Saturday, January 17, 2009

Repeated listening

I've written before about the artificial stress our society often makes when it comes to music enjoyment. To summarize, we often think we should be able to understand everything about a piece of music on the first hearing. If we don't, then there is either something wrong with us, or with the music. I was thinking about this the other day while listening to Alfred Brendel playing the first movement of Schubert's Bb Sonata. This movement is almost fifteen minutes long, and I admit that when I first started listening to it I was somewhat loathe to spend that much time on one track. When listening to my iPod I liked shorter tracks, so the variety would keep me interested. But I've listened to this movement at least 11 times according to iTunes, much more if incomplete hearings and listening to the CD are added in. These repeated listenings have allowed me to memorize much of the work, so I could sing along while doing the dishes. I had a fabulous time, following the various shifts in motives, harmonies, keys, rhythms, and general characters. Fifteen minutes of doing the dishes had never passed so quickly. So it just took patience and effort in getting to know this piece that allowed me to enjoy it to such extent.


Ty said...

Just curious, shouldn't you be listening for enjoyment and not for analysis?

When I was younger this mattered somewhat (a tiny minute fraction). Music - any kind - I listen for enjoyment.

Scott said...

I thought my post made it clear that I was listening for enjoyment. The first sentence is about music enjoyment. The last sentence says how much I enjoyed listening to the Schubert. Plus I think you are setting up a false dichotomy. Why is analysis exclusive from enjoyment?

Anonymous said...

I'm impressed that it took 15 minutes to do the dishes.


Scott said...

Ah, that I can't claim. Only that for 15 of those minutes I was having fun. Actually, I also had fun singing along with "Stop in Nevada" and Scheidt's Courant XXIII as performed by Les Sacqueboutiers is always stirring. I think it took about 45 minutes.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but Brendel never took the exposition repeat. The movement as written actually takes more like 20 minutes. And heavenly it is, too.

David Ocker said...

Understand everything about a piece on first hearing? I've often said that you should be happy if you understand anything about a piece on first hearing - especially if one is listening while distracted by some non-musical activity - like (yes) doing the dishes.

Usually when I say that I'm talking about very new music, not Schubert. But I think the same principle applies: when hearing a piece for the first time any listener, no matter their level of musical experience and no matter the level of attention they can devote to the music at that moment, should be able to find something, anything, well, at least one thing at least, which they can understand and find interesting.

Otherwise, it all seems like a waste of time.