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Music and Transfiguration

An Open Question

This is a thought that I would like to put out there and see what kind of responses it gets. I've been thinking about this for a little while and it more or less goes along with my last post. Is there any other art (literature, dance, etc.) that is analyzed to the extent that music is? I can't think of one. For example, we don't subject a novel to the same kind of rigorous and complicated analytical techniques that we do a piece a music. Yet, a novel by, say Victor Hugo, I would consider of the same artistic quality, depth and substance as a Beethoven symphony.

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Complexity through Simplicity

I'm not sure exactly when it happened, sometime during my undergraduate degree, but I more or less pulled a complete 180 in regards to my views of music theory. In the beginning, I loved it and studied as much of it as I could. I thought music theory and analysis to be a necessary part of musical understanding. Later, however, my approach became simpler and simpler. I started to shun most of the established "theories" and the grandiose, complicated analyses written by theorists, and turned to the simpler methods.


"Art Has No Limits"

I was reminded today about a quote by Beethoven:

The true artist is not proud, he unfortunately sees that art has no limits; he feels darkly how far he is from the goal; and though he may be admired by others, he is sad not to have reached that point to which his better genius only appears as a distant, guiding sun.


Reflection on Beethoven's Late Quartets

Beethoven's last four string quartets, known as the Late Quartets, and the Grosse Fuge are a rather unique set of works. They are like an anomaly in the history of classical music. To me, it seems they are completely out of place not simply with the music of the same period, but even with the course of classical music since then. The depth of expression and the substance of that expression in the Late Quartets possess an almost otherworldly quality. It's as if Beethoven breached a depth of human existence that few have imagined, much less actually experienced.


The World Inside the Music

Music expresses far more than emotions. In fact, I think in the technical sense, the emotions we experience when listening to a piece a music are entirely our reactions to the music and not something inherent within it. Instead, music expresses the artists view of the world and man, in other words, very broad abstract concepts. These concepts, in turn, then evoke certain emotional responses within us. If the composer's views are closely aligned to our own, we experience a positive reaction to the music, regardless of whether the music is joyful or sad.

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Make the Music Personal

Last night I was doing a little random surfing on the Web. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, just more or less getting an idea of what other people were writing about concerning classical music. I stumbled across two things from different sources but actually go together quite nicely. The first is from a photography blog:

"Glenn Gould turned his back on the classical music stiff-upper-lip society to immerse himself in the music and perform it his own way."

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Music for the Heart...and the Mind

I mentioned in yesterday's post about the challenges that classical music presents to the mind of a listener. Harmony and counterpoint present immediate "problems" for the mind to work out. Form, on the other hand, presents long-range organizational issues that the mind has to comprehend. The intrinsic beauty of classical music thus lies in its complexity. It stands to reason, then, that this complexity can only be a result of classical music's intellectual nature.


What Makes Classical Music Unique

What is it about classical music that makes it unique? Why do certain pieces, like Mozart's Symphony in G minor or Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, remain immortal classics, enthralling listeners 200 years after their composition? I believe it has a lot to do with classical music's inherent nature. During the Renaissance, the music of the learned composers, such as Palestrina, was termed "High Art" to distinguish it from the music of the troubadours or the folk music of the common people. The term "High Art" is no longer used, but I believe the distinction still remains.

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