Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Arbiter musicae

Gaius Petronius, supposedly the author of the Satyricon, one of the first novels, was titled elegantiae arbiter, "judge of elegance" in Nero's court. According to Tacitus he was regarded as the absolute authority on matters of taste. We apparently have the modern equivalent, lurking in obscure offices in Silicon Valley, the people who decide what we will listen to--at least if we subscribe to a music streaming service. Buzzfeed has the story: Inside the Playlist Factory.
When he’s choosing your music for you, Carl Chery, 37, is in Culver City, California, sitting at his desk in an office with no signage, trying to decide whether Drake and Future’s “Jumpman” (jumpman, jumpman, jumpman) has jumped the shark. Or sometimes he’s at home in his one-bedroom apartment on the border of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, walking around in his living room with new Gucci Mane blasting from a Beats Pill. Or at the gym going for a morning run on the treadmill, thinking about your gym and your treadmill, listening through headphones for changes in tempo and tone: Will this song push you through the pain? Is that one too long on the buildup?
So how does this work?
Try any of the major music streaming services today and you’ll find variations on a common theme: thousands of ready-made playlists (“Rich Girl Pop,” “Inspired by Jeff Buckley,” “Songs to Sing in the Shower”) for every conceivable genre, activity, or mood. In the two years since the Beats acquisition, three of the largest services, including Apple Music, Spotify, and Google Play Music (and smaller ones like Tidal and Rhapsody, too), have increasingly relied on these playlists to accomplish two important goals at once: 1) helping users inundated by a catalog of more than 30 million songs more easily find the ones they actually want, and 2) creating difference in a market where everyone has more or less the same goods.
Ok, well, none of those precisely fit what I want to listen to... What I need is something like "Music to accompany a furtive meditation on humility" or "Something with a lot of hemiola" or "Dyspeptic music while reading the news about the latest jihadist attack in Europe" or "Something with just a touch of transcendence plus some rhythmic verve." Surely in 30 million songs this should be easy? No? Is it because most of those 30 million songs display a dreary backbeaten sameness? Oh, right.

The thing is, I know fairly well how to find good music, and avoiding streaming services is probably a good place to start. Hey, I think I qualify as a "veteran music nerd" (how these professionals are described), but I am probably the last person to be hired to help choose playlists. This is what I might come up with for my last category: "Something with just a touch of transcendence plus some rhythmic verve:"

  • Mozart, Symphony No. 41, last movement
  • Bach, Dona nobis pacem from the Mass in B minor
  • Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians
  • Prokofiev, Symphony No. 5
  • Giovanni Gabrieli - Canzon XVI for 12 Parts
Hey, let's have a listen to that last one for our envoi:

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Art of Listening: Special Challenges

So far I have been talking about short, medium and long pieces that are fairly easy to listen to, meaning that the basic "language" and structure is not too hard to hear. Some composers, like Steve Reich and Philip Glass, try to make everything they are doing very evident. But other composers, especially in the 20th century, went out of their way to make the musical structure and processes very obscure. Today let's take a look at a couple of pieces that pose some special challenges to the listener.

One quite short piece that is a notorious challenge to most listeners is John Cage's 4'33. The name it goes by is simply the total duration of the piece. It doesn't actually have a title. It is in three sections, each with a specified duration and they add up to 4 minutes and 33 seconds. Each section or movement consists of a rest and the word "tacet" meaning, don't make any sounds. So it is a piece consisting simply of silence for four and a half minutes. Cage has said that the "music" is whatever sounds happen to occur during this timespan: crickets, a cough, passing jet overhead, stomach rumblings, whatever. The piece is a kind of Zen meta-composition. Very easy to listen to, but philosophically or aesthetically challenging.

Another way for a piece to challenge the listener is to present themes, rhythms and harmonies that are complex in themselves and not easily identifiable. Many movements of the very large piece for piano, Catalogue d'oiseaux by Olivier Messiaen are difficult in this sense. His thematic material consists largely of transcriptions of birdsong interspersed with musical soundscapes of the scenery and environment. Each piece is set in a particular time and place. Here, for example, is "Le chocard des Alpes", the first of the thirteen pieces that make up the work. The first section depicts the mountain landscape of chasms and precipices, from about the 50 second mark we start to hear the call of the alpine chough. The silences represent the enormous spaces and distances of the mountain landscape.

It takes quite a bit of listening before this music becomes familiar and enjoyable--not because of anything unpleasant in the vocabulary, but simply because of its complexity. There are no simple themes and harmonies.

