Saturday, January 2, 2010


The other day we got a nice 2-3 inches of fresh snow--not enough to ski on, but enticing for a walk down the hill to the post office.I usually don't listen to music while out walking, but there are exceptions. I had just read Alex Ross's review of the Schubert Winterreise/Samuel Beckett conflation in New York, and it struck me that Schubert's winter journey might be appropriate listening for my peregrination.
Matthias Goerne's beautiful and intensely probing recording was a perfect companion for my little "reise." Schubert uses minimal gestures and motives to bring out the profound affects of the poetry; there's a barebones,immediacy to this music. Benjamin Britten, a big Schubert fan, once said that looking at the first page of the song cycle can be daunting--"there seems to be nothing on the page."

Many of the songs have a persistent movement, a built-in rhythm that propels the "action" along-- its not always a walking tempo, but it's always moving, moving; even the very slow, static songs (for example "Im Dorfe") seem to have a built in pulsation. One feels this all the more if walking while listening, which I highly recommend.

But generally I don't find listening to music while walking --whether for pleasure, exercise or mere transport-- a very good idea.But this seems to go against the grain here on the Yale campus where easily half the students walking to and fro are listening to the sound tracks to their lives.

Back in the 80's when "Walkman"s became popular, and portable music consumption became more and more apparent, I used to wonder what people were listening to. It seemed unfair to me that someone would be walking down the street absorbed in a private music that only they could hear--well if not exactly unfair, it seemed to be anti-social! Of course, the alternative was the cacophonous belchings of the boom box, which in a public space were marauders--to my ears at least.
I suppose the preponderance of "private listening" which has become so normative is but another manifestation of the Post-Modern condition.Thanks to the iPod and other gadgets of its ilk, we now have the possibility of constant music of any type available to us, for a walk, an airplane ride, a bike ride, a dull lecture, lunch, dinner.
I'm still curious about what people are listening to. Isn't there some hi-tech device now that lets you eavesdrop into the ear buds of unsuspecting passers by?

But what, you may ask, would Franz Schubert have listened to on his iPod whilst traipsing around the wooded hills and dales outside of Vienna? Probably nothing, because what we know of his composing habits indicates that he was always composing in his head--how else could he have written those hundreds of lieder?

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