from Bryan Magee’s Confessions of a Philosopher, p. 269:
What to my mind sets Wagner and Shakespeare apart from other artists is the fact that they deal with everything. Their works confront the totality of human experience, and present our emotional life as it is, in its wholeness. So much of even the greatest art is aspirational, concerned with, and aiming at, ideals. Bach said he was composing his music to the greater glory of God; Beethoven said he was trying to express the highest of human aspirations; and one could multiply these sentiments many times over by quoting from the mouths of some of the greatest of artists. Art that springs from such motives can be wonderful, but cannot articulate the realities of human feeling across more than part of its range. Wagner’s work, by contrast, is not aspirational but cognitive, truth-telling; and he tells it like it is, down to emotions we disown. Shakespeare does the same, across an even bigger canvas. If Wagner is enabled to go deeper it is only because his chief expressive medium is music rather than words.
Now me: I think Mahler was aspiring to do what Wagner did naturally (if not heedlessly,) but it comes off as self-conscious and pretentious in his music instead of id-driven and inexorable as in Wagner’s.
In other news, if you ever get a chance to hear Tchaikovsky’s conservatory dissertation setting of “Ode to Joy”, run for the hills. Aside from a precious few lovely moments, it’s just one primitive melody after another, set in a wandering morass of the blandest counterpoint. However, I find it deeply gratifying to know that the composer of Pique Dame and the “Pathétique” Symphony did not spring fully formed from the head of Zeus. Not every great composer had to start off that way, and that gives hope for the rest of us.
I mention this piece because we’re performing it on a concert with Beethoven’s 9th. Beethoven’s music, of course, completely overwhelms the text, tossing it around like a raft upon a stormy sea.
Luckily for Schiller, one musician set “An die Freude” perfectly, lending just the right wind to its sails: Franz Schubert.
There’s an awful lot of fuss being made today about Alan Gilbert’s confrontation with a NY Phil patron whose cell phone went off during the final measures of Mahler’s 9th Symphony last night. The errant twitwit aside, internet response seems to be squarely on the maestro’s side, and I concur. I think he handled splendidly. I don’t even blame the ushers for not stepping in — they too must have been stunned and reluctant to cause more of a stir by swooping in to discipline a patron seated in the middle of the front row as the last embers of Romanticism died away on stage.
The reports confirm everyone’s suspicions: the offender was an Older Person, so chances are this was an unwitting error on his part. How many oldsters do you know who regularly hear their cell phone ring in a public (or private) setting? That’s what I thought.
But just last week, I was witness to an audience disruption of a very different sort, one that the press has overlooked entirely. Picture it: Cincinnati, 2012. Music Hall. The Cincinnati Symphony is on stage with Emmanuel Ax playing the Mozart 22nd piano concerto. The charming first movement cadenza comes to a close and the orchestra re-enters. It’s a sublime moment, smile-inducing and soul-restoring. And it’s the very moment when some hooligan in the rafters applauds and barks out a Tim Allenesque bro-call.
Now here’s the thing: I so wish that this idiot had chosen a different concerto/cadenza for his little outburst, because given the right repertoire, I would be totally supportive of this kind of thing. I’ve been preaching a long time about how we ought to be clapping between movements (since the composers usually WROTE their symphonies with that very reaction in mind) so why not at the end of cadenzas too, alla jazz performance practice?
Sure. Fine. Sounds great, but it depends on which concerto and which cadenza. The Khatchaturian violin concerto? By all means yes, everyone should be on their feet applauding the end of that cadenza when a violinist really nails it. That’s what it’s there for. I mean, that’s basically what the whole concerto is there for – it’s a virtuoso showpiece, and the cadenza takes up like half of the first movement. Why should we just sit there? To show reverence for one of the dumbest themes in the repertoire being played in the orchestra? Ugh.
Dude. Seriously. It’s Mozart’s Eb piano concerto. It’s not showy, it’s not splashy, it’s just gorgeous. You know you were just trying to get attention and make a “statement” about jazz or classical or something. Come on.
I saw a performance of Mahler’s 7th last night. While I recognize the evening’s event as a major achievement for both the orchestra and the conductor, I feel totally unqualified to judge the performance beyond that. I find this piece completely unintelligible. From start to finish there is not a note that I understand, even after having heard the piece in its entirety several times.
The closest parallel I can think of would be a James Joyce novel like Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake, works I find equally impenetrable. However, I know that really brilliant people respect all of these works, so I’ll try not to write them off too quickly.
But really, what the hell are those guitar and mandolin doing in there?