Another kind of challenge can present even with short pieces. Arnold Schoenberg, before he developed his serial method of composition, went through a period when he was exploring the possibilities of the dissolution of tonality. He wrote a set of six tiny pieces for piano, labeled op. 19. These are so short that all six take only five minutes to play. But they are so enigmatic, that, again, it takes a lot of listening to start to understand them. Each is like a tiny complex jewel from another planet. They do have a structure, but it is rather enigmatic. Perhaps the second one is easiest to access as a lot of it is repeated thirds that are expanded outwards. There are analyses of these pieces that essentially turn them into mathematical set theory. It is probably better to just listen to them! They offer a unique set of introspective moods:

Finally, there are pieces that are not only enigmatic, but also long and emotionally draining. The symphonies of Allan Pettersson are certainly an example. Perhaps the most accessible of his fifteen symphonies is Symphony No. 8 composed in 1968/9. It is the only one of his symphonies that is divided into sections, all the others are in one long movement. One structural feature that the listener can hang onto is the recurring motif of a rising minor second. At the beginning it is in eighth notes in the accompaniment. Later on, it appears more prominently in half notes. You can see both forms in this example, which is from the notes to the CPO recording:

Click to enlarge

Here is the recording by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sergiu Comissiona, 1980.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

When was Moderism?

Digging around for a topic for a post, I ran across a substantial article on modernism in literature. It turned out to be not suitable, but it did get me thinking. Quite a while ago I recall reading an interesting essay titled "When was Modernism" and I am stealing the title for my post. I don't recall much about the essay and I can't locate it online (though there is a collection of essays with that title). I think it had something to do with the paradox implied by the term "modernism." You see, it is not descriptive in the way labels like "symbolism" or "serialism" or "romantic" are. They at least have specific referents, even though disputed. But all the term "modernism" refers to is something recent, current, up-to-date. And as the works of art created under this banner fade into the past--in music as much as a hundred years ago--the term seems more and more deceptive and the even more absurd label of "post-modernism" has had to be invented. A related term is "futurism" which refers to an art movement in Italy between 1909 and 1918.

Terms like "modernism", "post-modernism" and "futurism" are terms that are as much political as they are aesthetic. They are attempts to claim exclusive ownership of artistic validity. "We are modern, all you guys are just stuck in the past." Instead of making claim to a particular kind of approach, they simply condemn all other approaches. They are examples of emotive persuasion rather than arguments.

Now the situation is rather complex, because the ideology is usually separable from the art objects themselves, especially in music that tends to be ideologically ambiguous. The term "ideology" by the way, originated with the French Revolution as a coherent set of ideas and beliefs, not necessarily with a factual basis. The problem with the term "modernism" is that it is not only used as a weapon, but it is also rather non-specific in terms of what it refers to musically. Sometimes you get the feeling that it just means "what I like" or "what I dislike". It does clearly refer to innovation, but the ideological component is more than that: it not only praises a certain kind of innovation (serialism, for example) but it condemns other kinds of innovation and most particularly the desire not to follow the prescribed innovation. This pushes the term and practice from simply advocacy ("we all want to write serial music now because it is better") to political rigidity ("all composers must write serial music now because it is the only valid form of aesthetic expression"). This is to weaponize aesthetics, something that also originated with the French Revolution.

I said that the ideology was separable from the art objects. I am thinking of pieces like the Rite of Spring by Stravinsky for which he made no particular ideological claims. He simply locked himself away in a tiny room in Switzerland and came up with a new way of composing music--based, of course, on the colorful ballet music he had been composing, but developing and expanding the style into something truly innovative musically.

Much of the time the ideological component is stuck on afterwards by critics or others and bears little relation to the actual music. Take for example the term "minimalism" that has been applied to the music of Philip Glass and Steve Reich among others. It supposedly refers to music "that employs limited or minimal musical materials." But frankly, all pieces of music employ limited or minimal musical materials. By that I mean that it is a fundamental aesthetic principle in music that each composition have a specific focus on a very limited set of themes, rhythms, harmonies and so on. Compositions that do not follow this principle are diffuse, unfocussed and usually simply bad pieces of music. This is the first mistake that many student composers make.

What do I mean by "specific focus"? Whenever Bach wrote a prelude, he used an extremely limited set of materials:

So did Beethoven:

Both of these pieces use basically one rhythm and one arpeggio shape and simply vary it with harmony. This is quite minimal. This gives the music a focus that adds to its intensity.

