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Thread: Suffering for Art

  1. #61
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Xisten267 View Post
    But Rossini, Strauss II and Gershwin didn't compose anything like an Unfinished symphony, a Pathétique symphony or an Appassionata sonata, did they? Show me someone who had a very successful life, without much suffering, and that still created a dark and very sad piece of music that is still usually cited as a masterpiece nowadays.
    Henry Purcell — Dido and Aeneas "When I am laid in earth." For three and a half centuries acknowledged as one of the most profound expressions of despair in the history of music, written by a composer who had success and employment in music his whole life — and a loving wife as well.

    And how about JS and CPE Bach?

    Quote Originally Posted by Xisten267 View Post
    I think that the listeners can perceive when an expression in music is genuine and when it's a fake. To be able to portray an emotion convincingly in his music, I believe that the composer must feel it.
    No, they just have to be a competent composer, and no, you can't tell.

    Your frogs make me shudder with intolerable loathing and I shall be miserable for the rest of my life remembering them.
    — Mikhail Bulgakov, The Fatal Eggs

    When a true genius appears on the earth, you may know him by this sign, that all of the dunces are in confederacy against him.
    — Jonathan Swift

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  3. #62
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    Rossini a) supposedly suffered from depression which was probably the real reason for his early "retirement" and b) composed a decent Stabat Mater setting. Any competent composer in former times would be able to compose a decent Lamento, Requiem etc. or similarly in opera. Of course not all were similarly good, tragic, whatever.

    But I seriously doubt that the "depth" of expression of a De profundis or Miserere setting depended more on a combination of personal suffering and piety of the composer than on his compositiorial capabilities.
    Last edited by Kreisler jr; Sep-28-2021 at 20:32.

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  5. #63
    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Forster View Post
    There needs to be established a scale by which we measure the degree of suffering and the degree of goodness of the art. Would we put death of a mother high up the scale? In which case, we should expect a higher quality composition!
    OK, good luck with that. I've seen musicology PhD thesis premises more bizarre than that. I suppose.

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    Senior Member Forster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fluteman View Post
    OK, good luck with that. I've seen musicology PhD thesis premises more bizarre than that. I suppose.
    It'll need more than luck. Imagine the hours of work involved.

    But at the end of it, we'd have something much more robust than the random anecdotal and subjective offerings we're getting so far...and will continue to get without some systematising of the whole process.

    Last edited by Forster; Sep-28-2021 at 20:31.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Henry Purcell — Dido and Aeneas "When I am laid in earth." For three and a half centuries acknowledged as one of the most profound expressions of despair in the history of music, written by a composer who had success and employment in music his whole life — and a loving wife as well.

    And how about JS and CPE Bach?
    Purcell lost his father at 5 years old, and J.S. Bach became orphan of both his parents at 10. They surely must have not been the happiest people around. And I'm not aware of any masterpiece by C.P.E. Bach, at least not anything in the level of the pieces I already cited before.

    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    No, they just have to be a competent composer
    I disagree. I think that a competent composer won't be able to truly achieve an emotion in his work if he didn't feel it first. And making good music is much more than just having technical expertise in my opinion - the composer that is only "competent" is soon forgotten.

    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    , and no, you can't tell.
    How could you know?

    Quote Originally Posted by fluteman View Post
    Well, we all have some sadness in our lives that can be tapped into for artistic inspiration, don't we? The death of the composer's mother is what inspired Brahms' German Requiem and much of what Webern wrote. It just depends on whether the artist chooses to use that emotion as a principal artistic source.
    But they put emotions they felt into their music, don't you agree? They experienced some kind of suffering before creating their masterpieces that communicate these kinds of suffering.
    Last edited by Xisten267; Sep-28-2021 at 21:21.

  8. #66
    Senior Member fluteman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Forster View Post
    It'll need more than luck. Imagine the hours of work involved.

    But at the end of it, we'd have something much more robust than the random anecdotal and subjective offerings we're getting so far...and will continue to get without some systematising of the whole process.

