Monday, March 25, 2013

A Musical Mountain (conclusion)

This is the conclusion to a six-part series. If you're new here, you can catch up with the first five parts of the series here: one two three four five.

The idea has been to take us all through a large piece of music, a part at a time, discussing various aspects of the composition as we went. I suppose some of us would just rather listen to the piece itself without all the preliminary discussion: in that case, you'll like today's installment, in which I simply post a recording of the entire piece.

Why the build up? As I said at the beginning, a musician spends a great deal of time studying any piece of music he or she performs, particularly if it is of unusual artistic merit. There are always things to learn, secrets of uncover, ways of hearing things that we didn't notice before. But for non-musicians there is seldom time to do this, and rarely do people encourage this approach anyway. You are just supposed to listen and pick up whatever you can at the time. The odd thing about this is that it is upside down. The professional concert givers have spent all kinds of time listening to the music--why would we expect the amateur concert goer to be able to figure it all out on the fly?

It reminds me of a story an old pastor of mine told while I was growing up. His family had just hiked up a mountain trail and were enjoying the view. It seemed tremendous; not only an accomplishment to be at the summit, but also greatly rewarding with a spectacular view. Then another family drove up in a car. They got out, tired, bored, looked around for 30 seconds, got back in the car, still looking uninterested, and left. The journey had apparently made all the difference.

Similarly, you can hear things, and then you can hear things. A major part of the artist's job is to try to get people to notice things around them. Otherwise you can be surrounded by the greatest inheritance and not enjoy any of it. Just the way a musical climax can be the final link in a great struggle or a great story, or it can simply be a bunch of loud sounds which may (or may not) be thrilling nonetheless, to the senses, but maybe not the mind or the soul. And if the music goes on for very long you are more likely to start looking at your watch under those conditions.

So for whatever naivete or misguided remarks of which I am guilty, that was the plan--really being able to hear things in the music because you've heard some of the parts and you know they are there. And to experience the journey as we make our way through the whole thing, part by part. And now we stand on the summit. For me, the final two minutes of this epic piece cause a greater thrill because I know how we got there, and what we're hearing. Of course, this is just a broad outline of the piece. We could easily spend six more blogs on it, and maybe someday we will. But there are other pieces in the musical firmament, many of them written for the piano, and I promise to actually return to the piano literature now that this series is over.

Having said all that, here is the complete recording of Cesar Franck's Choral no. 3 in A Minor for organ, which I made last Thursday. I was pretty worn out already from a long series of Lenten music, and the piece is still new to me. Nevertheless, I think it turned out pretty well. Now, for the rest of my natural life I can continue to study this piece and come to new insights and achieve new levels of comfort and fluidity in the playing as well. Enjoy the last leg of the journey, and thank you for reading, and listening.

Franck: Choral no. 3 in A Minor

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