Sunday, January 18, 2009

But can you dance to it?

Currently, there is a discussion on the Harry Binswanger List about music appreciation. Stephen (aka Mr. Music) and I have often discussed the relative importance of music in our lives as well. It has sparked some interesting conversations at home, and a discovery that my approach to music is much like my approach to the rest of life which can be summed up in one word: impatience.

Lyrics are generally immediately accessible. I want to know what the song is trying to say and then I’ll decide if I like it. “What lyrics?” Stephen often asks as if his ears don’t even pick them up.

The melody also has to be interesting. Not necessarily beautiful or wrenching, but something that piques my interest. This is not the same as challenging, because even though a challenge can sustain my interest, I don’t usually sit and study the music I’m listening to. It is usually incidental to whatever else I’m doing.

Oddly, I can’t stand when the music is designed to be incidental, as in large pieces written for ballets, because it sounds, well, like incidental music – a holding pattern, a mere conveyance until the next big melodic section. I like to be smacked with the melody.

There are music geeks aficionados who become absolutely enraptured by the complicated patterns, rolling melodies which fold back on themselves with only slight variations in tempo, tone, and meaning, and the ebb and flow of dynamics. Then there are the climax junkies who thrive on the bombast.

My immature music appreciation notwithstanding, I have discovered some lovely melodies from some unlikely sources. The following is a partial list of music I have heard on TV or in movies that I loved so much that I tracked them down only to find that they were, in fact, from classical compositions.

Eric Carmen’s haunting melody from “All By Myself”, was just lifted from Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.2 (and he caught hell for it, too). Actually, it was when I heard the classical piece years later that I remembered the hit from the 70s.

A little pop music, Jem’s “They” really struck my fancy, so I was delighted to discover the same melody while listening to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, specifically, his Prelude in F minor.

Two commercials have prompted me to seek their musical sources. First, the British Airways theme song from years ago used the Flower Drum Duet, from the Lakme Opera by Leo Delibes directly as do the Barilla pasta commercial use Andrea Bocelli singing beautiful operatic pieces.

But my favorite introduction to a piece of classical music has to be when the farmer sings a lovely little song to an ailing pig, in Babe. I was so impressed with “If I Had Words” that I made Stephen watch that part of the movie to listen to it. He laughed (I’d like to think in joyful recognition of the piece rather than at me) and told me that it was from Camille Saint-Saens’ Third Symphony (the Organ Symphony). The symphony beautifully weds the complexity appreciated by classical music lovers and the needs of the impatient climax junkies with a precious melodic background. What fitting music, therefore, to wed us.

Here is a better sounding excerpt of the same piece. Warning, its artificial end point at the one minute mark might leave you feeling quite unsatisfied, so you'd best go out and buy the whole thing for your collection. And don't micro-manage the volume, either; just be patient and let the deeply melodic and dynamic sounds wash over you. (I can learn, I'm just resistant to being taught.)

7 comments:

Fiddler said...

Music geeks? Where? Where?

Great take on music, LB. And I love the title of this entry. I feel a DPS moment coming on. . .

LB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amy said...

I can't detect the connection between All by Myself and Rachmaninoff's 2nd. I know the latter like the back of my hand...is there a particular part of the pop song that you can identify with the lyrics to help me hear it?

LB said...

First, it would have been nice if I had actually linked to the concerto rather than Eric Carmen - TWICE! Sorry about that.

Secondly, since I don't know classical music well at all, is this the piano concerto, No. 2? If not, this is the one I mean. The clarinet/oboe(?)at 1:26-1:49 is playing a large chunck of the melody used throughout the pop song (heard well around :37- :54).

Let me know if you can hear it AND more importantly if what I've linked to is indeed Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 so I can fix the link.

LB said...

The second comment has been removed by the author who cannot spell "aficionados" correctly two times in a row.

Not geeks, Fiddler, aficionados.

There. I used it twice and think I got them both right - but I haven't hit "publish" yet, so there's still a possibility of screwing it up.

Amy said...

I do hear it now, but I had to play them both a few times to hear it. I think I am just so attached to my Rachmaninoff that I hear it subjectively. I'm a little freaked because if I am reminded of the pop song every time I listen to Rachmaninoff, I'm going to be very upset. But I think it will be ok.

That is the 2nd movement of the 2nd Concerto. And I can't remember the last time I listened to it. I've been griping to a friend lately about how I'm too lazy to set up my iPod and this does it. I'm loading up my iPod.

Isn't this the best piece of music ever? Thanks for the interesting post.

LB said...

Well I'm glad if I was in some small way instrumental in helping you decide to figure out your iPod and truly sorry if you have remnant Eric-Carmen-disturbances in your Rachmaninoff listening pleasure, even if only temporarily.