Andrei Strizek

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Filtering by Tag: Beethoven

Carson McCullers on Beethoven 3

"After a while a new announcer started talking. He mentioned Beethoven. She had read in the library about that musician -- his name was pronounced with an a and spelled with double ee. He was a German fellow like Mozart. When he was living he spoke in a foreign language and lived in a foreign place -- like she watned to do. The announcer said they were going to play his third symphony. She only halfway listened because she wanted to walk some more and she didn't care much what they played. Then the music started. Mick raised her head and her first went up to her throat.

How did it come? For a minute the opening balance from once side to the other. Like a walk or a march. Like God strutting in the night. The outside of her was suddenly froze and only that first part of the music was hot inside her heart. She could not even hear what sounded after, but she sat there waiting and froze, with her first tight. After a while the music came again, harder and loud. It didn't have anything to do with God. This was her, Mick Kelly, walking in the daytime and by herself at night. In the hot sun and in the dark with all the plans and feelings. This music was her -- the real plain her.

She could not listen good enough to hear it all. The music boiled inside her. Which? To hang on to certain wonderful parts and think them over so that later she would not forget -- or should she let go and listen to each part that came without thinking or trying to remember? Golly! The whole world was this music and she could not listen hard enough. Then at least the opening music came again, with all the different instruments bunched together for each note like a hard, tight fist that socked at her heart. And the first part was over.

This music did not take a long time or a short time. It did not have anything to do with time going by at all. She sat with her arms held tight around her legs, biting her salty knee very hard. It might have been five minutes she listened or half the night. The second part was black-colored -- a slow march. Not sad, but lik the whole world was dead and black and there was no use thinking back how it was before. One of those horn kind of instruments played a sad and silver tune. Then the music rose up angry and with excitement underneath. And finally the black march again.

But maybe the last part of teh symphony was the music she loved the best -- glad and like the greatest people in the world running and sprining up in a hard, free way. Wonderful music like this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole world was this symphony, and there was not enough of her to listen."

-Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Minnesota Orchestra performing Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, Op. 55.

The Artist as Tortured Genius

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What really pisses me off is this idea that I am this tortured artist. That is something based on flimsy evidence which is endlessly being projected back onto us. It is just reductive and dull. In order to be creative there has to be a distance from you and the thing itself. It is only when the distance gets confused that things go wrong. If you actually start to believe that you are what you write, then you have f***ing had it. You have had it and you ain't coming back. To assume that everything is about somebody's life is to assume that that person is inherently stupid and isn't capable of absorbing anything else. The whole point of creativity is that you spend your whole life absorbing things almost to where it is unbearable. The way you deal with it is (to) get out.

-Thom Yorke of Radiohead, in an interview with Pulse, quoted in Kid A by Marvin Lin.

The media has created an image of Thom Yorke as tortured artist and genius. They have done this with a wide range of people, from Phil Collins to Mozart, and are moving beyond Beethoven to others like Schubert, and including performers (Glenn Gould comes to mind, as does the craze around David Helfgott when Shine came out about 10 years ago).By Goldberg ((Goldberg)), via Wikimedia Commons

Do we need to have this mystique of the artist/performer as a tortured soul to help explain their music, to give it some authenticity? Why are we continuously attracted to this story, even though historians have shown that Mozart and Beethoven, for example, weren't as tormented as we believe?

Lady Gaga has said that "Music is a lie. It is a lie. Art is a lie." Is that any different than what Thom Yorke said? Should we, as artists and performers, believe that art is a lie?

Share your thoughts below!

Related post: Is Lady Gaga Wrong? (Is art a lie?)

Music in Slow Motion

There was some Twitter buzz a while back about a slowed-down version of Justin Bieber's U Smile. If you haven't heard it, you must: it's interesting, and a little freaky ...

I won't lie, his voice sounds other-worldly, and I hear waves crashing on the rocks throughout. (And this got the millions of Bieber-haters to actually listen to him!)

J. BIEBZ - U SMILE 800% SLOWER by Shamantis

That's all fun and games, but ... what about doing something similar with Beethoven's 9th Symphony? Like stretching it out to last 24 hours? Thanks to a podcast from the great NPR program Radiolab, I heard part of this the other night. (9 Beet Stretch is its name.) It's been done in installments (the Radiolab broadcast was from one in San Francisco), but you can listen to it (or part of it) from your very own home via the 24 hour stream.

