week1: chopin; sibylle baier


The romantics founded a cult of the hero genius that called it a sublime quality that possessed artists and exalted them to a kind of demonic demi-god, roiled by the throes of inspiration. “” jan swafford, Language of the Spirit

didn’t think black folk could get heat strokes, on account of being on such good terms with the sun.—that was my misconception until last august when i was gripped by a heat stroke that made to feel as if my whole body was being tanned for leather. it begun as a mild onset of suddenly feeling very heavy after half a day of running about, exercising and thereafter distributing flyers in search for potential apartments to live on palmerston. my skin became cool to the touch and all its heat felt concentrated in the forehead, right behind my eyes. by evening i was inconsolable. each of my leg felt the weight of my whole body, and my arms were vestigial; any attempt at movement required an olympic amount of effort. two days later, and after several yards of wet towels were grilled on my blazing eyelids, i emerged from the brief epic feeling exhausted and profound: and with an inexplicable crave for at least three servings of the filet-o-fish from mcdonald's.

two days is a long time when your body feels wrung of every trace of hydration, not to mention the catastrophic boredom. as such my bedridden sabbatical was a back and forth volley between the perverse grotesquerie of patton oswalt’s stand-up comedy and the sublime tranquility of chopin’s waltzes.

that is as well my working definition of the profound: a mixture in equal proportions of the most grotesque and most sublime sentiments. chopin’s piano compositions, these eighteen waltzes especially, are some of the most potent examples of the sublime in music. in sickness—as in last august—and in health—as in the two summers before that: these waltzes have always been the late-summer’s anchor of tranquility. they are, in borrowed words: depth in calm water, calm in deep water (britten, Peter Grimes).

this summer has been more sweltering and sizzling than last year’s, but i’ve been better at maintaining a less exasperated pace (that i switched to a one-speed bike in june, for example). so it is with gratitude that these compositions find me in another late-summer-mood wherein one has begun to take this good weather for granted and is liable to spend a picturesque summer evening wilting in a less than vertical posture

(waltzes no. 3,6,10&19)—


[Chopin] knew how to make small things loom large. “” jan swafford, Language of the Spirit

the presupposition of chopin’s pianoworks is an infinitude of little silken rivets, shimmering widgets spinning in the sun. a box-full of trinkets for ears to lease and release, for it is music too light to be held. one can only let it hover for a little while, and thereafter reach for its sillage in the silence.


here are four of those riveting waltzes:

No. 3 in A minor, Op. 34, No. 2. The three waltzes of Op.34 were published as Trois Valse brillantes, but musicologists have described the A minor as, more aptly, a Valse triste. One of Chopin’s personal favorites, it was composed in Vienna in 1831 and dedicated to a Parisian pupil, Mme, la Baronne C. d’Ivri. “” rory guy, notes for the recording.

No.6 in D flat major, Op. 64, No.1. Having already been asked to assimilate the “cat story” explanation for the no.4 in F, the listener may understandably be disinclined to believe that still another of Chopin’s waltzes was inspired by his domestic menagerie. It must nonetheless be recorded that the D flat major is known as the “Little Dog” Waltz, because George Sand is said to have seen her puppy chasing its tail and whimsically asked Chopin to “set the tail to music.” He composed it in 1846 of ‘47, published it in 1847, and played it at his valiant last recital in Paris in 1848. “” rory guy, notes for the recording.

No. 10 in B minor, op.69, No.2. The B minor in believed to have been written in Warsaw in 1829, during a restless, dreary period when composing was Chopin’s only comfort. Less popular than others of  his waltzes, it nonetheless reflects a pleasingly tender melancholy. “” rory guy, notes for the recording.

No. 19 in A minor, Op. Posth. Dates ranging from 1843 to 1848 have been ventured for this work, believed to have been composed for Mme. Charlotte de Rothschild, or her daughter. The MSS, were presented to the Paris Conservatoire by the Rothschild family in 1901. First publication was in La Revue Musicale in Paris, May, 1955. This waltz suggests the Polish children’s dances Chopin must have known as a boy, filtered through a Chopinesque essence of Paris . “” rory guy, notes for the recording.

(Forget About—sybille baier)———


even our rain this summer has been unseasonal: always all of a sudden, aggressive and prolonged—nothing of those premonitory first spurts (a boon for street vendors who are more than an earshot away from the nearest awning). light rain—the slanted needle-point sort—is needed as a backdrop for these waltzes. it was especially in the summer of 2015 that there was a surplus of a pluvial chorus for my chopin. in that same summer i discovered the slow power of sybille baier’s Colour Green. her only album, recorded unreleased in the 60’s only to find a wider audience when revived by her son in the mid 2000’s. it’s an indescribable experience. a medley of sceneries, mostly of a vast expanse of a country life not too far from city. a wanderer’s ennui over her failure to launch—but all with an undertone of the most domestic moodiness. the sixth song on the album, Forget About, is about the only song i know that is impossible to listen to in anything but the most horizontal position.

You made me forget about / Past and pain

Time you washed out / Like a soft sudden summer rain... "" Forget About—Sybille Baier


the pauses that linger between ‘soft’, ‘sudden’ and ‘summer rain’—almost imperceptible—is the kind of thing i mean by eternity. there is a weightless levitating sigh abridging those words that is more profound than words.

i find that levitating quality in chopin’s waltzes as well. (waltze no.19, for example, is in the same feeling as Forget About, though with much less to say.) after a fair bit of scurrying about, a slow tired parade of notes suddenly comes around the corner, shimmering like a mirage. both the music and the air around it share the same weight. and for those moments, (do i really have to say it?)—gratitude pours forth continuously.