Classical Music

February 20, 2012

People make fun of me for preferring classical music, but in the last two months I’ve discovered two 20th century operas that I’d never heard of before–one by a composer I’d never heard of–that are quite simply masterpieces. Generally speaking if a piece of music is any good it goes into the canon and is performed fairly regularly. If it isn’t performed, there’s usually something wrong with it. Sometimes the music is by a major composer. No one listens to Beethoven’s “Christ on the Mount of Olives” or “Wellington’s Victory” and quite rightly too–they’re not very good, even Beethoven had his off days. But why isn’t his “Choral Fantasy” played more often? It is a work of sublime genius, one of the few examples we have of Beethoven’s improvisational style, and a haunting anticipation of the Ode to Joy. Is it because it requires an orchestra, a choir, vocal soloists AND a pianist? Dunno, but this is a piece of music that doesn’t get heard nearly enough.
The two operas I’m referring to are “Penelope” by Gabriel Faure and “Antichrist” by Rued Langaard. I initially developed an interest in Faure after discovering his chamber music. This opera is simply exquisite, and yet it’s only been recorded twice since 1912, most recently in 1992 with Jessye Norman. Langaard’s opera is a monument to his strangeness (it includes parts for characters with names like “The Mouth Speaking Great Things” and “The Scarlet Beast”) and sounds like a collaboration between Sergei Rachmaninoff, Richard Strauss, and that crazy person screaming at you on a street corner; stunning and unexpected.¬† The equivalent for someone my age with popular tastes would be to stumble across a previously unknown Beatles album, or find an unknown San Francisco ’60’s band as good as the Grateful Dead. The insinuation is that by listening to classical music I’ve limited myself to the dead music of dead composers. In actuality, I have as exciting a musical life as the average 18 year old discovering new Indie songwriters. And when their musical tastes have hardened in ten or twenty years, I’ll still be finding new stuff to listen to, either in the vasty halls of the four century classical tradition or among the new serious music being composed right now.

Talent and Skill

February 4, 2012

People who want to compliment me on my art–for which I am completely grateful by the way, please feel free to compliment me any way you see fit–will often say “You are very talented.” That’s fine, but if you really want to compliment me, say “You are very skilled.” I am talented, I am very grateful for my talent, but I’m not particularly¬†proud of my talent. My talent was a gift.

Skill is all me, all my hard work, sink or swim. It’s still a work in progress, and I can see the difference from painting to painting, from year to year. I’m proud of my skill.

Congratulate me on my talent. Compliment me on my skill.