Monday, November 8, 2010

Just returned from a conference of music scholars, theorists and musicologists, I must say that I heard quite a few extremely stimulating papers. A couple of them stand out for their disregard of what it feels like to play the music being examined. This is a run-in I have had in the past, sometimes with quite eminent scholars.

According to visual analysis a piece is in the key that it is in. Seems obvious, doesn't it? Except that some keys are painful on the piano, while others are quite the opposite.

One of the papers was about Poulenc's setting of the Babar story. I have tried many times to play it and never succeeded in getting past the opening bars. There is something fundamentally disquieting about that music, though it looks calm enough. The lecturer seemed to believe it was full of nostalgia for the good old days of a comfortable bourgeois childhood. I say, "Nonsense." It embodies malaise--a malaise that penetrates every sound of this work.

I call that precision in composition. His early life was anything but comfortable, except perhaps to the casual observer.