Saturday, April 12, 2014

In Love with Music

This post will be a little bit different than the usual ones. Yesterday I, quite atypically, played a little concert with a violinist. A few people are trying to start a conservatory here. They have some facilities in an historic building in which a number of rooms have been set up as music studios. There is also a luthier in residence with his workshop. There are a couple of people offering guitar lessons and one who does an ear-training class. But there is no formal structure and no funding. So, a real struggle! In any case, I was asked to give a lecture/recital so, with my violinist, we obliged. Here was the program:

I was a bit proud of the program because it managed to span almost six hundred years of music, and because of the great variety of styles. The first thousand years were represented by a mere one minute of music by Dufay, who is just on the cusp of the Renaissance anyway, but I thought it was pretty good balance on the whole. The two preludes by Shostakovich are from his set of preludes and fugues in all the keys and I transcribed them myself. The moody one in E minor was probably the piece that made the most impact of all the program. I pointed out that you could draw an arrow from the piece by Bach to the ones by Shostakovich because Bach was the main influence on that music. I also pointed out that you could draw another arrow from The Queen's Dumpe (originally for two lutes) and my piece Surreal Reel. Some Elizabethan music is the source for both the jigs and reels of Irish music (which my piece is based on) and the bluegrass music of Appalachia. The music students were a wonderful audience and their numbers seem to have doubled by the end of the concert.

Music students are great audiences because they are both embarked on the study of music and in love with music. This leads to my next thought: we tend to fall in love with pieces of music and with particular composers. Early loves for me were Dvorak and Debussy. Then I moved to the "B"s: Bach, Beethoven and Bartók. Now I am into the "S"s: Sibelius and Shostakovich.

But it is the love for composers that can lead to some odd reactions sometimes. As I said yesterday:
Yesterday I put up a post on what composers and pieces are performed the most by American orchestras. This was just for one year, the 2010/11 season, so it probably changes a bit from year to year. But I threw in a little explanatory remark about why Bach didn't appear on either list. It is a bit odd that the composer that usually appears at the top of any list of the greatest composers made no appearance on either of these two lists, isn't it? The answer is, as I said, "the reason that Bach does not appear on either list is that little of his music is really suitable for performance by a 19th century type orchestra." From the subsequent kerfuffle in the comments, I see that, as happens sometimes, what I think is a perfectly innocuous observation, rubs some folks the wrong way.
Why do people react so strongly to what I may see as an innocuous observation? I think the reason is that they are in love with the composer and if they read a remark seen as critical of the composer, it just rubs the wrong way. In this instance, I wasn't even criticizing Bach, just remarking that his music was really not suitable for performance by a full-size orchestra.

Of course, I must confess that I do go out of my way sometimes to say things that I know will be inflammatory. I have done this with a lot of pop music and even with some jazz. Even years later I get follow-up comments on that post! There is something about music that pulls us into a personal relationship with it. This is one of the great and magical strengths of music.

A lot of professional musicians get to a less personal relationship with music. They play with professional expertise rather than real joy. Musicologists may become enamored with the nuances of their profession and find their pleasure more in "problematizing" the music than loving it. There are lots of things that can draw us away from that direct love of music. Perhaps on this blog I sometimes make the same mistake. Perhaps I shouldn't be so bold about criticizing much-loved composers like Brahms and Mahler. On the other hand, I like to hope that if I do so, it is based somehow on a real love of music. I think people do sense this, because here at the Music Salon, all our disagreements seem to be friendly ones.

So here is to the love of music. Here is the Prelude and Fugue in E minor by Shostakovich, the prelude of which I transcribed for violin and guitar. Played by the composer. Brilliant use of the unusual interval of the diminished fourth:

No comments: