Saturday, January 17, 2009

Getting physical

Lastnight I was over at my mom's and WNED-FM started playing Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony. Wow, the radio puts you in tough situations sometimes. When I was a teenager I read Hermann Hesse's "Steppenwolf" (didn't we all?) and I remember how somewhere in there, the Steppenwolf character complained that the radio put great music into places it had no business to be. That was the situation lastnight.

I cannot tune out something like the "Jupiter" when it is playing in the background. And my mother wants to talk through it. At the same time, if you propose turning it off, she gets all confrontational. That happened in the car once when I wanted to turn off this Brahms that was on the radio and was just tearing my heart out. "Don't you like Brahms?" my mom said, all angry.

Once I walked into an office and I was talking to whoever I had gone there to see, but there was this music trickling out of a speaker, so soft you could hardly hear it, and it kept distracting me. I couldn't even hear what it was, that was how quiet the music was. But it kept grabbing my subconscious. Finally I got closer to the speaker. And it was the slow movement of Beethoven's Ninth!

No wonder it was getting me!

There are so many things I love about the "Jupiter" and lastnight I kept thinking about them, partly because I was actually trying not to listen to it. The first movement, I love its spirit of triumph. In the last movement there is this moment when the the theme is climbing and suddenly Mozart freezes the bass line, he just stops it and holds it. It is as if the floor falls out from under you.

Mozart was such an artist with sound that sometimes you do feel his music physically. He knew how to accomplish that. There is that theme in the last movement of the "Prague" Symphony that climbs and then dips and whenever I hear that, I actually feel as if I am on a roller coaster. I also felt it physically the first time I saw "Cosi fan Tutte," two or three years ago. This subtle twist seemed to take place and I felt as if I were in one of those funhouse rooms where the floor is tilted and your balance is shifted. Wow, that was weird. I will never forget that.

That is what happens when you listen to music with your whole self, when you really concentrate on it. Funny physical things happen.

Something else happened lastnight too that I have to comment on. The "Jupiter" was part of the Pittsburgh Radio Symphony Orchestra broadcast. It was a good performance too -- one of the fastest I had ever heard, but that was OK. However. After the "Jupiter," would you believe it, they played some little symphony by Luigi Boccherini.

What in the world??

The "Jupiter," no one should have to follow that act. I mean, it ends with what could well be the greatest 20 seconds in all of music. But to follow it with a Boccherini symphony? Poor Boccherini! He is so not up to that!

Who gets paid to make these decisions?

Another mystery of music.

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