2 January 2003, 12:39 a.m.


back & forth

Froberger, Froberger, Froberger!: I treated myself to the Le Pupitre edition of the Schweets. There is nothing like owning something to bring on the familiarity and the contempt: this is an edition that struck me as attractive and well-laid out when I took it out of the library, but now that I get it home there are all sorts of ugly, ugly decisions -- semiquaver passages where the notes look like millipedes dancing dirty, flags of different thicknesses joined up, holes in the staff. I haven't seen any errors yet, at least. I miss the old DTÖ edition. But enough bitching! I haven't been playing the suites at all and it's just good to have them at hand again.

Playing Froberger is frightening: his art is touched by madness. The suites are profoundly intimate, designed more for the player than the listener. While the toccate, the capricci, the canzoni are all somewhate extroverted, the suites are all close, tightly wound. Not really designed to be heard from any further away than ten feet. Which also gives me the feeling that Froberger himself is breathing down my neck. Take the Meditation, Faite sur ma mort future, la Quelle se joue lentement avec discretion -- the piece is D, and in the last two bars of the first half, when you expect it to land in A major like a good little Allemande, it suddenly veers off to a shimmering f-sharp major chord -- a chord which in meantone tuning is a little challenging; it is a moment of both rest and optimism. One in ten times that I play the piece, I manage to surprise myself with that chord, and this sounds right to me; and yet something in the nature of the piece prevents me from being able to control the effect completely -- spontaneity is a careful calculus between thinking a hell of a lot about what to play next and being completely ready for it, and also fooling yourself into thinking that you're improvising the whole thing.

As a tonic to that I also picked up the Art of the Fugue for my inner idiot-savant. I can't help being a little disparaging about the quasi-religious reverence with which Bach's fugal technique is treated by people who listen to Glenn Gould while stoned and read too much Gödel, Escher, Bach for their own good. In my best moments, I aim to approach JSB as a contemporary would -- that is, with the distinct impression that he's a bit of a stuffy old bore and that Telemann has more fun. Damned if he didn't thwart me, that old Lutheran sonofabitch. It's the fuga "in stylo francese" that knocked my pants off. The little notes, of course, those o-so-gallic dotted figures and runs and so on -- but also the broad in-joke humor of it all. The snickering usually starts with "watch while I use this melody as my punching-bag" and ends with, "did you think I'd go there? Nope! I'm going here!." OTOH, with apologies to the hardcore Bacholators, I find some of the contrapunctuses sound a bit like the musical equivalent of saying what day of the week the twenty-second of July, 2067 will be. Very clever, but you yawn into your beard, or at least grow one as the music goes on and on.

New Year's Eve was more or less a success -- house full of people, case full of champagne (for my real friends, real pain for my sham friends). Since we're trotting out the old jokes, might as well let you in on my great talking point of last night: I couldn't find my granddad's studs for my shirt, so I had to make do with safety pins, artfully arranged. "Look!" I'd simper. "They're early Vivienne Westwood!" People laughed at me more towards the end of the evening.

I'm going to pretend that nothing happened in December, since I sure as hell didn't have anything pressing me to write about it. I turned 25. I saw my parents. I dyed my hair black. And now it's 2003; here's hoping it won't be any worse than last year! Cheers!