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Uploaded on Jan 30, 2011
Webern Variations Opus 27
It would seem to many that this piece by Austrian composer Anton Webern (1883 -- 1945) is the complete opposite of what one would expect from "Bach's Prophet". I had to laugh when one Youtuber responded: "loneliness makes horrible things to one's mental equilibrium.... poor Gould (I'm not ironic, I really feel sorry for him)", as I'm sure many would agree. Gould's absolute precision of such unholy dissonance makes for a downright frightening display. And yet, I have to argue, it shouldn't be too surprising, because the piece is actually in the same vein as Bach. Like Bach, one gets the feeling that Webern has followed a method in order to compose-- a method that is obscure upon listening, complex; and yet we can tell that each section has a certain theme, carried out to seemingly mathematical precision, explored to its fullest and not a bit more. A method that must have made enough sense for Gould to memorize and have intimately mapped in his head.
It is paradoxically both the opposite and the continuation of Bach. If we may think of Bach as the "perfect right", as Bach believed his work came from God, almost as if Music itself was its composer, we might think of this piece as the "perfect wrong". Chaos, or apathy, would simply be no composition at all, no forsight; but rather this piece has been carefully and meticulously constructed to be unexpected and jarring to our senses in every way possible (except for the fact that it has the structure of rise and falls that appeals to us in the sense that it's a story or song). Bach, of course, is the opposite, in that everything unfolds exactly as we'd like it; in fact he reveals the sense of "rightness" to us even moreso than we could imagine on our own. In this light, this piece can be seen as equally illuminating in the opposite way; though one will probably prefer to experience perfect order more often than perfect disorder.