I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

It's quite mysterious, really

What happens when you hear music? Different things.

FAMILIAR MUSIC. Conventional songs. Immediate and precise anticipation of rhythm and melody ● Identification with singer ● Lack of apprehension ● A sense of “friendship” ● Isolation from other stimuli ● A need to separate words (meaning) from words (sounds) ● Increased emotional sensitivity (sometimes to embarrassing levels) ● Pride in being able to recognise structure ● Being tempted to participate.

FAMILIAR MUSIC. Instrumental, orchestral. Recognition of rhythm, melody and structure can be source of relief ● Disappointment (often acute) when recognition fails ● Minor surprises when theme is carried (or echoed) by different instruments ● Occasional irritation when small phrases and figures prove predictable (eg, parts of cadenzas) ● Loss of self in fff passages ● Increasing sensitivity linked to crescendos and diminuendos ● A sense of apprehension as instrumental volume drops to very low levels ● Refined delight when instrumental “layers” are detected in orchestral tuttis ● Identification with conductor ● Pride at being part of the event.

NEW MUSIC Search – often frenzied - for known historical parallels ● Disproportionate relief when parallels are recognised ● Squaring the fact that keeping track of the immediate past and present (in order to grasp the structure) can leave listener melodically adrift ● Deciding between concentration or passive acceptance ● Shutting out intellectual processes regarding meaning, originality, plagiarism, etc ● Suppressing one’s sense of inferiority ● Withholding judgment en route.

NOVEL PLUS BACH I ease Blest Redeemer (50,779 words) along with performances from YouTube. Today I was comforted by 16 min 24 sec of Andras Schiff doing Bach’s GoldBerg Variations. Ordered the disc even though I have it by Glenn Gould. Different performances can in effect be different works


  1. Plato's Republic which in many ways anticipates the most puritain of tyrannies, "the Lydian and and Ionian harmonies are to be forbidden, the first because it expresses sorrow and second because it is relaxed. Only the Dorian (for courage) and the Phrygian (for temperance) are to be allowed" Permissable rhythms are to be simple and such as are expressive of a harmonious and courageous life." I quote from Bertrand Russell. No wonder Karl Popper targets Plato first in his book The Open Society and its Enemies.

  2. I take it you were aware that these impressive words (my favourite: mixolydian) are attached to a set of tweaked scales called modes which go back in history yet are still used to give different colours to certain pieces of music. Leonard Bernstein's lectures on music took in modes and he sang examples. One of them (I forget which) is employed in the theme tune of a b&w TV series called Secret Agent: Secret a-a-gent man.

    The above post is a first stab at getting beyond the knee-jerk things said about music and its effects on human beings. I haven't tried to roll them up into a theory but I was surprised to discover (assuming I've diagnosed it properly) that listening to music can induce apprehension under certain circumstances. And a sense of relief when things go according to expectations. This nibbling round the edges points to reasons why music can be so powerful. Nor that it's necessary to concentrate on what one hears; hearing music in the background can have equally unexpected results.

  3. This goes to show that, regardless of attempts to train an individual musically - long if desultory andand largely fruitless in my case - there are musical people and simply non-musical ones. I like to think I enjoy listening to music, but recognise many of these responses only very hazily, if at all.

    In a way it's a comfort to know that feeling harried and guilty for not putting in enough effort in practising scales, arpeggios and clunkingly dull children's pieces, even if they were by Bartok, was pointless; it simply wouldn't have made any difference. It's like being colour blind, I suppose.

    I wonder what ancient Greek music would have sounded like?

  4. Lucy: I wasn't expecting much in the way of response to this post since it covers matters I've never previously tried to articulate. It may be I'm only halfway there with precise definitions and - given your response - I may have made the whole process more scary than it really is.

    My starting point was the oft-repeated but vague statement that music is frequently associated with strong emotions and/or passions. On its own this is more or less meaningless since emotions come in different forms and need isolating. As I said to Plutarch "apprehension" sounds like a strange reaction until one attempts to define a state-of-mind, especially prior to the start of piece of music. Often one is forced to recognise one has become a hostage to fortune as a result of uttering uneducated opinions about a work; now that work is about to begin you (I mean me) feel tense with worry, wondering whether those opinions are going to be confirmed as justified.

    However, I think you are hard on yourself (How pleasant it is to turn round an accusation you have previously levelled at me). If I re-read your profile I find - actually I find it's been revised - that your preferences are far more specific than mine. Nor are they obvious. To include anything in which RVW played a part (other than the Lark and Greensleeves) is moderately unusual even for a Brit; I'm aware of the Tallis variations but haven't a clue about Dives and Lazarus. Nor do I know Jan Garbarek. The fact that I'm antipathetic to virtually anything on the Iberian Peninsula is no defence for not having any knowledge about "music of the Spanish Renaissance."

    I mention this because whatever your assertions about being non-musical there are clearly pieces which you like, and you haven't been led there by the processes usually employed to popularise music. Not being able to play an instrument is not the same as being non-musical and, in my opinion, has to do with how we have been hard-wired. I have a further theory that this hard wiring also shows up in the learning and practice of shorthand - something you also struggled with I recall.

    In short I wouldn't wish you to make any firm conclusions based on the above post. My aim was to find out whether I could get some ideas off the ground. At the moment they're staggering along, leaking helium badly. I need - for goodness sake - an editor.

  5. Mm, one's choices for one's profile 'favourites' would make for a post in itself. I occasionally add or delete something, but I wonder, 5+ years on if I should't erase them altogether, as I think those kind of selections are very much of the moment, and are rather setting oneself up.

    RVW is certainly leaving oneself open to ridicule from serious musos especially non-British ones (hear our musical American, German and Dutch friends here laughing at us about that one), but I really can't help it and it would be just as dishonest to leave him out to be cool than it would be to pretend to like something more recherché that I didn't really.

    The Spanish Renaissance stuff is a fairly small collection, which began with a vinyl LP of Julian Bream on the lute, not replaced (I wonder if I could,I've never tried...)and then appended by a Naxos selection or two, and some Catherine Bott. Yes, it sounds sophisticated because it's a bit obscure, but in fact it's simple stuff, easy to listen to and accommodating. I wonder in general abut my fondness for early music, that in fact what I like is that it's simply not over-complex, I can hear all its parts better than more complex things. Again, it's a bit of a joke among seriously musical people, vis Vikram Seth's descriptions of early music types in An Equal Music. I suppose it's a bit like folk in popular music terms.

    One of the problems for me in playing music was that I simply couldn't put any expression into it. What I'm saying is not self-deprecation, it's not that I don't like music, or am ignorant, I simply don't get the nuances in a way that people who may be even less trained in it technically than I am, can.

  6. Lucy: It's not exactly Snap! but I pluck from my shelves Julian Bream's The Golden Age of English Lute Music, originally acquired as an LP and later converted into a CD. A massive project (220 LPs in total) which exhausted me to the point that when it came to Bream I didn't bother writing the track titles on the CD case.

    Don't erase any of your preferences. Honesty is presumed in certain instances, yours certainly.