December 17th, 2002

Pianissimo Major

 Pianissimo Major


In the first quarter of the 19th Century Antonio Diabelli, a Viennese pianist and music publisher, sent a simple waltz he’d written to a number of major composers and invited them to write variations. Ludwig von Beethoven initially dismissed the piece as a "cobbler's patch," but four years later constructed from it one of the most powerful and enigmatic pieces of music ever written. Beethoven dedicated his 33 variations for solo piano to Frau Antonie von Brentano, nee Edle von Birkenstock—his “Immortal Beloved.”

Variation XX is otherworldly. It consists of a subtle, intricate and sometimes inexplicable progression of chords in an andante tempo that is not only a recapitulation of the variations themselves, but also a summation of Beethoven’s troubled yet spiritually triumphant life. The final resolution comes in the 72nd chord, a pianissimo C major.

In her diary Antonie Brentano speaks of "elective affinities." She says there exists between some fortunate people an immediate spiritual and emotional connection. They understand each other in an instant. Their lives contain related points of contact even before they knew each other. People and events evoke in them the same thoughts. Reflections about themselves bring them to similar convictions and conclusions that do not have to be verbalized.

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Eve called them "The Diabolical Variations."

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Eve suggested Raymond might try thinking of her past love affairs (by his own rough count, he was her 18th) as lessons learned about what she wanted and of course what she didn't want. Raymond saw it otherwise. Nearly every one of those men hurt her deeply, and so she held back from love. She could not fully surrender to it, to him, as he hoped she would. Thus the men in her past not only hurt her, but they hurt Raymond as well.

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Like T.S. Eliot, Eve worked in a bank. She produced software documentation for complicated financial programs. About a year into the marriage she couldn't take the suffocating corporate climate anymore and, with Raymond’s encouragement, became a freelance consultant. She'd sit at the terminal, frowning, cigarette burning in the tray, tapping a rapid staccato. Her fingers were as adroit on a piano, or on the strings of her guitar. But her guitar chord progressions were a bit eccentric. Her brother always complained about her mistakes, as he called them, and tried many times to correct her, but she ignored him.

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