Western Classical Music in Films

[This post is #9 in the West­ern Clas­si­cal Music Series]

Movies have used clas­si­cal music since for­ever, and they help keep it alive in our cul­ture. Here are a few of my favorite scenes in movies fea­tur­ing West­ern Clas­si­cal Music.

Also Sprach Zarathus­tra invokes mem­o­ries of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey more than its com­poser Richard Strauss. Here is a unique (re)take on the clas­si­cal music in 2001:

Also Sprach Zarathus­tra in 2001: A Space Odyssey

Do study the long note on the video at YouTube, it is an entire blog post in itself.

Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries was used to dev­as­tat­ing effect in Apoc­a­lypse Now:

Ride of the Valkyries in Apoc­a­lypse Now

Who can for­get Cav­al­le­ria rus­ti­cana in the open­ing cred­its of Rag­ing Bull?

Cav­al­le­ria rus­ti­cana in Rag­ing Bull

Also in God­fa­ther III?

Cav­al­le­ria rus­ti­cana from God­fa­ther III

The great Charles Chap­lin, a com­poser of note him­self, once said in an interview:

Film music must never sound as if it were con­cert music. While it actu­ally may con­vey more to the beholder-listener than the cam­era con­veys at a given moment, still it must be never more than the voice of that camera”.

Study how he used Brahms’ Hun­gar­ian Dance No. 5 in The Great Dic­ta­tor, his actions speak­ing louder than the music:

Brahms Hun­gar­ian Dance No. 5 in The Great Dictator

Chap­lin is almost wield­ing a conductor’s baton! Most audi­ences would assume this music was com­posed specif­i­cally for this scene.

Woody Allen used clas­si­cal music in almost every movie he made. After Walt Disney’s leg­endary 1940 visu­al­iza­tion in Fan­ta­sia of Gershwin’s Rhap­sody in Blue as depict­ing life in New York:

Rhap­sody in Blue in Fantasia

Woody used it in the open­ing of Man­hat­tan as “pul­sat­ing to the great tunes of George Gersh­win”:

Rhap­sody in Blue in Manhattan

Who can for­get the moment in Out of Africa when Denys gets a gramo­phone for Karen, play­ing the Diver­ti­mento it took me a very, very long time to find?

Mozart Diver­ti­mento K136 in Out of Africa

One of the all time great, poignant scene in movies that always moves me to tears is the aria La Momma Morta (They killed my mother) from Philadel­phia:

La Momma Morta in Philadelphia

Lastly, this scene from The Shaw­shank Redemp­tion would have made a per­ma­nent mark on any­one who has seen it, fea­tur­ing the “Let­ter Duet” from Mozart’s The Mar­riage of Figaro:

The Mar­riage of Figaro in The Shaw­shank Redemption

To afi­ciona­dos of WCM, its use in movies and adver­tise­ments can be tire­some as expressed here:

Purists ridicule the use of clas­si­cal music in films, com­plain­ing that the same pieces are used over and over again…Yet the truth is, clas­si­cal music, an art form that has been on life sup­port for at least one gen­er­a­tion, would have com­pletely faded out of the public’s con­scious­ness by now were it not for films and tele­vi­sion commercials.

Films also help clas­si­cal music from expir­ing. Clas­si­cal music, used in hun­dreds of films, includ­ing movies where it is least expected, keeps the lofty art form in the pub­lic ear, even when the pub­lic does not know what it is lis­ten­ing to, or can barely hear the music in the back­ground. It also helps that hun­dreds of movie scores are ripped-off ver­sions of the classics.

Can you imag­ine The Seven Year Itch or Brief Encounter with­out Rachmaninoff’s 2nd? Will it remain rel­e­gated in our mass cul­tural mem­ory to a film by David Lean or one star­ring Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe? We now live in a world where if you are attend­ing a per­for­mance of this work, it needs a pre­lude of this kind.

I can­not end this post with­out a brief men­tion of the influ­ence of WCM in Hindi movies, and espe­cially Salil Chowd­hury.

We have already dis­cussed in detail the use of Coun­ter­point in Hindi film music.

