Friday, November 13, 2009

Character in Music

Alfred Brendel. a great legend in a field littered with legends, came to Yale the other night to give a talk on "Character in Music." It was mostly illustrated with examples he played from the Beethoven sonatas, with a few bits of Schoenberg thrown in.
The heart of his peroration was, quite simply, that form and structure do not explain music nor reveal its character;rather inherent character reveals form and structure, in fact. To fully appreciate music such as Beethoven's (or Schoenberg's for that matter) one must have an understanding of the affects and moods the composer expresses through his music. So, character is not to be dismissed as the province of the "amateur" (his word), but ought to have equal status with structure and form amongst the "cognoscenti."
His playing of fragments quite convincingly made his case.
My old pal John Adams touched on similar thoughts in a recent blog wherein he talks about the famous Proustian reference to a musical phrase from a fictional composer, Vinteuil.
One of the great benefits of our so called Post Modern culture is that we can talk about expressivity in music and not be scoffed at or dismissed. Music MEANS THINGS (although not "concrete" things as JA points out)
Or look at the expression on Brendel's visage above. Is it delight or sorrow? It could be either, but it is something; there is Character!

I haven't said anything about mushrooms on this post. I had thought about making a comparative study of Brendel's and Schubert's faces (Schubert, of course, is a huge composer in the Brendelian cosmos). because Schubert's friends called him schwarmerl
which means "little mushroom." I don't see much value in pursuing that path, but I must say that watching Brendel's face as he plays is almost like a movie.It is full of animation and, yes, CHARACTER. I'll think of the right mushroom later.

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