Monday, May 20, 2013

"Listen to them, the children of the night."

The Seer of Cleveland asks, "Usually when people talk about listening to a composer, they discuss which pieces to listen to or which composers or whether to listen to live or studio music. But I have a different question, prompted by your instructions in your recent Maybe Logic Academy class to listen to 'Hammerklavier' at least once a week, preferably with eyes closed.

 "When you listen to recordings of Beethoven, what conditions do you use? Do you just put the hifi on and and resume what you were doing? Or do you consume a substance/ask everyone in the household to keep silence/listen on headphones/burn incense/snuggle with your wife/perform a magick ceremony? Or do you do different things at different times?"
I think about Korzybksi's notion of subscripts: 
Listen1 means listen with one's full attention.
Listen2 means start out listening with one's full attention, but the mind starts to wander and perhaps one falls asleep.
Listen3 one puts the music on and resumes one's normal activity.
In my 11:32 Beethoven experiment I strove for Listen1 but mostly did Listen2.  I did not consume substances or burn incense.

For the process of listening to Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas eleven times each, I divided the sonatas into eight sets of four.  I associated each set with one of the circuits in the Wilson/Leary eight circuit model.  During the first four sonatas I focused on the physical act of listening.  I imagined the vibrations coming from the speakers, entering my ears, vibrating my eardrums, entering my nervous system, etc.

During the second set of sonatas I focused on the emotional impact of the music and focused on my breathing as well.  During the third set of four I paid attention intellectually, trying to follow the form.  I reread the analyses in Charles Rosen's book on the sonatas to help me with this.

Etc.  I guess one could model this as a magickal ceremony.  I don't think Beethoven intended the sonatas to illustrate the eight circuit model.  I just found it an interesting way to come to a deeper understanding of both the sonatas and the eight circuit model.

In the fall I plan to teach Rafi Zabor's novel The Bear Comes Home, so these days my listening focuses on the wonderful "Listening Guide" at end of that terrific novel.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

All Praise Joseph Kerman!

The Seer of Cleveland asks, "Inspired by your ongoing Schroedinger's Cat course, I recently finished listening to all of Beethoven's piano sonatas. I plan to listen to all of his symphonies before the course ends. (The string quartets will be next).

"Leon Botstein recently recommended several books about Beethoven in the Wall Street Journal (scroll down for the sidebar) but I noticed he did not mention the Maynard Solomon biography, which I had planned to read. What is your favorite Beethoven book/book about Beethoven?"
This question made me feel good.  I love the opportunity to talk about one of my very favorite books, The Beethoven Quartets by Joseph Kerman.  In the early 80's I remember looking through the music section of the Arizona State Bookstore and I saw The Composer's Advocate by Erich Leinsdorf.  It looked fascinating to me, so I checked and found that the library had a copy of it.  I read it over and over again and loved it.

Fast forward to the end of 1990.  I've started taking ballet classes, which leads me to listen to more classical music, which leads me to reread Leinsdorf.  He mentions Joseph Kerman's book The Beethoven Quartets, so I check it out from the ASU library.  It turns my head around.  Kerman combines deep musical analysis with psychological understanding and historical perspective.  His book helped me listen to the quartets more deeply, and listening to the quartets more led to reread his book, and rereading his book gave me even more insights into the quartets.  This recursive process has continued for the past 22 years.