When we get to the end of something, anything, it’s natural to look back and wonder what could have been different, what should have been different. Maybe those feelings are labeled as regrets, or maybe they’re simply insights into what has been.
So many regrets, hmmm, insights! I wish I was a better pianist, and I wish I could have more fully accessed and conveyed all that I feel about this music. Maybe I should have explored other ideas, such as serenity, courage, trust, light…
Complexity makes this music interesting, but it is the simplicity of its symmetry and repeated harmonic progression that bring people to it again and again, I think. Coming home to the final Aria, the innocence we first heard in the opening Aria becomes something else – perhaps evoking nostalgia, or weariness, or contentment. We can’t return home, whether after a lifetime or after these 30 explorations, and have it be the same after all we’ve been through. The wisdom of old age surely knows that as it recasts any regrets into insights, and wistfulness into contentment.
I was inspired several years ago to write for another blog about the Goldberg Variations after reading an article by pianist Jeremy Denk. I quoted him in 2012 and again now because he summarizes so beautifully my own thoughts:
The [Goldberg Variations] is a lesson in many things, but primarily in wonder; the way that the tragic variations fuse seamlessly into the breathlessly comic, the way that simple scales become energy, joy, enthusiasm, the celebration of the most fundamental elements of music…[and at the end there is] a sense of completeness of everything that has come before, the rightness, and…the radiance of experience. It gives you that rare thing in human existence: a sense that, at the end of something, it has all been worthwhile.”
That’s the message of hope that Bach is speaking to me. It has all been worthwhile. How is wisdom gained? I would say that it is achieved by celebrating the most fundamental elements of life; cultivating patterns of healthy relationships, kindness, generosity, and by opening our hearts to God’s plan for us.
Read more by Jeremy Denk
I’ve lived with Bach’s Goldberg Variations for a long time now. More than half my lifetime in fact. I would pull them out periodically, feeling that I was revisiting an old friend, but a friend who always has something new to share. I began thinking about Bach and mindfulness last year in a way that meant something to me. Each variation became linked in my mind with a word and that word became something like the “intention” that yoga students are sometimes asked to set for their practice. A word to mediate on and to help draw more from within. For the next 32 weeks I will post one of the variations and write about the word I associated with the music. Sometimes a connection will seem obvious, but more often it will be unexplainable. It became apparent as I worked on this project that I thought about things which I wanted to cultivate in myself, ways of being in the world that were positive. All of the recordings are to be made in my living room, playing the 9 foot Steinway that was given to me on January 5, 2016.