Saturday, February 01, 2003

It's extremely late (or extremely early, depending on your perspective), but I had to write about this now.

I'm reading Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus, based on Liz's recommendation, which was "you'll like it; it's all about music." I'm not that far into the book, but tonight I read a passage where the narrator describes a lecture by the town organist and piano teacher. The lecture is on Beethoven's Op. 111 piano sonata, which has only two movements, and the pianist plays the work and talks about why Beethoven only needed to write two movements. The description of the music, and the pianist's performance, steered me right onto the Internet, where I had to download an MP3 or some form of this sonata, so I would have a musical frame of reference. As good a job as Mann does describing the music, I had to hear it. After some time on Google, I found the sheet music in PDF format, but my skills at hearing printed music in my head are not what they once were. And this is late Beethoven, so it's especially difficult. After some more searching, I came across a "scriptorium," which had MIDI-like downloadable files of Beethoven's works. One quick plug-in for Winamp 2.x later, and I'm listening to Op. 111 and following along with the sheet music. But I had other things to do earlier tonight, so I didn't get around to listening to the piece until a few minutes ago.

While listening to the magnificent second movement (a theme and variations), about halfway through, the music sounded familiar. I'd heard it before. It's weird enough that I can't imagine once hearing it on the radio, so I struggled to remember the situation when I'd first heard it. All of a sudden, the music turned jazzy, like Beethoven in the 1820s had channeled Scott Joplin in the 1920s. And it came back to me, mostly. I think Anthony, a pianist friend of mine at Georgetown, had played a CD of it one night when we were studying. Either that, or Professor Philip Tacka, the music guru at Georgetown in the mid-1990s, had played it in a music history class I took. I'm fairly certain Anthony played it for me first, though, and he was as amazed by it as I was. It really took me back.

Hearing it again tonight blew me away for a second time, and reminded me of my youth, when I would discover new music like this all the time. I spent hours listening to my father's record collection and following the music with his orchestral scores, most of which my brother and I appropriated for our own. Then I'd stand in front of my stereo and conduct my own imaginary orchestra. Damn, I was a geek. But I had such a good time doing it. I miss those days: not a care in the world, all the possibilities of life open to me. Ehh, it's not that bad now, but I don't have those moments of discovery anymore. I think that's what I miss more: the sense that I'm learning something new, that another view of something I already knew has appeared. Occasionally, I get bursts of this kind of learning at work, when I'm playing with a new product, but it's just not the same. This would seem to be another indication that I need to revive my dormant musical skills. And that I need to get some sleep.

No comments: