The piece is a theatrical analysis of the encounter between the pianist Paul Wittgenstein and Maurice Ravel on the occasion of the private performance in Vienna of what is known as the Concerto for the left hand, in the version for two pianos, on 30 January 1932.
The scene is simply that of a concert for cello and piano.
The pianist interprets the Concerto for the left hand, passing from the orchestral part to the piano solo as if in a private practice session, with repetitions and pauses, constant obsessive confrontation with the infinity of existing interpretations, exploration of the most difficult virtuoso sections, analysis of the traditional techniques and the passages of swing. He tries to adopt the standpoint of the maimed pianist, to imagine the keyboard seen with a partial view; he attempts to experience the sensation of not having a right hand. But he fails, since he is not the subject of this sensation.
He plays and reflects, plays and remembers, plays and listens, imagining other people around him watching his performance, listening to his interpretation, following the score with him and discussing possible changes.
There follows a random progression, the expression of the orderly chaos with which thoughts and memories emerge in the pianist's consciousness while he plays the passages and generates a new execution which is more expressive, freer and more gratifying and which eventually becomes a corruption of the original because of abnormal accumulations and impossible eliminations.
Now he is the pianist Paul Wittgentstein himself, the amputee who attempts to enrich the spare cadenzas, who criticizes and corrects Ravel, the isolated and existentialist Ravel of the '30s, the Ravel who renders the material ever leaner and sparer and imposes increasingly bizarre and visionary uses of time on his own composition.
The cellist listens and weaves in and out of the Ravel performance. He expresses himself freely, as if not in the context of a concert at all, using a language which he experiences subjectively as private, reserved for his instrument, and in which one can make out sighs, suggestions of words, howls, monologues. It is Ravel at the beginning of his mental illness, the semantic privatist imagined by Wittgenstein, struggling with the devastation of his mental lucidity and of the uniqueness of his compositional quest.
From time to time the cellist and the pianist talk to each other, criticizing the abnormal execution of the concerto or the spectral score. They do it with the words of Ravel and of Wittgenstein reinterpreted by the poet Eugene Ostashewsky.
Finally they have the violent short dialog they had, on the occasion of their meeting in Vienna, on 30 January 1932.