An Interview with Sarah Palin

JD:  Governor, may I call you Sarah?

SP:  You betcha.

JD:  I just simply can’t believe in the midst of this intense campaign season, you could find the time to talk with me about the “Hammerklavier” Sonata.

SP:  Well, ya know, Beethoven was the dude who said thanks but no thanks to Napoleon.  Plus from all the mavericky songs he wrote, maybe this one could be known as the most maverickyest.

JD:  I have to confess I’m a bit surprised you are so familiar with this particular work.

SP:  Well, Mr. Snooty Juilliard Graduate, I’ll have you know I did my thesis on the Hammerklavier at Hawaiian Pacific University.  Of course I had to continue revising it at Northern Idaho Massage Institute.  And at Montana College for Bear-Loving Beauty Pageant Alumni.  But also too the Hammerklavier’s on my ‘Pod whenever I go wolf hunting … those dactyls get me SUPER pumped.

JD:  What was your thesis called?

SP:  Originally I wanted to call it “Frickin Kick-Ass Beethoven,” but my advisor was in a bad mood that day because Felicity chose Noel over Ben.  So I had to change it to “Trickle-Down Fugonomics:  A Reaganian Model of Beethoven’s Counterpoint.”   That’s how I got funding from the American Enterprise Institute.

JD:  What was the main thrust of your thesis?

SP:  Jeremy, I guess my point is, a fugue is more than one voice, just like America.  And it has certain values.

JD:  Please elaborate …

SP:  Well, you know Jeremy, we’re overtaxed.  And Beethoven says, well, goshdarnit, just try and govern that fugue subject.  Cause he knows that government is really the problem, and the scariest two words in the English language are “Schenkerian Analysis.”

JD:  So you don’t think a Schenkerian 3-line governs the unfolding of the Hammerklavier?

SP:  Let’s put it this way, Jeremy.  And I know your type has a hard time getting past the filter, so let me unfilter you right here and now.  Nobody, but no one, can do better than the free enterprise of the notes left to themselves.  And Beethoven himself, look right here, says “fugue in 3 voices, with some license.”  And also too license is just another word for maverick and and maverick is another word for freedom and freedom is just another word for America and no Austrian analyst tells America what to do.

JD:  Word!  Explain to me this trickle-down theory.

SP:  The “Hammerklavier” is the perfect instance of my example, Jeremy.  Ever notice how the piece is full of chains of thirds?

JD:  Sure, Sarah.  It is well noted in Charles Rosen’s The Classical Style, and many other sources.

SP:  Well, ask yourself another question:  do they ever go up?

JD:  Hmm.  Well, I guess not.

SP:  Booyah!   As my grandma used to say, you can’t bag a moose with a spoon.

JD:  Ok, l think I see where you’re going with that.  Tell me a bit about the harmonic language of the work.

SP:  It’s great to see Beethoven being so pro-B-flat major.

JD:  I guess I would have said it’s “in” B-flat major, not “pro-” B-flat major?  …

SP:  Oh, Jeremy, I wouldn’t expect a naive Upper West Side nacho-eating liberal like yourself to understand that every key is, in fact, a war against every other key.  And you know unless we defend B-flat major one day we’ll wake up and there won’t be a B-flat major.  Two flats come at a price, eternal vigilance, or I guess what I’m sayin’ is, these flats don’t run.

JD:  But Sarah—to play devil’s advocate here—you could make that one of the defining, most beautiful elements of the piece is the presence of sort of “radical” notes, notes that don’t really belong in B-flat major, strange other notes, neither major nor minor …

SP:  All that sounds really good on paper, Jeremy, at your Ivy League coffeeshops and so forth, but out here in the real world where I’m sitting there’s plenty of common sense telling me that wrong notes are wrong notes.  There was a great piece on Lou Dobbs the other day about this, called “Why Is G-Flat Getting My Tax Dollars?”

JD:  I didn’t know he was a Beethoven scholar.

SP:  There’s Walmarts and Walmarts of stuff out there you don’t know.  I agree with Lou, we can put up with these immigrant notes, but only if they enter the key legally, through the proper channels, and for heck’s sake let’s not get in the business of givin’ ‘em driving licenses.  They should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

JD:  I’m not sure how that applies to Beethoven … ?

SP:  Just cause Beethoven can wigglewaggle his way into all sorts of keys doesn’t mean we have to give them amnesty.  Next question.

JD:  Tell me your thoughts about the slow movement.

