One of the most mesmerising artworks that I know of is Glenn Gould’s 1981 recording of the Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg variations.
Close to the end of his life, wracked by pain, madness and addictions, Gould crouches over his keyboard and enacts a magical reworking of this masterpiece. He plays the variations at half the pace of his 1955 recording, which were full of youthful brio, and, on some tracks, audibly hums along eerily with his own playing. It is as if he is communing with the spirit of Bach himself in the recording studio.
Thankfully there is a video recording of this magical performance.
The interweaving of art, death and spirit in this performance inspired the following poem from my collection After the Pills, which I first published on PoetrySoup.
In the first aria he begins to hum
This is the trace of true art and magic:
At one with the music but different and beyond.
An hors–texte someone might say.
A moment’s expression endures through recording,
this ghost of the artist,
unbidden, improvised, unscored,
not even beautiful,
but it becomes what I listen for each time:
To search again for the traces of the dead in our lives.
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