Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Beethoven is King

Ludwig van Beethoven is King.  Beethoven is my hero.  Beethoven is my musical everything.  And I am Schroeder from the Peanuts cartoons, albeit a dark-haired version of the boy with the stripey shirt and toy piano.

I love Mozart too but I tend to have qualifications about Mozart, he the sublime master who passed away a couple of months short of his 36th birthday.  Mozart's music, at its very best, is absolutely first-class, and much of his later quintets and concertos read like an honour roll of great music.  I'm particularly fond of the master's piano concertos and his quintets for various instruments such as horn & clarinet.   The problem with Mozart for me is that, despite the easy listenability of his music and the melodic and harmonic grace he bestows on upon his work, there is something essentially impenetrable about Mozart.  I find there is a steeliness to his music that's somewhat difficult to really warm to, or relate to on a deeply emotional level.    I almost feel sometimes that Mozart's music is truculent.  Although I love a great deal of his work, illumined and enlightened as it is, I find myself rarely completely taken by it.   

Beethoven's music, in contrast, is perfect to me.  Beethoven was only 14 years Mozart's junior.  Yet given the turbulent and rapidly-changing epoch these two men lived through, they in effect worked through two distinct eras and their music is thus a reflection of their particular times.  Mozart's music is in effect pre-revolutionary whereas Beethoven's is post-revolutionary.  Beethoven was the first great Western musical artist to declare artist's rights.  He declared his work to be an artistic statement, to live forever, and lucky for him in his formative years the royal court of Vienna loved music and Beethoven.  Mozart, Haydn, & J.S.Bach, all worked and remained subservient courtly or churchly patronage.  Haydn enjoyed independent success toward the end of his long life wheras Mozart floundered in his attempts to break free of court patronage, of which relations were mostly strained.   Beethoven broke away from strict classicism and allowed his music to breathe with the new aromas of Romanticism.  This, coupled with his forcefulness, his urgent need to communicate his soul through his great music, his utter musical articulateness, made for perfect classical music that speaks to the 20th & 21st centuries as well or if not better than it did in the 18th & 19th centuries.   I believe him to be the greatest composer of music who ever lived.   

Beethoven's piano sonatas mean the world to me.  I'd love to buy the complete set.  I've not heard all of them but I love all of those I've listened to.  My favourite sonata is the Pathetique which is often cited by many people as their favourite Beethoven sonata.   To me, Beethoven's piano sonatas are representative of the human condition, relaying to the listener or performer in these remarkable pieces the entire spectrum of human emotionality.   Beethoven is open whereas Mozart to me is tight.  Beethoven is more wounded, more genuinely melancholy.  For me, there is a greater pool of feeling and emotion in Beethoven's music than Mozart's or at least, the expression of it.

Like Beethoven I had a mirthless upbringing.  Maybe that's why the man appeals to me so much.  I do smile and laugh a lot more that he appeared to that's for sure.  By all accounts Beethoven's behaviour and manners deteriorated as he sunk further into deafness and solitude.  He was a pretty appalling guy really.

I also love J.S. Bach.  I'm very fond of Haydn whose music is extremely enjoyable.  I don't like Schubert, except for the Ave Maria.  I should like him, just like I should like Neil Finn, but I don't.   I just find Schubert annoying and therefore I eschew him.  Oh, I don't like Tchaikovsky either because he's such a drama queen, but I like Shostakovich very much.

Why would anyone sing the words "roll over beethoven"....do rockers realise that Beethoven was pure Rock'n'Roll!!!  In his early days in Vienna, 1792 onwards, he was known to smash pianos with the sublime force and passion of his playing.  He was a punk, a genius punk.  If I'd stuck with piano I would have become a Beethoven specialist for he is really my style of music.

Beethoven is King.  That second movement of the Pathetique, the sublime Adagio Cantabile, that's what I want played when I exit this world....just make sure that those fortes and fortissimos are played really hard and LOUD!  And the adagio melody....make that as sweet and gentle as the love of the earth...

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Raise the Alarm

I rarely get around to listening to the radio these days.  However I've recently succumbed to the aural airwaves because the CD player in my car tends to chew out more CDs than it accepts. I enjoy listening to CDs in the car because that's usually the space where I can unobtrusively practice my singing, which I imagine, sounds invariably like a dog barking, or a coyote howling. So with my CD player playing up on me I tune into the radio where I hear what are likely to be new releases, but I'm so out of the loop now I wouldn't know which songs are new or which of those are five or so years old.

What annoys me so much is that the songs I hear are hideously stupid. I can't believe that most of the tripe you hear passes off as "music", the lyrics are dumb and so is everything else. Perhaps I set too-high standards, or expect high standards from that which I listen to. The song that is really
riling me at the moment is this thing called 'Raise the alarm'. It's rock, basic rock, and the simplistic lyrics are screamed out by this mutton-head band (I've no idea who they are) whereby the lyrical premise appears to be about the planet dying and thus..."raise the alarm".