SP:  [pause]   In what respect, Jeremy?

JD:  The third movement:  how would you describe it?

SP:  [pause]  I gotta confess, I usually fast forward through that one … It’s kind of a bummer.  And since unlike some Americans out there I don’t hate America, I don’t want to dwell on all those negativity.

JD:  But some people might make the case that the third movement is kind of the emotional core of the work … ?

SP:  Ya know, I feel pretty strongly that a composer is a lot like a musicologist, except that he has actual notes to put down on paper.  [Applause]

JD:  Sarah, you didn’t really answer my question …

SP:  I got some questions for you.  For example, why does Beethoven decide to kick fugal butt at the end of this song?  What’s the point?  I think another interesting question is why in fact is this piece in B-flat major?  I mean didn’t he already write the “Archduke” Trio, which is ALSO in B-flat major?  Why couldn’t he just write the “Archduke” trio again?  I know a lotta folks out there, in Main Street all across this land of ours, they’ll tell you, they’re just more “Archduke” kinda folks then they are “Hammerklavier” folks.  And that’s fine.  That’s why America is so great.  I would never take away their right to bear “Archduke.”  And its true the “Archduke” is a lot more Budweiser to those folks the “Hammerklavier” seems like some sort of weird imported wheat beer or somethin’, but my point is, it’s like Beethoven sat down to write the “Archduke” but then as his pen or quill or chalk or whatever hit the paper it took a kind of wrong turn, God bless him …

JD:  A wrong turn?

SP:  Well, I don’t mean wrong in a bad way, but in a weird way.  I think the best way to explain it is it’s like that movie with the guy, you know, who turns into a fly.  It’s like there’s the “Archduke” trio and all that good noble normal Beethoven stuff, but then it gets fused with some alien DNA and so, like instead of a normal scherzo you get this little strange runt of a crazy scherzo and then in place of a really long slow movement you get an even longer slow movement and everything just spirals out of control, like some sort of crazy Bach futuristic Beethoven hybrid thingamabob.

JD:  That’s actually not totally uninsightful, Sarah.  I’m sorry I liberally condescended to you.  It’s true everything in the slow movement of the “Hammerklavier” speaks in exaggerated or caricatured ways.  When you compare it to the symmetrical arches of the “Archduke” slow movement the “Hammerklavier” has a tendency to get stuck, to wander or obsess, as if Beethoven were commenting on the very nature of musical narrative itself, as if he were questioning the foundations of phraseology …  Whereas the “Archduke” seems the very summit of phraseology, a kind of Mount Olympus.

SP:  Yeah, whatever.

JD:  Sarah, what’s your favorite part of the “Hammerklavier”?

SP:  Well that’s really hard to say, but I think I gotta go with the opening of the last movement.

JD:  The Largo introduction?  Mine too!  Maybe we have more in common than we thought!

SP:  Yah, I really love how those chords just kind of sit there waiting for something to do …  and then something will happen … and then we’ll be waiting again … lotsa suspense and mystery you know … it’s sort of a transition with no clear or obvious goal … how do I put this …

JD:  Kind of a bridge to nowhere?

SP:  Smart ass.
JD:  Sarah, the last movement is one of the most famously difficult things in all the piano repertoire.  Do you have any advice for this American pianist about this movement before he performs this work on tour?

SP:  You don’t want to hear my advice.

JD:  Oh come on let me have it.

SP:  I think it’s pretty obvious.

JD:  I’m dying to know.

SP:   You’re not gonna like it.

JD:  Please …

SP:  Trill, baby, trill!

JD:   [sinks head in hands]  The interview is over.

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  1. Nicola Reilly
    Posted October 22, 2008 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Jeremy, you are a genius. We miss you in Seattle.

  2. Posted October 22, 2008 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    this is such a timely blog post. i’m so thrilled a) to see a new post on my rss feed!; b) that it’s about the hammerklavier; and c) that you’ve managed to get inside the speech patterns of sarah palin (that, in and of itself is thrilling… and i mean that in many senses of that word)… warmest regards from london! 🙂

  3. Janet
    Posted October 22, 2008 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Nope, sorry. You’ve made her way too coherent; full sentences and everything. But Taxation and Fugal Procedures is a great tag.

  4. Posted October 22, 2008 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    Wolf Trap is so lucky you’re bringing the Hammerklavier (*and* the Concord) to The Barns on November 7! Very sadly, I will be on the road, doing opera auditions. But on that Friday night, as I’m winging from Houston to LA, I’ll be doing Fugonomics with all of you in spirit. Rock the house.

