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Wednesday, July 10, 2002

I've been perusing my archives a bit lately, and I've come to an interesting observation (interesting to me, at least, given my aims in producing this journal in the first place):

I don't write enough about music.

I'm not entirely sure why this is the case. I've always had fairly strong opinions about music; in fact, I even started college as a music major before I switched after two years to Philosophy (thus heeding the siren call of money and fame, not realizing then that this siren call was coming from Ancient Greece). That single decision is probably why I've moved toward writing as my creative outlet as opposed to music, which I was pretty good at. I posted regularly for several years to the rec.music.movies newsgroup, mainly to indulge my long love of the most unfairly neglected area of music: film scores. I left off the Usenet posting, though, at roughly the same time that I began Byzantium's Shores, because I pretty much ran out of things to say about film music after a while. I've become more interested in storytelling in general and writing in particular, and while my love of music has not diminished in the slightest -- my CD collection refuses to stop growing -- I've had far less to say about it. But now that may be changing.

Another problem with my lack of music-related musings is that since I left college (and, before that, turned away from the serious study of music) my vocabulary on musical matters has diminished. I've forgotten things I knew then; chord structures I could at one time identify by ear are now mysterious to me again. My musical muscles, as it were, have atrophied. Thus, I've decided to expend some effort into regaining some of that. I am planning to read up on music again, starting with Harold Schonberg's wonderful books (most notably The Lives of the Great Composers) and then proceeding to A History of Western Music by Grout and Palisca. (This latter work struck me as impossibly dry and boring when I read it ten years ago in a Music History class; but then, so did Charles Dickens, and I'm rather enjoying Great Expectations right now. All things in their time, I suppose.) Another constant companion will probably be David Dubal's remarkable new book, The Essential Canon of Classical Music. This amazing book is nothing less than a fairly comprehensive listening guide to the awesome edifice of classical music.

And that's where the real key lies: in listening to music. While I've always had fairly broad tastes, I find that nevertheless a certain extension of the horizons is called for. I have never been particularly fond of the music predating the Classical period, nor have I been able to digest much of what has come after the end of Romanticism and the "death" of tonality. My musical tastes within classical music tend to begin with Mozart (whose every note is miraculous) and end with Mahler (also astounding), and peaking in the middle with Berlioz (whose music speaks so directly to me that the effect sometimes terrifies). While I do enjoy some Bach, and while I do love Handel's Messiah -- who doesn't? -- I can't boast much familiarity with anything else in the Baroque era or the even earlier musical epochs. Likewise, while 20th century masters like Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, Hanson and Copland are near and dear to my heart, the entire edifice of atonal music -- serialism and the like -- has never figured at all in my musical calculus. It is time that I placed more demands upon my ear, and I hope and intend to be writing more about the results.

Some people claim that music is the highest of all the arts. I cannot agree with that -- is Beethoven's Eroica Symphony a greater work, a priori, than The Last Supper or Hamlet, Prince of Denmark? Hell, is the Eroica greater than Stairway to Heaven? I'm not after rankings and hierarchies. What I'm after is art. Had I made different choices some years ago, my art would be music. Instead, it is writing. So be it -- but surely one can inform and enliven the other. That's what art is supposed to do, after all.

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