Salilda was a great stu­dent of WCM since child­hood and incor­po­rated it in unique ways in his com­po­si­tions, blend­ing it with folk tunes. We dis­cussed WCM’s polyphony before, as well as chro­mati­cism, see how Salilda uses it in Rimjhim Ke Ye Pyaare Pyaare to cre­ate texture:

Rimjhim Ke Ye Pyaare Pyaare by Salil Chowdhury

Read this excel­lent post for a deep dive into this song.

Such was his love of Mozart that he adapted the Molto Alle­gro from Mozart’s 40th Sym­phony for Itna Na Mujhse Tu Pyaar Badha:

Itna Na Mujhse Tu Pyaar Badha

I hope this selec­tion of movie clips helps high­light some unfor­get­table music in movies.

Posted in Arts, cinema, music | 9 Comments


There are moments. When you real­ize there is a “meta” to every­thing that hap­pens. You have a feel­ing of accom­plish­ment of hav­ing the insight of the under­ly­ing meta.

It is a clar­ity, an insight, that you are joy­ous about. It is as if you have found the root of it all, in that context.

But you know what? Nobody cares about the meta. Nobody cares about your sup­posed insight. That is when real­ity sinks in. All oth­ers are inter­ested in is the here and now. Nobody cares about your insight. Nobody cares about your abstrac­tions. How­ever insight­ful they may be.

Abstrac­tions are what they are; dis­as­so­ci­ated from real­ity, an indul­gence of those who are Unquiet. Abstrac­tions are an obses­sion of An Unquiet Mind.

Posted in Personal | 2 Comments

In Memoriam: Roger Ebert


Dear Roger Ebert,

Since you left us in April 2013, I have been very lonely. There are few souls for whom movies are a core pas­sion of their lives. For over two decades, you have been a light­house for those of us who dared sail­ing uncharted waters of the deep ocean of films.

Lesser minds like ours would have been fas­ci­nated at the “longest flash for­ward” in the his­tory of cin­ema and iden­ti­fied with the ter­ror of HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was you who helped us to appre­ci­ate the unique use of clas­si­cal music, observe that it is a movie intended to make us con­tem­plate our place in the uni­verse, that we became humans when we learned to think, and that we are not flesh but intel­li­gence.

We had never real­ized how the grad­u­ally increas­ing claus­tro­pho­bic ten­sion in 12 Angry Men was achieved, till you shared Lumet’s strat­egy of shoot­ing the first third of the movie above eye level, the sec­ond third at eye level, and the last third below eye level.

Dis­cern­ing audio­philes among us had never really under­stood the box office suc­cess and pop­u­lar­ity of Amadeus, till you explained its strat­egy of “por­tray­ing Mozart not as a paragon whose great­ness is a bur­den to us all, but as a goofy proto-hippie with a high-pitched gig­gle”, and howfew of us can iden­tify with divine genius, but many of us prob­a­bly have had dark moments of urgent self-contempt in the face of those whose effort­less exis­tence illus­trates our own inad­e­qua­cies”.

There are some of us who like to watch a movie com­pletely unpre­pared, with a blank state of mind, to be a vir­gin for the movie. There are oth­ers who come pre­pared, know­ing what to expect, what to appre­ci­ate, hav­ing labored at their stud­ies of the film as if it were an exam­i­na­tion that some­how will ulti­mately deter­mine whether they passed or failed. I belong to the lat­ter cat­e­gory and you were my ref­er­ence ency­clo­pe­dia. I now feel as ner­vous as a vir­gin when con­tem­plat­ing to watch a new movie you have not reviewed.

You echoed our thoughts of how men­tal ill­ness in movies is usu­ally por­trayed as “grotesque, sen­sa­tional, cute, funny, will­ful, tragic or per­verse” and how A Beau­ti­ful Mind avoided doing so. I had cried uncon­trol­lably even as an ado­les­cent when I watched The Color Pur­ple for the first time, but you helped me under­stand how Spiel­berg and Gold­berg deceived my mind by mak­ing me live Celie’s life though I’m not female, not black, and not Celie.

