Monday, January 15, 2007

New locale

I'm moving at the moment to a new blog type site at as I seemed to mostly write about classical music, and wanted more pages to put up sound snippets and information about composers. Hopefully I can sucker some people into converting to classical :)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Neatly wrapped gifts

MUCH more productive today. Even then, that's like saying that.... well what's a really clever and incisive example to shove in here? It's like saying that mice are - err - much, much smaller... than, um, rats? Oh Christ, that's an awful analogy. Screw it, forget it, maybe I shouldn't be all autobiography and instead be attempting to provide some actual, quality, content. More musical thoughts? That seems to be my defaulty direction.

I define my days in symphonies.

Well, along with Turangalila, which is disturbing me further the more I listen, I've been broadening my education and exposure to some warhorses, as all the cool classical kids call 'em. Tchaikovsky 6, Beethoven 6 and 7, even a touch of Mahler, since I'm supposed to love him after my Shosty worship.

When I first started listening to the good stuff, when I had my classical revelation (I wish I could remember the exact day... it must have been before June in 2003, and probably a few months before, since I was still on speaking terms with s certain someone) Beethoven seemed way too large and Romantic, like too much overbearing sound. Besides, the fact that everybody and their dog went (and goes) on and on about how great he was, served to put me off. I like being an exclusive little piglet, rummaging and rollicking in the stuff the others don't see.

Relistening back to Beethoven recently he seems so - straightforward, compared to Shosty, Sergei P., and the others I mostly lapsed myself into. His pieces are like neatly wrapped gifts, with all things in their proper places; the themes are embroidered ribbons running through and around each other, but (what a revelation) identifiable after almost the first listen. Also, the orchestra seems so small compared to the overpowering instrumental forces I had remembered. I suppose I must have become much more comfortable with the sound of a full set of instruments. Fancy that, real musical growth, I need some gold stars stat.

I'm hoping - and it seems stupendously, superbly likely - that I have a huge stack of stuff to get out of Beethoven, but in a different kind of direction to what I've become used to.

I'm looking forward to the journey. Isn't isn't wonderful how music bends you in so many different directions?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Not doing nothing

It was one of these days where you just sit there checking eMail, checking Digg, checking BBC news. It was like that, but ten billion brazillian times worse over, because I didn't even try to pretend like I was accomplishing anything. I literally sat there all day browsing the web, with a not well deserved break for lunch. I feel so guilty.

Once, we lost our internet access for a week and it was amazing. I would come into my room, start to turn on my computer and then stop when it hit me in the head that there wasn't any bloody thing to be doing with that. No idle wandering. I got so much done, and did so much. What a shame a weakness for the web is so stuffed down deep into my head and hands. Though, I ain't yet tried the drastic measure of deliberately forcing myself away from it. I'm usually pretty confident my head'll sort things out without me intervening.


Turangalila came, and it's pretty intimidating. 78 minutes of extreme, ultra-expansive bangs and whines and polymelodic stuff absolutely everywhere. Someone described it as Ravel and Stravinsky trying to outdo each other, and Boulez - Messiaen's student - called it a bordello. After listening to it a couple times through I like the fifth movement, and the first, but that's about as far as I am right now. Everything else sounds like a non-sequitur. I'm not sure if this one is going to work out, but I hope it does, it's one of these pieces I really want to like.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The committed utilitarian

The mall is too much full of people right here, this time of year. This is mollified, at least a little, by it also being full(ish) of kittens on tables and in cages. On Saturday I was abandoned, and directed myself vaguely that way to - probably fruitlessly - search for Christmas presents. The crowds are too threatening. They disturb my already dangerously fragile and volatile shopping equilibrium. They tip my scales, and snip my trip length with their trumpeting lines of feet.

It doesn't matter that much anyway. I can't ever really buy anything on one outing, I need a scouting mission before I can commit to much or too much. That's true all over myself, in many little of my corners. I need to browse over every possibility, to weigh up everything, to twist around all the ways a decision falls out. I'm an accidentally committed utilitarian, but I don't know if the pain during the decisioning is worth the extra pleasure the good choice brings.

