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Sorry if this is a little long, but I have many philosophies on music, and I'll share two.


The mind is weak and completely incapable of grasping music unless the music is absorbed, reflected upon, aurally memorized, and generally listened to over and over. When I get new CD's, I listen to one CD for a whole week until I'm familiar with it. This is the only way to "get" music in my opinion. People buy a Beethoven String Quartet CD and say they don't understand it. People buy a Bellini opera CD and say it's not melodious. People buy a Mendelssohn symphony CD and find it boring. This is probably because they stuck it in the CD player, listened to it once and trusted that one hearing alone would determine if they liked it or not.

I used to be in their shoes. I bought a CD of Beethoven's Septet Op. 20 and could not even like it. Listening to the Hammerklavier for the first time made me dizzy and uninterested. This lead me to dismiss it and go back to the stuff I liked. But with effort, I listened to these works again and again. After repeated listenings, the Hammerklavier was to me the greatest piano sonata ever written. And all it took was taking the effort to listen repeatedly, listen for the details in the development, distinguish modulations and memorize the melodies. I'm not saying I understand the "score" perfectly and can write essays on each bar, I'm just saying, through my experience, music takes effort to understand; it deserves a careful, open, and industrious mind.

So I reiterate: the brain is too weak to understand music on the first hearing. That's why if someone plays a Tchaikovsky symphony or a Chopin ballade to me for the first time, I can't say whether I like it or not. And so I treat music CD's almost like a job (but a fun job). I spend one week on each until I've ingrained and familiarized the music. Then I make my own judgement. A lot of music that I might have snubbed my nose at because I just couldn't "get" it has now been embraced and cherished because I gave them more than one chance; indeed, I gave them more than 20 chances ;)


There's so much underrated and unknown classical music out there, it's a crime. There are manuscripts collecting dust in archives, there are masterpieces unrecorded, there are composers who reside in the shadows. I realized this through CD-buying. After the usual Mozart and Beethoven, I see this guy Hummel and decide to try him out. I'm blown away at his neglect. After hearing much of Chopin and Liszt, I learn of the great Alkan. From Rachmaninoff and Balakirev I see a guy named Medtner and give him a try. All of these composers deserve a higher status. Radios do a disservice when they choose Ravel's Bolero over Hummel's Septet.

So I find myself looking to the lesser known composers. My personal niche is rare Romantic piano music. Right now I'm engrossed in the Brahms four hand series from Naxos, the rare music of Alkan, Henselt, Moscheles, Thalberg, Rubinstein, and Glazunov. I also like to listen to four hand arrangements of rarities from Schubert (like his Trout Quintet and Rosamunde) Bruckner, Mahler and Tchaikovsky symphonies, operatic fantasies and various symphonic poems. That's the joy of classical music: on the main course of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Wagner, Debussy, and Shostakovich, there are little alleys that lead into gigantic pools of music. From Bach, I discovered that there's Boccherini, Geminiani, and Scarlatti. From Beethoven I discovered Schubert, Hummel, Cramer, and Weber. From Chopin I discovered Liszt, Alkan, and Thalberg.

It's a neverending journey, but that's what makes classical music so great. Unfortunately, the mainstream of classical music doesn't acknowledge this off-course journey into neglected masterpieces. They play Beethoven's Fifth over and over when his Mass in C should be given a chance. They play Debussy and Prokofiev when Schumann and Mendelssohn deserve more chances. I just can't trust them anymore when they neglect a lot of great composers/compositions. So my philosophy is to do my own exploration. If they're telling me Wagner is the best opera composer, I turn my back and check out Meyerbeer or Donizetti. I don't mean to be purposefully pompous towards them, but I've just learned that what's popular in today's classical music world does not mean anything. Weber was considered the best piano composer after Beethoven (and before the Romantics) and who can hum any of his piano sonatas now? Meyerbeer was considered the greatest operatic composer, but who listens to him now? This neglect doesn't mean their music is not worthy, it just reflects the public taste (or lack of ;)).
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