Friday, September 02, 2005

Of Music and Movies

mu·sic (my›"z¹k) n. Abbr. mus. 1. The art of arranging sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified, and evocative composition, as through melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. 2. Vocal or instrumental sounds possessing a degree of melody, harmony, or rhythm. 3.a. A musical composition. b. The written or printed score for such a composition. c. Such scores considered as a group. 4. A musical accompaniment. 5. A particular category or kind of music. 6. An aesthetically pleasing or harmonious sound or combination of sounds.

I'll begin this piece with an article from The Telegraph, a revered British newspaper. Analysis of music is a tough task, but I must say that the columnist has done a pretty good job.

How Beethoven ruined classical music
By Dylan Evans(Filed: 12/06/2005)

It was Beethoven week on the BBC last week. By midnight on Friday Radio 3 had filled six days of airtime with every single note the composer wrote - every symphony, every quartet, every sonata and lots more besides. At the same time, in a series of three films on BBC2, the conductor Charles Hazlewood told us about the composer's life, while BBC4 produced three programmes of musical analysis.
It's good to see classical music getting some coverage on primetime television, but the relentless focus on Beethoven is dire. Not all fans of classical music are members of the Beethoven cult. Some of us even think he did more harm than good to classical music.
Beethoven certainly changed the way that people thought about music, but this was a change for the worse. From the speculations of Pythagoras about the "music of the spheres" in ancient Greece onwards, most Western musicians had agreed that musical beauty was based on a mysterious connection between sound and mathematics, and that this provided music with an objective goal, something that transcended the individual composer's idiosyncrasies and aspired to the universal. Beethoven managed to put an end to this noble tradition by inaugurating a barbaric U-turn away from an other-directed music to an inward-directed, narcissistic focus on the composer himself and his own tortured soul.
This was a ghastly inversion that led slowly but inevitably to the awful atonal music of Schönberg and Webern. In other words, almost everything that went wrong with music in the 19th and 20th centuries is ultimately Beethoven's fault. Schönberg was simply taking Beethoven's original mistake to its ultimate, monstrous, logical conclusion.
This is not to deny Beethoven's genius, but simply to claim that he employed his genius in the service of a fundamentally flawed idea. If Beethoven had dedicated his obvious talents to serving the noble Pythagorean view of music, he might well have gone on to compose music even greater than that of Mozart. You can hear this potential in his early string quartets, where the movements often have neat conclusions and there is a playfulness reminiscent of Mozart or Haydn.
If only Beethoven had nourished these tender shoots instead of the darker elements that one can also hear. For the darkness is already evident in the early quartets too, in their sombre harmonies and sudden key changes. As it was, however, his darker side won out: compare, for example, the late string quartets. Here the youthful humour has completely vanished, the occasional signs of optimism quickly die out moments after they appear and the movements sometimes end in uncomfortably inconclusive cadences.
It's instructive to compare Beethoven's morbid self-obsession with the unselfconscious vivacity of Mozart. Like Bach's perfectly formed fugues and Vivaldi's sparkling concertos, Mozart's music epitomises the baroque and classical ideals of formal elegance and functional harmony; his compositions "unfold with every harmonic turn placed at the right moment, to leave, at the end, a sense of perfect finish and unity", as the music critic Paul Griffiths puts it. Above all, Mozart's music shares with that of Bach an exuberant commitment to the Enlightenment values of clarity, reason, optimism and wit.
With Beethoven, however, we leave behind the lofty aspirations of the Enlightenment and begin the descent into the narcissistic inwardness of Romanticism. Mozart gives you music that asks to be appreciated for its own sake, and you don't need to know anything about the composer's life to enjoy it. Beethoven's music, on the other hand, is all about himself - it is simply a vehicle for a self-indulgent display of bizarre mood swings and personal difficulties.
Hazlewood claimed, in his BBC2 series, that music "grew up" with Beethoven, but it would be more accurate to say that it regressed back into a state of sullen adolescence. Even when he uses older forms, such as the fugue, Beethoven twists them into cruel and angry parodies. The result is often fiercely dissonant, with abrupt changes in style occurring from one movement to another, or even in the same movement. Hazlewood is right to describe Beethoven as a "hooligan", but this is hardly a virtue.
In A Clockwork Orange it is the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony that echoes in the mind of Alex whenever he indulges in one of his orgies of violence. Alex's reaction may be rather extreme, but he is responding to something that is already there in this dark and frenzied setting of Schiller's Ode to Joy; the joy it invites one to feel is the joy of madness, bloodlust and megalomania. It is glorious music, and seductive, but the passions it stirs up are dark and menacing.
I was unable to resist tuning in to Beethoven at times last week, but I needed to cheer myself up with something more optimistic and life-affirming afterwards.
• Kevin Myers returns next week. Dylan Evans is a senior lecturer in intelligent autonomous systems at the University of the West of England. This article first appeared in The Guardian.

It was this article that spurred me on to listen to the western classical collection that I had on my PC. Till now, these files had served just as ornamental pieces showing visitors to my room that my musical collection was wide and varied and oh yes, it represented my 'jack of all trades' nature.
The first thing that i did was to watch 'A Clockwork Orange'. Its a true classic, a must watch and if you haven't watched it yet, please do. It answers many questions regarding ethical treatment of prisoners, prison reforms, exploitative nature of humans, how a violent mind works and so on. What the author says is true. Ludvig van's (as Alex (the protagonist) puts it in the film) fourth is certainly disturbing to a viewer who is immersed in the movie as much as the protagonist is. It matches well with the rape scenes, the assault scenes and the show of power of the nazis during their heyday.
The next thing that I did was to listen to Handel and Mozart. Vivaldi I had already heard to long back. The difference is spotted instantly. Handel's music is what do I say, more religious. A quick search on the net proved my guess. Compositions like 'The Messaih' were meant to be catholic rather than narcissistic. My personal favourite is "Turkish March'. my dream is to dance for this piece with my lady love as and when I find her. Mozart's compositions, needless to say are pure joy. They leave you light hearted, full of joy and hopeful. Vivaldi falls in the same category as well. Love 'The Four Seasons'. A crude modern comparison would be Dream Theatre's 'A Change of Seasons'.
If one tires imposing these compositions upon the very same scenes, the mismatch becomes obvious. Beethoven is the 'Dark Angel' who could compose such pieces. One can feel the emotional upheaval while listening to Beethoven. Dark, disturbing are some words that come to the mind. On the other hand, the very same Beethoven has given classic, lovely pieces like 'Fur Elise'. The Berlin Philharmoniker pieces are a musician's delight.
If I have to choose 2 singers to represent my state of mind, it would have to be Handel and Beethoven. Beethoven for those depressed, dark days when nothing is happening while Handel is for those heavenly periods that come along as a silver lining.

Right folks, I close this piece with the opening lines of 'A Clockwork Orange'....Hope it encourages you to watch it: Auf Wiedersehan from DK, Ludvig van and Alex.....

"There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence"

1 comment:

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