Saturday, May 7, 2016

I Prefer Adagio


I had a friend back in the 80s who loved the arts and all things bohemian, as did I. He was a bit older and knew more about things like classical music than I did. He was also a bit off the wall, a bit hard to grasp, but I enjoyed him. Once he told me that European classical music had an unfortunate tendency to prioritize final movements and endings that valued the fast, loud, and dramatic, and that this had something to do with colonialism. Or did he say patriarchy? It's fuzzy to me now and undoubtedly it was fuzzy then. But it made an impression. He said it related to something Alan Watts said about sunsets, which is that we always face West and look for the gaudy colors when it's just as interesting to look East and watch the sky move through subtle gradations of color and tone. Sometime I make it a point to turn around.

Philosophy aside, I've always felt that it's a cheap trick to always end symphonies so dramatically. When you build everything up in terms of tempo and volume and then halt it abruptly you are guaranteed to get the audience leaping to their feet and cheering bravissimo. It's kind of like loading your site with click bait (not that I would have a clue how to do that). This is all a long way of saying that I prefer the slow movements of symphonies. You can really feel them and the melodies tend to be the best. And there's more emphasis on texture. Here's Bernstein conducting the third movement, "Adagio Espressivo," of Schumann's Symphony No. 2. If symphonies closed this way it would be like looking to the East.

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