Recently I had some time to kill downtown and decided to check out a few CDs from the library: Shubert piano sonatas, Dvorak string quartets, Shostakovich's 15th symphony, and a collection of Thailand ceremonial and court music. (I can also vouch for there still being plenty of Linda Rondstadt albums available on the library shelves, but not one single CD of traditional Japanese music.) After all these years, I still find it amazing that I can just walk out with this stuff, free of charge, and all they ask is that I bring it back in a few weeks. Like Jerry Seinfeld once said, it's a government version of the pathetic friend. I love it.
Anyway, though, my point was supposed to be that both the Shubert and Dvorjak albums are terrific. I'm not very good at articulating what I like about classical music. I don't know anything about arpeggios or major-seventh chords or an allegro versus a scherzo.
But I can tell you the Shubert feels alternately delicate, deep, mournful and optimistic. According to a book I have called Classical Music: A Rough Guide, Shubert was kind of old-school when he was composing back in the early 19th century, preferring tuneful melodies to the more ambiguous music popular in that time. Andras Schiff is the pianist on this recording, and I don't know anything about him, but being a solo piano recording, it's basically all him. I don't know very much about pianists, other than a big name like Andre Watts or people I've seen like Vladimir Feltsman, Anne Marie McDermott, and Yakov Kasman (the guy who suddenly was tapped to fly across country to step in at the last minute and save a Rachmaninov performance here).
I was listening to the Dvorak last night on my i-Pod while editing video shot from the plane during my flight to Los Angeles a couple weeks ago, and the Poco andante and Finale from the String Quintet in G Major (op. 77) really made the footage - a succession of time lapse footage of the plane wing with clouds going by - come alive. Does anyone out there know someone who could play some of it for me? I'd love to use part of the piece as soundtrack to the film. The music was stirring, with the violins and cellos often playing at a frenetic pace. But it also has moments of quiet tenderness. Dvorak, again according to the Rough Guide, successfully married folk music traditions with symphonic music. So there's a whimsy here that balances the more anthem-like classical aspects.
These albums also represent to me a new era for my music collection in which I don't keep a physical copy, like one has in the past with a either a CD or vinyl record album. As much as I love my i-Pod, it's going to take a long time for me to get used to the idea that much of my music collection exists only as digital files. Maybe that's fine, in a way, because the music itself should matter more than its packaging. But that also eliminates the heretofore established art form of album covers. And more importantly to me, as someone who avidly collects and hordes physical things that I love, I won't have the comforting effect of knowing that a piece of music that I love is literally within grasp. As I write this, though, I also get a sense of how soon this conceptual difficulty with change is what dates me. I'll have to stop making fun of my mom for not knowing how to use an ATM.