Music and Sadness

Writing music always brings great satisfaction, but also sadness.

This is a time in nation that adulates only celebrity and greed: vanity and avarice, two of the seven Mortal Sins. Any act that does not gratify one, or the other, or both, is deemed a failure.

The music I write will achieve success in neither. It is a dead style — popular, in its way, two centuries ago, though I suspect it was ever truly appreciated by only a few even then. For most, the concert-hall was a venue in which to see and be seen, a mark (or affectation) of status. The music, the opera, the play — a trifle, of no consequence. Of consequence was which mistress the Marquis had on his arm that night, and whether he noticed the mistress on yours.

I have always been different. I grew up on Tchaikowsky, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Haydn, Bach. I listened to a few bands in my teens — the Monkeys were big back then, I recall. In the years since, I’ve performed the Tchaikowsky, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Haydn, and Bach I listened to as a child. I sat in the middle of a 200-piece orchestra, playing the fourth movement of Brahms’ First Symphony in high school — the sound so rich and full that it brought tears to my eyes. I remember the first time, as a thirteen-year-old student at a music camp, that they threw Beethoven at us to sight-read: not the “junior high” abridged version, but the actual notes that you hear on a recording by the Berlin Philharmonic. I remember flubbing a grand pause in concert while playing Sibelius, and suffering the withering glare of the conductor. I remember standing in the Paris Metro amidst a group of fellow-students who spontaneously began to hum Mozart’s coronation mass. Strauss waltzes. Dvorak. The Rutter Requiem. Stravinsky’s Firebird. So many memories.

I cannot listen to Lady Gaga. She has some interesting musical phrases from time to time, and of course the best production quality that money can buy, and an advertising budget that could sell her belch as music. But compared to the second movement of Beethoven’s famous Seventh, the one that nearly brought the concert hall down with the foot-stomping demand to hear it again? Compared to the pure delight of Smetana’s Die Moldau? Compared to the heart-rending beauty of the Lachrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem Mass? Or Albinioni’s Adagio, which has figured in so many movie scores?

This is the music that moves my soul. This is the music that sings in my blood.

This is the music that I hear in my head when I write.

But I recognize that it is a dead style that will never satisfy the requirements of either vanity or greed. No one will make money on it, because there is no mass market for it. No one gains prestige from listening to it, or pretending to listen to it. So the sad part for me is that it is simply lost in all the noise of humanity skittering about twitching to Lady Gaga this week, someone else next week, and Muzak-corrupted versions of the truly great works piped into elevators and shopping malls, backed by a drum machine.