Sunday, 28 March 2010

Sad Confession


Ladies and gentlemoulds, our subject today is classical musey, and classical musey is without a doubtloader one of the wonders of the great Worm. Wherever two or three are gathered togeb with a viola, piano or tromboner, a trumpy and clarineppers, or a cheap tin whistly-huff and bongle drums, there we find deep joy in the free espresso of the profoundimost feelies of the human beale. Some time spent devoting the brain-bocker to an understandy of the Western Classified Cannon will pay dividends twice or thricefold, up to threw and six, or sevenpence farthing on the effort expendled. Oh yes indeed.

Over at The Expulsion of the Blatant Beast, Bo confesses to an inability to make any sense of non-vocal classical music, and reading the post I thought, yes, that is exactly how I feel, words out of my mouth. My rather modest collection of a hundred and fifty or so CDs contains only two Mozarts, one Beethoven and one Haydn, this last a recent addition. They sit on the shelves undisturbed among Indian ragas, Persian dastgahs, African folk songs, Gregorian chant, songs from the Cancionero Musical de Palacio, some Dead Can Dance, a lot of Joni Mitchell, ecstatic Sufis, most of Sibelius, a little Japanese flute and koto music and some frantic crashing, sobbing and wailing from Azerbaijan.

I got a bit fed up of all this. I bought an MP3 player to drown out my fellow passengers on my commute to work but I began to find it every bit as intrusive as I do them. I’d have the thing on shuffle but keep on fast forwarding it, thinking, ‘oh, God, not that one again.’ It was time to try something new, something not an ululation, an amanés or a joyous hymn to Allah. This is where the Haydn came in.

The CD is ‘The London Symphonies’ and it lasts upwards of 150 minutes. I put it on the CD player and let it run and frankly, it drove me nuts. The first movement of Symphony no 95 (he wrote a lot of this stuff) in C major ‘begins with an abrupt five-note unison challenge, which, together with the attractively-scored second subject, provides the material for the fine, dramatic development section.’ You see, it does make sense, it does have meaning, it does have development and conflict and resolution but I simply cannot hear it. To me the entire two hours' worth goes huppity-hopperty-hippity-jipperty-dipperty-huppity, repetitively, relentlessly, interminably. There is for me a mechanical, jerky quality about it that is profoundly irritating, and it’s the same mechanical, jerky quality I hear in my Beethoven and Mozart CDs. The truly saddening thing is that it is ENTIRELY MY FAULT and I am left gloomily mystified, forever excluded from a source of abiding pleasure enjoyed, indeed revered, by so many very discerning people.

I don’t know why it is that music from the 18th and early 19th centuries should be so impenetrable to me. Sure, I have absolutely no technical or academic knowledge of music of any period or tradition, but why is it that while Old Ludwig Van, Handel and Haydn feel intrusive and drive me to screaming point, an Indian raga or piece of Renaissance sacred music will feel clear and soothing and refreshing? How is it that even though I do not really understand them, I feel as though I did?

*****

One of my favourite pieces of ‘serious’ music is the Sibelius Symphony no 7, completed in 1924. The wikipedia article on this symphony is quite beyond me and might as well be written in Navajo for all the sense I am able to make of it, but the music itself, which is by no means simple, somehow does make sense to me. I can follow the development of the ideas in a way I cannot with the Haydn stuff. Here is one listener’s reaction to the symphony's closing bars: ‘Delivered from mortal bonds of earthly understanding, rising above mountains we cannot conquer, gathering with the force of revolving planets, thrust into the chordal Om of the universe, to where the stars dwell.’ Yeah, well. I’m not sure I fancy being thrust up anybody’s ‘chordal Om’ but the thing is, I suppose, that us purely intuitive listeners to western orchestral music have to rely on the visual and the emotional and are forced to invent a narrative, as though the music were the score of a movie, excluded as we are from being able to appreciate the purely abstract interplay of notes and chords and um… stuff. Listening to Sibelius and to Indian and Persian music, I tend to see abstract shapes and three-dimensional patterns rather than narratives and landscapes, which habit might, if I have the patience, help me to get closer to Ol’ Joe Haydn. But I would have to work at it.

14 comments:

Bo said...

A-men!

Sarah said...

Do you have any links to the Indian raga ? I've never heard of it and wouldn't know which ones to pick for a first lsten.

I'm a philistine, there are a few classical bits that I love, but in the main I came across them in adverts LOL.

Kind of hard to find them when you go to itunes armed only with "the music on the Ikea site, bedroom 4"

I only found it cos other people had heard it used on a BA ad and that did turn up a result.

Deiniol said...

Out of interest, is it just "Classical" non-vocal music or all kinds of non-vocal music? I find that I can quite happily get along with more modern instrumental music but find the Classical stuff difficult to warm to. Which just suggests that I'm a philistine.

vilges suola said...

Well, here are Ravi and Anoushka Shakar playing a raga:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KXk_8_8oLY&feature=related

And here is Anoushka Shankar on her tod, playing another raga that purists disapprove of. Don't ask me why.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ge8zyUDrA6Y

vilges suola said...

@ Deiniol, wish I knew enough to put dates on it - pretty much anything I know of from the 18th / early 19th centuries falls onto the gets-on-my-wick category, choral or no. Now I had better shut up because I don't really know what I'm saying here...

Fionnchú said...

I cannot stand most vocal classical music, so I am doubly banished from the elevated circle. Chants, opera, choirs: nearly all tend to leave me if not nonplussed than irritated.

vilges suola said...

I have not listened to much opera and am definitely not drawn to it. I bought the box set of something by Britten, Peter Grimes I think - made no headway with it at all. What a waste.

Bo said...

You need to *see* opera. No point listening to a CD of something that you haven't seen. It's even less exciting than reading a play instead of seeing it.

You might like Janacek's Vec Makropoulos!

vilges suola said...

Yes, you are right. I have never actually seen one. Must get out more...

The TEFL Tradesman said...

When I was much younger, immature and a bit of a music buff I used to wonder in marvel at how a mere human being could write such wonderful insightful stuff as this: "begins with an abrupt five-note unison challenge, which, together with the attractively-scored second subject, provides the material for the fine, dramatic development section.’

It had me cowering in shame, aware that I was a mere pleb of the lower orders and not fit to wipe the writer's arse. Now of course, I can quickly analyse it and call it the pompous crap that it truly is, designed expressly to make those who don't understand the mere mechanics of music feel very small.

Let's go for a sample analysis, making a simple difference between fact and opinion.

"...begins with an abrupt (opinion?) five-note unison (fact) challenge (opinion), which, together with the attractively-scored (opinion) second subject (fact), provides the material for the fine, (opinion) dramatic (opinion) development section (fact).’

In short, by dressing up his/her knowledge of the simple mechanics of music and composition (five-note unison, second subject, development section) with a few verbose adjectives, we have - musical criticism!! How wonderful ... yeah.

vilges suola said...

Sandy, you bitter old cynic. Next you'll be telling us you have no respect for the Silent Way, Suggestopedia or TPR.

The TEFL Tradesman said...

HAven't I told you that already?!

I guess I'd better dig out some of my previous blog-postings apropos the aforementioned 'methods' and 'techniques', then...

Nicky said...

Bach is the way to go. He kind of makes the entire Western classical tradition redundant all by himself.

That'll leave you with much more time for early morning ragas, midmorning ragas, evening ragas, or whatever time frame suits you best.

vilges suola said...

OK, I'll have to give him a go.

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