All my life I’ve loved Bach. His music suffused the church. My mother had LPs of Schweitzer playing Bach on the organ. These days, having piddled with a keyboard since middle age, I play at least a little Bach almost every day. In fact I used Bach to teach myself to read chords for the keyboard, having already used Bach to teach myself to read notes for the recorder.
Then, not yet ten, well before puberty, jazz ravished me: first Dixie, then swing, big band, then progressive, bop, and so on. But Bach continued to hold the deepest love within me: love like I felt for my mother, for God … Duke Ellington tickled my developing gonards in puberty, but Bach took me straight to a spiritual heaven, the ecstasies were mental, the physical seemed absent. Dave Brubeck stroked my soul, but Bach was there before him: and well since.
All that didn’t stop me from loving other music too. Beethoven, of course. There came times, in college, where any of us would instantly know the Second Symphony from the Third, from the Fifth, from the Sixth, the Seventh, the Eighth, the Ninth … which movement, when I too said that Beethoven wrote the most stirring music (but that his string quartets were the greatest of all …)
Good. Maybe you've felt analogous things. Surely you know people who have: though not all of you had friends and roomates who would know in an instant who was conducting the recorded Beethoven: Reiner? Futwangler? Now let me get to the couple of points that stimulated my launching this post: my points are culural, political; not about persons, no matter their individual genius.
Beyond my middle twenties I've listened to less and less Beethoven. Making a living takes an awful lot of listening time, not making a living spoils even more. In youth I bought new records constantly. Graduate school, then teaching, then getting fired, then founding the Free Learning Exchange, Inc. — and still not getting paid — took even more: consuming resources, preventing resources from accumulating, sabotaging time … These days I'm aware how much my hearing has deteriorated. Some specialist told me it was likely because of the terrible fever I'd had as a child, heat destroys the fine hairs in the ear — cooks, melts everything. Now there's no telling when my hearing first deteriorated. Today when I listen to Miles there's no sure telling how much I hear with my ear and how much with my long-practiced mind, my ear long rehearsed to Miles. Anyway, I've had less and less time to be thrilled by Beethoven, less and less auditory equipment, technological and biological, to hear with. And, since 1970, and FLEX, I have less and less tolerance for passive consumer culture.
We hear Bach in church. We may also practice this or that Back piece as a music lesson: as a child, with a teacher, or a person, on our own. Bach wrote the pieces for a boys choir, for a Cantata, all in church. He composed for the home body, or for a public concert, in the court, and not the church. People from the community formed the choir, or the orchestra … You play the fugue yourself, on the organ, on the harpsichord …
But Beethoven: With Beethoven, you sit and listen. Typically you and your neighbors listen to professionals play Beethoven. When I most loved Beethoven, in the late Fifties, the musicians couldn't be professional enough: we demanded the Vienna Boys Choir, not some other choir. We demanded Furtwangler conducting, not Bernstein. But it wasn't that different in Beethoven's day. Bach wrote for the church; Mozart wrote for some Duke. As the movie Amadeus shows, the duke regarded Mozart as a servant: that one polishes the silver, that one makes the bed, that one writes the concerti …
It's not Beethoven's fault that he too wrote for princes, performed for a captive audience, who, obediantly, had to applaud at the end: Oh, what wonderful music our duke has provided us with!
In Indonesia local villages play music the peer to any: gamelon music. The villagers themselves play the gamelons, they make the gamelons, they play the gamelons, they perpetuate their gamelon tradition …
Sure I’d be for an Indonesian who also wanted to play the tenor sax or to sing Beetles songs. And sure, if you’re singing Beetles eighteen hours a day, your gamelon playing will suffer. But the politics that put the duke in the a position to have Mozart or Beethoven as a servant have degenerated in my mind since the politics that put Bach in a church if he wanted to both play, compose, and eat.
You see what I’m saying? I’m for being active; not for sitting and cheering in Yankee Stadium. I’m for moving the body; not for taking one for the team.
I’m for community activity. The congregation should sing, not just the professional choir: the members should discuss their Bible readings, not just passively consume what the priest says.
In other words: Beethoven’s music suits Napoleon worship, doesn’t jibe with democracy. (Though it does jibe perfectly well with state-coerced state-supervised state-authored state-taught schooled democracy where we wait to be told what to do, then do it: klepbots, not humans.)
A pk / Beethoven story: Village Alice (actually it turns into a Wagner story too, Tristan.)
(2013 07 28 Oo, and I’ve been playing that Tristan chord daily on the keyboard the past couple of weeks.)
Congruent thoughts sheeted before my mind while watching The Phantom of the Opera last night. The imagined Paris opera house of 1870 was very much for “Beethoven” audiences: passive consumers catered to by professionals, experts, autonomy-robbers. The music was vertical, feudal, enslaving.
Reminds me of the joke about the Victorian prudes asked about fucking, about fun: Oh, we have servants to do all that for us.
2014 11 05 Last night Jan and I watched the biopic on Charlie Mingus, The Triumph of the Underdog. I loved Mingus, I saw a lot of Mingus. One night at the Composer Room my buddy and I hung out at my buddy’s piano teacher, John Mahegan’s table: Mingus was hanging around John table’s too, all evening, so I felt close to him. (Mingus’ speech that night was iterative. He said, “shit”, and “motherfucker” like a mantra, and finally “Goo’ night, John.” Anyway, this biopic emphasized Mingus as a composer. Now, I knew and loved lots of Mingus compositions, but for the most part I loved the things he wrote for his bands: things like “You better get it in your soul”; I didn’t care peanuts for the things he composed for big orchestras. Like Duke! Mingus loved Duke, revered him. I bet that’s why he spent so much time composing stuff few have ever heard: his first such concert was a disaster, there was no adequate rehearsal, the music was nigh impossible for the musicians to sight read … Now in this biopic his buddy Gunther Schuller conducting that composition. It’s crap, I don’t want to sit still for it. It’s driven me nuts each time I’ve had to shut my trap while other people, not Duke fans, genuflect to whatever crap Duke wrote that was about God or Country. No, no, listen to his regular band play Happy Go Lucky Local!
Improvisation was Mingus’ forte: where the frame was the stuff his band rehearsed. Duke’s band rehearsed within an inch of its life: but the spirit of the music was improvisational: Ray Nance, Paul Gonzalves … Then having to sit still for some damn concerto of his is a torture. It’s crap. The politics are all wrong: passive consumption, mindless worship, plastic mannequins for gods.
Boo, Plastic Arts
2015 07 22 I’m paused in Frida, Salma Hayek. Wonderful. Frida shows her paintings, all portraits, to Diego Rivera, painter of revolution-sized murals. He says they’re very good, original, inventive; but, he says, but: you know that easel paintings like those are doomed: on their way out: self-infulgent bourgeouis vanity. Notice the parallel thinking: only it ain’t music.
gotta go, be back, quick note: Once upon a time all Christians went to the cathedral, all Christians contemplated the stories painting, the storie illuminated in colored glass: there’s a parallel to all the good obedient citizens sitting with their hands folded folded in the concert hall. But since cathedral times, people typically were not coerced to look at any particular painting. The music is forced fed us, the architecture, but, for a while, not the painting.