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Thread: An odd question...

  1. #1
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    Default An odd question...

    Hello everyone,

    I have a question that has been buring away and I am rather interested to hear some of your responses. I am relatively new to classical music, but I don't think it is too much of an exaggeration to say that it forms a central part of my life.
    My question is as follows: which composer's work makes the most sense to you? The work of Bach does this for me more than any other. There is something in his music which defies description. Perhaps it is the fine counterpoint and ensuing precision, balance and harmony. During and after listening to Bach, everything seems more ordered and there is equilibrium. It calms me and gives the world a sense of structure. Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert impact upon me in very different, and no less profound, ways; but not quite like Bach. Anyone else have a similar experience, or do I need therapy?!

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    Senior Member opus67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cogitoergosum View Post
    Anyone else have a similar experience, or do I need therapy?!
    Please let me know when you find a good shrink.

    And oh, welcome to the forum.

    I would not say that any composer's music makes "sense" to me - I either like it (very much in some cases) or I don't - but I never seem to tire of Bach's music.
    Regards,
    Navneeth

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  3. #3
    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cogitoergosum View Post
    My question is as follows: which composer's work makes the most sense to you?
    Hello to you too, and thanks for the interesting question.

    I think it depends on what you mean by 'making sense'. From your own response, it seems that for you, 'making sense' primarily involves providing order, and a kind of dynamic balance, and I fancy that a lot of people will go along with that. Certainly those are things that I tend to look for, at least initially, in a work of visual art. When it comes to music, though, I seem to find myself looking for a different kind of 'sense', and I think it's going to be hard to put into words.

    I seem to be looking mainly for 'sense' in music as a kind of insight - a feeling that the music is 'true' to some aspect of the human condition. So Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for Strings, for instance, helps me to make sense of my response to the English landscape. So does some of Vaughan Williams's music. In these cases the music sets up a kind of three-way resonance between the (I suppose) feelings of the composer, my own feelings, and ideas about place, and our relationship with certain places. If you like, the music helps me make sense of my feelings for landscape.

    Let's try a different tack. I find it hard, for example, to understand certain aspects of religious faith, and its effect on things like our attitude to death, sacrifice, and atonement. I can read all sorts of rational discussions of these things, but somehow I don't quite 'get' it. Now - when I listen to Puccini's Suor Angelica, I get it. Or rather, I don't just get it - I feel it. I feel as if, at last, I see what it's all about, because I'm granted, it seems, a momentary insight into certain aspects of faith. I'd like to stress that I'm not talking here about religious conversion - I'm talking about the attempt really to understand an approach to life through deep religious faith.

    Wagner presents me with music that makes mythology almost tangible, in a similar kind of way. Massenet's Manon helps me to understand - again, through feeling, not through rational thought - some aspects of the nature of human folly. Sibelius makes musical sense out of a vague feeling that, without him, I'd be trying to describe as 'northern-ness'. And so on.

    So to answer your question - who makes the most sense, for me? Over a lifetime, it's been Elgar. His symphonies and chamber works help me to make sense out of being English, having deep roots in English culture, and loving the English landscape; but also, in works like The Spirit of England he seems to help me make sense of ideas like the nobility of sacrifice and the endurance of pain; and in works like the violin concerto, a certain essence of the feminine, and of certain types of love.

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    Member fox_druid's Avatar
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    Hi cogitoergosum

    Me too a big fan of Bach

    Mozart's music gives me a feel of energetic and lively.

    Debussy's makes me feel so calm, feeling alone with myself only peacefully.

    But Bach's music is so great to describe. Listening to his music seems to not only affecting our mind, but deeper to the spirit. His music is somewhat like a representation of God's greatness. It's like touching the robe of Christ.