We might have sim­ply laughed at the satire and com­edy in Dr. Strangelove, but you made us appre­ci­ate “its will­ing­ness to fol­low the sit­u­a­tion to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion — nuclear anni­hi­la­tion — a purity that today’s lily-livered happy-ending tech­ni­cians would prob­a­bly find a way around”, that every time you see it, you find new things in it, and thus, that there is tremen­dous grav­ity under­neath a suc­cess­ful comedy.

Your review of Dead Man Walk­ing reminded us of “how most movies fall into con­ven­tional rou­tine, and lull us with the reas­sur­ance that they will not look too hard, or probe too deeply, or make us think beyond the bound­aries of what is com­fort­able”. It was you who helped us dis­cern that Fellini’s 8½ is not a film about a direc­tor out of ideas; it is a film filled to burst­ing with inspiration.

You were never hes­i­tant to admit your mis­takes, rather cheer­fully learned from them. You fol­lowed up your ini­tial under­rat­ing of Ground­hog Day in 1993 with a revised out­look in 2005, thus telling us that it is okay to under or over rate a film in the first view­ing and change our per­spec­tive later. You thus taught us that movies are liv­ing enti­ties in how they reflect our evolv­ing selves.

You gained my respect two decades back when you deemed Ikiru as “one of the few movies that might actu­ally be able to inspire some­one to lead their life a lit­tle dif­fer­ently”. You became my soul mate when you sin­gled out the “well” scene in Red Beard as the unfor­get­table scene in the movie. I knew then, that I had a friend for life. But now you’ve left us and I am left star­ing at lone­li­ness. Inside my mind, I am scream­ing in a well, in des­per­ate hope that you will come back.

No friend of mine, no ‘rec­om­men­da­tion algo­rithm’, no ‘taste graph’, would have sug­gested that I watch Kin­sey. That this “impos­si­ble” man’s work led even­tu­ally to the decrim­i­nal­iza­tion of homo­sex­u­al­ity is some­thing I would never have learned unless I had read your review. Folks may con­tinue to dis­cuss the tech­ni­cal­ity of the “longest kiss in the his­tory of movies” which side-stepped the pro­duc­tion code of “no kiss longer than three sec­onds” by inter­spers­ing dia­logue in Noto­ri­ous, but it was you who put this Hitch­cock mas­ter­piece into per­spec­tive and explained his tech­nique for the rest of us. You explained how Psycho’s mis­lead­ing, deceiv­ing plot setup enhances its shock, and how Hitch­cock insid­i­ously sub­sti­tutes pro­tag­o­nists.

I will never for­get watch­ing One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest in a crowded cin­ema hall with peo­ple even stand­ing in the aisles, watch­ing in rapt hyp­no­tism in pin drop silence. But it was you who made me real­ize the under­ap­pre­ci­ated work of Louise Fletcher as the nurse. You did not crit­i­cize Hotel Rwanda for not focus­ing on the geno­cide, and por­tray­ing the kind of hero who is not sil­hou­et­ted against moun­tain­tops.

In 1999, five years after The Shaw­shank Redemp­tion was released, you high­lighted Red’s three appear­ances for parole as the “car­rier of the film’s spir­i­tual arc”. Five years later, on its tenth anniver­sary cel­e­bra­tion on Char­lie Rose, Darabont described those scenes as “car­ry­ing the movie’s tra­jec­tory”.

I was spell­bound by Mephisto, but you helped me under­stand what it was all about. When Ing­mar Bergman left us in 2007, I described how and why I was afraid of watch­ing his films. I waited over 20 years to brace myself to watch Cries and Whis­pers, to have the courage of with­stand­ing its extremes of human feel­ing, and it was you who instilled that courage in me.

You ele­vated movie jour­nal­ism into an art form wor­thy of the first Pulitzer Prize for crit­i­cism. When you lost your voice to can­cer in 2006, you became more vocal using Twit­ter, as gra­cious as ever in admit­ting you werehum­bled by a mother of three in New Delhi”. Such was your tenac­ity in remain­ing engaged with your world­wide fol­low­ers that you took “A Leave of Pres­ence” just two days before leav­ing us for­ever. You taught us not to be afraid of death, when in 2009 you saidI was per­fectly con­tent before I was born, and I think of death as the same state”.

