October 18, 2006

Glimpses of the infinite, or something...

A recent post over at Dial "M" for Musicology brought on another little bout of music-homesickness. I have such episodes occasionally, most recently last month during our live-music overdose. This time, though, it isn't orchestra-homesickness; this time, I miss the constant deep engagement with music that was the best thing about my years of musicology study. What did the very smart people over at Dial "M" say to make me feel this way? They discussed revalatory, mind-opening, life-changing pieces, those works of music that after you've become acquainted with them, you simply can't imagine how you lived without knowing them. My own list of these is surprisingly long. I don't think I can accurately claim that all of them were life-changing, but all of them had a substantial impact on me, amazed me in some way (or many ways), made me listen to them until I had every note memorized.

At the top of the list is Brahms, probably my favorite composer in all of art music. I went through a period where every Brahms piece I heard seemed to force my mind open and rearrange my brain cells for the better: the 3rd and 4th Symphonies, the 2nd Piano Concerto, the Clarinet Quintet, and the F minor Piano Quintet. Then there's Beethoven: the 7th and 8th Symphonies, the Violin Concerto, the C# minor String Quartet (op. 131), and the D minor piano sonata, nicknamed "Tempest." Mahler is on the list, with the 2nd, 5th, and 6th Symphonies, as is Mozart, particularly the Jupiter Symphony (which I am embarrassed to say I didn't know really well until grad school) and Don Giovanni. Schubert's late chamber music is on the list, especially the A minor String Quartet and the D minor String Quartet ("Death and the Maiden"). Going back a hundred years, there's the Bach B minor mass, and into the 20th century, there's Schoenberg's 1st Chamber Symphony. Shostakovich figures in, with the 5th Symphony -- a piece I learned when I performed the last movement as a high-school junior in All-State Orchestra, which at the time was like nothing I had ever heard. And there are more: Barber's Adagio (such a cliche, but still so moving); Bruckner's 8th Symphony; Debussy's La Mer...I could go on.

There is a pattern: these are primarily either large-scale orchestral works or chamber music from the late 18th and 19th centuries, and that is the connection to my orchestra-sickness. My engagement with most of the works listed above (and so many others) happened on multiple levels, as a performer and as an analyst, and that is why so many of those particular works shook me to the core. I miss that quite desperately sometimes. It's hard for me to remember, though, that I still might study whatever music I wish, to whatever depth I choose -- my failed attempt at musicology gave me, among other things, the tools to do these things at my leisure. Now if only I had enough leisure...

Posted by at October 18, 2006 10:48 PM