On the other hand, the so-called "minimal" music of people like Steve Reich focuses in a somewhat different way, but is really no more "minimal" than a lot of other music:

The difference between this and, say, Bruckner, is what he chooses to focus on, what he chooses to repeat and what he chooses to vary. The first movement of Bruckner's Symphony No. 6 also focusses on a particular rhythmic pattern--a simpler one than Reich chooses--but develops it differently and instead of having a consistent pulse, has contrasting passages:

So what does the label "minimalism" really tell you? Not very much, it turns out. A better term, at least for Reich's music would be the one he prefers, "process music", or something more descriptive like "pulse music".

Just don't call it "modernism"!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday Miscellanea

Poor John Williams, renowned film composer, sitting at home one day, working on his next film score and what does he hear but two brass players outside playing his Star Wars theme. Bowing to the inevitable, he goes out and says hi. Frankly, we could use some innocent fun this week:

* * *

This is a very troubling story: Man Loses 14 Years of Work When Google Deletes His Blog
Artist Dennis Cooper made a horrifying discovery June 27: His 14-year-old blog—the sole home of his experimental writing, research, photographs, and more—was gone, Art Forum reports. According to Fusion, Cooper's blog was hosted by Google-owned Blogger, and those headed to are greeted with the message, "Sorry, the blog at has been removed. This address is not available for new blogs." It's not all he lost: Google also deactivated his Gmail account, which held his contacts and gig offers, the Guardian reports. The only explanation Google gave Cooper, who considers his blog a "serious work of mine," was a stock message that he was in "violation of the terms of service agreement."
Seems like there needs to be an ombudsman or some other way of adjudicating this kind of thing so they can't just throw something down the memory hole willy-nilly.

* * * 

I sometimes wonder if people ever go back and read what they have written. Case in point, this book, originally published in 2001, titled: The Essential Canon of Classical Music. This is an obvious takeoff on Harold Bloom's book The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages. As a matter of fact, the idea of the "canon", which Bloom defends, is a controversial one. I have questioned its application to music myself in this post. Whoever wrote the blurb for the music canon book has a vague idea that there is some controversy, so tries to cover all the bases with this:
In The Essential Canon of Classical Music, David Dubal comes to the aid of the struggling listener and provides a cultural-literacy handbook for classical music. Dubal identifies the 240 composers whose works are most important to an understanding of classical music and offers a comprehensive, chronological guide to their lives and works. He has searched beyond the traditional canon to introduce readers to little-known works by some of the most revered names in classical music-Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert-as well as to the major works of lesser-known composers. In a spirited and opinionated voice, Dubal seeks to rid us of the notion of "masterpieces" and instead to foster a new generation of master listeners. The result is an uncommon collection of the wonders classical music has to offer.
What's the problem? Well, the whole notion of a "canon", whether in literature or in music, is entirely based on the idea that there are "masterpieces". That's what a "canon" is, basically, a list of masterpieces. So if Mr. Dubal is seeking to rid us of the notion of "masterpieces" then he is attacking the idea of a canon. Slight logical problem there! This captures rather well the intense dilemma that faces people teaching in the humanities. Cultural theory, ultimately derived from Marxism, demands that objective notions of truth and good and bad and aesthetic quality must all be dethroned. Everything reduces to power and oppression.

* * *

The Guardian reviews a new recording of early works by Philip Glass. I actually had an LP of these pieces that I bought sometime in the 70s--long since lost, of course.
It was Music in 12 Parts, composed between 1971 and 1974, that really put Philip Glass on the map. That huge, four-hour score is now recognised as one of the landmarks in the history of minimalism, alongside such scores as Terry Riley’s In C and Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians. But Music in 12 Parts didn’t come out of the blue, and this collection of five early pieces by Glass, composed between 1968 and 1970, presents some of the creative background and the precursors of that defining work.
There is a funny story about Music in 12 Parts in Philip Glass' memoir. He recounts that he had composed a piece, perhaps 20 minutes long, that he called Music in 12 Parts because that was how it was constructed. He played it for a friend and at the end she asked, "where are the other eleven parts?"