Dear Roger, you were never just a movie critic. You were an inspi­ra­tion, a philoso­pher, and a friend even to those you never met. You not only taught us more about movies than any film maker ever did, you helped us, again and again, to learn from movies how to live our lives better.

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The Abused Exclamation Mark

From sur­prise to hap­pi­ness, from anger to vio­lence, from anguish to tragedy, the excla­ma­tion mark punc­tu­ates a vari­ety of human expres­sion. When a char­ac­ter in your fic­tion says “Stop!”, your reader hears the shout; while “Stop.” con­veys there is a calm author­ity behind the order. A com­mand to “Jump” may not achieve it’s pur­pose; “Jump!” may actu­ally pro­pel one to do so.

Sadly, this unique and extra­or­di­nary power of the excla­ma­tion mark has greatly dimin­ished in con­tem­po­rary writ­ing. The elu­sive semi­colon lies at one end of the spec­trum, the abused excla­ma­tion marks the other end. Like a can­cer in our mod­ern lan­guage, it seems to mul­ti­ply for­ever. A sin­gle mark no longer con­veys the level of excite­ment or shock as it once used to, it now needs sev­eral mul­ti­ples of itself to cre­ate the magic.

There is an odd­ity about these mul­ti­ples that I have never under­stood: they occur as a group of either 3 or 5 or more, rarely 2 or 4. I hope in vain that some­day, the sin­gle excla­ma­tion mark will get even with those who so abuse it.

Now we even encounter cases where the num­ber of marks used out­num­ber the let­ters it was intended to punc­tu­ate, as in “OMG!!!!!!!”, thus becom­ing more dis­rup­tive than even the paren­the­sis.

Jew­elry can embell­ish, but not make a woman beau­ti­ful; gar­nish­ing can enhance fla­vor, not cre­ate it. Embell­ish­ment can dimin­ish the orig­i­nal idea. The excla­ma­tion mark can punc­tu­ate con­tent, not sub­sti­tute it. Alas, like an alco­holic who is never sat­is­fied with just one drink, pop­u­lar lan­guage is rarely sati­ated with just one excla­ma­tion mark. The excla­ma­tion mark is the new opi­ate of the masses.

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The Disruptive Parenthesis

This is not a Par­ent The­sis on gram­mar about how kids should write; it is just a con­tin­u­a­tion of my mus­ings. Noticed the semicolon?

When you write, you assume there is a reader (unless you are writ­ing for your­self), and the paren­the­sis (when and if used) is where you ask the reader to hold your cur­rent idea in the mind, while you dis­tract for a bit, seek atten­tion even to the dis­trac­tion, then implore the reader to fol­low in your ear­lier, orig­i­nal flow.

The above sen­tence rewritten:

Unless you are writ­ing for your­self, you assume there is a reader. When you use a paren­the­sis, you are ask­ing the reader to hold your cur­rent idea in the mind, while you dis­tract for a bit, seek atten­tion even to the dis­trac­tion, then implore the reader to fol­low in your ear­lier, orig­i­nal flow.

Which reads better?

When you watch sports on TV, and watch a replay in slow motion to enjoy a spe­cial shot, it is a break from the live flow. It does ask you to “hold” your live TV watch­ing, replays what you’ve already seen, and resumes to live action. It is like reread­ing the pre­vi­ous sen­tence more slowly. It isn’t a paren­the­sis how­ever, because it doesn’t dis­tract. A paren­the­sis dis­tracts by definition.

Your reader is on a flow, raft­ing along with the cur­rent of your river. When you use paren­the­sis (if you do) the reader’s raft hits a rock. See?

Paren­the­sis are nec­es­sar­ily branches of a thought process; trib­u­taries of your river that lead nowhere. A free­way exit you force upon your reader, but one that sim­ply loops back to the free­way, slow­ing the reader unnec­es­sar­ily. If one’s thought process has a def­i­nite des­ti­na­tion, then one need not waste one­self in trib­u­taries of paren­the­ses. One can flow straight­for­ward, car­ry­ing read­ers in an unin­ter­rupted flow, right up to the des­ti­na­tion (unless you use parenthesis).

The paren­the­sis dis­rupts the flow; it is very dis­rup­tive by nature.

