I’ve spent the morning thus far working on an essay for an anthology about the locations of grief. The essay has given me a lot of trouble, or I’ve given it the trouble, for who can say which came first? If you think of the form as capacious, if you believe (as I do) that an essay can explore anything and can adapt its language, its rhythms, its torque (if you like), to allow any subject as its current beloved, perhaps then the difficulty must be mine, not the essay’s. In any case, I’ve felt my linguistic agility to be challenged as I try to shape my own subject to the forms and gorgeous music of Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor BWV 1004.
Why this music? It’s what I listened to after my mother’s death and I listen to it still, finding in it such expression of everything I’ve ever wanted to say about living and dying. I’ve tried to use the movements—based on dances—to carry my thinking, my enactments of memory and sorrow. I’m not there yet. I printed a draft this morning and see where the clunky moments are. I also see where I’ve done something close to what I hoped to.
Right now I’m listening to Itzhak Perlman play the partita. It’s glorious. I have several recordings—the very young Hilary Hahn, Lara St. John, Arnold Steinhardt (two versions)—and don’t have a favourite (though maybe right this minute? Perlman). Each violinist brings something different to the performance and Steinhardt wrote in Violin Dreams of the texture and sound he understood each of his violins also contributed to his own interpretations, in youth, and later in his life. I’ve also been reading about the Baroque bow and its outward bend and how it suited the dance movements of Bach’s compositions.
What I’ve loved about this work is that it’s encompassing, it’s richly absorbing, and I’m learning how receptive an essay can be to the interests of its maker.