  5. Robert
    Posted October 23, 2008 at 8:53 am | Permalink
  6. Daniel Wolf
    Posted October 23, 2008 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    Your blog needs to come with a warning label: DO NOT EAT CRACKERS WHILE READING THINK DENK.

  7. Mike
    Posted October 23, 2008 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Fantastic. I hope you’re bringing the Hammerklavier to Columbus, Georgia on Election Day. I couldn’t possibly think of a better place to be than in a concert hall, hearing Denk play Beethoven, while the returns come in on TV. Shall Governor Palin join you on stage for some chamber music? Beethoven wrote some gosh darn adorable flute and piano variations.

  8. Posted October 23, 2008 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    So, I guess you never got to ask her her thoughts on Ives’ “Concord Sonata”. I wonder if she considers Charles Ives a “Real American Composer”?

  9. Mark
    Posted October 23, 2008 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    As one of the few conservatives (I suspect) that regularly reads your blog, I have to admit that your Palin impression is pretty good. Not Tina Fey good, but good. I’m a bit disappointed, however, that you didn’t work in the whole “pitbull with lipstick” thing.

  10. Posted October 23, 2008 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant stuff…looking forward to the Hammerklavier at Wolf Trap.

  11. Posted October 23, 2008 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    goshdarnit, it was so see-flat-y it!

  12. Posted October 24, 2008 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    Scored another good one. Now that you bagged the interview, shall we to look forward to a Palin/Denk concert soon? Gosh darn it would be fun!

  13. Steven
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 3:15 am | Permalink

    This post is simply a masterpiece. I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing you play, Jeremy, but if you play half as perceptively and insightfully as you write (and characterise) you are no doubt a composer’s best friend. Excellent post. Thank you.

  14. yves
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    Since S P can see Russia from her window, presumably using her $700 Japanese eyeglasses, shouldn’t she be learning some Medtner and Moussorgsky?

  15. Posted October 24, 2008 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    This one needs audio! If only there was time in your busy schedule of practicing and performing and writing this phenomenal blog to get you into a recording studio with an SP sound-alike and put her sandpaper “R’s” and your glorious keyboard right in our ears!!!!

  16. Gina G
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Doing some research for Ojai Music Fest on you…didn’t realize that you are a great political satirist, too. Very funny.

  17. Posted October 24, 2008 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    This is hilarious!
    I’m so sorry to have missed you in Denver last weekend. I definitely would have gone, had I not been out of town. I’ll catch you next time!
    …please keep these coming!

  18. dpl
    Posted October 25, 2008 at 9:23 am | Permalink


  19. Posted October 25, 2008 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Sort of like Daniel Wolf, I say it’s a damn good thing I wasn’t drinking my coffee while reading this. I will now try to stop associating Palin with Schenkerian analysis.

  20. Posted October 26, 2008 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    Hahahaha I was reading this to my boyfriend over the phone (who has no background in classical music) and he was just dying of laugher!

  21. Emily
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Wow. I didn’t realize the GOP had let the Governor off her short leash to give an unscripted interview. Clearly you have some great connections, Jeremy. Maybe you and SP could hit Saks later for a little pantsuit shopping spree.

  22. bananas-foster girl
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    thanks for the laugh. sorry i missed you in denver last weekend.

  23. saskia
    Posted October 28, 2008 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Well, I laughed so hard I had tears rolling down. Palin’s speech was well mimicked though a bit too smart for her real self! She would never get all of this! Perhaps it is time to rename the piece “HaMavericklavier”! Ha! I did love the part about her revisitng the piece through her many colleges! Very Clever work here. My hat to you…

  24. Posted October 29, 2008 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Terrific! Will add a link to this clever bit (that Palin wouldn’t get) on my Palin spoofing website

    And assuming you aren’t voting Palin/McCain, be sure to vote early if you are able to – and then join my Facebook group “I Voted Early for Barack Obama”. Here’s the link for that:

    Only a few more days to a new day!

  25. Posted October 29, 2008 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    LOL. In fact, LOFL. Bravo on a satirical masterwork.

  26. Posted October 29, 2008 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Witty & funny; thanks!

  27. George Calder
    Posted October 30, 2008 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    Enjoyed the interview very much! Didn’t realize you had literary talent. Wonderful! From Bloomington

  28. Julia Pilant
    Posted October 30, 2008 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Hey Jeremy!! Saw your interview on Facebook, courtesy Vivian Chang…Brilliant!! Hope all is well!!

