Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Beauty has Depth, Haydn doesn't.

"I am listening to the second movement of Haydn's London Symphony for the tenth or so time preparing for a paper, and for the first time it has struck me how incredibly beautiful the piece is." - Alex DuBose

I seriously question how beautiful a piece of music is if it takes 10 listens to recognise it as that – even with the distraction of study, to not be somehow enthralled by a sound on first listen. There are definitely songs I haven't 'discovered' until later on down the listening-track when the more immediate songs have worn out their welcome. In fact, Welcome to Sky Valley by Kyuss is an album of such songs; heck, even the Graffin songs from Bad Religion's Stranger than Fiction. But I remember waking up from a nap once in the middle of the second movement from Górecki's 3rd Symphony after having left the radio on, and I was held motionless by the beauty of the work. 'Andante Festivo' by Sibelius is another such example that upon hearing on first listening I was mesmerised.

Now, I'm not saying a piece of music can't hold it's secrets secret until such a time when my willing ears are willing to listen and appreciate, but there is a magical beauty about being stunned into silence on first listening, something that no other music can match, and that does raise that piece of music to a loftier height. And I will stand by this even when other ears tell me that the Graffin songs on Stranger than Fiction were the songs that held them in awe long before the Gurewitz songs. It is not that the music works need to be the same for each individual, only that the various works appear to strike a demanding presence upon first listen.

So is the second movement from Haydn's London Symphony as beautiful as other works that I have raised to loftier heights? I want to argue 'no'. Most definitely not. What if another listener had been stunned into silence upon first listen by this work? I would argue that they have not valued the examples of greater works such as the second movement (what is it with second movements?) of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, as a common (and somewhat cliché) example. It is not just that this is my opinion, but the fact that Haydn never reaches the emotional depths, nor the fecundity of compositional imagination that Mozart extends his abilities to. In Haydn, stateliness seems to always compromise the emotional grace, therefore diluting true depth, and true beauty to last the ages. The need to explore every aspect of his craft always seems lost on Haydn. Even if it was his craft that inspired Mozart to greater depths, it is that craft that gives us the example of lesser beauty in which we strive to raise ourselves above – that, in my opinion, is what Mozart did.

So, no, I don't see how the second movement to Haydn's London Symphony could even be viewed as 'beautiful', especially after a tenth listen of that mediocre composition.

My view is that a work of beauty captures the heart immediately, that the senses are antagonised in a way they have not been experienced before, or in a way that only harks back to a similar experience, but reshapes and recasts that experience in a completely new mould.

1 comment:

  1. Do I believe the words of this post?

    Yeah, yeah I do. But I'm very aware that even I have fallen in love with people only after having known them for extended periods of time. Have I fallen in love with music the same way? I'm not sure. But I do question whether we can honestly say something is so beautiful after only having it burned in the brain from constant repetition - perhaps that's another kind of beauty all together, and perhaps relates in a completely separate way.