"of being a self in a song" (2017)
for Mindy Cheng
For better or for worse, my acquaintance with Bach’s Goldberg Variations is inextricably tied to Glenn Gould’s relic 1981 recording. The slow tempos and incessant vocalizing that strike many others as eccentric have been, for me, part of my initial and lasting (and beloved) impression of this music, and not so eccentric at all.
While preparing to write this piece, I read somewhere that Gould habitually vocalized to make up for whatever he could not “get” out of the piano, like some kind of reflex. Apocryphal as it may be, I found this idea poetic (especially in light of his recording of Bach’s “Goldberg” aria – vocal music written for an instrument with no obvious vocal qualities); Gould’s recording (and indeed, his artistry) is marked by what he couldn’t hold back. And so, Gould’s humming, both in itself and as an icon of inescapable selfhood, provided the inspiration for this short piece.
The title is taken from Anne Carson’s novel-in-verse, Autobiography of Red: “Meanwhile, music pounded / across hearts opening every valve to the desperate drama of being / a self in a song”.
This piece was written at the kind request of Prof. Inna Faliks for the Dialogues and Re-imaginings Festival at UCLA. It was first performed by my friend, Mindy Cheng, in June 2017.