“Music begins where the possibilities of language end” – Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
Since the Paleolithic era 35,000 years ago, music has emerged and evolved as a fantastical aspect of nature to an unequaled means of human expression that has since veiled the world in color and depth. Classical music, whose seeds were planted during the Italian Renaissance, is a relatively small era of the existence of music, yet such a profound and influential era that still echoes in the annals of musical history and contemporary concert halls. Classical music forms an interconnected community of people all so passionate about classical music, a community of people all bound together by a common interest, just as we saw of the people in “The Mojave Phone Booth” who all called the telephone and formed a sense of benevolent community. Classical music refers not only to music from the Classical period (1750-1820), which was nurtured by prominent composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, but to the entire oeuvre of music from the Baroque period (1600-1750) dominated by composers like Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel (and countless more), to the late Romantic period carried by innovative composers such as Dmitri Shostakovich, Pytor Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Franz Liszt, and countless more, which merges into contemporary music filled with modern day intellectuals such as Ryuichi Sakamoto, Joe Hisaishi, and Toshifumi Hinata. However, despite its subtle ingenuity and introspective connotations, classical music is gradually dying among today’s minimalistic modernity and is incessantly slandered for being “boring” and “having too much instrumentals without enough words” or even “only as a means of sleeping and studying; there is no joy in listening to classical music invariably.” Classical music is often subjected to this stereotypical generalization from people that haven’t truly immersed themselves within the antique arts and whom aren’t familiar with musical intricacy when constantly surrounded by 2-chord monotonous pop songs. The entirety of classical music is beyond just a means of music, but it is an entire transcendental world of beauty, intricacy, emotion, and the pinnacle of human potential. To slander classical music would be to destroy nature and to confine ourselves to a dull world, it would be like senselessly massacring and poaching animals for mass materialism as seen in the short film “Scavengers.” To slander classical music would be to slander the elementary foundations of contemporary arts and to slander human nature altogether, for it is classical music that, in its artistic integrity and inspiration, has conveyed the emotions of previous peoples and whole countries through the clouded annals of history.
From Bach to Shostakovich, each musical composer projects a unique and brings to life a musically inspiring and beautiful spectacle of their own. The way in which their melodies are played or overlapped by other melodies (polyphony and fugues) imbue a nature of fantasticality on such a grand scale that consumes the listener in their entirety. It is such a beautiful means of expression that people come from all over to experience such performances of musical fantasticality, as seen in the photo above in which people of many households come together for a klavierkonzert. Some say that the beauty of classical music is in between the notes, particularly in the profound silence that binds together amplitudes and emptiness, such is the nature of Mozart himself: “Die musik liegt nicht in den noten, sondern in der stille dazwischen.” Others, however, consider the notes in their invariable form to be the root of musical beauty themselves. Perhaps the beauty in classical music is the vast subjectiveness it holds and inherently the vast seeds of life. One thing is certain though, that the beauty nurtured within the heart and soul of music comes not from a single, invariable seed, but from various and distinguishable seeds that sprout into an intermingled vine of grand fantastical results.
We take Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor BWV 1043 for example, a piece created, evidently, for two violins that includes the use of counterparts to interconnect the melodies and life of the two violins. The piece and melodies themselves are absolutely stunning and remarkable, but beyond that, the interconnection of the melodies promotes a relationship between the two violins bound together by sweet and tender notes. A warm feeling is generated between the two violins as they compliment or continue each other’s music phrases in a smooth and continuous manner, in a way that provides an entertaining and ecstatic spectacle for the audience.
