How to Get Real Pleasure From Music

By George R. Marek

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How To Get Real Pleasure From Music 朗読

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More tommyrot has been written about music, particularly classical music, than about any other subject in the world except sex. Critics have so surrounded it with myth, taboo, superstition, legend and ritual that it is becoming more and more difficult for the amateur to enjoy it.

Yet the simple fact is that nobody ever sat down to write "classical" music. The great musicians composed for the pure exhilaration of it, for the financial rewards, for the glint in the eye of a Viennese girl, for the approbation of a wealthy patron, or for the greater glory of God. Their music acquired the forbidding designation of "classical" long after ordinary people had danced to it, or sung it, or stood up reverently in church while its cadences beat upon their ears. Later the music scholars took over, annotated, codified and footnoted, until what had been produced joyously could be heard only pompously and piously.

So today most of us are robbed of the opportunity of enjoying great music naturally, as the original hearers did. We approach an opera like The Magic Flute by Mozart as if it were a sacred shrine --- forgetting that Mozart wrote it as a box-office attraction for a popular resort.

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When Giuseppe Verdi wrote his opera Rigoletto, he was such an experienced showman that he knew one particular song would become an immediate hit. So to keep the Venetian gondoliers from popularizing it prematurely, he didn't allow the sheets for "La donna è mobile" to be distributed to the orchestra until the final dress rehearsal.

Verdi was right. Opening night was March 11, 1851. "La donna è mobile" ("Woman is fickle") was hummed and sung throughout Venice the next day, throughout Italy within a week. But it remains what its creator meant it to be from the beginning --- a beguiling, lilting song for the ears of people who love melody.

Because of today's hushed-voice approach we too often forget that those now called "classicists" or "immortals" were human, too, and so we may miss the exuberance of their music. A friend who had just discovered the profound excitement of Johann Sebastian Bach told me the other day; "I was always scared of him. I thought he was a monk. Then I learned he had 20 children."

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Another reason why so many intelligent and otherwise sensitive people shy from a concert, deny themselves Debussy and wave away Wagner: "I like music but I don't know anything about it." Consider this paradox: music is both an intellectual experience, meaning that the better you understand it the more you will admire it, and an emotional experience, meaning that it is possible to respond to it, to be lifted high by it, to enjoy it intensely, without knowing the first thing about it. You don't know what a fugue is? You aren't able to tell an oboe from a clarinet? You can't even carry a tune? All beside the point. It is far more important to feel music than to understand it.

Or perhaps the difficulty lies in simply not hearing the music. You go to a concert, settle down and for the first few minutes listen with pleasure. But your eyes begin to wander. That girl three rows in front of you... she reminds you of a girl you used to take out. Suddenly you have lost the music.

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A few simple techniques can help tune your ear toward attention and enjoyment.

Listen to parts of a work. Listen with concentration to as much of the composition as you can absorb. Let yourself go as the listeners of Dixieland do. Feel the rhythm and sweep and climax. Let the sounds transport you into a feeling of joy or contentment, excitement or sadness, without analyzing it.

Listen to high instants. Almost every musical composition has moments when the great melody is intoned, or when grief bursts its bonds or, contrarily, when the heavens seem to open and a violin descends bearing peace to earth. Between lie the less obvious thoughts of introspection, the fragmentation of a theme. Maybe first you should coast through these intervals and concentrate on the high spots.

Listen to the same music often. Rossini, at the première of a new opera written by a rival, kept his high silk hat firmly planted atop his head. Now and then, as the music unfolded, he would reach up and doff the hat. Queried about this eccentric behavior, he blandly replied, "It is is only polite to greet old friends."

It is not only polite but salutary to greet old friends in music, as in life. The peculiar property of familiar pieces of music, as of friends, is that they are always enjoyable. So don't listen to music the smörgasbord way, tasting this new dish, gobbling that. At first, be exclusive about making new acquaintances. Listen and relisten.

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Isolate the melody. A composition consists of several elements: melody, rhythm, harmony, form, etc. The element to which people usually respond most readily is melody. Pick the main melody of a composition and follow it through whatever adventures may befall it --- and you. Also try to recognize the rhythm, to feel it as if you were involved in its movement.

Choose, at first, music which tells a story. Much music does not, but some suggests at least a mood or a setting. Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," Mendelssohn's "Overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream," Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet," Brahms' "Academic Festival Overture, Smetana's "The Moldau," Respighi's "The Pines of Rome" --- the very titles are a help.

Choose romantic music.Of course, it's foolhardy to predict what sort of music you will like. Yet I believe that the heaven-storming works, exuberantly dramatic and richly orchestrated, produced by the great 19th-century composers will somehow make the more immediate appeal. A wealth of music lies here --- Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner, Schubert, Chopin, Berlioz, Pucchini, and continuing to such 20th-century romantic composers as Richard Strauss, Mahler and rachmaninoff. You will, I feel, find this music at first more accessible than Mozart or Haydn or Handel or Bach or Scarlatti, which you may treasure later.

Live up to your convictions. Great music is simply music which has come to be enjoyed both by critics and by listeners. I am dubious about a composition which appeals largely to the professional ear. So be honest with yourself. If you don't like a "great" work, then it is not great for you. Not now; perhaps tomorrow.

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Choose the artist whom you find exciting. Music is just spots on paper until an artist can communicate it personally to you. Trust your own judgment, regardless of critics. After a recent concert by the Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, two knowledgeable critics wrote:

New York Times: It was a disappointing evening. One had hoped for more technical and musical refinement. Because of constant experimentation with the tempos, the work sounded disconnected.

New York Herald Tribune: Two-thousand-candlepower playing by the Soviet Thor of the piano shocked into blazing incandescence two rather tired old piano concertos, and electrified to cheers an audience which uses its hand more often to stifle yawns than to applaud the musicians.

Clearly, had you been there that night, you should have reached your own conclusions.

Take it lightly. People usually preserve a solemn mien in the concert hall, even when the music they hear is light and gay. Such gravity does not denote a comfortable relationship with music. Listen in an "unbuttoned" attitude. "What any piece of music means to you is strictly your affair, provided only that it means something to you," wrote critic and composer Deems Taylor.

Music knows no limitations of language or age; it is a pleasure as easily pursued at 70 as at 17. So whatever investment in patience you make at first brings a lasting reward. When the day comes that you feel after a Beethoven symphony as a poet did when she wrote, "This moment is the best the world can give" --- then you are a music lover.

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