The Empire Strikes Back

November 15, 2016 at 1:56 pm

You know how in Star Wars, there’s this little tiny Rebellion fighting against a big nasty Empire? And you know how a dozen little space ships destroy that big scary death star? Well, it doesn’t always happen that way – sometimes, the Empire strikes back.

Back in 1830, Poland and the other Baltic states rebelled against Russia. Russia sent a big army over and crushed the rebellion, subjugated the people, and maintained its control over that region. And Chopin was maaaaaaaaaaddddd …

He poured his emotions into music – his Revolutionary Etude is a force to be reckoned with. This is a great piece for getting rage and fury off your chest – the only problem is, you have to be an amazing pianist to play it, even at a slow speed. Take that, Imperial scum!


November musings

November 12, 2016 at 9:36 am

We humans naturally compare our lives to the world around us – the start of life at spring, the fruits of summer, the autumnal decline, the dead winter. We find these cycles in many different aspects of our lives, not to mention our own existence. November, therefore, might be a time when we prepare for death, Thanksgiving, like a joyous last meal. Some people find this morbid, but, I find it comforting. Why else would we devote so much time and energy surrounding the end of our lives if not to bring some peace? We have religious practices to prepare us, social rituals to go through to help us through the loss of a loved one, and of course, art!

Johannes Brahms was utterly heartbroken when his mother died; he nursed his spirit back to health by writing what has become one of his best-loved works, his German Requiem.

Brahms’ mother died in February 1865; by the end of the year, he had written most of the Requiem. It is not a liturgical work – it is better described as a sacred concert work. It is a collection of Bible verses, sung in German, that gently take the listener through the stages of grief. Eighteen months later, Brahms completed a movement for soprano solo – some say it is his mother’s voice, singing from heaven:

And ye now therefore have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice …
s one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you.

Perhaps Brahms had finally come to terms with his mother’s passing.

It is necessary to note that Brahms was an agnostic; still, he chose to set religious texts. I don’t think this is that bizarre, really. Plenty of people with no religious beliefs will arrange for a religious funeral for themselves or a loved one. Even if the belief isn’t there, comfort can be found in moving through the rituals. You don’t need to understand German or be a Christian for this music to move you to tears. It is simply a human work – which I believe is exactly what Brahms intended.

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.


well then …

November 9, 2016 at 10:36 am

I had two different pieces lined up for today, depending on the outcome of the election. I have to admit that I really didn’t expect to be playing this one. We humans are strange indeed. If you’re happy with the election results, congratulations. If you’re saddened, music can be healing. This short piece of incidental music by Edvard Grieg speaks directly to the sore heart. Like most of the other movements of his Peer Gynt suite, it uses a simple four-measure melody that repeats a lot. The simplicity is refreshing, though – sometimes you just don’t have the energy to get involved with a long musical narrative.

Remember that humans are capable of creating things of beauty.

(Aase is Peer Gynt‘s mother.)