Guest contributor: Thierry Kauffmann

Anxious is Back, but in a Minor Key

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Jukebox


Anxious Bode

Anxious Bode

Rachmaninoff was a minor composer. Not minor as in of no importance, he just composed a lot in minor scale. Depressed third if you wish. I feel it, that’s why I don’t play too much Rachmaninoff. Except when I’m depressed, but then, it’s roll over Rach, you want to hear what depression sounds like, I’m the undisputed king, I get free depression just from waking up. I know, it’s unfair, why me. Because someone has to give. I get all the blessings, but the blessings mean nothing, if they’re not shared, that is given. I give, so I can live. My name is Anxious Bode, professor of panic and sleep disorders. I teach at night, when I can see more clearly. It’s also the time at which I wake up. I have Parkinson’s disease. My nights are short.

RachmaninoffRach, as he is known, his concertos, wrote four. The most difficult pieces of the entire piano repertoire. Think the four knights of the Apocalypse. I play the third. At my speed, with my understanding of it, but that, even, is just the beginning. A beginning.

Sit back, grab a program, today I play, I’m the pianist, but you need explanations, so I’m also the director, film director. We’re shooting a documentary on art and Parkinson’s. And I’m your host, here, ready to give.

When I wake up, at 3 AM, my brain scrambles to restart after the disconnection that the night is. It must restore everything, power, time, memory, space, my brain is a wreck, my mind, the cleaning crew. It’s not always bad, but it takes time. And while this takes place, while I pull myself out of the hole I’m in, talking to myself like the captain of a ship to his team of one, behind the brouhaha of voices, I hear music.

It’s a concerto. It begins with the end, my birth, third movement. Tempest of sound, tumultuous strings, until the clamorous eruption of light, the real one, that of the sun, presiding over a Vermeer sea. I call it the restoration of love.

Before I can speak, before I can return to who I am, or thought I was, music, a music as complete as one written by a composer, has played in me, on command, on autopilot. I run to a piece of paper or to my portable keyboard and key in all the notes I can but this is music of the mind, it’s internal monologue. It can be heard, but not interrupted. There remains one solution, and if you know me you know which one it is. If it can only be heard once, I will play it. There will be no composing, I will wake, at the piano, come to life and let my hands tell the musical story.

That was the story, the plan. I had decided to improvise this concerto out on the keys, skip the page, burst into joyous collisions of strings, hammerfest, Anxious style. That was two days ago. Yesterday, my second wake up, dayshift, I heard Rachmaninoff. Concerto number 3.

I had not played it, nor even attempted to play it for at least a year. To prepare my concert, my daredevil “so you think you can improvise a concerto”, I had worked on lifting my left hand, the depressed side, and free it from the bonds of unresponsive muscles, an awkward fighting for grace hand, which my right hand helps, across the keyboard. I’ll show you. I have pictures. I can show you right now.

Anxious steps to the piano. He looks like he’s stumbling but there is order in his fall. He lands on the piano stool. His hands spread on the keys.

Hi this is me Anxious, sorry I lost the mic. I’m back. Let me turn the volume down. Here we go.

[Anxious Bode is Thierry Kauffmann, who lives in Grenoble, France, where he studies sleep, and fights Parkinson’s, all while keeping his chops on the piano.]

  1. Tommy writes:

    Thierry you’re alive and beautiful. The dimness of disease cannot shadow the bright light of your vibrant spirit! You color our world with words and music which leave of us richer for the experience, and touch us deeply. Your music is mesmerizing and masterful, and so is your prose. Long may you shine!!

    • Every time I come here I discover a new family of goodwill and vibrant spirit. Hello Tommy, I am touched by your words. I must say that with all the joy that comes with being able to type, and write, my day is not complete until I hear from my “family” if you permit that I use this word to welcome you, unless it is you welcoming me in your circle of goodwill. I figure if I’m ill, if I struggle I don’t want to live just for me, somehow the knowledge that I was able to make someone happier is worth half a cure. Meaning is what gets me through. Thank you Tommy for your words.


      • Tommy writes:

        You may recall, of an earlier post, perhaps your inaugural, I wrote “we are in the presence of greatness!”. We are a richer family due to your presence here. I’m a fan!

        • Tommy! I just hit my forehead with my left hand. Of course I remember you! Your comment impressed me. How are you? I’m busy writing this concerto, that I will share. Maybe I could turn this into a concert. I have so much to share in terms of creative process. I’m going to have to write more! Anyway, thanks for reminding me! Have a great day!

  2. Debora writes:

    Hi Thierry! Good to read you again. Loved watching you play. Your gorgeous music–filled my entire condo… I’ve just finished reading this great book, Deep Survival, a look at how people survive catastrophic accidents. (Rock climbing, getting lost in the mountains, plane crashes, being lost at sea.) Turns out that one really important component of surviving is musical–forming rhythms, counting , singing, reciting poetry, making patterns in behavior… Quick explanation. The brain makes its connections through patterns that form past memory and future memory–“memory” being a word that describes a synaptic function. Exercising the brain in this manner creates all sorts of physiological reactions in the body that promote survival. Totally fascinating. I’m going to play your UTube again. It’s 7:30 pm in Paris, have a good evening!

    • Hi Debora,
      Good to hear from you. I haven’t read the book you talk about but I can tell you it’s true. I’ve observed that in real time in me and I make use of it. I’m busy writing my memoir. I played again today. Rach 2 this time. I also sing. Maybe I’ll surprise Bill with actual Rach and Roll. I love being here, It’s like the tonight show of literature.

  3. Here is the link where you can see Anxious Bode improvise on Rachmaninoff’s concerto. In writing, Anxious is his own character, not so different from me. In music, Anxious is interpreted if you wish, by me. All I write is real and you can see it here.

  4. For interested readers I do have a video of the experiment in which I play along Rachmaninoff’s concerto then leaving his melody to pick up mine,