Progress Report 2: Brahms

[Updated to correct an error pointed out by my smart brother.]

Here I talked about my resolution to learn Brahms’s Intermezzo in E-flat Major. I’m hard at work! Technically, it’s not especially hard. The sheet music I’m using for the piece grades the difficulty of pieces from 1 to 10, and this one gets a 5 — middle of the range. But, you know, my fingers aren’t what they used to be…

The piece is in standard ABA format. The middle section is in G-flat Major, which is also pretty standard. The problem is that G-flat Major on the piano has six freakin’ flats. Here’s what the beginning of the middle section looks like:

This is not hard music to play, unless you’re out of practice playing music with six flats, in which case you’re continually stumbling when you go to play a C and you realize that you should be playing a B, because the C is flatted in this key, and C flat is B. Right?

It also doesn’t help that Brahms has a pretty rich harmonic language going on here, so by the fifth measure of the middle section he’s temporarily turning those C-flats into C-naturals, and you have to remember that too.

The right thing to do is to just go ahead and memorize the piece so you’re not stuck trying to sight-read it. But, you know, that’s a lot of work. And I’ve got a novel to finish.

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Progress Report 1: Second Draft

I see that Jeff Carver has a nifty progress bar on his website. He’s up to 91% complete on the “major revisions” to his novel The Reefs of Time. Yay! I don’t know how to do that progress bar thing, but I am pleased to report that I’m about 52% complete on the second draft of my novel. (Of course, my book is about a third as long as Jeff’s, so the tasks aren’t really comparable.) I’ve also cut about 2% of the first draft, but I’m now starting to suspect that the second draft is going to end up slightly longer than the first. Where have I gone wrong?

I figure I’ll complete the second draft sometime in April, if I don’t have any more bright ideas. I’m in the middle of a bright idea right now, and it’s certainly slowing things down.

New arrival

This will slow down my writing:

I used to play the piano a lot growing up, but finally ran out of time for it when the kids arrived. They took lessons for a while but were never especially interested, so the old piano (which had been in the family since I was a kid and had seen better days) went to piano heaven.

I got to be pretty good in high school, but I never had the drive to get any further than pretty good. Now, we’ll see.

The music in the photo is the Arietta from Beethoven’s Opus 111 piano sonata. I am showing off–I can’t play the thing. Yet. Or maybe ever–it offers technical challenges that my fingers may not be up to.

While we’re on the subject, here’s a quick plug for my novel Summitin which I get to imagine what it’s like to be a brilliant (and eccentric) classical pianist, in the mold of Glenn Gould.

538’s analysis of “Love, Actually”

I realize that many of you rely on me for my annual insights into Love, Actually, the Christmas film that has ruined so many lives. This year I just wanted to point folks to 538’s “definitive analysis” of what it calls “the greatest Christmas movie of all time”. (This appeared last year, and maybe they didn’t have time to include Bad Santa 2 in their thinking.)

The first part of the article is standard statistical analysis of the actors–whose movies have made the most money since Love, Actually (Liam Neeson) and whose movies have the highest IMDB rating (Alan Rickman).

The authors then do a “network analysis” of the movie. It looks like this:

And they analyze how much time characters spend talking to other characters. The authors’ conclusion: Laura Linney’s character is the linchpin of the movie.

Linney’s character is the one that truly straddles the two Londons. In a movie stuffed with redundant plots and permutations of the same stereotypes, there’s no character quite like her. If you find yourself forced to Grinch through a viewing of “Love Actually” this holiday season, treasure Laura Linney — she’s a bona fide Christmas miracle.

Good lord. There are many reason to watch (parts of) Love, Actually. The simpering Laura Linney character is not one of them. Statistical analysis does not always lead to aesthetic insight.

I will report back later on Bad Santa 2, which we’ve been saving up for this holiday season.

The Bowker Collection of Money

Less than a mile away from the Vermeer exhibit, in the Numismatics Room of the Museum of American History, we find the Bowker collection of money:

I have no idea who this particular Bowker is, but it’s good to know that at least one of us managed to collect some money.

Downstairs from the Numismatics Room is the ultimate reason to visit Washington D.C. (for some of us, anyway): Julia Child’s kitchen:

Bon appétit!

Vermeer life list

I got to see the the Vermeer exhibit at the National Gallery of Art  in Washington D.C. last week. It wasn’t bad, although it was too crowded and there was a certain sameness to the paintings — on purpose. Here we see a bunch of paintings of women looking into mirrors; here we see a bunch of women writing letters… everyone is influencing everyone else. I preferred the more diverse Dutch exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts a couple of years ago.

But in any event I got to introduce myself to a few more Vermeers. There are only 34 paintings firmly attributed to Vermeer, and I’ve now seen over half of them (including the one stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum that is currently buried in some aging mobster’s shed or something). Good for me! To see the rest of them I’ll have to go to the Netherlands, Germany, and Scotland, or hope for another blockbuster touring exhibit or two.

My family isn’t as enamored of Vermeer as I am. But to me there’s something different about Vermeer compared to the other Dutch artists in the exhibit — the light! The enigmatic scenes! I could stare at them forever.

For example, what does this young lady have on her mind?

And why is that dark curtain there on the left side of this painting, as if we’re seeing a scene from a play?

And look at the deep perspective of this painting — why does Vermeer distance us from this scene?

And finally, what is this woman doing with this balance?

Wikipedia tells us:

According to Robert Huerta in Vermeer and Plato: Painting the Ideal (2005), the image has been variously “interpreted as a vanitas painting, as a representation of divine truth or justice, as a religious meditative aid, and as an incitement to lead a balanced, thoughtful life.” Some viewers have imagined the woman is weighing her valuables, while others compare her actions to Christ’s, reading parable into the pearls. Some art critics, including John Michael Montias who describes her as “symbolically weighing unborn souls”, have seen the woman as a figure of Mary.[To some critics who perceive her as measuring her valuables, the juxtaposition with the final judgment suggests that the woman should be focusing on the treasures of Heaven rather than those of Earth. In this perspective, the mirror on the wall may reinforce the vanity of her pursuits.

Well, that certainly clears things up.