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exercises in being according to an existential hedonist

Three Times a Piano – De Leeuw, Gould, Goulda

Time could be understood in a variety of ways, but usually going from the past to the present. Most of all, it is used as a definition for something, but not as a life in itself – not even a phenomenon, but the frame in which these occur. Two view points could be named as the basic understandings of what time is or might be. On one side it is the thought that time is a perpetual and all-encompassing frame. On the opposing side, time contains nothing, refrains nothing, changes nothing. It is rather an intellectual and cultural structure we measure life by.

It is said, time is relative. Time is ‘something’ that has been occupying and disturbing my mind for long, it has been buggling in my head. Many years ago I even put this word, its irrelevance and what I see as its contradicting usage, into a few composed lines.

“Time will tell.”

So you sit around waiting for time to tell. While you sit around waiting for time to tell

“Time flies by”,

and time tells. And time says:

“Time’s up!”

Photo: While walking near New York’s Chinatown I sighted a boring building with an interesting top. I have yet to find out what the objects on the roof mean. An over-sized statue of a man stands next to a large cube with a clock showing on four sides. The clock contains not the usual chronological numbering, but – for example – when it is 10 or 11 o’clock, one reads respectively a 3 or an 8 instead.

Time is so independent, so irrelevant, so much of a self-sustained and self-contained expression of cycles, it does not need us. In reversed form, it needs not make a difference. We have been using time as a frame. With culture, production and effectiveness we count on it, as if it was life itself. I see it as an aspect, one with some relevance, but none of existential importance or necessity. Nevertheless, we rely on it, as if it would be there to “tell’ us, instruct us, save us, change us and limit us.

We, as individuals, are also self-contained, meaning, not dependent of ‘time tellings’ and cycles, but dependent of our movements, be these introverted or extroverted. And we all, individually, move as we individually can, need and wish. At least we could. If we would!

To be or not to be was never a question of relevance. We always ARE, but the effectiveness and amount of our movements will always vary. While being, our options could be described as:

To forget time
To be time
To change time

That might be the better question.

This has been in my mind – certainly in many other minds as well – and I observe how individually three important instrumentalists dealt with time, based on a couple of personal experiences with or through them. These three biographies have had their repercussions in different parts of the world almost simultaneously. Three short bits out of those biographies have showed me interesting particularities about how three ‘masters’ of a chrono-mathematical phenomena mostly or solely used for expression – Music – have showed extremely different dealings with ‘time’.

[Time for Three Pianists]

These three could have all shaken hands several years and all used their hands on piano, all with great success. Glenn Gould, not the oldest of them, born in Canada in 1932, lived the shortest. He is respected by many and is of great historical importance, mostly for his interpretations of Johann Sebastian Bach. Friedrich Gulda, the oldest, born in Austria in 1930, lived to be 70 years of age. He is mostly remembered for his ‘understanding’ of the Music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but involved himself and his audience in very creative blending of traditional classical music with jazz and its characteristical improvisation aspect. Reinbert de Leeuw, the only living one, born in the Netherlands in 1938, is the youngest. A significant, perhaps his greatest contribution to the history of music, is his recording of the works of Eric Satie in the early 70’s.

Around the mid 90’s I was invited to perform a concert at a venue in Bremen, in the north of Germany. As I saw in the programme that Reinbert de Leeuw would perform there as well, I immediately informed the owner of my wish to experience this man at the piano, without the need of a stereo system. That night I wanted only one thing: listen to Satie. By the time he started I was surprised. By the time he paused I was confused. By the time he finished, I was disgusted, at least in state of shock.

As it is usual in many exhibition and concert venues, after the concert we all went to eat together and I saw the opportunity to ask him a single question. Starting by stating that I knew his recordings and loved them, I need to know, why he had increased the speed of Satie pieces so immensely for the concert. His answer gave me the rest.
“I do not remember, how I played back then. That is some 20 years ago.”

Enough said!

Friedrich Gulda, being a musician who loved jazz, a music form that is strongly identified with the freedom of improvisation, was known to play a piece of W. A. Mozart in a concert. This one was timed and it lasted the exact amount of time he had used for his recording of the piece years before.

Just weeks ago I noticed to have downloaded two different pieces to my iPhone with the exact same title. I did not know this, but noticed by the length of the first part on each piece that it had to be two different recordings, perhaps – judging by the times – two different pieces. So I listened. It was a recording of the Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould. The melody was clearly recognizable but the tempo did not send any warnings to my brain. Not until I wanted to find out, what the other download with different times was. It was the Goldberg Variations, also played by Glenn Gould, but as if he had been meditating between each note and each passage. As an artist who paid great attention to technique, I cannot imagine that he ‘forgot’ by one recording that he had played differently before. I suspect there was a system behind the change, just as there was a system to his madness.

If a Mystic where to claim that being born on the 29th of February, as opposed to the 28th, will have an influence on the psych, energy or outlook of an individual life, he will be able to prove to me with certainty that this is his belief. No more. It is not the 271st day what pushes a creature to become a born creature. It is activity or inactivity.

acting, breathing, being,
some forget time
some are time
some change time.


Reinbert de Leeuw – September 8 1938
Glenn Gould – September 25 1932 – October 4 1982
Friedrich Gulda – May 16 1930 – January 27 2000


Filed under: repercussions, singing, thinking, , , , , , , , ,

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