ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms
Music and Musings08 Jun 2007

I’ve written a complete draft of my thesis, thanks in large part to Beethoven and Artur Rubinstein.

It all started (as many things in my life seem to) with Battlestar Galactica. In an episode of Season 2 they used a Philip Glass minimalist piano piece called “Metamorphosis”. I thought it sounded pretty neat at the time, but forgot about it. I heard it again later, used as theme music on an episode of CBC’s Ideas, and tracked it down. I bought a Phillip Glass piano music album from iTunes and enjoy it a lot. If you’ve not heard “Metamorphosis” (and really, why would you have?), it is mainly deliberate arpeggios, gradual chord changes and bell-like treble notes. The whole thing is 30 minutes long. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Beethoven’s famous Moonlight Sonata. It also reminded me that I really like piano music.

A while later I went home to visit my parents, and for the first time in a long time, sat down at the piano. I dug out the music for a (simplified) version of Moonlight Sonata and was surprised how well I remembered it. Afterwards, the melody continued to rattle around in my head for days, and I eventually bought an album of Artur Rubinstein playing Beethoven from iTunes, which, of course, included Sonata No.14 in C-sharp Minor: “Moonlight”.

I like to listen to music while I work, though when I am writing something, I find I can’t listen to music with lyrics, because they are too distracting. The Rubenstein album turned out to be ideal “working music”; the opening track, Sonata No. 8, has exactly the right mix of complexity and energy to put my mind into “productivity mode”. The album quickly became the soundtrack of my thesis writing, and I got to know the music fairly well.

On the bus yesterday I listened for the first time to a newly-acquired album of Canadian piano genius Glenn Gould playing Beethoven. I don’t really know a lot about the man, except for what I dimly remember from Don McKeller’s film tribute, “Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould”. Is he known as a speed demon?

I first listened to Moonlight Sonata, and was immediately surprised by the speed. If anyone else on the bus noticed me press play on my iPod and then sit there with a stunned look on my face, they must have thought I was going mad. Gould plays it a lot faster than Rubinstein, and it completely changes the feeling of the piece. It’s as if someone has made your favorite recipe, but substituted a few spices, perhaps replacing garam masala with cinamon (which is something I actually did in a curry recipe recently, mainly from necessity, and it turned out really well). It’s familiar, and you like it, but at the same time it’s completely changed.

I then listened to Gould’s version of my favorite track from the Rubenstein album: Sonata No. 8. Again, Gould’s version was faster and carried a different feeling, but this time I was less convinced. It is quick enough in the Rubenstein version, and Gould plays some passages at an impossible pace (his version is 6 minutes to Rubenstein’s 8). The added speed seems to rob the piece of some of its weight, and thus reduce the amount of force it produces as it moves.

I’m not sure how adding Glenn Gould to the mix will affect my productivity. I’ll keep you posted.

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