Another Possible Outcome of the Infinite Monkey Theorem

Emanuel Ax plays Chopin and Schumann in recital

Dependability isn't necessarily the greatest compliment in classical music, but in Emanuel Ax's case, it's dependability of the highest order.

Figure 1. Extinct volcano: High degree of dependability; they’re also often fun to look at.

Figure 2a. Dormant volcano: Not so dependable

Figure 2b. But deathly exciting!

Figure 3. Active volcano: Also a high degree of dependability, plus, “meh.”

Okay. I’m going to go out on I limb, here, and offer an interpretation, because, hey, we’ve got to start somewhere and this could be interpreted in any number of ways. So, here is how I read it: Emanuel Ax brings a dependable quality to his performances. That seems reasonable, I think. Sure. Why not?

Outbursts of musical temperament do indeed happen...

Implying: dependability really means flat, monotone, or tempered. But then again, what the hell is “flatness of the highest order” supposed to mean? Let’s see. Or more likely, let’s not and say we did.

Outbursts of musical temperament do indeed happen with this 60-year-old pianist, but you don't feel as if you've missed anything when the repertoire requires and receives a genteel veneer [...]

Weird. It’s as if scores impart information. And who knew that performers actually follow what’s on the printed page? Geesh! The more you know...

To continue, Ax’s flat (?) dependability is interrupted by outbursts, which tend (?) to obscure genteel “things” written in the score, which are subsequently played. Clear enough. [Ahem]

But that doesn't mean Ax was glossy.

Right! He had “outbursts of musical temperament,” remember? Or were those written in the score, too, implying that the outbursts were independent of the score?

The Schumann selections showed the composer at his most lyrical, though even amid the extravagant outpouring of the Fantasy in C, Ax revealed glimpses of the composer's darker side, as if to show how his musical love letter to Clara Wieck (his future wife) was just one side of a passionate personality that at its most benign retreated into the world of E.T.A. Hoffmann's scary fairies, and in future years would drive him to attempt suicide.

I think Lacan would have something to say about Schumann’s fulfilled desire for Clara.

Figure 4. No objet petit a for you!

As happens from time to time, or simply all the time, the issue, I think, is that composer and performer--more appropriately, interpreter—are being confused. Is Ax being temperamental? Or is Schumann being temperamental?

More on point, if Ax is being temperamental, then what the fuck is this dependability thing?

Those were only glimpses, however.

Well, maybe Ax is dependable in that regard. You know, making sure those glimpses (which are flat and/or glossy?) aren’t obscured by his own outbursts.

Ax doesn't impose retrospective anachronisms onto music.

Figure 5. Powerpoint slide from Advanced Criticism, Week 4: Knot Tying

Where were we, again? Oh right: Huh?

Because the first movement's burst of C-major exaltation is the sort that even geniuses...

Uh, hold on. Looking at the score, I’m hard-pressed to call any of it firmly in C major. (Here’s just the first page; I dare you to call it a burst.) But, then again, scores exist for performers to ignore.

That’s it! Maybe Ax is dependably ignoring the score, which he follows sometimes, but only during moments of genteel veneer.

Because the first movement's burst of C-major exaltation is the sort that even geniuses deliver only a few times in a creative lifetime, the Fantasy's subsequent movements were fated to be anticlimactic.

Fate, ruins, Clara, olives, Beethoven, Im Lengendenton, An die Ferne Geliebte: whatever. After all this, I demand to know about Ax’s dependability!

Wisely, Ax didn't try to sustain the music's emotional temperature in later movements, but let the piece go to different, also compelling places, often by tapping into the singular eloquence of simplicity.

Figure T-Shirt.

With Ax, the notes unfolded with the inner time clock of Vladimir Horowitz but with a tone that lacked a bit of Ax's usual sheen in favor of the more mellow coloring of Arthur Rubinstein.

Dependably imposing anachronisms without imposing anachronisms?

His own strong personality accommodates influences from elsewhere in ways that add to (rather than dilute) his musical identity.

Oh. Dependably imposing anachronisms without imposing retrospective anachronisms that dilute his musical identity, which sometimes comes in outbursts of musical temperament that don’t obscure glimpses of genteel veneer the score requires, which is then to be played. Got it.

In the second half, which included Chopin's Andante spianato and Schumann's early Fantasiestucke, his tone quality deteriorated...

Uh. In other words, Ax's tone quality wasn't dependable?

...perhaps in an attempt to climax the recital with fortissimos this particular instrument couldn't easily take.

The piano wasn’t dependable!

Better to end with a bang than a whimper.

Random, closing sentence shrouded in irony.


Gustav said...

"inner time clock"...if only there were a name for a device that kept time in music.

Also, I find it very convenient that the monkeys writing this review just happened to randomly produce this series of text to coincide with Ax's recital. Me thinks that one of the monkeys cheated.

AnthonyS said...

no objet petit a for you

I quite literally guffawed.