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Counterpoint by Anna Enquist

Counterpoint (2008)

by Anna Enquist

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Contrapunt is a novel describing, section by section, how a woman tackles the project of studying and playing through Bach's Goldberg Variations after a long absence from the piano. In parallel with her analysis of each variation and thoughts on how to approach the physical problems of technique, she reflects on her relationship with her daughter, and we gradually realise that the musical and biographical threads are being interwoven like two melodic lines in a piece of counterpoint. Just as we do when we listen to counterpoint, we can only focus on one tune at once, but each makes us hear the other in a new way.

Enquist wrote the book after the death of her grown-up daughter in a road accident, and it is clearly conceived in part as a literary way of dealing with her response to that personal tragedy, but it is far from being a sob-memoir. The episodes from the mother's shared life with her daughter are deliberately kept low-key and ordinary: things that happen in everyone's life, first days at school, holidays, graduation, parties. The purpose is not to milk the tragedy but to understand and celebrate.

The musical analysis is thorough and technical, and might be tough going for anyone who hasn't got at least some basic knowledge of music theory. Biographical speculation about Bach and Glenn Gould comes into it, but is only peripheral - it's good to see that Gould isn't mythologised in the way that he is in some other Goldberg-novels, but is soberly treated as one interpreter among the many. Enquist's pianist is more interested in working out what Bach wrote and why than in how other people have played it. I'm not a pianist, so probably not the best judge, but I found the explanation of the process of working through a complex piece very convincing, probably about the closest it's possible to get to being inside a pianist's head without actually learning to play the piano.
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2 vote thorold | Jan 4, 2017 |
Erg introvert geschreven, mooi, muzikaal en tragisch ( )
  Eleni2 | Nov 15, 2011 |
Wat een ingehouden emoties! Ik ben benieuwd naar de luisterboekversie, had nu de muziek niet bij de hand. ( )
  elsmvst | Jan 3, 2009 |
Showing 3 of 3
Om in een dergelijke, op emotie gerichte samenleving met een roman te komen over je overleden dochter die niet sentimenteel is, maar soms bijna een journalistieke opsomming van feiten, is knap. Contrapunt van Anna Enquist (De Arbeiderspers, € 18,95) heeft een literaire structuur – gelijk aan de Goldbergvariaties van Bach – en lijkt met afstand geschreven, maar hakt er tegelijkertijd keihard in.
added by rfb | editNRC Boeken, Viola Lindner (Oct 31, 2008)
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De vrouw met het potlood hing over de tafel en las in een zakpartituur van de Goldbergvariaties.
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Grief, loss, despair; memories; fascination with music; Goldberg Variations as therapy for death - Gould's triumphant first, and poignant final performance, reflected in the woman's first and then final performance

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