19 December 2007

So Very Simple

My bachelor’s degree is in music. You need to know that to get the irony of the next fact.

I don’t listen to music much.


Mostly in the car, which I drive only two or three times a week if I am lucky. I never listen at work, and almost never at home. My wife controls the radio in the bedroom. (This month it is all Xmas all the time. My love is proved every day as I endure it without violence against the radio or complaint to her. Come January it will return to NPR.)

You would think a music major would care about music. I do. Very much. But for me the pleasure of music is largely in the playing.

After many years without good opportunity, I now work near a piano, and so about three times a week I grab an hour of practice. Having laid off for so long my fingers are quite rusty, to say nothing of older, so I am frustrated that I cannot do as well as I could years ago. Luckily, these skills once learned can be recovered, at least a fair amount.

This afternoon I was reacquainting myself with the Mozart g minor quartet and the Schubert a minor sonata. I pummeled them badly, but now and then nailed some familiar phrases. It was the Schubert especially that moved me to write this evening.

Few composers work with such simple ideas. The first movement has two almost childish themes. One is just a single line played in octaves, the other a simple alteration of tonic and dominant chords that ends with four repeated notes. He then, by the simplest means imaginable, wanders through various keys, changes registers, and wrings every bit of life from them. it is a marvel of economy that is also full of power and grace.

Not all Schubert is so transparent, but a fundamental simplicity is always there. His nearest cousin kin this regard is Igor Stravinsky who likewise uses atrociously simple motifs that he then proceeds to build into blindingly difficult works to hear and play.

This juxtaposition of simplicity with complexity is what so amazes me. And this is only really perceivable when you play as well as listen, see the notes and their interrelationships as well as hear them.

I long to achieve that in words. Every week I dig for something elemental and simple that is also dense with power and possibility. I have yet to succeed. Once or twice I have come close, felt it hovering nearby, or heard something like a word in my ear. Who knows, perhaps it is impossible, but I can’t stop trying.

1 comment:

francescaamari said...

Thank you for this blog. I love the concept of equating music to words...both of which are so inspirational and imporatant! What a wonderful thing to aspire to...to create with the words the magic that is created with beautiful music. Thanks!