Part Four – Reflective Account

In approaching Section Four I was entering an arena in which I had experience, a small amount of knowledge and the confidence that what I was about to listen to would be largely tonal and approachable. I have the disadvantage of (at least historically) being quite set in my ways and although over the last two modules my listening habits have changed quite dramatically as I’ve been exposed to a wider array of genres I do tend to drift “home” to a comfortable listening experience.

This section has been quite protracted for me as I had the opportunity to take on a greater set of responsibilities at my school, taking me away from my writing and not leaving many hours in the day or at weekends but this has afforded me the opportunity to listen to the content covered in greater depth and I feel that I’m a stronger critic because of it. Now that the turbulent period is over I can get on with the task at hand.

Of the content covered, three clear points stand above the rest as concepts that I hadn’t considered before:

  1. The dramatic evolution of the instruments and the tools needed to make them
  2. The Mannheim school, of its existence and influence
  3. That not all Russian Classical output was dour and overcast with saturnine grey clouds

I’m a sometime instrument maker myself ( and I’m well aware of how difficult it is to make a viable instrument even with modern tooling and materials. For makers in the three major pre-1900 periods the level of skill and sheer number of hours required must have been both astonishing and somewhat heartbreaking. I have a new respect for del Gesù, Amati, Stradivari, et al.

Groups with names like “The Mannheim School” pop up every now and again (more frequently, it seems, in modern times (The Five, The Boston Six, Les Six) but none seem to have exerted such a wide-reaching and compelling influence. There is something material and recognisable rather than purely academic and abstract about the sounds and textures developed by the group and I plan to spend more time listening to work by the lesser-known members.

The assignment for section four was a real pleasure for me. I’ve always shied away from the Russian composers (aside from Mussorgsky, purely because of “Pictures at an Exhibition“), primarily because everything that I’d previously heard sounded like a rainy day in the steppe under Lenin. Overly martial, forcefully proud, and melancholy. I’m very happy to have been shown the error of my ways, especially as many years ago I’d previously also dismissed Stravinsky as being too desperate in his efforts to be different (Three Songs from William Shakespeare, etc).

Neoclassicism is an area that I believe can offer me more in the way of research. It addresses my desire for tonality while allowing leeway with time signatures, phrasing, textures and instrumentation. Joseph Kerman seems to have written extensively on this so I’ll be checking some of his more accessible books.