As winter descends upon the earth, one must seek an inner feeling of warmth which still maintains that comforting and snowy sense of winter. Franz Schubert, an indispensable composer of the Romantic Era, composed and gifted upon humanity the 24 song-cycle for piano and voice known as Winterreise D. 911, a piece composed as the young Schubert was nearing the end of his life (Schubert was the youngest prominent composer to have died, dying at the age of 31 years old from Syphilis, and it is for this reason that the piece maintains a slight morbid and depressing nature). The piece, Winterreise, conveys the poetic stanzas of Wilhelm Müller through a low and tender voice which echoes the tragedies and hopefulness of winter while a temperate and melancholic piano compliments the voice concurrently. The lyrics of the voice tell the story of a lover who ventures into the snowy and unfamiliar mountains of a harrowing winter and succumbs to loss, grief, despair, and existential dread. The story is quite similar to the story of Hans Castorp from Thomas Mann‘s The Magic Mountain and is itself a touching one. Winterreise is a profound demonstration of the merging of musical art and literature art. I highly recommend the performance /rendition of Winterriese by the notable Ian Bostridge, as well has Bostridge’s book that goes in depth in an analysis of Wintterese, Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession. The most memorable quotes from Winterreise are:
“Ich schreibe nur im Gehen, An’s Tor noch gute Nacht, Damit du mögest sehen, An dich hab’ ich gedacht.” Gute Nacht
“Ich träumte von bunten Blumen, So wie sie wohl blühen im Mai; Ich träumte von grünen Wiesen, Von lustigem Vogelgeschrei.” Frühlingstraum
“Auf einen Totenacker hat mich mein Weg gebracht; Allhier will ich einkehren, hab’ ich bei mir gedacht.” Das Wirtshaus
“Schnee, du weißt von meinem Sehnen, Sag’ mir, wohin doch geht dein Lauf? Folge nach nur meinen Tränen, nimmt dich bald das Bächlein auf.” Wasserflut
“O lieb, solang du lieben kannst! O lieb, solang du lieben magst!” Such were the words of the German poet Ferdinand Freiligrath, and such were the poetically inspiring words that the Romantic Era composer Franz Liszt turned into a piano nocturne that imbues a dream of love, Liebesträume No. 3 in A-Flat Major S.541. I myself am a pianist and this is perhaps my most beloved piece to practice as it captures the ineffable longing of love’s fantasticality and its notes are so sweet and pleasant to play. It is my most comforting piece and one of the most emotional pieces one can perform. It is an absolutely beautiful piece which is gentle and soft while also being exciting and evoking. This piece transcends you into a consuming dream of love that sparks the soul and elicits an unequaled bliss from the heart.
Joseph Stalin’s entire reign of terror during his autonomy of the Soviet Union terrified civilians into silence and drowned resistance in death and despair, however, prevailing through the shadows of revolution and tyranny, Dmitri Shostakovich, a composer of the late Romantic and early Contemporary Era, emerged and, with the capabilities of music, reinstalled hope and artistic emotions to his fellow civilians from all over the globe. Indeed, Shostakovich’s musical contributions notably sparked hope and glory in the midst of despair and war of not only the Soviet citizens, but of people from all social backgrounds around the world. His music embodies the limitless and un-taintable integrity of music. From his Symphony No. 5 in D Minor Op. 47 which initially was praised by Stalin and his communist party but was actually a piece that mocked the dogmatic and immoral nature of Stalin, to his Gadfly Suite, Shostakovich excels at all musical fields, including fugues (which had arguably not been proficiently produced since the reign of Bach), dissonance, melody, opera, and orchestration. Shostakovich risked his life and his family’s lives for the sake of producing music for the people, and not for state propaganda and exploitation; Shostakovich is a composer who maintains his moral, ethical, and artistic integrity and inspiration through the most harrowing circumstances. Beginning from his opera, Lady Macbeth, Shostakovich began waves of controversy, primarily from the CCCP, and was thus under close observation by the state. He then produces his Symphony No. 5, which has excellent uses of dissonance to imbue an eerie and sentimental atmosphere to combat the tyranny of the state. Then comes the Siege of Leningrad in 1941 from the fascist Nazis. As his home town was being bombarded by fascism and artillery, and his fellow people were dying, eating their house walls to avoid starving, and losing all hope in humanity and the war, Shostakovich composes his Symphony No. 7 “Leningrad Symphony.” Indeed, in the midst of bombs falling and screams echoing all around him, he manages to compose a grand symphony despite all difficulties. This piece is remarkable in various ways. Beyond the wonderful melody and orchestration of the symphony itself, it is truly the symbolic meaning that makes this symphony remarkable. This symphony was seen by all as a sign of hope and life in the midst of terror, and it indeed reinstalled hope within the dying people of Leningrad and promoted an international fervor and support against the fascist arms which, some have argued, indirectly led to the Allied victory of World War II. The book, Symphony For the City of the Dead, goes very much in depth of his 7th Symphony and I highly recommend you to read it, as it is truly a touching story to the symphony. Without words, Shostakovich conveys the emotions and desperate circumstances of the Leningrad citizens through classical music for all to hear and to connect with the victims of war. Even in war, one can still seek consolation in classical music. One also does not need words to convey profound feelings and stories, for classical music is truly a capable means of expression, of things tranquil and of things destructive. Even in times of mourning, classical music can be used to further imbue a sense of macabre and a solemn sentiment, as seen in the funeral march Shostakovich performed as a child as the people of St. Petersburg / Petrograd / Leningrad were massacred or killed for their causes in the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.