In my 40s, when I look back at every­thing I’ve writ­ten in my life so far, it takes me quite a while to dis­cover an instance when I used paren­the­sis. It is my least uti­lized writ­ing device.

But for­get writ­ing. When I need to use paren­the­sis in my think­ing, I take a step back. Because, when­ever one feels the need of the paren­the­sis, one is branch­ing out con­cep­tu­ally. A care­ful rethink­ing yields the insight needed to inte­grate the trib­u­tary into the main river, after which one is ready to express. Or write. With­out parenthesis.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Elusive Semicolon

Of all the var­i­ous punc­tu­a­tion marks, the semi­colon is the most elu­sive. One instinc­tively knows when to use the period. One has no doubts what to use when one is ter­ri­bly excited! When seri­ously in doubt, does one hes­i­tate to ask a ques­tion? But when­ever one strings mul­ti­ple things together, the comma often seems to do the job, leav­ing the semi­colon aside. Largely unused, often ignored, the semi­colon has an iden­tity cri­sis and is in dan­ger of becom­ing extinct.

The comma mean­while, evolves in its dom­i­nance, con­quer­ing every­thing in its path, threat­en­ing to  oblit­er­ate the semi­colon out of existence.

But, the semi­colon con­tin­ues to sur­vive a frag­ile exis­tence. When a thought process begins from a cer­tain idea A as the start, goes through an inter­me­di­ary step B, leads to a con­clu­sion C, the comma does the job in giv­ing your reader the nec­es­sary pause to fol­low you. But a the­o­rem is always fol­lowed by its corol­lary; that’s when the semi­colon comes into the picture.

The comma leads the reader to take the next step, the semi­colon is where you let the reader take a breath and then take the next step. You do not let him stop; doing so neces­si­tates a period.

The comma, though dom­i­nant, is often depen­dent. It needs con­junc­tions, whether they are are, and, but, or or; the semi­colon, on the other hand, is inde­pen­dent. The grow­ing dom­i­nance of the comma per­haps tells us how we pre­fer the props of con­junc­tions to pro­pel the reader breath­lessly for­ward; while the semi­colon becomes an elu­sive fig­ure lan­guish­ing in aca­d­e­mic obscurity.

The comma with its con­junc­tions is banal; the semi­colon irre­place­able. Sub­sti­tute a semi­colon with a comma and a con­junc­tion and the sen­tence becomes insipid; divorce the two clauses with a period and the idea loses its inte­gral character.

The semi­colon is a bond like no other. It does not divide and con­quer like the period, nor does it mean­ing­lessly try to assim­i­late asym­me­try via con­junc­tions. The semi­colon respects indi­vid­u­al­ity; it merely seeks to con­nect. It is the elu­sive glue that bonds ideas like friends.

Posted in Writing | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Your Blog, Your Home, Your Self

A blog is a vir­tual home. A per­ma­nent place for your thoughts, your mem­o­ries, your indis­cre­tions, your intro­spec­tion, and a place to share the unquiet­ness of your mind.

No social net­work ful­fills this need. Your blog is not a place where you impress your rel­a­tives with how good a vaca­tion you had, it is not a place where you share your fan­tas­tic pho­tographs with your friends, it is not a place where you are par­tic­i­pat­ing in any social net­work with the bag­gage it carries.

It is not a place like Face­book where you look at other people’s happy lives won­der­ing what the hell you’re doing with yours. It is not like Twit­ter where every­one seems to have a lot of things to talk about when you your­self have noth­ing to say. It is not like Quora where seem­ingly intel­li­gent folks are impart­ing their wis­dom to seemingly-ignorant folks. It is not like Insta­gram where you’re look­ing at your unin­ter­est­ing meal or rou­tine sur­round­ings while gaz­ing at the great food or exotic des­ti­na­tions your friends are appar­ently enjoy­ing. It is not where you find folks enjoy­ing great music while your life seems to be in disharmony.

Your blog is a place where you can be your­self. It does not expect you to be happy and hav­ing a great time all the time. It does not expect you to cap­ture in pho­tos your best moments in life. It does not demand that you share the most momen­tous occa­sions with it. It does not expect that you share the great music you’re sup­pos­edly enjoy­ing. There is no com­pul­sion. There is no demand.

