Write About What You Don’t Know

Conjuring up life in a foreign land is one part of writing that is exciting and fulfilling.  But the most fun is conjuring up a character who is nothing like you — who is nothing like anyone, really.

Daniel Fulton in Summit is a brilliant, eccentric pianist who has turned his back on public performance, instead sitting around his messy home and playing the piano whenever it pleases him.

Glenn Gould was a brilliant, eccentric pianist who turned his back on public performance . . .

Coincidence?  I think not.

The back stories are completely different, of course.  Fulton stopped playing in public for reasons that make sense in the context of the novel’s plot.  Gould stopped playing for his own combination of personal and philosophical reasons.  Once he stopped, he never returned to the stage.  Unlike Horowitz, unlike Weissenberg.  Unlike Daniel Fulton.

In general, concert pianists are a breed apart, even among musicians.  Music is almost always a group endeavor.  Almost no other musician goes before the public all by himself — without even sheet music to aid him.  It’s just him and his instrument — and the long history of other great performers, other great interpretations of the same standard repertoire, against which his audience will judge him.

When you write about a concert pianist, you are really writing about what you don’t know, and what you cannot know.

This is all just an excuse to embed this video of Gould performing — to an audience consisting apparently of his dog and, maybe, a couple of birds outside his window.  What has always been astonishing to me about Gould is the absolute clarity of the voices when he plays counterpoint, as if each hand was controlled by a separate brain. (And, even in his recordings, there was the annoying humming, which he was never able to control.)

2 thoughts on “Write About What You Don’t Know

  1. Ah, the Sinfinia of the C minor Partita. When I was a kid I used to play Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. Now having studied the Bach, I’m struck by the resemblance between the first movements. Each is in C minor and each features a slow introduction marked Grave and featuring dotted rhythms.

    The striking thing about this performance is the insane tempo at which he takes the fugue — without in any way sacrificing the clarity of the voices.

    It’s been an interesting experience taking up the piano again after such a long absence. Technically I think I am the equal of my younger self (I certainly wouldn’t have attempted any part of the Goldberg back in the day). But the one thing I cannot do any more is memorize.


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