Monday, February 11, 2013

A blast from the here and now?

I want you to listen to something:


What does it make you think of?

For me, it's rather melancholy and tuneful, almost the sort of thing a moody heroine might play on the piano to show us she how deeply she could express her feelings in an art film. Something written by a film composer, and recently. It isn't, though.

That little bit of music comes from a piano sonata by Haydn. Haydn, who lived from 1732 to 1809, and wrote this piece sometime in the 1760s. That's a decade or so before the United States existed.

It also makes this a "classical" piano sonata, and the narrative on classical music is that it flourished during the enlightenment, at a time when the leading minds of Europe valued logic and reason, aesthetic beauty, balance, formal perfect, and so forth, above the messiness of self expression and emotional outbursts. That came with the next century.

One might also posit a connection between the authority of the kings, princes, and other potentates for whom  most musicians worked and the desire to put on an optimistic face, a sunny disposition, and not stray too far into the area of dissatisfied-sounding sounds. Perhaps. The messy Romantic century that followed did see an awful lot of revolution.

But context is (nearly) everything (and interpretation is the rest). If you listen to the entire piece, the second movement from the A Major Sonata (number 12 by both of the leading catalogs) you'll hear the formal, courtly, well-behaved steps of a minuet on both sides of what turns out to be a peculiar interlude. Do you suppose Haydn is trying to tell us something? And if so, what is it?

Or was he just bored with A major?

Here's the whole movement:

Full piece

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