It just is there for you, if you ever need it. And that is what a true friend is. Your blog can be your best friend.

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The year was 1985. I was a teenager enter­ing the Xth grade in school, sub­scribed to an Indian children’s mag­a­zine “Tin­kle”. One item in an issue in 1985 caught my fancy. It was in the Sci­ence sec­tion: “How to build your own telescope”.

By that age, I was already fas­ci­nated by sci­ence in gen­eral and astron­omy in par­tic­u­lar. I had read how Galileo had watched the moons of Sat­urn and I was enchanted. The tele­scope described in the Tin­kle arti­cle would have a mag­ni­fi­ca­tion of 20x with an aper­ture of 2.5 inch. If it were built, you could watch the craters on the moon! I was fas­ci­nated but, how could I build one myself?

Huge rolls of thick paper from cal­en­dars, stuck together with adhe­sive, rolled to form the tube with a slit for the main front lens. Smaller roll of thick paper glued with adhe­sive to form the smaller tube to hold the eye piece, adjusted in dimen­sion so that it could roll in-and-out eas­ily within the larger tube of the front lens. Beg­ging my par­ents for Rs. 175 to then let my elder brother buy those lenses.

Slowly, the tele­scope began to form. But it needed a stand. We had an old, dis­carded table study lamp, with a spher­i­cal base, and a ball-socket arrange­ment for an upper hemi-spherical base for the lamp. It was a gift from the school for my elder sis­ter for her schol­arly apti­tude. I cut off the upper hemi-spherical base, and the cylin­dri­cal socket for it fit­ted the thin­ner eye-piece cylin­der of my tele­scope per­fectly! Wow. My tele­scope was ready.

From that point on, I was watch­ing the craters on the moon, gaz­ing at the Orion Neb­ula, and try­ing my best to observe galax­ies beyond my reach. M42 became a beloved object in my life and has remained so for many decades hence­forth. My pas­sion and my curios­ity had no bound­aries. That tele­scope mag­ni­fied the extent to which my human vision could reach. It taught me that there are tools man invents to reach out­side and beyond the lim­i­ta­tions of our per­cep­tions and our indi­vid­ual experiences.

28 years later, I ask myself, which tele­scope am I using now? Not to gaze into outer space, but to observe within and around myself. The answer came read­ily: it is books, movies, and pri­mar­ily, peo­ple. Books and movies expand our expe­ri­ences beyond what our own per­cep­tion could ever have. Books place you into sit­u­a­tions you’ve never been, make you under­stand the moti­va­tions of char­ac­ters you’ve never met. Movies let you expe­ri­ence sit­u­a­tions you’ll prob­a­bly never expe­ri­ence and allow your imag­i­na­tion to fly. These are tele­scopes that mag­nify indi­vid­ual human per­cep­tion and expand it beyond what would have been nat­u­rally possible.

Peo­ple are the ulti­mate tele­scopes. Every per­son, has a wealth of expe­ri­ence and learn­ing and wis­dom to whomever is allowed access. Every per­son has a wealth of knowl­edge we’ve never learned, a trea­sure of insights we’ve never had, a gold mine of expe­ri­ences we’ll never have. How often do we make use of these read­ily avail­able telescopes?

How much trou­ble, how much effort, I went through to con­struct my first tele­scope! Do I take even a 10% effort in uti­liz­ing the tele­scopes that other peo­ple offer me for free?

Oh no, he lives in such a bad area, it’s a pain just to drive to his home.” “Oh no, she talks too much, I can’t even lis­ten to her any­more.” “Oh no, he is too pre­ten­tious.” “Oh no, she is too much into her own thing she doesn’t care about any­body else.” There are dozens and dozens of rea­sons we have for ourselves.

Each of these human beings is a tele­scope, if only one were will­ing to watch through the eye­piece. The eye­piece, in this case, is the human abil­ity to lis­ten, which we most often abuse — or in other words, don’t use at all.

We reject the view, by not lis­ten­ing at all. Often, we choose not to view through the telescope.

