12 July 2010


Andre Previn's Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano reminds me a lot of America at the time it was written in the late twentieth century: full of opposing ideas, unsettled, unable to focus on a common goal, but lurching forward (in a beautiful, well-written way; I meant no disrespect, Mr. Previn) with a semblance of progress. Previn is particularly savvy using American idioms while maintaining his own distinct compositional voice, particularly in the jazz-inspired final movement. But in the midst of the thorny, difficult music, buried in the middle movement is this moment*: nine measures of simple, pure bliss.

You've all had those moments in music. Snippets of a piece, maybe even a whole song, that you want to hear over and over, that somehow transport you. I can think of dozens of them immediately, a few measures of Strauss' Morgen, the soloist's first entrance in Bach's cantata, Ich habe genug, or the climactic moment in Ravel's Sonatine. There are certainly as many such moments in jazz or pop music, too. When Eric Clapton's Tears in Heaven was first released (you know, the one about his dead kid)? Couldn't stop playing it. Or even worse (I hate true confessions time): when I was in high school, I had a momentary lapse that resulted in an Amy Grant phase. I honestly don't remember the song, but know only that I played about 45 seconds of it over. and over. and over. I understand now that I was simply discovering the seductive power of suspended fourths, but still. I was smitten.

I thought of those measures in the Previn on my iPodless run early this morning (has anyone seen my earbuds, btw?), as I exited under the little bridge connecting Isles to Calhoun. If I had the little digital recorder I covet, I'd put up a sound file of them right here, and you'd be impressed with the value-added blog you're reading. But anyway, Lake Calhoun comes suddenly into view, and it's not a momentous scene, but it's calm and expansive and inviting, and it reminded me, almost viscerally, of those moments in music that hook us. I actually felt propelled around the lake by that single thought. Total peace. But I also get that my favorite measures, that inspiring moment, might do nothing for you, and that you, strangely, would be stoic and unmoved when faced with my Amy Grant fantasy. And I'd gamely listen to the minute or so of that song by Lady Gaga you love and not get it either (though not if it's Paparazzi because I totally love that). Music is cool that way, no?

*At rehearsal last night we joked that after those nine measures, which happily belong to the piano alone, the oboe and bassoon join me and we proceed to immediately ruin it. And it's true: it's almost as if Previn is embarrassed that he wrote such a simple, unadulerated lick. To rehearse the thorny stuff, we always had me start with the magic measures, just so we could indulge in them.

P.S. The Poulenc Trio's excellent recording includes the Previn, and some other great pieces my trio is also rehearsing.

1 comment:

  1. What will we call this phenomena? Transporting snippets (TS)? As in, “My favorite moment of sarcastic TS is in Hedwig, when she has to listen to her trailerpark neighbor play Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” ad infinitum."

    Most of my personal TS inducers are from musical theater…

    Musical: Ragtime
    Song: Back to Before
    Line (Mother): You were my sky, my moon and my stars and my ocean
    Why: Reminds me of a favorite ee cummings poem; what’s not to like about a major arpeggio (her perfect life, orderly and straight) that gets messed up by the 7th (falling in love with someone other than her husband, pulling her off the path)?

    Musical: Seussical
    Song: Just before the finale
    Line (Gertrude): I have wings. Yes, I can fly. You’ll teach him earth, and I will teach him sky.
    Why: It took me about 30 times through to be able to sing it without crying. I just kept trying. I’m tearing up now.

    Musical: Secret Garden
    Song: Opening
    Lines (Lily): Clusters of crocus,
    Purple and gold
    Blankets of pansies,
    Up from the cold.
    Lilies and iris,
    Safe from the chill.
    Safe in my garden,
    Snowdrops so still.
    Why: I like to harmonize with Rebecca Luker on “gold.” It’s SOOOO short and beautiful. And totally perfect for a soprano. The next “song” is dissonant. So why not keep playing the first refrain over and over and over?


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