The Song Analysis Example

Through the creation of art, an artist manufactures some envisionment of palpable emotion; she embraces the sophistication behind some intangible element and, through her own interpretation, constructs it a physical representation. Relating this then to Glenn Gould and his prolific Goldberg Variations, a listener of his music can pinpoint distinct, premeditated differences between the two albums. Most of these differences precipitate from Gould’s purpose for each rendition: the 1955 version of “Aria da Capo” is an unthinking interpretation of resolution and the newer track is a cathartic summation signifying the completion of the Goldberg Variations.

Before exploring the differences between the two finales, it is important to note Goldberg’s purpose for choosing this piece to be the final song. Being the last song, he aims to leave the listener with some sense of resolution. One of the ways he allows this emotion to swell in the listener is by changing the melody of “Aria” to be an average of two pitches higher. This causes the sound of the piece to become more lighthearted; he undercuts this positivity, however, by adding a series of equidistant, formulaic bass notes. Gould’s purpose here is bittersweet: He allows the listener to appreciate the tenderness of this final line, but consistently reminds her that this tenderness is not to last. Other than this similarity, the two pieces are remarkably unalike.

The 1955 version of the album exemplifies a young man’s understanding of a resolution. This version is the faster version of the two, causing the played notes to hold less significance than the later version. This is specifically important to recognize when listening to the final two lines of the piece. Gould’s tone when approaching the conclusion of this set is both prideful and uncommitting; through the entirety of the ending he implements no retardation of the beat until the final measure. This causes the sound to come across as shallow and uninvolved compared to the later version. It is as if he is playing more for the audience than the integrity of the music. Another difference is the distinctness of the white noise in this version’s recording. While this is most likely not a purposeful implementation, it causes the music to sound as if Gould is having to battle the static constantly for recognition. This, and the other aforementioned points, is why this piece sounds much more childish than the later version. In my mind, this point is best illustrated by the separate lifestyles of a younger and older man: A younger man continuously battles against those around him in order to gain the respect of others while an older man surrounds himself with those who naturally respect him. This latter philosophy can be found throughout the entirety of his later interpretation.

This version is permeated with sensitivity; each and every note foreshadows some upcoming conclusion. The first note of the song asserts this immediately: Gould plays an incredibly drawn-out G note by its lonesome. This singular note epitomes nothing else but despondence—it is as if he realized right after he pressed the G down on the piano that he had initialized the ending of some invaluable love. It is also worthwhile to observe that this song has a less pronounced white noise in the background than in the earlier version. Any moment Gould is not playing, the listener is left with nothing but this unnerving, soft, electric ambiance that adds to the emotionality of the song. No longer is he fighting this dynamic, he is playing with it. Diving farther into the actual composition of the score, it is intriguing to hear how pronounced the legatos are in this version. In the earlier version these notes were played without a break, but, in this interpretation, it feels as if each note in the legato has no other purpose in the world than to lead the listener to the next note. The timbre of the piano in this iteration should now be discussed as well. Each note is much more consistent than the 1955 interpretation. Each note starts off strong, yet not overpowering, and then lingers. This difference is especially apparent when a half note is played. When he plays a half note, it stays in the music for a great deal of time, allowing the listener to recognize the invaluableness of each note played. In no other place does this distinction stand out farther than in the final two lines; these stanzas reach an almost melodramatic level of passion from Gould. Starting at the second to last line, he begins to already fiddle with retarding the music as if he himself needs some time before committing to an ending. The song’s final measure is a painstaking acceptance of fate; he slows the last few notes dramatically and allows the final note to ring until it dies a natural death.

We are crafted, molded, created by our obsessions. An individual’s persona is nothing more than the logical implications of her greatest desires. In practice, however, we rarely allow ourselves to completely expose our deepest passions. As a safeguard, we often undercut our most authentic obsessions by creating an unauthentic interpretation we then publicly brand ourselves with. Through his two variations of “Aria da Capo,” Gould asserts that we produce our most meaningful works when we display an honest interpretation of our most pronounced obsessions.


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