    Yes, I know that's just some of your droll humor. But, good idea to put on the winking emoji. The droll, the wry, and the ironic do not go over well with many here. Actually, anything that isn't literal. Fortunately, all art is only meant to be taken literally.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Xisten267 View Post
    Purcell lost his father at 5 years old, and J.S. Bach became orphan of both parents at 10. They surely must have known suffering. And I'm not aware of any masterpiece by C.P.E. Bach.

    But they put emotions they felt into their music, don't you agree? They experienced some kind of suffering before creating their masterpieces that communicate suffering.
    Everyone has experienced suffering. In the time of Purcell and JS Bach no one thought of putting their personal feelings into music. It wasn't a thing. There were conventional ways to represent dark emotions and composers studied them as they studied any other skill they learned. Is every expressive piece of music written in the Baroque and Classical eras therefore insincere? It's a silly and meaningless question because music isn't extruded personal emotion and no one before the Romantic Era thought it was. And even in the Romantic Era, as in every other, the difference between the effective expression of emotion and failed attempts has nothing to do with sincerity and everything to do with skill. The view you're backing is quaint mythologizing.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Sep-28-2021 at 21:46.

    Your frogs make me shudder with intolerable loathing and I shall be miserable for the rest of my life remembering them.
    — Mikhail Bulgakov, The Fatal Eggs

    When a true genius appears on the earth, you may know him by this sign, that all of the dunces are in confederacy against him.
    — Jonathan Swift

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    Senior Member Torkelburger's Avatar
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    I deal with this silly sentiment all the time. It permeates through all forms of music, not just classical. It started for me at Berklee where I used to hear things along the lines of, “You have to feel the blues in order to play the blues, man. You’ve had to have paid your dues. You can’t play the blues unless you’ve suffered.” Etc. I acknowledge that the blues came from suffering, but even at a young age I was skeptical of the above remarks.

    I always wondered, what if BB King let’s say, was to play a sell-out concert some evening but had a really good day that day? Would he cancel the concert? Play something else besides the blues? And wouldn't the sell-out concert make him happy? He had women knocking down his door throughout his super-long career, was a notorious womanizer, and was very rich and very famous. Yet, he amazingly was able to play the blues just fine upon request despite these good fortunes. Any “dues” he paid at a young age surely would have been long-forgotten or gotten-over soon after his fortunes changed. I haven’t even noticed any excessive suffering on his part, not more than what is normal in this country anyway. Besides, as was already said, no human being is immune to suffering of some kind. Some more than others of course, but still, doesn’t matter.

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  13. #69
    Senior Member Forster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Everyone has experienced suffering. In the time of Purcell and JS Bach no one thought of putting their personal feelings into music. It wasn't a thing. There were conventional ways to represent dark emotions and composers studied them as they studied any other skill they learned. Is every expressive piece of music written in the Baroque and Classical eras therefore insincere? It's a silly and meaningless question because music isn't extruded personal emotion and no one before the Romantic Era thought it was. And even in the Romantic Era, as in every other, the difference between the effective expression of emotion and failed attempts has nothing to do with sincerity and everything to do with skill. The view you're backing is quaint mythologizing.
    "Everyone has experienced suffering."

    Well, yes, to some degree. Yet as I suggested in my first response to this thread, that word really ought to be examined a bit more closely, rather than just assumed to mean, say, "having experienced some adverse event such as to impact negatively on well being."

    There is obviously a range of suffering, from the discomfort of the dentist's chair to the trauma of the premature loss of a child or the experience of fighting in the trenches of WW1.

    Compared to some, I've not really "suffered" at all. How would we weigh Messiaen's suffering in a concentration camp against other's experiences?

    But if course, this is my attempt to give the OP some consideration. Alternatively, one could dismiss the idea out of hand.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Everyone has experienced suffering.
    I don't think that most people suffered greatly in the sense that the OP meant, or at least from what I understood he meant. Some people have much more luck and happiness in life than others. Think in losing both parents in the childhood, like was the case with J.S. Bach: is that kind of suffering really common?

    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    In the time of Purcell and JS Bach no one thought of putting their personal feelings into music. It wasn't a thing. There were conventional ways to represent dark emotions and composers studied them as they studied any other skill they learned.
    Yet their music may evoke unique profound feelings that, I think, didn't just came out of nowhere for no reason. They must have felt what their music can express, even if they may have included these feelings unconsciously in their works. I don't think that creating a Toccata and Fugue in D minor or a St. Matthew Passion is just a matter of raw, learned technique.

