungarian grandmother, he explains how he couldn’t take any Chopin and how Chopin, trains, snow, war and Europe seemed intertwined. He deplores lost Warsaw. He explains how he quite piano and how he came back.

But mostly, he travels and travels.

We watched this movie with María Clara for hours and hours – I got it in Berlin right after being in Cracow, Zakopane, Wrocław, Poznań, with my head and heart full of Poland. We then watched it again with Roman, with my father, with some other dear people.

This youtube teaser has some of it. The movie’s train scenes are the best in the world.

The Art of Transcription.

The discussion is endless, just as for the Art of Translation. One may go at infinity discussing Liszt’s transcriptions of entire Beethoven symphonies to one or two pianos, or transcriptions of Beethoven of his own works (the Violin Concerto transcribed to piano by B himself as a way to vent his anger at someone else’s bad transcription – in a move somehow reminiscent of Cervantes’ second part of Quixote).

In 1985, for the Third Centennial of Bach’s birth, a Russian violinist, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, transcribed the Goldberg Variations (originally for keyboard) for a trio of violin, viola and cello.

(Oh, of course, I remember Javier quoting Artem and other Russians on how somehow translations into Russian are usually better than originals 🙂 —- this may be another instance of this…)

The result, while (of course) never replacing the original, is an amazing feat. The voice leading is made somehow clearer in some passages by the timbres of the three instruments.

Enjoy here the fourth variation, at the hands of Julian Rachlin (violin), Nobuko Imai (viola) and Mischa Maisky (violoncello).