Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Radio Moment

When I worked as a radio announcer, I would sometimes have what I call "radio moments." They were moments of coincidence. A big one for me was when I had Beethoven's String Quartet Opus 59 #3 in one CD player (let the video load to :52), and Jean-Féry Rebel's "Les Elements" queued up in another. If you put the above links in different tabs or windows and play the first two chords of each one after the other, you will notice a bit of cosmic nifty-ness.

Another "radio moment" happened after teaching a class on Richard Strauss, who was not mentioned at all in the edition of our textbook that I was using (the textbook editor has since repaired the glaring omission). When I got in the car and turned on the radio, I heard an obscure neo-classical piece on the radio that turned out to be by Strauss.

Anyway, my radio moment today was with Wagner. I turned on my car radio shortly after the beginning of a very engaging performance of the overture to Tannhäuser. I noticed dynamic contrasts and textures in this recording I had never noticed in other recordings, and I started thinking about Daniel Barenboim, and what he had to say about conducting Wagner in Music Quickens Time.
It is essential to understand the difference between power and force, which is related to the distinction between volume and intensity in music: when a musician is told to play with greater intensity, his first reaction is to play louder. In fact, the opposite is required: the lower the volume, the greater the need for intensity; the greater the volume, the less the need for intensity. The effect produced by the huge outpouring of sound in Beethoven or Wagner is much greater when the sound is not forcefully controlled every step of the way, but rather allowed to grow organically, its natural, inherent power being the result of gradually accumulating strength. The build-up and release of tension are central to the expression of music. Thus even the most powerful chord should be played so that it allows the inner voices to be heard; otherwise it lacks tension and depends exclusively on brutal, aggressive force. One must be able to hear the opposition, the notes that oppose the main idea.
After the piece was over, the announcer told me (and the rest of the listening audience) that the performance was by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Daniel Barenboim.

1 comment:

kransberg-talvi said...

Hi Elaine. You have a terrific blog, and I learn a lot from your views. I agree that "Music Quickens Time" is a thought-provoking book which folds music into so many aspects of life. Barenboim's previous work "A Life In Music" is also a must-read.