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    Thanks for your response, Elgarian. It was exactly the kind of personal reflection I was interested in reading. I knew when choosing the word 'sense' I was deliberately adding ambiguity and subjectivity to the question; but then that very personal reponse to the music you hear is in itself is one of the beauties of classical music, isn't it?
    I was struck by how lucidly you managed to explain the effect upon you of different composer's work - a difficult task. There were a few things that you wrote that I found particularly interesting. Firstly, you noted that you often 'look' for certain things when listening. I find myself much more on the back foot! Do you look for it, or does it find you? I would certainly say the latter is the case for me. The music reveals itself to me rather than the other way around. In some cases, depending on my mood, I respond very differently to the same piece of music. I hear different colours and textures, and the piece will generate sometimes contrasting moods, imagery and emotion. The music remains the same, it is my condition that changes. Sometimes I find the music impenetrable, it makes no sense and I find this difficult. Other times I find it exhilarating. On occasions I find it makes perfect sense (whatever that means), and I experience a sensation of closure.
    I suppose it makes sense to you when listening to Vaughan Williams because there is something in his music which strikes a chord with your experience of the English countryside. His invocation of landscape idylls, the sights and sounds of nature give you a 'glimpse'. Objectively, his music is melodically beautiful and that, I think, is a partial explanation for it making sense; but it also possesses a deeper resonance for you. I wonder, what exactly does he expose you to when you listen to his music? What is your 'glimpse'? We are constrained by the prison of language, but I would be very interested in your response!
    One final point, and to change direction slightly... I have heard that one of the main claims about high-culture (Classical music and art) is that it provides a 'higher-order' experience of life and existence; that it excites and stimulates the emotions, sensibilities and intellect in a way that other forms of music do not, and can not. Do you agree? Why does classical music make more 'sense' to some human beings rather than others? Many thanks for your post. I enjoyed it. Lots of food for thought.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    There's an enormous amount in this last post of yours (which is even more interesting than the first one, incidentally), and it may take me more than one shot to respond adequately to it.

    Quote Originally Posted by cogitoergosum View Post
    you noted that you often 'look' for certain things when listening. I find myself much more on the back foot! Do you look for it, or does it find you?
    That's a sharp observation, which makes me examine more carefully what I meant by 'looking' in this context, and actually I'm a lot closer to your position than you might think. For me, there are two components to the process. First, there's an overall background of a general 'search'. If you like, I'm searching for music that makes sense to me (or which I think I can make sense of, which may not be quite the same thing). That background of 'searching' is really what I was referring to when I used the word 'look'. I'm continually on the lookout for music that might give me glimmers of 'sense' (in the broad terms we've already been talking about). Sometimes the 'looking' can be a pretty sketchy process: for instance, having already got an enormous amount of 'sense' from Manon, it seems sensible to extend the search to at least some of Massenet's other operas. That would be an active decision on my part. This far, I am looking for it.

    But then comes phase two. Having found something promising, then like you, from the moment the actual listening begins, I too go on the back foot as far as I can. It's not always possible, but ideally I want to try to be as open, as receptive, as possible - to let the music 'speak' with as little interference from me as I can manage. Sometimes (when I'm really lucky) the music just rolls over me. Suor Angelica was like that. I had no particular expectations from it. If anything, I expected to find it somewhat repellent. In the event, I was overwhelmed with understanding and insight, completely out of the blue. Now - I think this is very much the kind of thing you're talking about, isn't it? The music calls the shots - and we then respond (if we're lucky, and the circumstances are right). Actually, if I strut into a piece of music as if I already know what it's all about, I usually get my come-uppance, and discover that actually I know nothing!

    Your second question was about RVW:

    His invocation of landscape idylls, the sights and sounds of nature give you a 'glimpse'. Objectively, his music is melodically beautiful and that, I think, is a partial explanation for it making sense; but it also possesses a deeper resonance for you. I wonder, what exactly does he expose you to when you listen to his music? What is your 'glimpse'?
    I don't think I can give a complete answer to this, but I can attempt a partial one. Obviously it depends on the piece. Something like the Tallis Fantasia has a character that presents something like a musical parallel to certain aspects of nature - imaginative evocations of things like high moorland terrain; wind brushing through long grass; clouds building up on a distant horizon; extensive views across a bleak but beautiful landscape. But underlying all that is something more significant. These evocations seem to suggest a kind of mystical quality; so that in exposing ourselves to these things, we make an imaginative connection between the music and the land, and in doing so, we transcend both the music, and the land, and indeed ourselves, and experience something else - some kind of intuitive synthesis of all these things and more; something indefinable, but of immeasurable value. Indeed, it seems to be of such immense value that we'll try to seek out this indefinable experience again and again.

