Monday, May 9, 2011

The Spectacular Questionnaire Part I - The Early Years

Covering composers from the dawn of time to the end of the Romantic Era.

Favorite composer who has been dead for more than two centuries?
J.S. Bach, 1685-1750

I haven't been huge into my genealogy work, but I do know that I am at least musically descended from papa Bach. Such grace, such order, such depth of thought and expression! I should do a whole article on why Bach is to Moses what I wish I was to Joseph Smith. Just kidding. Sort of. If you haven't gotten into Bach fugues, you are missing out on music approaching the celestial. Bach ranks in my top all time favorite composers, the only one in this post who does.

Favorite composer who has been dead for less than two centuries, but more than one?
F. Chopin, 1810-1849

Chopin is like Mozart, except ditching the poodle skirt for an emo hoodie. Still all about melody, balance and perfection, but with actual musical substance. Check out Chopin's Nocturnes or the tragic Piano Sonata No. 2 for some of the century's most prophetic music.

Composer from the1800s whose music could be favorite if it could just be shortened by like two thirds or so?
J. Brahms, 1833-1897

Brahms could be one of my favorite composers of all time, if his music weren't so long-winded. Still, he is one of the composers that first got me to really love 'classical' music. I just rarely have the patience to listen to his music. The late piano music Op. 116-119 is a good place to start.

Composers from the 1800s who you always get mixed up but that's okay because you couldn't care less about their music?
R. Schumann, 1810-1856 & F. Schubert 1797-1828.

Both early romantic era composers.

Favorite nationalist/late romantic composer? (late 1880s to the early decades of the 1900s)

I can't pick just one, I have a soft spot for these guys. Not quite modern, but pushing beyond romantic.

A. Scriabin, 1872-1915 (Russian) 
A pianist-composer like Chopin, but forging a totally original path in works like Poem of Ecstasy and the last five piano sonatas. True, he thought he was going to cause the end of the world through an apocalyptic piece of music, but then, every artist has thoughts like that now and again, so let's not be too harsh, right?

Karol Szymanowski (Shee-maun-OFF-ski), 1882-1937 (Polish)
Exquisitely beautiful music. Think Chopin through the lens of Scriabin. I come back over and over to the paradox of the sensuous spirituality of his Stabat Mater, one of those pieces that had changed music for me.

J. Sibelius, 1865-1957 (Finnish)
You can't deny the influence of Sibelius in opening all our eyes to a more organic development in music, although his music remains firmly rooted in a late romantic language. I've recently come to like the sixth symphony. Latter-day Saints will know him for his hymn "Finlandia" to which we sing "Be Still My Soul."

B. Smetana, 1824-1884 (Czech)
Although he lived and died earlier than these other guys, just take one listen to his first string quartet, or to the exquisite Die Moldau. Incidentally, like Beethoven he also went deaf, but nearly overnight. The above mentioned string quartet captures the agony of this.

E. Grieg, 1843-1907 (Norwegian)
Listening to his lyric pieces for piano is like holding a handful of diamonds.

S. Rachmaninoff, 1873-1943 (Russian)
I'll admit that I've shed tears while listening to the second piano concerto. I thought of it nearly every time of the dozens of times I walked into the Palace Square of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.

R. Vaughan Williams, 1872-1958 (English)
A lot to be admired in his music. I like the Sinfonia Antarctica. He lived well into the modern era but remained pretty firmly rooted in the late-romantic tradition. Latter-day Saints will know him as the source for the hymns "For All the Saints" and "If You Could Hie To Kolob" (obviously that one had different words!)

Least favorite era of music?
The Classical. (~1750-1830, or in other words, between the death of Bach and the death of Beethoven)

I see the classical era as a step backwards from what Bach had achieved, and when Beethoven again advanced the art, it was in another direction entirely, but still shackled for a century by the harmonies, forms and ideas of Mozart and Haydn. I guess that makes the Romantic Era, particularly in its earlier phases, my second least favorite era. In any case, why do classical radio stations insist on playing a ton of obscure and minor composers from these eras to the neglect of many MAJOR composers of the last century? On a side note, the CONCEPTS of the classical era's perfections of form and the romantic era's focus on individual expression are core principles of my compositional aesthetic. But too often their music just doesn't do it for me!

