Monday, February 23, 2015

Mozart texted...

A religious friend of mine told me the other day that God asked her to tell me to read Ecclesiastes. Well, ok, probably not a bad idea. So I started to read Ecclesiastes. Then I told her that Plato emailed me to tell her to read the Euthyphro. I just hope it doesn't cause her too much cognitive dissonance.

In the same vein, Mozart texted me this morning to ask me to tell you to listen to some Haydn today!

Here is the "Surprise" Symphony, one of twelve symphonies Haydn wrote towards the end of his life for performance in London. It is wonderful when a great musician like Haydn is fully rewarded and appreciated for his life's work. Because so often the opposite has happened. The "Surprise" Symphony, No. 94 in G major, is so called because of the second movement, where a very innocuous theme ends with a jolting fortissimo chord.



This chord comes back a few times, rather unpredictably, and the movement keeps getting more and more forceful (and interesting). Haydn doesn't just play one joke on the audience; the whole movement keeps going in unexpected directions. It is Haydn's great virtue as a composer that the way in which he is creative and original is unpredictable. He turns things on their head in ways you can never anticipate. I will venture out on a limb here and say that most artists, even ones we highly respect, once they discover their "style", tend to be creative in predictable ways. If there is a watch in a Dali painting, it is likely to be melting; if there is a face in a Picasso sketch, the eyes are both going to be on the same side of the nose. Et cetera. But you are never sure what Haydn is going to do with phrasing, dynamics or harmony. But you know it will be unpredictable. Of course, he sets you up. Any other composer using a theme this trite sounding is not likely to be pulling the rug out from under you when you least expect it.

Now let's listen. Here is the second movement of Haydn's Symphony No. 94 in G major:


And something else we should listen to is Turn, Turn, Turn, by Pete Seeger, using text from Ecclesiastes:


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