A Musical Challenge
There being no concert for us in Leipzig tonight and no insurmountable challenges from inscrutable bathroom fixtures, I turned my attention to communications sent me by a friend of mine from Boston and a cousin living in England. Each separately sent me the link to this provocative challenge thrown down by The New York Times, called “5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Classical Music.” The Times asked a bunch of well-known musicians and music journalists the following question: “What are the five minutes or so — longer than a moment, shorter than a symphony — that you’d play for a friend to convince them to fall in love with classical music?”
Here’s the link:
My friend and cousin asked my opinion, which I offer at the end of this essay. But first of all, I think some of the responders were answering a different question than the one that was asked. The response many of them gave answered the question: What’s your favorite piece of music and why? Wrong question. In fact, as someone who has been as passionate about classical music and has performed as much of it as anyone for over half a century, I’d have to say that some of the choices in the Times article made me want to avoid listening to classical music like the plague.
I told my Boston friend and my cousin my personal choice. My Boston friend did not agree, which is very common for us, regardless of the topic. He wrote, “as seducers to classical music, from an emotional perspective, I’ll go with Bach double violin concerto, 2nd movement; or Beethoven 7th Symphony, 2nd movement; or Beethoven Violin Concerto, pick your five minutes.”
I will agree that those three compositions are sublime, the pinnacles of classical music. It’s hard to imagine anything more beautiful or moving. And if your friend happens to be a highly intelligent, sensitive, cultured person who somehow has not been aware of the existence of classical music all her/his life, maybe those compositions will be the very ones to open the doors to a whole new world of beauty.
But my feeling is that I doubt most people who don’t enjoy classical music (which is most people); who believe classical music is an esoteric conceit of highbrow, rich, elitists; who watch every college football game every Saturday on their iPhones; who schedule their day around The Biggest Loser; and whose closest contact to classical music is Randy Travis, will be moved by subtly nuanced strains of Bach and Beethoven.
No, sir. The hook that will most successfully land the uninitiated listener requires irresistibly tasty bait. In other words, something big and brassy and if at all possible with loud drums. Something like hot Cheetos that’s so appealing it’s addictive.
Here’s my choice. It isn’t by any means my favorite piece of music, but everyone who has ever heard it wants to hear more classical music: the opening of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra.
Or not. What do you think?
I’d also welcome your opinion of my short story series, MISTER E’S MYSTERIES. The critics have called them “sparkling gems of the mystery genre,” but what do they know?