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Bach Sinfonia 5 and Schumann Bunte Blätter 6 (remastered)

As regular readers of In the Hands know, I’ve been working through my older recordings and applying my up-to-date mastering process — making them sound better, in other words. As I went through the list, I found that these two recordings make a nice pair. Arranging nice little transitions like this is one of my favorite parts of doing a concert. It’s the same little pleasure as assembling a mix CD or playing DJ: even the simple act of ordering songs is a kind of composition, and carries the joy of being creative.

The keys of the two pieces (E flat and A flat) are related and make for a smooth transition, but beyond that, it’s hard to pin down what exactly connects them so well. The deliberate, thoughtful way both unfold? The way both of them seem to talk? Their sense of intimacy? Those are all getting warm, but none of them really pin it down. It doesn’t matter, though — it is fine to be musically confident on intuition alone, and I say they fit. Phooey to the 20th century and its obsession with having a conscious rationale for everything in music!

When something musical works well, it’s natural to wonder why, and we learn a great deal in the process of trying to come up with explanations. But our musical explanations (like all models of reality) are always incomplete; good music remains half-submerged in the unknown, and thus always carries the magic shared by all mysterious things. This is the dilemma of a performer and, even more, of a composer: constantly dissecting, looking for order, developing explanations and rationales — and at the same time never losing sight of the incompleteness of these explanations, but embracing the unknown and holding on to the magic. The skill of smoothly changing frame between reasoning and intuition, known and unknown, dissected part and organic whole, is a core part of both composition and computer programming. Those are two things I spent a lot of my time doing, and I claim they overlap a great deal in the brain, in large part because of this “frame shifting.”

Oh, right, I had a recording to share. Enough philosophizing. On with the music!

Sinfonia No 5
Paul Cantrell, piano
Bunte Blätter No 6
Paul Cantrell, piano

These both come from wonderful sets of pieces — Bach’s two- and three-part inventions, and Schumann’s Albumblätter (“Album Leaves,” which is a subset of Bunte Blätter, “Colored Leaves”). I’d like to learn more of both sets (and improve my Bach playing in general, because it’s very weak). Too much great music and not enough time! What’s a fellow to do?