Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Consolation of Classical Music

I'll admit that Bugs Bunny first gave me an appreciation for classical music

I write a lot about pop and rock music on this blog, but I have a pretty wide range of listening interests, including jazz and classical music. Those two genres of music are notably declining in popularity in our poptimistic age, which treats love of anything intricate and refined as somehow undemocratic. This flusters me mostly because I came up in a rural lower-middle class world where being able to appreciate music like this was a way of displaying one's refinement in a positive, not negative way. Now I must live in a topsy-turvy world where the children of affluent suburbs who went to Vassar and Amherst and now reside in Manhattan pretend at being populist by applying the cultural theory they learned there to The Real Housewives shows. They get to have pedestrian cultural tastes and simultaneously show their class superiority. That way they can knock down the strivers who are attracted to what was once elite culture while basking in their own moral and class superiority.

Okay, okay, I'll stop griping about my class resentments and get down to business. Classical music has a power that is difficult to match. I find it capable of plumbing depths of emotion that other kinds of music can't even get close to. Ever since election day I have been returning to classical music for comfort and for wallowing. It can put my mind at ease, but it can also get me weepy, depending on what I need that day. Here's a sample of stuff that works for me:

Samuel Barber, "Adagio For Strings"

Beautiful. Devastating. I feel like this is what they should be playing on the radio right now on a 24 hour loop. I have never heard any piece of music that sounds more like my soul in a state of mourning. I have a hard time even articulating something to say about this work of music, it moves me so much.

Albinoni, "Adagio in G Minor"

This YouTube link contains an ad for online therapy. That just about says it all, doesn't it? Evidently the original baroque composition was just a fragment discovered in Dresden after World War II, which was then worked into a real piece by Albinoni's biographer. That makes sense, since this is the sound of devastation, and Dresden was devastated like few other cities in the war.

Shostakovich, "Symphony 5, Third Movement (Largo)"

Like a lot of other modernist artists in the Soviet Union, Dmitri Shostakovich faced persecution once Stalin started pushing Socialist Realism. For his fifth symphony he would have to create something to please the state, or else. Most of it is upbeat and "heroic," especially the fourth movement, which he intended to be a ridiculous parody of "inspiring" music. The third movement, however, is Shostakovich's requiem for his friends jailed and murdered by the Soviet state. I remember hearing it played live at the symphony and fighting to control my emotions. Nowadays I get extra emotional thinking about how his dedication has managed to live on while Stalin's body still molders in the grave. I take my hope where I can find it.

Beethoven, "Symphony 6, First Movement"

Alright, enough of the mopey music. I used to love the real headbanging Beethoven music, like the 5th or the 9th, but in my middle age I have attained a huge love of the 6th, or "Pastoral" symphony. The Romantic movement was obsessed with nature, and it never was personified as gorgeously as in this symphony. The glory and beauty of the natural world is mostly muted in the winter time, so I put this symphony on to get a taste of it.

Mozart, "Marriage of Figaro Overture"

Bach may be more satisfying, Beethoven more emotional, but neither is as joyous as Mozart. There is something in his music that I can't quite name that just makes me glad to be alive. Mozart just makes me smile. His joyful, light touch might be expressed best in the overture to Figaro. I dare you to be in a bad mood after listening to this.


Buddy said...

Lately I've been enjoying this playlist:

Scratchy old 78 rpm classical recordings from the early 20th century. It's a glimpse into a lost world.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...


Anonymous said...

I've been deeply saddened by the decline in popularity of classical music, and the fact that symphony's will inevitably close in the not toonly distant future. I will do my little part to keep culture alive, but I feel like I am fighting an uphill battle.

James W.