Diabelli Variation #11 – Civilization and its Discontents

19 Sep

Listen for the interactions of a community: the gentle friends, the melancholic guy who refuses to budge. Variation 11 is about social harmony and disharmony.

Sokolov clearly understands its meaning. Like many pianists, he portrays in the opening measures a reluctant voice who doesn’t want join the others. The others move on without him. Many musicians convey that much. But Sokolov understands that it happens again in the second half – and he underscores the message in a remarkably creepy way.

The efforts to seek wholeness in the second half characterize are more tentative, more troubled. Listen for the menacing triple-note motif in the bass – the one that sounds like it doesn’t belong – casting a pall of unease (0:39 and 1:05).

It’s not written in the score like that. Sokolov transposed it down an octave.

In the midst of a collective effort to restore social harmony and contentment, Sokolov grabs you by the ear and forces you to hear its dissonant antithesis: the element of non-belonging, of dissatisfaction, of non-participation.


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