    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    It's a silly and meaningless question because music isn't extruded personal emotion and no one before the Romantic Era thought it was.
    I too don't think that music is only about emotions - it's much more than that. My point is that when music truly portrays a kind of emotion, it comes from the composer's own experience - to me, he felt it somehow before putting it in his art. True artists live their art, I believe.

    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    And even in the Romantic Era, as in every other, the difference between the effective expression of emotion and failed attempts has nothing to do with sincerity and everything to do with skill. The view you're backing is quaint mythologizing.
    Perhaps, but I disagree nonetheless. I think that perceived sincerity and authenticity plays a great hole in how people respond to music. If skill was everything, then Ferneyhough's works would be much more admired by experienced listeners than Kurt Cobain's, wouldn't them? But I don't think that this is the case at all.

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    Senior Member Torkelburger's Avatar
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    Is music that either depicts suffering or comes from a feeling of suffering of better quality than music which does not? Why is expressing one particular emotion more important above all others? A lot of people like depressing music, while a whole lot like the opposite. Why is one better than the other?
    Last edited by Torkelburger; Sep-28-2021 at 22:39.

  16. #72
    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Xisten267 View Post
    Yet their music may evoke unique profound feelings that, I think, didn't just came out of nowhere for no reason. They must have felt what their music can express, even if they may have included these feelings unconsciously in their works. I don't think that creating a Toccata and Fugue in D minor or a St. Matthew Passion is just a matter of raw, learned technique.
    Composers writing intentionally expressive music like Purcell's "When I am laid in earth" no doubt routinely put themselves in the position of the listener by imagining something like: "If I were in an audience hearing this would I be appropriately moved by it in a way consistent with the dramatic situation portrayed?" That is, they tried it out on themselves the same way an orator would test a speech in front of a mirror. And while testing it they no doubt registered some kind of simulated fictional emotion (There is a whole body of literature on whether or not and to what extent emotions evoked by art objects are like real-life emotions). Obviously some normal capacity for understanding emotion might be required to do this kind of testing, but almost everyone has this capacity. So, I'd say creating the St. Matthew Passion might have required a normal, mundane understanding of human emotion, but all the rest is raw musical technique and imagination.

    By the way, the example of an orator was not chosen lightly. The whole Doctrine of the Affections at the basis of Baroque musical aesthetics was drawn from classical rhetorical theory. In that era the composer was consistently likened to an orator trying to move an audience to a particular affect. They never worried about whether the orator or composer actually sincerely felt the emotion themselves. That was and remains irrelevant.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Sep-28-2021 at 23:52.

    Your frogs make me shudder with intolerable loathing and I shall be miserable for the rest of my life remembering them.
    — Mikhail Bulgakov, The Fatal Eggs

    When a true genius appears on the earth, you may know him by this sign, that all of the dunces are in confederacy against him.
    — Jonathan Swift

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    Quote Originally Posted by Forster View Post
    "

    Compared to some, I've not really "suffered" at all. How would we weigh Messiaen's suffering in a concentration camp against other's experiences?

    But if course, this is my attempt to give the OP some consideration. Alternatively, one could dismiss the idea out of hand.
    Messiaen was in a POW camp, not a concentration camp.

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    I agree with Eddie for the most part, however, with certain masterpieces, it's still interesting to imagine what was going on in the composers' minds, based on the circumstances they were facing at the time of their composition. For example, Schubert string quartet "Death and the Maiden" was composed in 1824, after the composer suffered a serious illness and realized that he was dying. Étude Op. 10, No. 12 (Chopin) appeared around the same time as the November Uprising in 1831. Upon the conclusion of Poland's failed revolution against Russia, he cried, "All this has caused me much pain. Who could have foreseen it?"

