week42: mozart, alela diane, kevin kern

Piano concertos no.17, g major, k.453 and No.21, c major, k 467

Piano concertos no.17, g major, k.453 and No.21, c major, k 467

i’ve written elsewhere how with classical music one is always in a landscape, and briefly last week of chopin’s piano waltzes as something of a bobbing skiff, peacefully—small little peaceful islands—(that was merely my first attempt at landscaping those waltzes—much more of an examination will come in august.)  for now i refer to them only for the sake of comparison to mozart’s piano concertos 17&21: these two bodies of work can bring to mind two different kinds of serene landscapes: that of the lonesome and that of a great deal of activity observed from a single solemn aperture—like a raucous and surly carnival at a removed distance.

the concepts, and more importantly images, that describe these two landscapes are not completely distinct from one another. recall the opening stanzas of chopin’s waltz no.1 , the quickly spreading trajectories of musical ideas, like galloping seed with raucous and energetic potential—yet therein is an intimacy that is possible only with solo instruments. and with this intimacy there’s also a lonesomeness in the images and sentiments that colour the mind. aside from this intimacy, solo instruments also make it much more likely that one is paying attention—or at least one’s general level of attention is concentrated—it’s this combination of concentration and lonesomeness that i describe as serenity. and, of the two, it procures the more obvious images of the serene. likewise: in the last two movements of mozart’s piano concerto no.21, what began as excitable and public, a busy aggregate of instruments, gradually becomes singular, something of an audible spotlight is cast upon the solo piano.

(little room)———i used to have a recurring dream that graduated into daydreaming: of frantically running down a long and narrow corridor, like that of a small commercial cruise, as if chasing someone whose many winding turns has turned what had been a playful game of tag into a mean and confusing labyrinth. the climactic end of the dream is always a sort of about-face that i do into the opposite direction i was running, as if someone called for me: i stop and turn towards a dimly lit, empty large room that is always to my right. i enter it and find, sitting on a plain wooden chair equidistant from the walls, a woman playing an instrument: usually a violin or a cello... or a weird dreamscape amalgamation of different instruments—dreaming is a fucked up thing: or however else you would describe your brain playing shitty films you’re in when you fall asleep. it appears mine specializes in the kitschy musical sort.

—all throughout this concerto no.21, i was reminded again and again of that ‘about-face’. for in it mozart too makes abrupt turns towards a small room of his own, towards a small little room occupied solely by his pianoforte, after a flurry of activity on the part of the orchestra. in this little room, there is an almost automatic tranquility, borne of the contradistinction between the quietude therein and the din of everything considered outside. there’s a blessedness to this kind of tranquility, quite the opposite of any kind of retirement, any isolation or prolonged separation… it’s the other kind of serenity, the tranquility achieved as a mere respite from action and strife.

Well you're in your little room
And you're working on something good
But if it's really good
You're gonna need a bigger room
And when you're in the bigger room
You might not know what to do
You might have to think of
How you got started sitting in your little room“”  Black Keys. Little Room

(sitting by the piano)———it’s always with a combination of pleasant anticipation and cringing anxiety that i approach the new album of a folk artist who is turning away from their guitars, banjos, fiddles and so on, to, for the sake of reinvention, take a seat at the piano. alela diane, for example. it was with my characteristic excessive enthusiasm that i reached out back in february to congratulate her release of  her latest album ‘cusp’, which was for me, among many things, a sitting down. my excitement was really in anticipation of how much more the poetry of her lyricism will occupy her music now that they have a more percussive instrument as background—(the percussive element of the piano makes it the supreme instrument for poetry, even on account of keenness alone). what i had forgotten in my haste, was the degree to which her lyrics—which evoke, blissfully, brilliantly, the imagery of a pastoral-yet-modern landscape—were owed to her choice of instruments. namely the acoustic guitar, accompanied by other more mobile instruments. instruments that can be brought along. in her music videos for cusp—the subject matter of which are generally more sombre than previous albums—she still occupies that same landscape but often unaccompanied by an instrument and with images that are more referential and cerebral than natural and axiomatic. but this is nothing of a critical observation—no serious artist is beholden to one instrument—rather an observation about the piano’s character. for it's intimations are intrinsically of a domestic scenery: those of introspection, recollection, rumination, conceptualization. the sentiments aroused by the instrument always inhabit something of a cocoon, always beneath something of a roof...or at least separated from some more natural settings...

(characteristic of strings and piano)———take for example the possible comparison between sylvia plath’s poem ‘The Two Sisters of Persephone’ and this mesmerizing performance of schubert’s standchen by camille thomas and beatrice beirrut---

Two girls there are : within the house
One sits; the other, without.
Daylong a duet of shade and light
Plays between these./
In her dark wainscoted room
The first works problems on
A mathematical machine.
Dry ticks mark time/
Bronzed as earth, the second lies,
Hearing ticks blown gold
Like pollen on bright air. Lulled
Near a bed of poppies,/
On that green alter/
Freely become sun's bride, the latter
Grows quick with seed.
Grass-couched in her labor's pride,
She bears a king. Turned bitter/
And sallow as any lemon,
The other, wry virgin to the last,
Goes graveward with flesh laid waste,
Worm-husbanded, yet no woman
.""  Sylvia Plath, The Two Sisters of Persephone

without being prompted by suggestions one might already have elected camille (cello) as characteristic of the outside beatrice (piano) as our squint-eyed and keen insider. i find it hard to not get carried away by what is psychologically telling when an artist moves from one instrument to the other.

(the piano, and intimations of eternity)———what is characteristic of the piano is not only it’s capacity to bring you inside but also the postures it can suggest when it sits you down next to it. what i really mean: from a broad survey of my most memorable musical experiences wherein i'm captivated by intimations of eternity, it is almost always in the company of the piano. why? perhaps it begins with how i conceptualize eternity and which soundscapes match this concept. you see, of the many ways to explain a concept metaphorically, i have a strong bias for those that employ the human body. as such, whenever i encounter the concept of eternity (and that’s what it will always be, a mere concept) i feel it as a kind of slouch. yes, eternity must by something of an endless slouch. an avalanche that never stops falling. a lingering, weightless, slouching feeling: that is for me eternity. that might be more of a mood than a concept...but the only other time i can readily enter that mood is through either a piano waltz, or the more ornate entrances of a piano concerto. mozart’s no.21, for example. all of chopin’s waltzes as example.

gratitude should pour forth continuously that there still exist musicians today that can drum up such monumental entrances into weightlessness from the piano. the last time i heard kevin kern’s ‘we should waltz i was busy at my cooking, frantic as usual. it stopped me, and with an about-face i headed for the nearest wooden chair. i think it might have the smell of something burning that yanked me back from that endless slouch…….

[Mozart’s music] is the mysterious language of a distant spiritual kingdom, whose marvelous accents echo in our being and arouse a higher, intensive life “”  E.T.A Hoffmann, [author of Don Juan]

sure—that too.

(elsewhere. in the nba for example)———as i write this, it’s half-time in game three of the cavs-celts series—cavs up 68-53. i believe, along with more astute observers, that whoever wins this game is on a sure course to win the series. and we’ll have yet another cavs-warriors finals. so much for ‘where amazing happens’...ffs...