Because, we’re so com­fort­able with our own world­view, that any­thing that changes it, is deeply uncom­fort­able to us. We do not want telescopes.

Posted in Personal | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Music Composition as an Artistic Process

[This post is #8 in the West­ern Clas­si­cal Music Series]

Every block of stone has a statue in it, and it is the task of the sculp­tor to dis­cover it — Michelanglo

The beauty of an art­work is not just because of what the artist has included in the work, but also because of what the artist has excluded from it. I find this to be true of most forms of cre­ative art, whether it is music or pho­tog­ra­phy, paint­ing or lit­er­a­ture, sculp­ture or architecture.

In a sculp­ture, it is easy to visu­al­ize this aspect of the artis­tic process — a statue is ini­tially a block of stone from which the sculp­tor removes parts, and the result is the work of art — the statue. We are eas­ily able to visu­al­ize the artist’s work in remov­ing the unnec­es­sary parts of the stone. In paint­ing, one can visu­al­ize the col­ors not used. And so on. In music, how­ever, it is dif­fi­cult to appre­ci­ate this aspect, because we are almost never aware of what the com­poser has excluded. As casual lis­ten­ers of music, we only respond to what we lis­ten to, what the com­poser has included, we do not wear the hat of a com­poser and think about what the com­poser has excluded.

This aspect of music appre­ci­a­tion is cer­tainly not a pre­req­ui­site to appre­ci­at­ing WCM, but it does help us to appre­ci­ate Form. We have dis­cussed Form in WCM before, and it is worth­while reit­er­at­ing its key lesson:

Form is a series of strate­gies designed to find a suc­cess­ful mean between the oppo­site extremes of unre­lieved rep­e­ti­tion and unre­lieved alteration.

The key is to find the bal­ance between the two. Which aspects of the imag­ined work has the com­poser excluded because they were too repet­i­tive? Which aspects of the imag­ined work has the com­poser excluded because they were stray­ing too far away from the theme? Is the music lead­ing you sub­con­sciously on a pre­de­ter­mined roadmap in which the com­poser ulti­mately wants to take you through a jour­ney to his cho­sen des­ti­na­tion? When you love a piece of music, this is exactly what the com­poser achieves — take you through a won­der­ful jour­ney to a destination.

There are very, very few instances where this can be stud­ied and expe­ri­enced in the field of music. If you have expe­ri­enced a musician’s com­po­si­tion process, it is an insight­ful expe­ri­ence. With WCM, the only way we can engage in the com­po­si­tion process is to go back cen­turies in time and study the notes of the com­poser. This is, for­tu­nately, what musi­cal schol­ars have done. How­ever, their archived scrib­blings of musi­cal nota­tions and their explo­ration mostly remains exclu­sive to the elit­ist schol­arly domain, leav­ing us casual lis­ten­ers with no way to appre­ci­ate or under­stand them.

This is quite sim­i­lar to sci­ence. There are many fas­ci­nat­ing areas of sci­ence that remain beyond the reach of the main­stream, because their appre­ci­a­tion requires spe­cial­ized knowl­edge. There is a gulf between the higher ech­e­lons of art and sci­ence and the main­stream pop­u­lace. There are very few peo­ple who attempt to bridge that gulf. I have the most pro­found respect for them, because they attempt to enlighten us.

Carl Sagan epit­o­mized this role in Sci­ence. Leonard Bern­stein epit­o­mizes it in Music. Leonard Bern­stein is to Music what Carl Sagan was to Science.

They were them­selves a sci­en­tist and a musi­cian, but in look­ing back at their role in his­tory, their bridg­ing the gulf may be deemed more impor­tant than their pro­fes­sional careers.

With no fur­ther eulo­giz­ing, let us now learn from Leonard Bern­stein teach­ing us about the com­po­si­tion process that went behind Beethoven’s highly regarded and most loved 5th Symphony:

Watch and lis­ten. I need not say any­thing fur­ther. This is a unique expe­ri­ence for us to learn to appre­ci­ate WCM and we should for­ever be grate­ful to Lenny.

P.S. The Man­del­brot set is a unique excep­tion to the rule of Form, where unre­lieved rep­e­ti­tion ulti­mately results in what some may say is Art.

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