From gentle and exhilarating ballets to intense and rigorous overtures, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky excels in all fields of orchestration and indeed has revolutionized the means of classical music in the Romantic Era and defied social restraints as a way to soar in the realm of music. Tchaikovsky’s music is the pinnacle of countering the pseudo-claim that classical music is boring and is like no other composer before him. Tchaikovsky’s ballets are performed to accompany an equally spectacular performance of ballet, of men and women prancing across the stage in festive uniforms. As Christmas is nearing earth, Tchaikovsky’s beloved Nutcracker Suite is traditionally performed for all to see in a wonderful night full of lights, soldiers, a mouse king, battles between humans and mice, and most importantly, incredible music! Many are probably with pieces taken from the Nutcracker Suite such as the Waltz of the Flowers, Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, or my personal favorite, Pas de deux! The Nutcracker Suite perfectly captures the coziness, gentleness, and fervor of the holiday seasons, all within his wordless melodies. Another ballet of his, Swan Lake, is a perfect counterpart of the Nutcracker Suite, for its story is much more riveting and its music more loud and rigorous, as it tells the fantastical story of young Prince Siegfried who falls deeply in love with the beautiful Princess Odette while the evil sorcerer, Baron von Rothbart, casts an evil spell turning Princess Odette into a swan. This is perhaps Tchaikovsky’s most popular ballet and musical piece, and for justifiable reasons as well. so much so that there is even a movie about it: Black Swan. It without a doubt falls short of spectacular. Tchaikovsky’s pieces are known to be absolutely exciting, as just discussed, but it gets far more exciting, as seen in his glorious 1812 Overture. His 1812 Overture tells the tragic and sentimental tale of Napoleon’s invasion and march into Russian territories in 1812, a story and historically significant event that tells of naiveté, death, and Russian glory. It starts off slow with a melody that depicts that masses of Russian citizens in their churches singing God Preserve Thy People in a choir with hopes to spiritually fend off the French soldiers over the near horizon. It then escalates dramatically to capture the nationalistic fervors as France enters into Russia and the first battles are fought, and soon after plays La Marseillaise to show the initial French victories. Later on in the overture, when things get exponentially more exciting, Tchaikovsky, like no other composer before, uses artillery cannons–yes, REAL CANNONS–to once again, signify the initial French victories, but then fires off the cannons several times towards the end as God Save the Tzar concurrently plays to signify the ultimate Russian victory in 1815. The piece also includes some traditional Russian folk songs to give it a more nationalistic nature. Beyond just how incredibly epic and mind blowing this overture is and how it goes beyond traditional musical rules, it’s an ingenious method of portraying history. Tchaikovsky also expresses his own personal emotions in his pieces, just as he does so in his Violin Concerto in D and his Melodie Op. 42 No. 3. In these pieces, he confides in his music his dear love for another male contemporary violinists, a form of love which he is unable to express publicly for fear of persecution or death. To Tchaikovsky, music is beyond just a means of noises and vibrating waves in the air, it is an entirely separate world where one goes to express that which is ineffable and that which is profound.
