Blasphemous RumoursSeptember 8, 2007
Recently at the I Hate Music forum there have been various discussions around the question of whether it matters or not to fully understand a musician/composer’s inspiration and intention for a piece of music to be able to enjoy it. Well after a short to and fro the obvious conclusion was reached by most parties that whilst it is far from necessary, further understanding could possibly add a new dimension to some people’s listening. In the debate I made a post that stated that although I could see it possible that extra information about a piece of music could enhance my listening experience, I couldn’t think of anything right then that could potentially detract from my personal response to the music. If I liked something I liked it, how could anything I could read about music change such an opinion?
Well I think I might have found something that comes pretty close. My utter contempt for organised religon is no big secret. I’ve hinted at it here before, but because its possibly the only subject in the world that makes me truly angry I don’t often go into detail. Famously a couple of years ago at a friend’s wedding, when asked by a particularly earnest and equally irritating vicar what I thought about the recent redecoration of a room attached to the church I replied “nothing that a spot of arson couldn’t fix” I think I’ve been doomed for a future in the pits of hell ever since, so I’m not going to lose much by making this post.
As I’ve begun to delve into the bottomless pit of classical music’s history for my listening pleasure I’ve come across a dilemma I’ve not really had to worry about before. There’s a lot of music out there in this genre that has religon at its heart. I don’t doubt I own many CDs that may well have religious thought inspiring them somewhere, but none that are abundantly obvious enough to disturb me. Recently though I’ve had music recommended to me that clearly has the lunacy of organised religon as its main motivation for existing. In the summer I was told about a late Mozart mass I really should hear, yet I refused to seek it out, just unable to bring myself to do it. I have similar thoughts on other pieces I might otherwise have heard, a lot of Bach’s music springs immediately to mind.
Well a week or two back a friend whose opinion on music I hold very highly indeed recommended me an album by the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina entitled Seven Words. A piece for cello and bayan, a kind of Russian accordion. As the release is on Naxos it was both easy to find and very cheap, and for just Â£5 I picked up a copy amongst other items without paying much attention to it. It was only just after I’d put it in the CD player for the first time that I noticed the painting of the crucifiction (no typo there) on the front cover, and reading through the notes the very strong Christian influence to the music.
So what do you do in this kind of situation? My opinion of the music had become immediately discoloured. I found myself wanting to dislike the work as it began to play. I think it was George Michael that released an album titled Listen without prejudice, but I think I stood about as much chance of being able to do that with this Gubaidulina album as I would have with a disc of his crap. I did listen though, complete with prejudice. I have played the album twice now. Do I like it? Well yes, I do from an entirely musical perspective, although the bayan does tend to annoy me quite a lot throughout, making a sound that grates with me for some reason, something most accordion music tends to do. (The piece was originally scored for cello and organ, an arrangement I think I would much prefer) The intensity of the composition, and the obviously deeply felt and somewhat sorrowful emotions going into its realisation really come through in the music.
Yes I guess I do like this piece then, although it leaves me wondering why it takes this most common manifestation of human insecurity to inspire someone to make music of such power. Watching the Simon Rattle DVD set I mentioned in a post earlier today I think I have similar feelings towards Messiaen, a composer whose use of synaesthesia and recreated natural sounds interests me a lot, although the purpose he puts these methods to I find pretty revolting. I have long been annoyed that certain creative methodolgy is tied so closely to religious tradition. I wrote earlier this year about Klaus Lang’s beautiful work Missa beati pauperes spiritu that takes the mass form and allows it to exist merely as beautiful music, separated from its religious history. I wish this kind of thing happened more often. I have attended many concerts in beautiful churches that were built years ago with the fear of religion driving their construction. Reclaiming a few more of these fantastic acoustic spaces for music and other arts would be nice.
I guess this question of testing my own personal morals will appear many times as I dig further into orchestral music. I imagine my response will evolve to being close to my interest in Michaelangelo. An unbelievable craftsman creating beautiful work with depressing subject matter. At least you all know what I don’t want played at my funeral now anyway. 😉