Extra Credit

Critic Harold C. Schonberg called Leopold Godowsky’s Studies on Chopin’s Études “the most impossibly difficult things ever written for the piano”; Godowsky said they were “aimed at the transcendental heights of pianism.” In the “Badinage,” above, the pianist plays Chopin’s “Black Key” étude with the left hand while simultaneously playing the “Butterfly” étude with the right and somehow preserving the melodies of both. One observer calculated that this requires 1,680 independent finger movements in the space of about 80 seconds, an average of 21 notes per second. “The pair go laughing over the keyboard like two friends long ago separated, now happily united,” marveled James Huneker in the New York World. “After them trails a cloud of iridescent glory.”

The studies’ difficulty means that they’re rarely performed even today; Schonberg said they “push piano technique to heights undreamed of even by Liszt.” Only Italian pianist Francesco Libetta, above, has performed the complete set from memory in concert.

Saying Goodbye

Leyland Kirby’s composition Everywhere at the End of Time depicts the progression of Alzheimer’s disease through six hours of successively degraded ballroom music:

STAGE 1: Here we experience the first signs of memory loss. This stage is most like a beautiful daydream. The glory of old age and recollection. The last of the great days.

STAGE 2: The second stage is the self realisation and awareness that something is wrong with a refusal to accept that. More effort is made to remember so memories can be more long form with a little more deterioration in quality. The overall personal mood is generally lower than the first stage and at a point before confusion starts setting in.

STAGE 3: Here we are presented with some of the last coherent memories before confusion fully rolls in and the grey mists form and fade away. Finest moments have been remembered, the musical flow in places is more confused and tangled. As we progress some singular memories become more disturbed, isolated, broken and distant. These are the last embers of awareness before we enter the post awareness stages.

STAGE 4: Stage 4 is where serenity and the ability to recall singular memories gives way to confusions and horror. It’s the beginning of an eventual process where all memories begin to become more fluid through entanglements, repetition and rupture.

STAGE 5: More extreme entanglements, repetition and rupture can give way to calmer moments. The unfamiliar may sound and feel familiar. Time is often spent only in the moment leading to isolation.

“Stage 6 is without description.”

Benedetti’s Puzzle

This is interesting: In 1585, Italian mathematician Giovanni Battista Benedetti devised a piece of music in which a precise application of the tuning mathematics causes the pitch to creep upward.

Avoiding this phenomenon requires an adjustment — a compromise to the dream of mathematically pure music.

Dark Days

During a visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in 2016, University of Michigan music theory professor Patricia Hall discovered handwritten manuscripts of popular songs of the day. This one, “The Most Beautiful Time of Life,” is a light foxtrot based on a song by Franz Grothe, a popular German film composer. The prisoners had arranged it for the available instruments and musicians and probably performed it before the commandant’s villa in Sunday concerts for the Auschwitz garrison in 1942 or 1943.

“This was for the SS personnel,” she explained. “It was about a three-hour concert that was broken up into stages, and at one point, they had a dance band so that soldiers could dance. Given the instrumentation of this foxtrot, I think that’s probably what it was used for.”

Two of the arrangers had signed their prison numbers to the manuscript, so Hall was able to identify them: Antoni Gargul, a Polish soldier and a violinist, and Maksymilian Piłat, a professional bassoonist. Both of them survived the war, and Hall believes the unidentified third author may have as well.

Golden Joinery

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tea_bowl,_Korea,_Joseon_dynasty,_16th_century_AD,_Mishima-hakeme_type,_buncheong_ware,_stoneware_with_white_engobe_and_translucent,_greenish-gray_glaze,_gold_lacquer_-_Ethnological_Museum,_Berlin_-_DSC02061.JPG

In the Japanese art of kintsugi, broken pottery is not discarded but mended with a lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum, to connote an appreciation of the flawed and the imperfect and to mark the repair as one event in the object’s life, not the end of its useful service.

The Japanese philosophy of mushin finds an analogy with human life. Christy Bartlett writes in Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics (2008):

Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated … a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin. … Mushin is often literally translated as ‘no mind,’ but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. … The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject.

“This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself.”

(See Edifice Complex.)

Footwork

Devised in 1948 by Russian choreographer Nadezhda Nadezhdina, the “floating step” of the Beryozka Dance Ensemble seems to carry dancers smoothly across the stage, as though their feet have left the ground.

“Not even all our dancers can do it,” Nadezhdina said. “You have to move in very small steps on very low half-toe with the body held in a certain corresponding position.”

Real Time

Christian Marclay’s 2010 film The Clock is a montage of 12,000 film clips that depict clocks or timepieces, arranged in chronological order.

It’s designed to run in a continuous 24-hour loop — so the film itself functions as a clock.