Maybe I can agonize over that next.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Shostakovich 15

In the last few weeks Shostakovich symphony 15 has become a huge drop dead, oh-my-god, favorite. Walking in to school at too many minutes past nine o' clock today the last movement really did me in... It's Op. 141, six before his last; I feel like it describes his life, and its fading out.

The first movement is the naivety and playfulness of his youth. The second the looming thunderheads of Stalin - it reminds me of the third movement of the 5th. The third is the energy, hope, and openness after Stalin died... and the fourth....

The fourth is calmly brutal. I see it is like this: just as things started looking more open and free after the death of Stalin, he was getting old, and could see his death ahead. Just as he broke free of one fate, another, even greater loomed. The quotations in the fourth movement which I can see so far are (in order):

  1. The "Fate" motif from Wagner's Ring cycle
  2. The music from Siegfried's funeral, from Wagner's Ring cycle
  3. The start of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde
  4. Glinka's "Do not tempt me needlessly"
  5. the "invasion" theme from the 7th symphony.
The first two are fate and death: you can't escape it, it's coming for you, you're screwed. Tristan and Isolde is full of the idea that we normally experience the unreal world, and the real world is hidden from us; and in particular that we can only see this real world in death. This brings to mind for me the subtexts in his symphonies, the duality of his music because of his lack of creative freedom. The fourth quote is his pain in watching Russia move toward greater freedom of expression, but knowing that he would not survive to live freely in it. The artistic environment he had desired for so long was going to be snatched away, just as it was arriving. The invasion theme is, not Stalin or Hitler this time but the more deadly figure of death, inexorably invading life.

The last two minutes are absolutely electric, like the clockwork of life unwinding and unravelling and finally releasing. As Boosey and Hawkes put it:

"An unearthly sense of bright light playing on a surface beneath which lurk great depths of darkness"

I think that's bang on.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Discovering Music

I rediscovered another excellent site explaining the inner workings of classical pieces, this time from the ever wonderful BBC (whom I miss oh so much out here in Americaland). If you are a classical music newbie, or even if you have tens of years of listening under your belt, you'll get something great out of these recordings.

They are a series of excellent quality RealAudio streams of the radio show "Discovering Music". Each one lasts for about forty-five minutes and deals with one piece, usually getting particularly involved in the first movement. As expected from that fine British institution (feel the love!) the production values are exceptional, and every program I have listened to so far has been a gem. They talk about the historical background, the life of the composer, the large scale structure of the piece, and the fine structure: the musical themes, their development, how they interact, and where they end up.

I wish all my liner notes were in this much detail, with this much feeling! Now if only they'd do Shostakovich's string quartets 12 and 13, symphony 15, and cello concerto 2 for me...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Breaking down Beethoven

I found a superb site explaining in extreme detail the structure behind some famous (and some not so famous) classical pieces.

These are really excellent for learning to understand the pieces. In each section of the movement there is a short description of what is going on in terms of themes and developments, for example (from Beethoven 7, 3rd Movement):

"The trio provides plenty of contrast: to counter the lively rhythms of the 1st part bassoons and horns introduce a quiet theme, derived from a Lower Austrian pilgrims’ song"

There are musical samples in a bunch of different formats, WAV, MP3, etc. for each section that is described so that you can listen for yourself. I'd love to find more of this kind of thing! After clicking on the link just click on the movement you are interested in:


I think I am finally getting into Beethoven, two and a half years after becoming an approximate acolyte of classical music. I've been listening to his sixth and seventh symphonies a lot in the last couple of days. I'm getting that throbbing background of tones and motifs in my head after I stop listening to the music, like it's snagging on something up in me. I know then when that happens that after a few days more listening I'm really going to start understanding the piece.

In the long introduction in the first movement of the seventh there is a trill motif played on the winds after the rising scales... I think this is incredibly similar to the third theme that Schnittke uses in the viola concerto, the one which is in the last minute or so of the first movement and is grotesquely repeated in rising keys in the middle of the second movement. I wonder if it is a deliberate quote... maybe I'll look it up in the music library tomorrow.