Theme and Variations

My writing and my playing the piano have always been connected.  As part of the music for my recital next year I have chosen two sets of themes and variations, by Beethoven in his Sonata, op. 109, and Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme by Corelli.

I have never especially liked theme and variations before; I have thought them somewhat simple and predictable. However, I am enamored with both of these, especially the Rachmaninoff, which I had never heard before. As I am working through them, I am realizing how life itself can be seen as a theme and variations. I read somewhere recently that we all have one main “story” to tell. For me, this has been the ramifications of the early death of my sister. Many times I have been overwhelmed and tired of it. The piano has always taken me elsewhere to focus, and writing has transformed it.

I recently wrote (yet another) poem for my sister (below). As I came to the end of the draft, however, it seemed too “simple,” too obvious, without the ambiguity or complexity that I felt. And then I thought of the variations on other “simple” themes that I have been working through on the piano.

Here is the “theme” of the poem:

Theme and Variations for My Sister


Soon there will be no one


to remember you.


There will be no more


to commune with your bones,


to stitch them together

again, yet

again, with silk thread.


So your bones will

dismember, and the embers

of  your life (lived, unlived)


will wash downstream to

the mouth

of the everliving earth.


No Isis will


you in, no one will be


left to mourn except

the wind,

the wind.


Pretty straight-forward, and not at all as convoluted and complex as my feelings.  And so I am beginning a set of “variations” on it, which has been fascinating.

Here are two other “simple” themes:

Beethoven’s: (see above)



and Corelli’s (according to Rachmaninoff): (see above)



What I notice immediately is how (deceptively) simple they are. But it takes the variations that follow to pull out the threads of complexity and ambiguity implicit in the “simple” theme.

So that is one of the tasks I worked on today.

The other was the Flash poem. I’m almost there. It took two and a half hours, a Google search, and a return to my 12-year-old Flash handbook to divide the video into five parts and to superimpose the five parts of my poem over it. It’s called Cebrennus rechenbergi or The Flic-Flac : Found Poem with Quiz.

I am so grateful for the uninterrupted time to explore these things.  It was all done in the morning.  As other women my age have noted, by afternoon we are “done.”  I swam, watched the Brewers win against the Giants, made dinner, and am now here.

Till the next time.

2 thoughts on “Theme and Variations

  1. Remember that your daughters will always keep Aunt Marilyn in our hearts. Even though we never met her, is that not just another "variation"? (The music files aren't loading for me, sadly! Just FYI – I'm using Chrome Browser). xx


  2. hi, Kathleen–bravo for your new blog endeavor, which I'll certainly follow with keen interest,due to my own ongoing adventures with related fascinations,as I've long been a connoisseur of words, instrumentalist, composer, and,the medium that 'brings it all back home' for me, songwriter.I'll share a little piece that I wrote to use in school residencies,during the years I had the good fortune to be part of the Milwaukee Symphony'sArtists in Community Education (ACE) program—all the best to you, Harvey* Music & WordsNow there’s an interesting combination:two different languages, it might be said…though speech can be quite musical,with melodic contours, captivating rhythms,varying tempos, and so on—andmusic is able to directly communicatein realms where words are tourists, if not aliens. Sometimes, words seem like birds who have lost their wings…and music can feel like wings without a body.We process words and music on opposite sidesof the brain…so, bringing them togetherintegrates us in very pleasing, beneficial ways. Words seem like birds who’ve lost their wings, and music can feel like wings without a body. Of course, when someone opens their mouth andpours their heart out, or sings through their instrument,be it cello or flute, something magical can happen, andall thoughts of such things as wingless birdsfly right out the window. Something magical can happen, and all thoughts of such things as wingless birds fly right out the window


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