Saturday, March 15, 2008

My Favorite Piece of Music

Beethoven's Sonata 23 (Appassionata), Movement 3

Claudio Arrau performs his interpretation in this video. I like it. I have Willhelm Kempff's complete collection of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas on CD. Kempff performs this movement a little bit slower but with perhaps a little more feeling. I think they're both equally good.

I took piano lessons when I was really young. I stopped at the beginning of 4th grade once I started getting serious about basketball. I had some talent for the piano, but I was lazy. I didn't like to practice, but I had a good ear for the music. I never bothered learning how to read sheet music that well, so I pretty much learned to play songs through listening to them and watching my teacher. I hated the lessons though. It took away from my time playing basketball, so I begged and pleaded with my mom to let me quit.

Nearly 20 years later, I wish I had kept going with it. I love classical piano music. I could listen to the Appassionata, Tempest, Moonlight Sonata, Pathetique, and countless other Beethoven piano sonatas a billion times and never get sick of them. They're quite simply works of pure genius and beauty. I don't think I'm overstating when I say that music like this is one of the greatest achievements of our species.

It kind of makes you think what would happen if someone with the genius of a Beethoven, Mozart, or Bach were around in our current generation. Would we even know about him? Would he even get a chance to show his talents?

Classical-style music is all but dead in our society. The only times we even hear orchestras and symphonies are when they're playing music from classical composers, or they're making music for plays or movies. Hollywood, believe it or not, is where the greatest composers of our time our wasting away. It's a shame that someone as talented as John Williams is best known for the Indiana Jones and Star Wars theme songs. He's essentially a high class jingle writer. 300 years ago, John Williams would have been composing original music for the masses. His music would be appreciated on its own merit instead of for the movie for which it was composed.

If Beethoven were around today, he'd be overlooked in favor of Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Justin Timberlake, Fergie, and the plethora of other talentless stars. Great music should be timeless. It's not something you look back on 20 years later and laugh at. A thousand years from now (assuming we don't wipe ourselves off the face of the planet) we'll still revere Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart's music, but we'll have long forgotten the stars of today.

It's just sad to me to think that right now, there could be some 6 year old kid with a pitch-perfect ear for music already performing and writing classical music. He might get a headline or two. Maybe he'll make a showing on the Tonight Show where everyone will call him a child prodigy. Perhaps he'll go on to be a great soloist in some world renown orchestra. I can tell you one thing though... we'll never hear one of his own original compositions... unless of course it winds up in a movie or Broadway musical. It's sad because that 6 year old kid could be the next Mozart, but we'll never know, and even worse, our society will never care.

We're too busy worshiping the next hot, but completely talentless train wreck we turn into a celebrity.


Alan said...

Hi Mike,

I'm a former technician and long-time reader of your blog. Just wanted to chime in here regarding your thoughts on John Williams and other composers "wasting away" in Hollywood.

If you've ever sat down and listened to the soundtrack albums of some of the great masters of film music composition -- Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, Bernard Herrmann, Franz Waxman, just to name a few -- you'll find some complex and richly rewarding orchestral music that constitutes far more than "high class jingles."

There is indeed a lot of trash in Hollywood film music today, but to dismiss the entire genre out of hand simply because the music is necessarily subordinate to the visuals is rather rash, in my mind. You might as well write off the "jingles" written by Copland, Prokofiev, and Stravinsky for ballets in the 20th century.

- Alan

Pharmacy Mike said...

That's not what I meant...

I agree that they're great composers. What I was getting at is that on order for these guys to be recognized for their great musical talents, they have to do popular movie soundtracks.

If John Williams wasn't writing music for Speilberg's movies, no one would know who is was. No one would care, and that's a shame because the man is obviously talented.

Basically what I'm saying is that if Beethoven were alive today, he'd be writing music for movies. He wouldn't write a masterpiece like his 5th symphony. He'd be famous for some theme song.

It's just endlessly sad to me that Justin Timberlake is better known, makes more money, and is appreciated much more as a musician by the general public than John Williams or any other current composer.

The artistry of music is dying quickly and being replaced by horrible pop music.

Anonymous said...

I miss you. Hurry back and write something witty!

somepharmacyguy said...

I'm just pleased that it's not Nickleback.

Good for you.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Mike, when I was a kid growing up, my mother listened to Metropolitan Opera Theater on Sunday afternoons on the radio and it was an absolutely totally boring screeching soap opera to me, and I would therefore change the channel when other 'classical' stuff was on. (But, also, my mom listened to Country Music KYAK all day during the week--the monotony of the drama queens and wasted talents of male singers carrying on with Ford pickups and tequila drove me nuts.)

I learned to enjoy a few classical pieces in high school band, and would try to listen to all the Mussorgsky Pictures recordings I could find, but listening to classical music is an acquired taste. First of all, it's in your head--nothing tangible, nor can one just listen to a lovely strain over and over. And, not all classical music is great. Some of the redundancy of melodies and stuff with a twangy harpischord would be enough to send me over the edge. Then, my access to live music was at church with the choir and organ, and to me, organ music is the essence of synthesizer music, massive tones. Ugh.

When my son was born, I vowed to give him a classical music education for discipline and to develop a sense correlated with mastery of skills associated with certain brain areas, and we played my husband's favorite Winterreise and Trout (Schubert) time after time, until I could get used to it, and my son looked forward to hearing it. Later on, he took violin and piano lessons, and as his skills improved, he played technically more difficult and also more intriguing pieces written for virtuoso soloists.

Over 10-20 years, I learned to recognize different musical composer styles as well as some of the various 'musical' periods.

I don't think this appreciation would have come about any other way in my life without something to 'force' the experience. So, while I enjoy some classical music, and deplore its ready availability, and could gloat its appreciation has some exclusivity and indicates a refined taste, I think that most people do not have any idea of what they're missing, and it would take a massive societal effort to educate and set up the 'enjoyability' factor for all. Now, if Britney or Justin did some Vivaldi funk or Rachmaninov jive, that would be quite a diversion, but would it be enough to provide a substantial change of taste?