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Thread: The Pleasure of Knowing an Author

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    Lightbulb The Pleasure of Knowing an Author

    The Pleasure of Knowing an Author

    It's a popular thing to say "I don't care who he was, I just like his music." One usually says this in response to an offensive remark about an artist, however, I don't think it is the most healthy mode of thinking. A more healthy response would be to ask whether or not such a trait could have had a significant impact on his or her works.

    When one experiences the work of a friend, or colleague, one often tries to be a much more focused witness. Partly it's simply out of respect for them; One knows he or she is awaiting a response on completion, and one wants to have something to give him or her. However, it is also because one has a keen interest in learning who he or she is. Maybe one can pick up on a subtlety that will reveal a part of his or her character one has not yet witnessed, or perhaps a characteristic one perceives in them already will be strengthened and given proof by his or her work. Whatever the reason, it makes the experience totally different, and that is reflected in one's interpretation.

    There are now two paths one might explore: Work that is uninfluenced by our notions of who the author is, and work that is. For the paranoid connoisseur, it is often deemed impure to know the author before witnessing his or her work. It feels unjust to already have a judgment in mind for a work based on its creator. Most of the time the creator made the work to be witnessed in and of itself, not with him or herself in mind. It seems one betrays that intention by reading the name before the work. However, I believe these faults are the lesser of evils when compared to the faults of not knowing the artist.

    When one doesn't know an artist, one is often totally lost to the subtleties of the time their work was created in, the locational hazards, and other influences he or she may have had. Although it is not musical, I have a memorable experience of this. When I first read the poem "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg, I felt it was just another cliche 'Let's put in risque sex, drugs and violence to look edgy and appeal to kids.' That feeling that I get when I read something and it seems to include a theme for the sake of its popularity, and not for any interesting purpose. However, as I read it again and analysed it more deeply, I began to feel the meaning was much more interesting than this. I thought that I could talk about the narrator as an intriguing voice, rather than just what he was saying. So I chose to write a research essay on this poem. By the time I'd finished researching, I learned it was much more than just a poem of edgy images. It was written in the 50s and was making bold, socially changing statements about censorship in America. It was lamenting the destruction of art by government. It was brilliant. I learned about the author, and the images began to make much more sense. He was many things that made him a despised outcast in 50s America: Homosexual, Jewish, depressed. It made me understand his work so much better, and it made me want to give it more credit. A work that would otherwise have not been relevant today, has been saved by knowing the author and its history.

    In music I have found this again. Long before I knew the man, I listened to Glenn Gould's recordings of Bach and Mozart. They are marvelous, and I enjoyed them then as well. However, I get so much more pleasure out of them after hearing some of his interviews, and learning about his dedication to his music, even seeing him play. They make me listen that much closer to the recordings, and add respect for the nuances he delivers in his interpretations. It feels like listening to a friend play. I like that.

    In my quest to better understand classical music, I include a text file with information I've pasted from wikipedia in the folder of every composer on my mp3 player. I feel like, if not just for the information about DoB and DoD, it's also fun to think about their nationality and their psychological disorders. While not always relevant, and to be taken with a grain of salt, they still produce that state of focus that is so helpful to enjoying a work. Perhaps we can all learn a little more about our favourite works by learning about their creators.

    PS: I don't know if I need special permission or approval to post in the articles forum... But I feel like this is a pretty detailed post so it belongs here! Thanks for reading.
    Last edited by Krummhorn; Jul-01-2010 at 05:35. Reason: re-copied per user request

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    Senior Member emiellucifuge's Avatar
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    Very much agreed,
    2 years ago I was heavily into Dvorak, and felt like I really knew him intimately, he was like my best friend. I do feel that is increased my appreciation of his music tremendously. Knowing all about the life-events that inspired, for example, the Stabat Mater makes it so much more moving and sad.

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    I too don't understand how people can not be interested in learning about who written music they love. I usually explore composer as a person along with his music; when I hear the first work and I like it I get another CD and while waiting for it's arrival I read about his life.

    And I rarely regret it. I can't name one composer that I really loved and which personality ruined my admiration. Quite the contrary - people like Ludwig Van became more than favourite composers, they are my ultimate "heroes".

    One thing I can tell is that I happened to disagree with their opinions about other composers and ideas about art: I'm sorry that Tchaikovsky disliked Berlioz and R. Strauss, too bad that Szymanowski was against too personal expression and considered Symphonie Fantastique background unacceptable. But I still count them among my favourites, often together with those composers and works that they disliked.

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    My apologies for the[indent] code... I'm not familiar with the bbcode here and I can't seem to edit my posts! Thanks for your comments Here's something a bit more readable if a moderator wouldn't mind pasting it into the article.
    Last edited by Krummhorn; Jul-01-2010 at 05:37.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wumbo View Post
    My apologies for the[indent] code... I'm not familiar with the bbcode here and I can't seem to edit my posts! Thanks for your comments Here's something a bit more readable if a moderator wouldn't mind pasting it into the article.
    Fixed . Copy/pasted contents into original posting.

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    I think that your example with the poetry of Ginsberg is spot-on. Often, upon first experiencing an artwork, we just have a "gut reaction." But as one learns, first impressions can be misleading. Often, for non-musicians like myself, it is best to read up on the composer's life to get a better understanding of what's going on in their music. This is easy today with the internet, some good resources are available online, and often my first port of call is wikipedia (after reading cd sleeve notes & books). Another good thing to do is to go before concerts to pre-concert talks (or listen to live broadcasts on the radio, which inevitably include an interview with one of the performers during the interval).

    & with me, an interest in not only classical music (& jazz) goes hand in hand with my passion for visual art as well as history (not only Australian but international). One feeds off the other. I think listening to classical music and learning about the composer is a very educative process. You inevitably learn about many things, and some contrasts. Like how Richard Strauss reacted to the Nazis coming to power was different than others like Hindemith, Hartmann or Schoenberg. Or compare how Rodrigo stayed in Spain after the civil war & people like de Falla were forced to leave. Different people reacting to the same events at the same time. The interplay on people's lives of history and political power. This is what makes it all very interesting to me.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wumbo View Post
    Long before I knew the man, I listened to Glenn Gould's recordings of Bach and Mozart.
    Quote Originally Posted by emiellucifuge View Post
    Very much agreed,
    2 years ago I was heavily into Dvorak, and felt like I really knew him intimately, he was like my best friend.
    But we DON'T really know them, that's an illusion. We can get an idea of their life and the cultural context they created something in yes, but for me the work still has to stand up on its own merit anyway simply as music.

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