What an interesting concept: taking music that we're familiar with and transforming it into something completely different. What things do you hear that are new? Can you hear hints of the old in these versions?

Something old becomes new, heard through new ears ...

The Story Behind the Music

Last night I saw the wonderful November Dance performance, by the Department of Dance at the University of Illinois. I started getting into modern dance this spring, when I went to a few performances for one of my classes on aesthetics and education. (For more visit
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Spring Impressions

How often have you gone to a musical performance of one of your favorite compositions, only to walk away with mixed reactions: slightly disappointed because the performance had its flaws, but also having been affected by the performance - at least a little?

That was my experience last week when I saw the touring production of Spring Awakening, and it happens to me somewhat frequently. It was my second time seeing Spring Awakening and I've listened to the original cast album countless times since it was released. The show is great - a must-see if it comes to your area - and the cast - overall fairly young - did a fine job with it.

One issue with the production, though, was its venue here in Champaign: Assembly Hall. The home of the basketball team. The venue for a recent Kid Cudi concert and an upcoming Bob Dylan concert. It's not the best place to view theatre, but I make do with it for its convenience and the great shows that come in from time to time.

Other problems were some of the audio and lighting glitches, which are understandable. They were only in town for this one performance, and they likely didn't have a lot of time to test everything out, like they would if they were settling in to a venue for a week or more.

Unfortunately, too, the female lead (Wendela) was less than stellar, and during her solo and duet songs I started to focus more on my disappointment rather than the story that was being told.

Yet, even with those distractions, I was still moved by the overall production and performance. Part of me recognized that, even though it wasn't flawless (can any performance really be, though?), nor was it as good as the original cast album I've heard so many times, that it was the same work of art, that it had similar effects on me as when I saw it the first time and when I listen to the cast album. How can we do this with music: recognize something that isn't quite the same as being, essentially, the same thing?

We see visual arts as an object, because they are. They're something we can see, touch, smell. Music is different. We can (sometimes) hold a score, but that only gives us a part of its experience (unless you're Arnold Schoenberg). Ideally, we should be able to know music through listening, but sometimes that can only give us part of the whole picture, too.

Theories of aesthetics can be summed up as two types: that music is an object, or that music is an activity/experience (I'm being severely reductionist here for the sake of brevity). I tend to lean towards the latter, but there has to be some truth to music being an object - how else could I know Spring Awakening as Spring Awakening?

My main problem with the idea of music being an object is that it's deeply connected to the idea of a canon of music, and that Western art music is "the best" and the ideal to which all other musics should be held. In our diverse and post-modern society it's difficult to defend this position, especially since so much of "Western art music" comes from non-Western composers and/or has influences of world music.

But I digress from my original question. How do we recognize something as the same music even if it's not played accurately, or even the same as it was intended (how do we know what was intended?) or how we've heard it before? How can we recognize Beethoven's 5th Symphony in an arranged form for a 9th grade orchestra? Or a jazz standard like Summertime arranged by Gil Evans?

(Or, as Nicholas Cook writes, "If you play the (Chopin) E minor Prelude and get one note wrong, then nobody will claim that what you played wasn't the E minor Prelude. But heaven knows what they will say if you get 95 percent of the notes wrong.")

If, as John Dewey says, art is experience and our reaction to it, does that mean a composition changes with every performance? Embedded in the word "composition" is the idea that it's not only written down, but that it doesn't change ... yet it does. We refer to something as "Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony" or "Oklahoma" even though no two performances are the same. What is it about music that allows us to do this?

How was I still moved by Spring Awakening even though it wasn't what I've heard and seen before? This is a question almost unique to music, since most visual art isn't flawed, or doesn't change from one viewing to the next (unless that's the intent of the creator).

I don't know the answer. I'm reading a lot in hopes of finding something I feel comfortable with, but I doubt that I - or anyone - will be able to come up with a solution satisfying to everyone (or even a majority). To me, that's one of the wonderful things about music: its multiplicity.

What about you? What have you seen or heard that wasn't "perfect" but was affective nonetheless? What is it about music that lets us recognize these similarities and differences as the same "thing"? Is one view of aesthetics better - or, perhaps, more accurate - than another?

Leave comments below. Let's start a dialogue. This is a topic I'm keenly interested in, and I'd greatly enjoy hearing what you have to say about it.

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