annoyed (listening, day 5 – part 2)

Like every other young person in the 1960s, I was subjected at some point to a music teacher who insisted on making fun of rock and roll and playing classical music in an attempt to persuade us that one was good and the other, well, contemptible.

In my case, the teacher played a little of the Who’s Tommy and then replayed the passage on his piano, only transmogrifying it into a two beat, loping cowboy song.

Then he took the class to a performance of something by Menotti, if memory serves. We were dazed and confused, but none the wiser.

So I have spent my entire adult life (what’s the point of being an omnivore if you’re not going to try a little of everything?) sampling classical music, usually without much success.

I do fine with so called post-classical works; they have enough reference points in music I do get to follow along, often with great pleasure. Ditto for the minimalists and what they did as the matured away from strict minimalism, though I don’t find much of it interesting.

Bach is beyond genre. It’s corny, but his solo cello pieces are my single favorite music.

I hated serialism when I was taking music out of the library when I was 14 and mostly still do. It’s the sound of dry drawing rooms and men and women with sour looks, though Hilary Hahn’s recording of Schönberg’s Violin Concerto was wonderful.

But as for the real thing, classical classical music, listening is still a struggle. Example: a couple of years back, I bought Valery Gergiev’s much-lauded complete symphonies of Prokofiev. I have enjoyed them thoroughly on occasion. Yet listening to them today has brought me no pleasure. Worse, I’m annoyed.

I point that out only because music, any music, usually doesn’t annoy me. I may not feel sympathy with it right then, may move on quickly, but it doesn’t get inside my thick skull and bother me.

Some guesses as to why I’m annoyed:

– As a listener to jazz and blues and music that derives from them in one way or the other, the lack of rhythmic complexity gets to me. I’m not a musician and can barely count a beat (ok, I can’t) but I understand that the great edifice of western classical music was built on melody and harmony, not rhythm.

– The very thing that makes classical music “classical” – its many themes and instruments and other complexity – works against casual listening. It says “I need your attention now, and if I can’t get it, I’m going to keep trying to pull you in by whatever means are at my disposal. Don’t think I’m going quietly to the background.”

Whatever. It’s coming off the stereo for now, though I would like to try this Prokofiev in (faux) surround. I suspect it might be easier, somehow, to keep things sorted.


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