Scandinavia, a region of Northern Europe that is far behind the distant horizon, a place where winters are drowned in white and skies streaked in turquoise. A place home to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, a composer tied dearly to his home land of Finland. Sibelius implants an experience of Finland into the minds of those that have never touched foot on Scandinavian land, doing so with his compositional piece, Finlandia, a piece that captures the mighty will of Finland. Sibelius’ pieces are often connected with a quaint atmosphere of that of Scandinavia, with his cold, emotional, and warming pieces. Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor Op. 47 is a spectacular piece which makes me feel as though I am within a passenger cart of a locomotive train beating through the snowy valleys of Scandinavia, looking out upon the vast fields of white and blanketed trees. The first movement is especially beautiful, for its climax is riveting and I highly recommend the performance by the amazing Hilary Hahn or Eddy Chen. Sibelius provides a piece of winter all year around with his snowy and tranquil pieces.
Contemporary classical music is vastly different from traditional and earlier classical music, especially in the different uses of dissonance, trills, minor keys, chord progressions, and repeating motifs, however, contemporary classical music, not to be confused with contemporary pop, still maintains a wonderfully musical allure. Joe Hisaishi, a renowned Japanese composer for films, excels in musical composition and has produces several iconic pieces. Joe Hisaishi has composed the majority of the film music for Studio Ghibli. In the film Spirited Away, the music by Joe Hisaishi is used to draw the audience into the situation and circumstances as if we were Chihiro. The piece, One Summer’s Day, is used throughout the film and is one of Hisaishi’s most popular piece. It is used on the iconic train scene where it creates a desolate and melancholic atmosphere and other pieces are used throughout the film to induce fervor for scenes such as the various chase scenes that occur. During the train scene, in which we see Chihiro and No-Face sitting in the train silently and the outside world passing by, the music combined with the visual arts makes the audience long for a feeling of home and family. In The Wind Rises, another Ghibli Film, Hisaishi’s music is used mainly as symbols of love, dreams, and the wind. Music can be subjected to all sorts of means, but perhaps its use of symbolizing significant ideas or things, such as Naoko in The Wind Rises and Jiro’s dream of flight, is one of the most profound uses of music.
Throughout all of history, music constantly evolves, and so too do the intentions and expressions of music. However, the footprints and records of classical music forever remain in the annals of musical history as one of the most incredible and fantastical forms of expression and human nature. Perhaps classical music is an extension of human nature, echoing endless in the halls of humanity, each time bearing a fruit of both joy and sentiment, to once again capture the human soul in its entirety in ascension to a phantasmagorical realm of bliss. Classical music is far more than the lines of notes and melodies most people perceive it be, for behind every note is a careful thought and fascinating backstory. On their backs, classical composers have carried this beautiful method of artistic mannerism for centuries, it mustn’t be drowned away by growing opposition and the increasing popularity of pop music. Classical music is music for all people; do not be misconceived, classical musicians are not snobby refined bourgeois who find pop listeners to be repugnant and dull-minded, we are absolutely open to all kinds of music and encourage people to listen to all kinds of music as well. I myself am a classical pianist and ever since I began my surreal journey of embracing classical music, my life has grown to heightened reaches. The vast subjection of classical music, the way in which it is used to express unrequited love, opposition to tyranny, to compliment films, to immerse others in unfamiliar worlds, and to have it be enjoyed by performers internationally, are all beautiful in their own ways and indeed provide brighter colors to the world. Without words, classical music is able to express the ineffable nature of humanity and the human spirit, a method which contemporary pop is unable to do. Classical music truly connects people from all social and cultural backgrounds together in a community void of hate and discrimination; classical composers come from all over the world bringing forth spectacular pieces, as we have Tchaikovsky from Russia, Hisaishi from Japan, Sibelius from Finland, Bach from Germany, and countless more. My heart and soul forever belong to the warm and familiar nature of classical music. As winter finally descends upon the earth, I find myself at my piano day and night, confiding in it that which I am unable to in humanity through words, echoing in my house the lieders of Liszt and the fantasies of Tchaikovsky, resurfacing some aspect of joy and warmth to shine through the cloudy and grey skies of North American winter. Alas, how beautiful I find it all!