Thursday, June 10, 2010

listening models, dialectic + dance!

If there are two things that really trip my intellectual trigger they have got to be dance and dialectic--with all their ramifications, alterations and interpretations. I love it.

I am playing Beethoven's unfinished and so-called "Eyeglass" duo tonight with one of my favorite cellists. We are finding the work to be surprisingly difficult, we concluded that it must have been "really easy on the piano." Beethoven himself would have played the viola, and a letter to the intended cellist reveals (according to popular lore) the meaning of the work's unusual title (Beethoven writes that the players would require eyeglasses to read the music as it was freshly composed).

The idea of friendship and dialogue offers a compelling case for a dialectic listening model. What exactly do I mean by a "dialectic listening model" you say? I am talking about the classical argument, classical education and their application to eighteenth century listening practices. Despite their abhorrence for Scholasticism (I'm thinking about John Locke--if I weren't pressed for time I'd haul out the ol' Bertrand Russell History of Western Philosophy and find the exact quotation...), these guys were students of Aristotle and the rest, no doubt allowing this sort of intellectual training to subtly inform their interpretations of art and music. For example, imagine that you know nothing about music theory or form, yet you do have a solid grasp on the classics and you come from the salon culture of the eighteenth century. Given these circumstances you would likely apply two important facets of each of the aforesaid--conversation and the dialectic--to understand "abstract" music, Beethoven's Eyeglass duo for example.

The first movement lends itself splendidly to the dialectic listening model: viola and cello converse back and forth offering contrasting and complementary interpretations of the theme and accompanimental motives. The arguments culminate at the close of the development wherein assertive pizzicati are volleyed between players until a musical consensus is achieved, represented by an ever-so-slightly sentimental adagio. Following the recapitulation, the movement concludes with a coda: the last gasps of an all-in-good-fun argument.

Where dialectic offers a convincing conceptual framework for the first movement, dance and the mind/body duality (a preoccupation of the eighteenth century intelligentsia) allows for a meaningful interpretation of the Minuetto. A traditionally "high" dance, Beethoven's Minuetto becomes an example of the aforementioned duality, featuring moments traditionally refined and radically raucous.

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