  29. Lina Bahn
    Posted October 31, 2008 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    Jeremy, found this on my facebook. holy cow- you are brilliant!

  30. Jane Rubinsky
    Posted October 31, 2008 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Brilliant, Jeremy! Another Juilliard piano alum spotted this and sent it to me … now I will have to bookmark your site (but make sure I don’t have a mouthful of coffee when I take a peek)!

  31. Jane Rubinsky
    Posted October 31, 2008 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    P.S. I’ve just sent this to Molly and she’s posted it on the bulletin board in the faculty lounge!

  32. Jane Rubinsky
    Posted October 31, 2008 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    P.S. I’ve just sent this to Molly and she’s posted it on the bulletin board in the faculty lounge!

  33. Posted November 1, 2008 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    Offering a bit of history, merely to round out the record: my ancestor Rudolf Hammerklavier commissioned LvB to write Piano Sonata No. 29, hence the name. The family has since fallen on hard times and in 1856 shortened the name to Hammer so as not to to embarrass the ancestor, but it seems an empty gesture now. We are now just an ordinary family of impecunious intelletualoids, as I once explained during my stint as a classical music DJ on Radio KBBI, Homer, in 1993-1995 (two hours every Sunday).

    I never did meet Sarah, but one of my progeny has, many years since, living as he was at the time in Palmer, near Wasilla. Nothing magical happened, however.

    Interesting article; I will re-listen to the ancestral epic to discern the elements you have presented here.

    Wishing you and yours close harmony … and stay in tune!

  34. Posted November 1, 2008 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    Dear colleague Denk!

    Via one of summer course students your Blog site – and particularly the insightful Palin analysis of op. 106 – reached me on my very birthday today! And made my day!
    I will with great glee distribute it to all piano students (15 of them are in my chamber music class) at the University Academy of Ljubljana, Slovenia – one actually played Hammerklavier very well last spring as part of his degree recital – as they are in dire need of intelligent sharp humor with underlying deep understanding of music. Thank you!
    Best wishes, Marina

  35. Posted November 3, 2008 at 3:22 am | Permalink

    Greetings from London! Congratulations on a brilliant piece that nails a frightening character and actually says impressive things about Ludwig v B at the same time. I’m curious to see a similar piece on the Liszt Sonata…

  36. Posted November 3, 2008 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    I made the mistake of reading this entry at work. Eight lines into it, I guffawed rather unprofessionally and had to excuse myself to use the restroom. I especially like how you’ve tagged “Raeganian Counterpoint.” That is certainly a frequently searched term.

  37. Posted November 3, 2008 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    This is going to headline the next issue of JAMS, right?

  38. Julian
    Posted November 3, 2008 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    This is something that the late Glenn Gould not only would really have enjoyed, but might even have written, had he been around. You share his considerable sense of humour. Nice work.

  39. Sydney
    Posted November 3, 2008 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Very, VERY nice, Jeremy! I could hear Palin saying her parts.

  40. Posted November 4, 2008 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    But this is only the start! Please can we have
    Mugabe on Missa Papae Marcelli, Sarkozy on Peter and the Wolf, Ghadafi on Dido and Aeneas, Chavez on Chavez?

  41. Posted November 6, 2008 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    You’ve made a fan for life.

  42. Posted November 8, 2008 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Brilliant. Very funny. Thanks for the laugh.

  43. Bob Mensel
    Posted November 8, 2008 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Very funny, but I’m afraid you’ve made SP sound WAY more intelligent than she did in the campaign. But then again, if she could learn to say “Ahmadinejad,” I suppose she could just as well have learned to say “Schenkerian”!

  44. David Irwin
    Posted November 9, 2008 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Oh, Man, this was just the best. Thanks so much. My friends all love it too.

  45. Melissa M
    Posted November 11, 2008 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Kickass! It reminds me of Leonard Bernstein’s conversation with George Washington about new music. But yours is WAY funnier. I may have to go hear you play now.

  46. Harry Rolnick
    Posted November 11, 2008 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    Brilliant story, and your playing tonight in Carnegie Hall wwas even better. (I could actually see rushin’ from your fingertips.)

    You didn’t mention, though, how in the last movement, Beethoven manages to energize the bass.

    Otherwise faultless and technical and insightful!!

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