Sunday, August 28, 2011

Classical Music Sunday: Alban Berg

Alban Berg is sort of in the same vein as Stravinsky, I think (help me out on that one FreeThinke).  A friend of mine is a composition student, and whenever I ask him to give me some music along the lines of Stravinsky, he'll either give me something from Schoenberg, Berg, or Webern.

When I listen to Berg, the sense I get is that he's trying to show the weirdness and darkness of life.  A lot of Beethoven's work, for me at least, is more about the complexity and potency of raw human emotion.  It's not like the Romantic period, where emotions are treated much as an adolescent would understand his or her teen angst; it's more about the emotions we feel when life hits us with an incredibly difficult situation.

Berg seems less about emotion and more about madness.  If you've never seen his opera Wozzeck you would immediately know what I'm talking about.  Life is difficult, cold, and dark.  Some of us are able to go on, but others are driven to dispair and even insanity.

Berg wants us to see life as it is objectively and not necessarily through the lens of our own emotion and understanding.  Instead of trying to elicit a specific emotion in the audience, perhaps he wants the audience to find something out about themselves.

Enjoy, and have a wonderful Sunday =)


Silverfiddle said...

This post was neither vulgar nor funny. You're losing it...

; )

Anonymous said...

You would enjoy Bartok too, Jack. Bluebeard's Castle is one of his early works -- an opera that explores similar "dark landscapes of the soul."

Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Bartok were trying to break free from the constraints of tonality -- i.e. music written in specific keys with modulations to pre-determined patterns following classical forms. The sounds they discovered in their imagination were completely new.

I see their music as PROPHETIC. The Arts are often ahead of other fields in determining what is to come. The twentieth century was to be the most violent, distressing, confusing, perplexing, maddening-but-exhilarating time in history but at the same time it saw the development of more incredible inventions, advances in medicine, technology and global communication than ever before.

This and other music by these modern, ground-breaking composers is very much an evocation of things to come -- unpleasant things, disorienting things, distressing things, alienating things, heartbreaking things -- like the Russian Revolution, World War One, the Great Depression, World War Two, the End of the British Empire, The Atomic Bomb, TV, The formation of the UN, The Installation of modern day Israel in the Middle East, The Cold War, Korea, Vietnam, the Rise of "Soft" Totalitarianism through The New Deal, Islamic Fundamentalism, etc.

These composers foresaw this somehow -- felt it coming. Their music reflects the tremendous anxiety, rage, loss of faith and isolation of the individual in the midst of teeming, monstrously large crowds of increasingly desperate others. It reflects the disappointment and heartache at the loss of any sense of rightful heritage.

German Expressionist Painting is a lot like this too. So is the rise of futuristic nightmare dystopian visions in literature E. M. Forster, Huxley, Orwell, H.G. Wells, Kafka.

Is it any wonder the poplar culture is consumed with shallow, simplistic, cheap sensationalism;

The New reality is too hard for most people to take. I'm not sure I can stand too much of it, myself, frankly.

Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Mahler, reach greater heights. They put us through wildly passionate, deadly serious moods, but with the probable exception of Mahler they lift out thoughts and feelings to higher realms. We experience exaltation -- even a kind of purification -- with those guys. Berg takes us through the gutters and alleyways of vast urban slums and leaves us exhausted beside the ashcans. It is the music of despair and extreme cynicism -- but at the same time it's brilliantly constructed and that alone gives it a kind of beauty that makes it memorable.

Wonderful that you feel an interest in these things, Jack. Try Samuel Barber's Piano Sonata and some of his songs. Charles Ives should interest you too. He was an American from New England who worked independently of the European modernists -- Ives was president of an insurance company by day -- a wildly experimental, highly original composer, often compellingly brilliant composer by night.

KUTGW, Jack.

~ FreeThinke