    Also, speaking of requiems,
    "On the very eve of his death, [Mozart] had the score of the Requiem brought to his bed, and himself (it was two o'clock in the afternoon) sang the alto part; Schack, the family friend, sang the soprano line, as he had always previously done, Hofer, Mozart's brother-in-law, took the tenor, Gerl, later a bass singer at the Mannheim Theater, the bass. They were at the first bars of the Lacrimosa when Mozart began to weep bitterly, laid the score on one side, and eleven hours later, at one o'clock in the morning (of 5 December 1791, as is well known), departed this life.
    Biographer Niemetschek relates a vaguely similar account, leaving out a rehearsal:
    On the day of his death he asked for the score to be brought to his bedside. 'Did I not say before, that I was writing this Requiem for myself?' After saying this, he looked yet again with tears in his eyes through the whole work."


    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yg7X4yJg5QE&t=10m41s (the trombonist at 13:21 is on the verge of tears, lol)
    "composed on the occasion of the death of his employer, Prince Bishop Sigismund Count Schrattenbach, who was beloved among the people and was a great patron of the arts, the work was written under the impression of personal tragedy: Haydn’s only child, Aloisia Josepha, died in January 1771, before completing her first year of life."
    This is an interesting case because he wrote another requiem (his second) 35 years later, right before his own death; although it is largely left unfinished, one can notice on the first glance that it is much more conciliatory and celebratory in character. With the first requiem I imagine in my mind his feelings from his "personal tragedy", but with the second requiem, I picture in my mind a prayer of the then tired old man: "I've spent all my life glorifying you, Lord. Now grant me rest."
    I sometimes wonder how much his feelings about his "personal tragedy" of 1771 "shaped" the character of his first requiem.
    Last edited by hammeredklavier; Sep-29-2021 at 13:16.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Obviously some normal capacity for understanding emotion might be required to do this kind of testing, but almost everyone has this capacity. So, I'd say creating the St. Matthew Passion might have required a normal, mundane understanding of human emotion, but all the rest is raw musical technique and imagination.
    I agree that most people have the ability to recognize emotions in music when they appear, but to create a composition that is at the same time authentic, original and deeply moving I believe that the author needs more than technique and some degree of imagination: he has to really feel what he is trying to portray. J.S. Bach seems to have been a deeply religious man and I think that this religiosity and the transcendent feelings that he may have experienced through it can be perceived in his music. I don't think that his two passion settings would work so well as music if Bach himself didn't experience a passion for Christ and the Bible.

    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    By the way, the example of an orator was not chosen lightly. The whole Doctrine of the Affections at the basis of Baroque musical aesthetics was drawn from classical rhetorical theory. In that era the composer was consistently likened to an orator trying to move an audience to a particular affect. They never worried about whether the orator or composer actually sincerely felt the emotion themselves. That was and remains irrelevant.
    On the contrary, I think that authencity and sincerity in what a composer expresses in his music is quite important if what he is communicating is an emotion. Otherwise, his music may sound shallow and pretentious to his audience. I don't think that it's a coincidence that some of the major sad pieces in music came from composers who had some kind of tragedy or great problem in their lives.

    Quote Originally Posted by Torkelburger View Post
    Is music that either depicts suffering or comes from a feeling of suffering of better quality than music which does not? Why is expressing one particular emotion more important above all others? A lot of people like depressing music, while a whole lot like the opposite. Why is one better than the other?
    I believe that all musical compositions have a meaning - even if it's just "to sound good" sometimes, or just to display some technical aspects of music in other occasions - and that this meaning is very important to the piece. I also think that certain meanings are more fundamental, more necessary than others. Our world is very unequal and life can be very unfair, so it's my opinion that the feeling of suffering is very important to us, actually central in the lives of many people. Music that can show suffering and then a creative and valid response to it may be seem as uplifting and comforting, and for this I think that it can generate a passionate response from the listeners, as such meaning is so dear to many. Also, I think that many can sympathize with others for their suffering. This sensation is more important in my perspective than for example the sensation of fear, or of just some strange but interesting sonorities.

    So, being more objective to your questions:

    i) Yes, I think that the sensation of suffering is more important than many others, despite the fact that there may be other sensations (such as joy) just as appealing;

    ii) Because certain sensations are much more central and fundamental to our lives than others (but I would change the "above all others" to "above some others");

    iii) I understand that it isn't. Joy and suffering can be equally powerful sensations in my opinion.
    Last edited by Xisten267; Sep-29-2021 at 02:13.

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