Wednesday, January 9, 2013

In einem Bächlein helle

Original Facebook post here.
Today's formative-album replay: Felicity Lott: A Schubert Recital. Do we even hear classical music anymore? Or is the Western tonal harmony of Bach/Beethoven/Brahms et al. so ingrained that what we chiefly get from it now is comfort, civilization, resolution, refinement--in short, culinary background music? I'm not a casual music listener, but I've had to face that a lot of classical music essentially makes me feel like one. The struggle for me has been to lean in and engage with the music, to hear those old chords and meters with as much freshness as I can. (Though I was trained on piano by a classics-only teacher, my personal tastes have run away from most pre-20th-century music; harmonic and metrical boredom can also be a challenge with much of that century's pop music, but there are other compensations.)

That's why this simple, straightforward piano-and-vocal collection of songs by Western culture's preeminent tunesmith, a cassette of which I wore to a nub starting some time in high school, was a godsend. The crystalline poise of its sound is so absolute and arresting that it serves as a summons; it will not be relegated to the background. And once called into their presence, I'm unable not to feel these songs' immediacy, to register all their straining harmonic tensions and heaving releases as high-stakes drama, the way they were undoubtedly once heard (and conceived). I don't have to trick myself, to do a kind of aural time travel and pretend I'd never heard Debussy or the blues, to hear these particular songs--performed with such clarity and spine--as fresh, living things.

In a related breakthrough, this may have been the first record I loved with a trained classical voice on it--never an easy sell for a kid raised on mike-mediated pop, but a hurdle I'm glad I got over or I'd never have discovered the operas of Mozart, Britten, Puccini, Adams, Janacek, let alone the artistry of Dietrich Fischer Dieskau and Dawn Upshaw.

But if this record functioned as a kind of training wheels for me, a full replay proves it was no fluke. This is ageless music written by a painfully young man, and though I too encountered it in my youth, I will happily welcome its company well into my dotage.

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