Treasure trove. As I took up partner dancing in the early 1990s I gradually stopped listening to classical music. Becoming a dance DJ in 1999 put the quietus to an already strained relationship. I'm grateful the pandemic forced me back, made me rediscover the music of my youth. I discovered a lot of new music in that first year of the pandemic, focusing my attention for the first time on chamber music. It was a rich time for new discoveries in music. I very happily discovered Max Richter along with a treasury of new to me works by all my favorites from Bach to Rach. After Sergei, the music died. Thanks Max!
Dad. My dad got me listening to classical music in the fifties. I remember staring at the turntable I was not allowed to touch, entranced by its dustiness. Maybe he was afraid to clean it? I first heard Grand Canyon Suite and Scheherazade on his hi-fi; I would beg for the donkey song, or the snaky violin. But then stereo came along and he got all new stuff. He kept the one huge speaker, big enough for me to climb on. With stereo came Reader's Digest classical music collections in boxed sets: Beethoven's Symphonies, Music of the World's Greatest Composers, and a collection of classical piano music.
Broadening horizons. I listened all kinds of music as I grew up. Besides classical there was Elvis on Ed Sullivan, American Bandstand every afternoon, the Top 40 from WOWO every Sunday night, my transistor radio hidden under the covers. I loved Henry Mancini, blues, British folk rock, psychedelic rock, Dire Straits, Talking Heads. But I always came back to classical music, expanding my listening into Bach on one end (John Renbourne led me to E. Power Biggs) and the Russian Romantics on the other. I played in marching band, pep band, psychedelic blues band. I jammed with cool jazz dudes and my big crush Diane. Again and again my saxophone served as my passport to social acceptance.
Melody is the heart and soul of music. All the other musical elements, like overall structure, harmony, rhythm, orchestral color are there to contain, support and enhance the melody. Music is nothing without melody. Around 1900 most Western classical composers lost sight of this. Dazzled by modern thinking, they got lost in formulaic garbage, producing mentally clever music with no heart and soul. I find little of interest in most Twentieth Century music. Even Rachmaninoff tapers off disappointingly. There are incandescent jewels scattered through the mental dreck. Quite a few in Debussy, Ravel and Satie, plus isolated masterpieces like Rodrigo's Aranjuez, Piazzolla's Oblivion, Vaughn Williams's Tallis, Barber's Adagio. A beautiful melody has the ring of truth; it's good storytelling. Music without melody is just a mental game. Below are links to some of my favorite performances of those four jewels in italics. Follow the Rachmaninoff link for a fifth. The links skip directly to the slow movement for Rachmaninoff and Rodrigo. Moving slowly creates time. It creates richness and depth, a big part of why I love tango. I don't need to speed my life up, I need to slow it down. These five melodic masterpieces are all adagios.
Max Richter. Here in the Twenty-first Century Max Richter came to my rescue when I was feeling pretty far down. For the first time in my life, a classical composer whose work I love is right here with me, making music out of the world I live in. His music is sad, like the state of the world, and profoundly healing. One deep value of art is how it helps me see the world in a way that makes me a little more grateful to be here. Music, and art in general helps me feel the good in the world more deeply. The world is not the way any of us think it should be, and it never will be. It's just the way it is, mixed up and contradictory. Max helps me love the world the way it is, and grasp more deeply that this is the only world there is, the only one I'll ever have a chance to love. I have to love this one or give up on loving, as so many people of all political stripes seem to have done.
Dylan. Max isn't the only one. Much hay has been made both ways about our troubadour Nobel laureate. The committee done right. But composers are almost never the best performers. Max hires the best to show his work off, people like Mari Samuelsen. Here's master performer Sarah Jarosz with one of Dylan's masterpieces. You won't beat this sparse arrangement.