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The Romanticism Challenge, part 1

So, for the past six months or so I have been trying to like classical music from the romantic era (ca. 1815 - 1900). This probably requires some explanation. After all, most people regard their musical taste as just that: a matter of taste, which is, for the most part if not entirely, impossible to influence by conscious choice.

On the contrary, my ideas about esthetics in music is mostly influenced by Robert Jourdain's book Music, the Brain, and Ecstacy. Jourdain argues that what we perceive as beauty in music are based on small breaks with expectation (deviations from a convention), which set up a tension, which is subsequently released through the return to that convention. This is the reason that musical styles we are overly familiar with starts to sound trite, because what previously was a break with the convention now has become part of the convention itself. It also provides a plausible explanation for why I don't appreciate romantic music: since I am not familiar with the underlying musical idiom, I cannot notice the breaks from that idiom that creates all the magic.

If this is true, all I need to do should then be to listen to as much romantic music as I can, so that my experiences when listening to this kind of music should be mostly equivalent to that of those who are familiar with the period.

I told Anders on IRC yesterday that Western classical music composed after the Classical era sounded dull and uninspiring, and that I much prefer baroque music. I have told the same thing to classical music lovers several times, and they are invariably perplexed by the idea. So was Anders. And he was incredulous.

So he proposed to do some empirical research. The idea is to have a blind test: today, he will play compositions from his record collection, without telling which authors and from what period they are. Then, I will rate them on a scale of good vs. bad, and guess which period they belong to.

This is really a win-win situation for me: either I will be able to do this consistently, and hence conclude that romanticism really isn't anything for me (and get an ego boost on top of it), or I will get to know some good romantic music, and be introduced to a much larger musical terrain than I thought was possible.

When I told Anders after geek pizza that my classical music taste was mainly limited to Bach, Händel, Buxtehude, Telemann and Haydn, he got an expression of dread on his face. I'm not sure I can do this, he said. But I'll try. Many people have attempted to get me to like romantic music, but failed. Hopefully, this time it will be more successful. Or at least, that I will be able to learn something from it.

Watch this space, and Anders' blog, for updates.

[Saturday, Jul 02, 2005 @ 14:01] | [] | # | G