* * * 

Slipped Disc has a piece on a recent example of bad behaviour in a concert:
A family of four (parents and two children) were so noisy during both the Philharmonic Concerto which opened the concert and the Fantasy on a Theme of John Field (for piano and orchestra) that I insisted on a complete repeat of the performance of the latter after the concert had finished – for which a very large percentage of the audience very kindly stayed. I would have done everything in my power to prevent the Radio Three broadcast on [the following] Tuesday had we not done this repeat performance; the disruption was greater than any I have ever experienced, even though to all intents and purposes the actual playing went very well. The repeat will of course have run up a very large overtime bill for the orchestra – whose members could not have been more cooperative, and who played both performances brilliantly.
I have never heard of a whole piece being repeated because of noise from the audience. The 21st century is turning out differently from what I expected! Classical music concerts are extremely civilized events where, up until recently, audiences tended to observe the basic courtesies without being asked. This seems more and more to be slipping away.

* * * 

A gold star to anyone who can watch this video past the one minute mark:

This is the new norm: an extremely visually busy presentation of a script that recites the simplest of rudimentary facts. Has the average intelligence of the Internet now descended to roughly the grade four level?

* * *

Because of their new demand to register to read any articles, I am boycotting the New York Times (and the Globe and Mail who seem to have adopted the same policy), but I ran across this quote at Arts Journal that is just too good to pass up:
“For centuries, opera has been a tool of power, a spectacle developed and organized by influential Western nations and the elites within them. It is long past time for the art form to be more open about this heritage, and to make reparations for it. Using opera to understand the connections between cultures and to experiment with what can bridge them is no longer merely an aesthetic possibility; it’s a moral necessity.”
That is just so, uh, delightful. The "opera-as-a-tool-of-power" meme is, of course, straight cultural Marxism which is now, at the New York Times, the official philosophical stance. Adjust your browsers accordingly.

* * *

 The manuscript of Bach's Prelude, Fugue and Allegro for lute or keyboard has just been auctioned off for the remarkable sum of $3.3 million. It is a lovely piece, often played by guitarists, and one I had to learn for a competition many years ago. This gives us our envoi for today. Here it is played by Edel Muñoz at the Boston Guitar Fest in 2011. He was the winner of the competition:

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Does greatness always involve being revolutionary?

This post comes out of the one yesterday. One of my frequent commentators read through some of the comments on the Guardian article and came up with that great quote from one of them:
Does greatness always involve being revolutionary?
That is a really interesting question that gets more and more interesting the more you look at music history. The idea that greatness in music is somehow associated with being "revolutionary" really began with Beethoven and one piece in particular, his Symphony No. 3, "Eroica" that was originally inspired by Napoleon. Once Napoleon proclaimed himself emperor, he lost lustre in Beethoven's eyes and he scratched out the original dedication:

Another very interesting element is that the Symphony No. 3 of Beethoven not only paid hommage (originally) to a politically revolutionary figure, it is also, or is usually described as, a revolutionary work in terms of its musical structure. Wikipedia gives the standard view:
The work is a milestone work of classical-style composition; it is twice as long as the symphonies of Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – the first movement is almost as long as a typical Classical symphony (with repetition of the exposition). Thematically, it covers more emotional ground than Beethoven's earlier symphonies, and thus marks the beginning of the Romantic period in classical music.
The second movement especially displays a great emotional range, from the misery of the funeral march theme, to the relative solace of happier, major-key episodes. The finale displays a similar emotional range, and is given a thematic importance then unheard of. In earlier symphonies, the finale was a quick and breezy conclusion; here, the finale is a lengthy set of variations and fugue on a theme from Beethoven's music for the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus (1801).
I suppose I could attempt to revise this conventional wisdom, (for example, the Beethoven Symphony No. 3 is about 54 minutes long in most performances, while Mozart's Symphony No. 41 is around 44 minutes long--not very much shorter) but that would be the subject of another post. For now, I just want to point out the fusion of two different ideas of "revolutionary": one is political, relating to the progressive ideals of the French Revolution while the other is musical, relating to the length, emotional intensity, and structural innovations of the piece. Note that I am not necessarily accepting this as given, but pointing to how the work has been received.

So, for 19th century composers (the Eroica was composed in 1804) Beethoven was their perfect model of the great composer. Every 19th century composer, to some degree, modeled themselves after him. Therefore, the idea that a great composer was revolutionary--in both senses of the word--became an integral part of the model. A composer, any artist really, should, if they follow the standard model, be not only technically progressive, but politically so as well.