Composer that puts you to sleep every time, without fail?
W.A. Mozart., 1756-1791

He could be the punch line to several other similar questions I have in mind, but I don't want to hate on him too much. What can I say? He was the perfection of his era. But I just don't care to listen to his music. Also, his genius is sort of overrated, in my opinion. For one, it has been partly mythologized. And when you hold up the vast quantity of his music as argument for greatness, remember that he was dealing with set forms and set harmonic practices. Where most composers are concerned with pushing boundaries and changing music as we know it, he was busy noodling around with the same materials as Haydn. Okay, I'll stop, I said I wouldn't hate. Plus, that laugh! (wait...I'm confusing film fiction with firm fact here...)

Favorite composer who got a specially designed opera house just for his music?
R. Wagner, 1813-1883

I don't really care for his operas in and of themselves, but I love what he did in opening all our ears to new harmonic frontiers. Check out the orchestral overtures to Tristan and Isolde or Parsifal. Too bad he wasn't a symphonist...

The funny thing about music that is more than 300 years old?

At one point my dad thought that the only music I liked was over 300 years old. Ironically, I can hardly name a handful of composers or pieces from that era that I like at all. Overall, I don't mind this 'ancient' music. There is a charm and beauty to its overall clarity and simplicity of thought. Studying 16th century counterpoint last semester really just made me realize that these guys were concerned as anyone with pushing beyond what had come before. Parallel fifths = evil? Only because it was the distinct sound of what was then considered the passé music of previous generations. Much like classical/romantic era cadence formulas are taboo today.

Favorite reference to music in an ancient text?

From the dedication of Solomon's Temple: 2nd Chronicles 5:11-14 "And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place...Also the Levites which were the singers...being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets...It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the Lord; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God." Ah, the power of music! Also, the entire Revelation of St. John is full of lots of apocalyptic music. Right up my alley!

Favorite anecdote about a composer from the pre-modern era?

F. Mendelssohn's 'rediscovery' of Bach. For almost a century after his death, Bach was relatively unknown, only remembered as a legendary organist and as father of his composer sons (none of whom hold a candle to the old man). Then one day the composer Mendelssohn found a dusty manuscript of Bach's St. Matthew Passion. Once it was performed, it was as though the world suddenly realized what they had been missing, and Bach was ranked with Beethoven as one of the greatest composers ever. Are there other composers out there whose music could change the world? Maybe one of them is blogging right now?

So what about L. Beethoven?

See my previous post all about that dude.

Favorite composer from the pre-modern era whose name is a headache to transliterate?
P. Tchaikovsky, 1840-1893

There is a letter in Russian that makes the hard CH sound all by itself. Why we take three, I don't know. CH would work fine. Чайковский. Its even worse with Shostakovich. In Russian it looks like Шостакович. Notice that the SH is also one letter, as well as the CH. In English the word Church could be four letters! Please sign my petition to add these valuable letters to our language. I could do a whole post on the pathetic transliterations of Slavic composers' surnames. Rachmaninoff? Рахманинов! Notice that it ends in a V sound (the Cyrillic B, yes it is pronounced nearly like an F, but still..) Again, we take the CH sound to mean a hard H? What? It might better be: Rahkmaninov. Already, I'll stop. About Tchaikovsky? Once you get through the cheese of his era, he is another example of a Mozartesque composer that actually has some guts to his music. I have a particular soft spot for his piano concertos.

To be continued with composers from a more modern time, closer to my heart and aesthetic...

1 comment:

Qait said...

When we talked earlier about radio stations, I didn't get that you meant major composers of recent times-- so I do agree. Why waste time with minor classical composers when the more recent and MAJOR composers need the attention and publicity? And we need their music as listeners, too. :)
Funny pics. I want to see more!