Music in the Time of Covid-19: the Isolation Variations
Like all performing musicians, my concerts have been cancelled for the foreseeable future due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I considered live-streaming from my living room, as many others have done, but then, after video-recording the Aria of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in early April for a friend’s birthday, I discovered a different way to contribute to online music-making during these strange, isolated weeks.
So, from my relative quarantine in Southeast London, let me introduce the #IsolationVariations! Me, playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations at home. Coronaconcerts, quarantunes, whatever you want to call it, here’s my version: the Goldbergs from memory, bit by bit, over the coming weeks, played on my Yamaha C3 and recorded on iPhone / H1 Zoom. Each video is accompanied by a short, diary-like entry, in writing, that will explain more about the chosen variation (and other things, including color-coordinating my sweaters with different musical moods).
I’ve organized the recordings into a YouTube playlist, which you can access below on the top right-hand side of the embedded video. Stay safe, stay home, and thank you for listening!
- Read San Francisco arts critic Stephen Smoliar’s review: “Anyssa Neumann’s Playlist Approach to BWV 988” (2 June 2020).
- #IsolationVariations was featured in Planet Hugill: “A Life Online” (31 May 2020).
This lecture-recital has been presented at:
Toronto International Film Festival, Canada
Cine Doré, Filmoteca Española, Madrid, Spain
Ingmar Bergman: 100 Years conference, Lund University, Sweden
Helsingborg Classical Music Festival, Sweden
Bowdoin College, Maine, USA
Pasadena Conservatory of Music, California, USA
Blackheath Halls, London, UK
Sophie’s Silver Lining Fund, Sophie’s Barn, Chacombe, UK
The Banff Centre, Alberta, Canada
Swedish Society of San Francisco, Swedish-American Hall, California, USA
Conference of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study, University of California, Los Angeles
with additional lecture-only appearances at:
Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London, UK
Research Seminar Lecture Series, Department of Music, City University of London, UK
timothy dickinson, bass-baritone
anyssa neumann, piano
Drawing on the rich vein of music and poetry inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’s epochal character, Don Quixote, this program of songs and arias features a rotating selection of works for bass-baritone and piano.
At the center of our program are the two great song-cycles by Maurice Ravel and Jacques Ibert, both written for Georg Wilhelm Pabst’s 1933 film, starring the Russian bass Fyodor Chaliapin. While Ibert’s songs were chosen over Ravel’s for inclusion in the film, both sets include guitar-like flourishes and Spanish-inflected rhythms, charting Quixote’s journey, his devotion to Dulcinea, his ecstatic visions, and his eventual death. Ibert also composed a song for Sancho Panza, which we include alongside a nod to Sancho’s donkey, Ibert’s Le petite âne blanc for solo piano.
Jules Massanet’s opera Don Quichotte, another vehicle for Chaliapin, also features, with arias for both Sancho and Quixote, singing in captivity. Other works incorporated into our program include Saint-Saëns’ rollicking song Le pas d’armes du Roi Jean, a tongue-in-cheek account of chivalric ideals and heroic deeds; Marcel Delannoy’s Don Quichotte songs, also written for Pabst’s film; Romauld Twardowski’s Three Sonnets to Don Quixote; and Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Don Quixote, six character pieces for solo piano. For extra flair, classical guitarist Alastair Putt sometimes features on our concerts, performing Carlo Domeniconi’s Don Quijote Suite.
In addition to music, our recitals have also featured poetry, prose, and drama, including Don Quixote in the Desert by Robert J. Solomon, the powerful “Life as it is” speech from the 1972 film Man of La Mancha, and extracts from the novel itself.
Forest Bathing was an exploration of music and poetry featuring works by Robert Schumann, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Paul Hindemith, and original poetry by Esme Allen-Creighton in collaboration with pianist Anyssa Neumann.
The poetry was written to reflect on each musical selection, applying a natural lens to ask “If this song were a forest, what would it be like?” When the UN’s IPCC report on climate change was released last year, the collaboration was invisioned to illuminate the perils facing our planet. All proceeds were donated to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
The concert was held at the Toronto Heliconian Club, who donated the space through a grant program aimed at supporting women artists. Forest Bathing was featured in Whole Note Magazine.