But how universal is this model, really? Not so terribly, in fact. Prior to Beethoven it is hard to find a single example of a composer who is great because of being both technically and politically progressive. You could argue that the most technically progressive composers prior to Beethoven prominently included C. P. E. Bach, Joseph Haydn, Domenico Scarlatti, Antonio Vivaldi, Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi. But none of these had the slightest politically progressive profile that I know of. They all worked for establishment figures and institutions and were to no discernible extent, dissidents.

There have even been composers since Beethoven, though not in large numbers, who could easily be characterized as not progressive or even conservative. Among these one of the most prominent would be Johannes Brahms who, ironically, wanted to return music to the kinds of aesthetic procedures followed by Beethoven instead of the more radical methods of Liszt and Wagner.

In the period of high modernism, from around 1900 to sometime in the 1960s, technical progressivism almost seemed to overshadow political progressivism, though there are certainly composers who continued to fuse the two ideas such as Cornelius Cardew, Luigi Nono, and Frederic Rzewski.

More recently it seems likely that most composers, with an eye to not alienating any potential audience members, tend to mildly support all the widely accepted "causes" of the day such as climate change, anti-racism and so on. But the idea that a "great" composer has to be both politically and technically revolutionary seems to be fading. The most prominent American composers these days, who would likely include Philip Glass, Steve Reich, John Adams and John Luther Adams, seem to be particularly strongly progressive neither politically or technically. All have returned to some form of tonality, for example.

So there you have it. The answer to the question is "no", but for a while it was pretty common. As our envoi the likely choice is the Symphony No. 3 of Beethoven. This is Lenny conducting the Vienna Phillies:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"Where have the great composers gone?"

The Guardian has a piece up with the title "Where have the great composers gone?" by Philip Clark. The occasion for the essay was his attendance at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. I know Huddersfield as I attended a conference there several years ago at which I delivered two papers on the oeuvre of Joss Whedon! So what does Mr. Clark have to say:
At the end of last year, I paid my first visit in a decade to the Huddersfield contemporary music festival and, alongside some excellent music, heard an underlying rumble of chatter that posed the question: whatever happened to the great composer? Time was when a visit to Huddersfield meant rubbing shoulders with the greats. I queued once behind Luciano Berio at an ATM; saw Elliott Carter dining in an Indian restaurant (and sightings of Karlheinz Stockhausen in various Huddersfield Indian restaurants are legion); and the history of the festival is haunted by the ghosts of John Cage, Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez, Iannis Xenakis, György Ligeti, Henryk Górecki, Alfred Schnittke, Hans Werner Henze and Michael Tippett, who all made the trip to this unassuming West Yorkshire town. But who had even heard of last year’s headliner, the Swiss composer Jürg Frey?
Hmm, well yes, Switzerland is not known for its great composers. But while those cited are certainly well known, I'm not sure any of them, other than Messiaen, actually qualifies as a great composer. In the course of the essay Mr. Clark rather moves the goalposts from great international names to British composers and laments that no-one these days matches up to the great names Britten, Tippett and Birtwhistle:
[T]he truth is, it’s over. The confident forward march in British music that handed us a lineage of great composers – Britten, Tippett, Maxwell Davies, Birtwistle – has shattered. Given that all the obvious “isms” have been exhausted, composers now face an existential crisis over where music might head next; and, anyway, our culture has decided to privilege ephemeral celebrity over anyone who cares enough about the future to utter anything difficult or challenging. And clued-up composers realise that.
How does a march "shatter"? You got me. But mixed metaphors aside, this is an oddly lackluster complaint that boils down to "Thomas Adès just isn't as meaty as those older modernists." Well, no, we do seem to be on to a new chapter. I kind of suspect that Mr. Clark is a modernist ideologue who is mistaking a change in idiom for a lowering in quality.

The world does seem rather diminished these days. When I was at university it was not uncommon for friends not involved in music in any way to know and appreciate the music of people as diverse as B. B. King, Bob Dylan, J. S. Bach, Ravi Shankar and even Charles Ives. I doubt this is any longer the case. But I don't actually think that the most outstanding composers working today are lesser figures than the icons of modernism. Is Philip Glass a poorer composer than John Cage? Is Thomas Adès lesser than Benjamin Britten? Is Steve Reich on a lower level than Karlheinz Stockhausen? Not in my book. What has changed is the degree to which artists out of the pop mainstream have any exposure at all. The classical music world is entrenching itself to ride out the storm. But there are still some seriously fine composers and performers.

