Moods and music
When we think we know the circumstances of a composer's life that
produced a particular mood in the music we are more often than not
deluding ourselves. Historical commentators on the great artists
make many assumptions in startling ignorance of them as human beings
with real daily lives requiring the goods and services common to us all,
hardly ever connecting with their moods and musical reasoning.
The expression of wit in music, as distinct from cheerfulness and good
humour, was not widely practiced before the mid nineteenth century, and we do
not therefore associate very much baroque or classical music with banter
and witty repartee, though there is little doubt that Handel, Bach and a
goodly company of their contemporaries enjoyed merry and boisterous times.
It is tempting to associate dark, cold and damp living conditions, constant
work, poverty and anxiety, bad food, bad teeth and indigestion with gloomy
church music and pictures of tortured saints, but composers drew great
enjoyment from their craft, the skill with which they could manipulate notes
and harmony to whatever effect their patrons required.
Like good film
composers now, the artisan does not betray in the product the moods of the
maker -- and if it is a large score, an opera spread over two years or more,
the changing moods will be many, whatever the theme of the work in progress.
The virtue of the composer was, and is, in resisting the influences of daily
life rather than allowing every hazard of the day to fall into the making of
a series of notes or a pungent chord. They have in common with many other
vocations, like teachers, doctors, nurses and churchmen, a professional need
to rise above the influences of everyday life in order to carry out a task
which may have a far higher level of intent and application than daily life.
Tragic art does not have to be the product of tragic experience. In a letter
from one of music's most morbid composers, Tchaikovsky dismisses the popular
belief that his sombre music is the product of unhappiness.
'On the contrary', he writes, 'the composer in the act of creation, and
as a result of it, is in a state of ideal happiness'. Nor does tragic
experience need to stimulate a constant flow of tragic music. Palestrina
enjoyed a far more merry life than his church music might suggest, and
Poulenc's musical cheerfulness hid more tragedy than we might suspect.
Copyright © 25 February 2003 Patric Standford,
West Yorkshire, UK
From: L R Ragsdale, USA
As a composer who managed to compose more music in 2002 than I ever have before
(a three movement Quintet for Double reeds and a two movement clarinet sonata),
I can assure you that poverty, fear of not having sufficient funds for rent or food,
and a host of other potential disasters does not always affect the music being composed.
Sometimes it does, but not in this case.
I had no employment and very little income the entire year of 2002. I am still not making
sufficient income for basic needs, but I keep composing.