Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, January 18, 2004


(In the Greek pantheon, Memory was the mother of the Muses. According to them, “musical memory” is a family affair.)

I haven’t listened to Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony in probably 15 years. Up early this morning sucking on a throat losenge to quell a temporary coughing fit, I was thinking about its structural savvy. As I recall, the Pathetique upset critics enamored of standard form by concluding with a heavy, teary, slow movement instead of the standard uptempo movement. The penultimate movement, if my memory serves me well, is in 5/4 meter, and Tchaikovsky gets a strong march feel despite the strange beat. The concluding teary movement is thrown into stronger relief by the brilliant structure of the 5/4 march, which Tchaikovsky wrote as a “variations and theme.” The melody is fragmented and oblique at the beginning and gathers coherence and unity as the movement moves along until it comes together with a rousing, uplifting theme and screams to a halt, leading to the devastating undercutting of the heroic mood by the symphony’s lachrymose finale.

But now as I type this I’m sure I’ve got it wrong. The 5/4 movement is the second movement, and it’s got an awkwardly graceful waltz feel. The next-to-last movement is a standard 4/4 march, with the tremendously effective “variations-and-theme” structure.

I’ll try to find a recording of the symphony and listen to it and report if I’m wrong.

Another musical memory I want to confirm: In 5th or 6th grade, a string quartet came and played in our school gym in Kalamazoo, Michigan (population circa 80,000, a college town with a symphony). 5th or 6th grade would have been some time within 1973 to 1975, back when there was public school funding for arts education. I remember the quartet playing a movement made up entirely of “harmonics.” On stringed instruments, harmonics are the bell-like tone, or the glass-harmonica-like tone, that a player produces by placing her finger lightly on the string at one of the mathematically harmonic points -- halfway up the string, a 3rd, a quarter, a 5th -- without pressing the string all the way down to the fingerboard. Hearing 4 stringed instruments playing these ghostly tones at once has haunted my memory for nigh on 30 years now. As I recall, the composer was Bartok.

One of these days I’ll track down his string quartets and give them a listen. But part of me doesn’t want to. I also remember hearing the Kalamazoo Symphony playing Stravinsky’s “Firebird” when I was 10 or 11 or 12 years old. I remember spectacular psychedelic splashes of musical color. Explosions of tone color. A couple years ago I bought a bargain CD of the Firebird. It didn’t live up to my memory. But to give Stravinksy the benefit of the doubt, a recording is a puny thing next to a live symphony orchestra.
Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?