Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Music and Emoticons

For quite some time we have been confused by a tendency to reduce pieces of music to simplistic frames of reference, in essence, to verbal emoticons.

For example, Beethoven's Eroica, by definition, "heroic" symphony, has become, under the batons of countless literal-minded conductors, a simple-minded, pretentious work.  Of necessity "heroic" whether you mean it or not, is as ridiculous as the line my kids love from Flanders and Swann: "Always be sincere, whether you mean it or not."

The first time I heard this work performed by a period orchestra I was stunned at its transparency.  The mere sounds of the natural horns, the period drums, strings tuned as they would have been back then, conveyed such a wealth of emotion as to defy all the literalism of hundreds of years of misguided program notes.

The audience was even laughing aloud in some of variations.  Unheard of.  Unless, of course, heard.