    So when I listen to VW, it's a bit like going for a walk with an incredibly sensitive friend who's also a brilliant communicator; and he draws my attention to something rather special that he's seen, and I respond, and he comes back with yet another insight, and so on - and I end up not just having seen more than I could have seen alone, but also having sensed, through the intensity of the communication, some kind of extension beyond myself that in itself is deeply enriching. I'd describe it as a mystical insight, though you might say I was just being a complacent old romantic for settling for an expression so vague.

    But then again (there's always a 'then again'), VW is far more than just a kind of 'nature musician'. The third symphony, for instance, has some wonderful pastoral feeling in it, but also there's a consciousness of profound loss - loss of life (through war), loss of innocence, and so on. So there's this feeling that the land is still a deep mystery, and still beautiful, but also soaked in sadness and pain, stretching back through centuries - well, millenia, really. And here we are, here and now, and we can listen to this music, and inhabit its landscape, and feel that depth of experience, light and dark, and somehow come to accept it. I suppose I'm talking about the redemptive power of art and the imagination.

    I have heard that one of the main claims about high-culture (Classical music and art) is that it provides a 'higher-order' experience of life and existence; that it excites and stimulates the emotions, sensibilities and intellect in a way that other forms of music do not, and can not. Do you agree? Why does classical music make more 'sense' to some human beings rather than others?
    This is a fabulous question, but I think I'd like to respond to it in a separate post, and give it a bit more thought.

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    I have a very different kind of sense from the RVW Tallis Fantasia. I listened to it frequently when I was falling in love. I sensed it as different parts of the string orchestra trying gingerly to get to know each other, not daring to hope they might share the same theme. They skirt around the issue, go through several approaches to the theme, before finally arriving at a joyous unison which is like the joining of lovers.

    Yeah, I know, silly, overly programmatic, perhaps vulgar -- not to mention cliched having sonorous strings represent romantic love. But that's the feeling that piece still gives me (and yes the relationship is still going strong). So in this instance the sense for me is the circumstances in my life I associate with the music.

    I agree with cogitoergosum's assesment of Bach making the most sense though. I feel that every note is perfect, none extraneous, and that each piece has to be exactly as it is and could never have gone in any other direction.

    Beethoven on the other hand patently doesn't make sense, and this is on purpose. It just wouldn't be the same without those wonderful builds to a slam bang coda only to have the carpet yanked out from under us when he suddenly goes off into a completely different key or theme. So I'd say music doesn't need to make sense, unless you consider the musical language of expectation and the unexpected a kind of sense.
    Last edited by Weston; Aug-29-2008 at 05:52.

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    Senior Member Elgarian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Weston View Post
    I have a very different kind of sense from the RVW Tallis Fantasia. I listened to it frequently when I was falling in love.
    I'm not sure that's so very different as might seem at first sight. Obviously the detail is different, but these are archetypal experiences we're talking about, and certainly I'd say that 'love' was in there somewhere. For me, the Tallis Fantasia seems to associate most strongly with love of landscape, but I can see that with a slight mental shift it could transform into love of a person. (Actually, I have a personal association between romantic love and VW's fifth symphony.) Music is an abstract art form after all, so unless there's a particularly strong deliberate programmatic element, it seem to me that we're at liberty to accept whatever associations it seems to offer us.

    I agree with cogitoergosum's assesment of Bach making the most sense though.
    It's a terrible thing to have to admit, but after a lifetime of trying, I've never been able to squeeze any sense out of Bach - I mean, 'sense' in the broad meaning of the word that I've been using here. Obviously the music makes sense in a purely musical way - it has order and structure - but I've never been able to find a way of feeling that it matters to me, on any personal level. It remains detached, like an elegant piece of calculus, or a crossword puzzle, that I can see is very clever, yet can't find a use for. It's a terrible blindness (deafness?) on my part, but I can't seem to shift it.

    It's a tricky discussion, this - because we're using the same word - 'sense' - to mean different things.

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