This week music, especially programmatic music, has surrounded me. It’s remarkable how music so effectively conveys mood and feeling, and how a simple change in musical tone can shift one’s entire interpretation of a scene or visual.
So it seemed like an opportune time to revisit this highly imaginative and emotional work from Hector Berlioz, himself a rather tempest-tossed personality, adrift on a sea of emotions.
Also, my Middle School Music Students are listening to the fourth and fifth movements today while I am away—fun!
It being a week of romance and lots of artistic endeavors, I decided to look back this Thursday to a post about the great French composer, Hector Berlioz.
Berlioz is the quintessential Romantic: he wrote the subject of today’s post, the very fun Symphonie Fantastique, to deal with his lovesickness—and he ended up getting the girl because of it!
Another Berlioz heartbreak anecdote: after his fiancée left him for another man (note, this woman is not the same as the subject of the Symphonie Fantastique), Berlioz plotted her and her new husband’s murder. He traveled to Nice, where the couple was living, and took along weapons, disguises, and other murder paraphernalia. When he disembarked from the train, he came to his senses, and abandoned his ill-conceived plot. Instead, he spent a couple of weeks in Nice composing.
Talk about a whiplash! I’m a sensitive poet-warrior at times, and I’ve experienced lovesickness, but never to the extent of Berlioz. Still, I identify with his desire to compose music to get (or to cope with not getting) chicks.
One of the many benefits of teaching music is (re)discovering beloved favorite works. During last week’s round of distance learning, I had to pull out some of the classics. If we’re going to sit on a Google Meet call, let’s listen to some music, not just talk about it.
I really love programmatic music—instrumental music that tells a story, often accompanied by program notes explaining (usually very briefly) what the listener is supposed to hear in the musical “story.” Students often like to imagine their own stories when listening to instrumental music, which is great, but I find that programmatic works give students (and myself!) some guideposts to follow.
Fortunately, Ludwig von Beethoven provided some handy ones for us in his Sixth Symphony, quite possibly my favorite symphony, and certainly my favorite of Beethoven’s. It’s the so-called “Pastoral” symphony, as it depicts a pleasant trip to the country (besides the roiling thunderstorm in the fourth movement).
It’s also unusual in two respects: instead of the standard four movements of the classical symphony (a fast opening movement, a slow second movement, a dancelike third movement, and a fast fourth movement), Beethoven includes five; and the third, fourth, and fifth movements all flow seamlessly into one another, without the customary pause between each.
It is also long, especially by the standards of the classical symphony (the Romantics, however, would have easily matched Beethoven for runtime), clocking in at nearly forty-five minutes (the typical classical symphony averages around twenty-five-to-thirty minutes, but forty-five would have been the upper limit for the time). But that length is in service to Beethoven’s vision, and he fully explores every theme in this symphony.
Now that I’m enjoying the unending freedom of summer vacation, I’ve finally taken some time to play video games. I splurged a bit last week and picked up a casual little indie game called Dorfromantik, from the four-man German development team Toukana Interactive. I caught the game on a 20% off sale, but full freight is $10, so it’s an easy lift. The game is still in early access, meaning that it’s technically not finished, but from my time playing it, it seems very solid, stable, and complete.
The Sixth, often called the “Pastoral,” is one of my favorites. I’m a sucker for programmatic music, and there are programmatic elements embedded in the titles of each of the symphony’s movements, but the music sounds like the countryside.
But I covered all of this a year ago, so why repeat myself (except that I’m doing that below… hmm…)? Here is January 2020’s “Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony“:
To take us into the last weekend in January, I thought it would be nice to do at least one more entry in my unplanned Friday miniseries on “The Joy of Romantic Music” (read the second installment here). I very much enjoy the music of the Romantic composers, and have discovered some new favorites as I’ve been covering them in my Pre-AP Music Appreciation class.
This semester started with two weeks of online learning (of which today is the last day before students and teachers return to campus after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day), so it’s been an unusually slow start to the already sleepy January term. However, that hasn’t stopped my music classes from listening to great music; indeed, we’re now covering what is perhaps my favorite period in the history of Western music: the Romantic Era.
While I adore Baroque and classical composers and their works, Romantic music builds upon the forms established in those eras, stretching and expanding upon them to reach new heights of emotional intensity and musical expressiveness. The music of the Romantic composers delights with its musical exploration of the supernatural, the mysterious, the Gothic, and the nationalistic.
Well, the glory of Christmas Break has come to an end, and it’s back to the grind this morning. Due to concerns about The Virus, we’re online for at least this week, and I’ve received word that teachers will be allowed to teach from home for the remainder of the week. That will make the transition back to full-time teaching a tad more endurable, as waking up and rolling over to the computer is much easier than engaging in the hasty rituals of the morning.
Regardless, I’m scrambling a bit this morning, so today’s post will be brief and belated. I’ll cover my trip to Mississippi tomorrow; today, I thought I’d give some general updates as we head into the first fiscal week of 2021:
Back in May I stumbled upon an online culture journal, The Hedgehog Review, a publication of the Institute for the Advanced Studies of Culture. I don’t know much about either the publication or the IASC, other than they’re based out of the University of Virginia, so I can’t speak to their degree of implicit Leftist infiltration, but default position is that any organization in 2020 that isn’t explicitly conservative is probably Left-leaning.
It’s sad that I even have to make that disclaimer, because some part of me still clings to the old ideal of a broad, humanistic approach to knowledge—that we should examine ideas on their own merits, not on the politics of the entities espousing them. I still believe that ideal is worth pursuing; I just also believe it is currently dead, or at least on life-support.
But I digress. The then-current issue of The Hedgehog Review was dedicated entirely to the theme of “Monsters.” It being the Halloween season, the time seemed ripe to revisit those pieces, and the idea of “monsters.”