You just know who I am going to pick as an example, don't you? This is Steve Reich's Mallet Quartet, dating from 2009 in a performance by Sō Percussion from memory:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Classical Guitar Cultural History

What we mostly see and hear in the media are current events. Sometimes we get a bit of perspective, but that is often shaded by political bias in one direction or the other. Very occasionally we get a bit of cultural history straight from the horse's mouth. I would like to try and do some of that today.

I am a classical guitarist and composer, so that means that I have traveled through a very particular kind of culture over the last forty or so years. I started out in the pop field, but back then, in the later 1960s, that meant the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, James Brown and a bunch of lighter pop groups. But those names were the big ones. They were the ones that kept putting out hit records and albums while most of the other groups were more ephemeral.

After a few years of involvement with that kind of music, I discovered classical music. I have talked about how that came about before. What I want to do now is delve into the culture a bit. One huge and glaring difference between the music scene then and now is, very simply, money. According to a CNBC article the Beatles made $25 million in earnings in 1964, which translates to almost $188 million today. They were the first pop group to achieve this kind of fame and consequent earnings. Of course, they were subject to the absolutely insane taxes of the era, putting them in, believe it or not, a 98% tax bracket. The complicated history of who actually owns their catalogue got started because of what they did to try and avoid such a punitive level of tax.

Nowadays, despite the plummeting sales of CDs, pop artists can earn a lot of money. The current highest earner is Taylor Swift who brought in $170 million last year. There are whole lot of other pop stars with large revenues.

But back in the 60s, it was largely the Beatles and they were really considered an outlier as they are today. Not one of their albums has ever gone out of production. The fab four aside, however, the music scene in the 60s was one in which the money did not loom large as it does today. The culture was not oriented around money but around causes (Vietnam war, drugs, etc.) and some rather shaky ideals such as universal love and peace. Personal experience through music, psychedelic drugs and Eastern religion was valued highly. Politics as such was devalued as being inauthentic.

So when I discovered classical music it was in this kind of context. The earnings aspect was unimportant, besides, back then classical artists did not earn hugely less than pop stars, unlike today. It was rather my personal experience of the culture that drew me. Sure, the music came first, but there were a host of associated details that I also found attractive and authenticity-building. Here are some examples:

  • the scratchy hiss of listening to old classical LPs on a mono cabinet player
  • the impressive logo of Deutsche Grammophon, unlike anything in the pop world
  • the aura of solitary discipline that hung over so many classical musicians
  • the very smell of a cedar-top Spanish-made classical guitar
  • the intellectual appeal of music theory and history
  • the sheer depth of the classical music traditions, stretching back a thousand years
Notice that some of this is very similar to the appeal of Eastern religion and art. The traditions of Japanese culture such as ukiyo-e (woodcut prints) and Zen are also rich in tradition and discipline.

What I chose to reject was anything relating to the drug culture. It seemed to me to be destructive of creativity and discipline in favor of shallow immediacy.

Spending a year in Spain studying under a guitar master tended to underline a lot of these cultural values. This became really evident when I came back to Canada. I was shocked at seemingly minor details of life in Canada. For example, when I few back, one of my flights was delayed so I missed a connection and was put up in an airport motel (which I don't think they even bother doing any more). The room was, to my eye, absurdly over-furnished.  There was a thick, shag carpet instead of the bare tile floors I had become used to, there must have been ten towels in the bathroom as opposed to the one I was used to, there were six or seven lamps, two beds, several bad prints on the wall, a television set and on and on. You see, I had become used to the austere, minimal furnishings of pensions and apartments in Spain. This experience was a kind of indicator of the fact that my aesthetic journey had taken me out of the mainstream of Canadian culture, where I remain to this day!

I don't think I ever thought of classical music as a religion, but I tended to regard religion as having a similar appeal: aesthetic, mystical. A good musical genre and a good religion share, for me, some characteristics: nothing ricky-ticky or kitschy, age-old traditions, meditative disciplines and so on. These qualities apply to both classical music and some religions. I guess this is a rather bizarre way of looking at things for most people!

I'm not sure I got across what I wanted to in this post. The nice thing about blogging is that it can often be very informal and experimental. The costs of experiment are low. So I hope you got something out of this.

Our envoi today is the String Quintet in C major D. 956 by Schubert from a Deutsche Grammophon 8 LP box set of Schubert chamber music, released in 1965. The artist are the

Norbert Brainin, first violin
Siegmund Niessel, second violin
Peter Schidlof, viola
Martin Lovett, cello

WILLIAM PLEETH, second cello