Saturday, February 23, 2008

Finding Concrete Meaning in Absolute Music: Why?

After a performance of his First Symphony, Carl Nielsen was approached by an old lady who told him she had loved the first movement, and was most impressed by its “organ-like character.” That movement is entitled “Allegro Orgoglioso” (“orgoglioso” means “proud”) She had misinterpreted the Italian. This anecdote shows that some people are never content merely to listen to a piece of music, and that whatever they’re told, even if it's false, they'll somehow find in the music. That's why Mahler was so reluctant to include programs for his symphonies (even though some of them are overtly programmatic). He probably only gave in to placate those who can’t be satisfied by music alone. I have a better solution for that kind of person -- go to an opera, where silly stories and glittering costumes are sure to divert and entertain.

While I'm on the topic of music meaning something, I’ve always been amazed at how many people think a certain composition’s mood is always directly related to the emotional state of the composer when the piece was written. While this may be somewhat true for pieces like Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, it certainly isn’t the norm. I wonder if these people think Mozart composed the intense parts of Don Giovanni only when he was in a rage, and the humorous parts only when he was amused. What about pieces that abruptly change mood in the middle of a movement? Does that mean the composer heard some bad news while composing and was suddenly incapable of writing cheerful music?


Blogger becca said...

you don't blog very often RA MD.

7:50 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home