Tod Machover on remembering Marvin Minsky

Tod Machover and Marvin Minsky
Tod Machover and Marvin Minsky

From Remembering Marvin Minsky:

Marvin loved music and it was a central part of his life. He grew up as a piano prodigy, but especially as a “thinker” about music. He understood music’s great pull on our emotions, and this made him curious, even suspicious. (He once asked me: “What right does Schumann have to order us around?”)…

One of my most powerful memories of Marvin is from a birthday party of mine that Marvin attended two years ago when his health was just starting to fail. It was one of those big birthdays, so our 18th century wooden barn just outside of Boston was filled with friends and family, and there was much hubbub.

About halfway through the gathering, Marvin asked if he could play me something and I said of course; the whole group crammed into the smaller part of my barn, where my keyboard is located. Unlike his usual improvisations, which often took place in parallel with multiple other activities, this one silenced the room and kept us riveted for 20 minutes or so.

Marvin started out in a musical world that conjured Beethoven’s late piano sonatas, especially the slow, fugal movements, then built harmonically and motivically into something original, powerful, and surprising at every turn.

When Marvin finished, we all knew that we had heard something very special, full of joyful, inventive spontaneity but also—I suspect—having been carefully planned by Marvin ahead of time to produce the coherent, probing, moving result.Improvisation and composition, emotion and thinking, perfectly united. Beethoven could not have done it better… Read more.


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