The way I hear it

Music can be a nebulous and eclectic medium. The differences between Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky are as numerous as they are subtle, but both artists’ works are undeniably beautiful. Whatever the original intent, music spreads to other media and retains its distinct nature; Carmen and Don Giovanni stand wholly on the shoulders of Bizet and Mozart. While the mainstream media today is flooded with Nickelback and Maroon 5, I believe that the bulk of quality music rests solidly in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. As such, I will review a selection of pieces by the old masters, as well as some contemporary comparisons. 1. “Nocturnes, op 9, Nocturne in B Sharp Minor” – Frédéric Chopin Nocturnes are usually my favorite type of composition, and this piece does not disappoint, at least not initially. The beginning of the piece is dark and mysterious, evocative; there is an element of audacity in the distinct staccato opening that elicits a feeling of sharp, cold rain – and almost of dread. However, this feeling soon yields to the mellow feeling of the night (through the use of more melodious chords) before sporadically returning to the darker feeling. Overall, I feel that the contrast is dwarfed by the strength of the opening, earning this piece four and one half out of five approval units; I believe that were the melancholy pieces more distinct, or the opening less haunting, it could have earned the other half unit. 2. “Air”; from Overture No. 3 in D. Major – Johann Bach “Air” is quite aptly named; Bach’s masterwork is able to translate the feeling of air without succumbing to the emptiness of the void. Throughout the grand, regal piece there appear elements of nobility, articulation, and transparency, without losing any measure of depth. Like the air, it flows gently and powerfully from one point to the next, never once losing its majesty. For its gentle beauty and deep dignity, I award “Air” five approval units. 3. “4’33’’” – John Cage I must confess that I haven’t heard this ‘work’ performed (explicitly). Given its nature, I believe I can be excused. A ’performance’ of 4’33’’ consists of a musician (whose skill or inclinations are irrelevant) going the titular time without playing on his or her instrument. Ostensibly, this is done to highlight the ambient noise, that is, the natural rhythm of the circulatory system and the human body. The main flaw in this farce could either be construed as the pretense of presenting those things as Cage’s work, or implying that the audience needs an artificial environment to appreciate ‘natural music.’ Either way, I refuse to recognize this as music and therefore will not rate it. 4. “Piano Concierto no 1, Allegro ma non tanto” – Sergei Rachmaninoff If “Air” was gentle and “Nocturnes” haunting, I can say nothing about Allegro more than that it is feverish; more than the first two works, it seems human, surpassing both in complexity and scope. It is not a reflection of night or of air but of the mind; its deceptively calm components belie its overall ferocity expertly, and the dark, tragic elements compliment both. I award Allegro five units and name it my favorite piece reviewed. 5. “Dancing Queen”– ABBA Not all music can be brilliant. This does not, and should not, stop musicians from creating. It is this purity and inspiration that form the driving force behind “Dancing Queen”. While it does not match the depth or complexity of Rachmaninoff or Bach, it is able nonetheless to create an innocent, mellifluous, and, above all, catchy melody. ABBA’s joie de vivre and infectious tune earn this song 4 approval units out of five. Fait accompli. Bear in mind that I have no exceptional knowledge of these musical pieces’ contexts or writers, or of music or musical expression as a whole.