What annoys me so much about "raise the alarm !" is that I have a song that's a thousand times better, and that's 'End of a
Civilisationist', currently on MySpace page. These songs share similar themes although my song appeared first, I do add. I've never thought of EofC as being much chop really, more of a rant than anything, and certainly nowhere near coming close to any of my best songs. But when you compare my chord progressions - all those chromatic, jazzy twists & turns, moving into a new key in the lyrically-faded bridge, and then coming back into the final verse and chorus - and with that, a genuine set of lyrics that are beyond kindergarten level, I have no compunction in declaring my song is ONE thousand times better! Even if, truth be told, it's heavily influenced by early-Church in the verses and a Cold Chisel song in the chorus ("Conversations"). It is still MY song though, and I played all the instruments, produced it, mixed it, everything. Except the drums, someone else always does that.

So why are the composers & performers of "raise the alarm !" played on the radio and I ain't? It's because I don't speak to anyone. I find it tiring to promote my music, so therefore I don't,
preferring instead to spread it around discreetly via facebook & myspace and at live gigs. I take individuals for who they are but I don't appreciate having to deal with "positions" in the music "industry" - why should I have to crawl and deal with people in the biz when I can play and perform all of my own songs and these songs all speak for themselves anyway??

I can live with that. I'm a working musician and I love playing with other people. I'm playing with an astoundingly great singer-songwriter right now and I'm loving it and it is an absolute privilege to me to be working with her.

I can't help that, under the surface of how people know and perceive me, I do have a somewhat steely ego, particularly when it comes to music. I'm very
Beethovenian in my approach to loving music, and like Beethoven, I know music. Beethoven is one of my heroes actually and I love his work totally and it quite annoys me when people tell me "i don't like beethoven that much" or whatever. J.S.Bach and Beethoven are it for me.

....and everyone thinks I'm the nicest person. Yes, I am most of the time. I have to be careful. Ego is useless when it goes beyond safe, reasonable boundaries. I still play, I still perform, but I'm not writing songs anymore. I feel that I've said everything I want to say in this format of songwriting and I'm looking instead for other avenues of written expression. The blog, and more writing, is where I see myself moving toward. At least for all of these people getting played on the radio, dud musicians they may be and crap song-creators, the fact is that they're doing it and in many ways that's better than not doing it. That said I may return to songwriting unexpectedly at any time, and soon.

I don't believe myself to be exceptionally or highly intelligent - although I do get told I am the latter - but when I listen to this pap on the radio I do feel it to be a genuine affront to my intelligence. When it comes to, say, which famous Australian songwriters I love my answer is unanimously Steve Kilbey and Don Walker. Both of these men are truly great songwriters, are remarkably clever and extraordinary good at their craft. I love their playing as well. That's the standard I set myself so the exercise of listening to songs of the radio puts me well and truly into dumb-land.

And it doesn't negate the fact that 'raise the alarm' is fucking Rubbish!!!

Monday, 6 April 2009

Writers rite

I cracked open my first module today for the online creative writing course I joined up for.  I'm nervous and remain unsure of where to go with this.  It's difficult to concentrate on too much information in one sitting taking into account I've been at work all day.  I listened to the first two modules today.  One sentence that struck me in particular is that when one famous writer got asked what's the difference between a writer and a non-writer the answer is "writers write".  It's that simple, explained the module presenter.  

I'm not comfortable with the word "writer".  I just enjoy writing without that tag being entrusted on me.  I mean, Dostoyevsky is a "writer", and yet so is Augusten Burroughs for that matter, and Andrew McGahan, both of whom reflect my style and attitude and experience in ways that the aged masters of tome could never do.  I suppose I don't see too far beyond my contemporary urban nihilism, unless we're talking about tapping the mighty energy of the forests.  For the present, however, I've landed myself in the course and therefore have to persist with it, listening to the modules (and concentrating), reading the handouts, presenting assignments.  I have this lurking though utterly absurd fear that I'm going to replicate what George Constanza did on that episode of Seinfeld, ie dump the course and eat popcorn and watch the film.  No, it's not going to happen.  I shall marathon this course and the prescribed modules.  It's just that I do tire of hearing about 1st person, 3rd person, omniscient narrator (come to think of it I do like that phrase..), tense past & present and the rest of it after a while.  But structure needs to be learned; so there it is, that's why I'm here.

I'm really too tired to keep writing but I'll bear with it for a little while longer until I drop off this chair, which won't be long.  I did a couple of swell gigs yesterday in Newtown with Zara, particularly the first gig being at the Sando in the late afternoon.  We had a full set of heads in front of us as we performed a full set ourselves to good reception.  It was a lot of fun.  By the end of the night I became queasy with exhaustion after what had been a big week beforehand with plays on after work at drama school on consecutive nights.  It had been well-worth it though, and Sunday's music-making was great, and I'm loving it.  

Today was the first day of the year where a jacket was required, walking around campus during the middle of the day with green/brownish leaves beginning to fluster around more readily as autumn kicks in.  Even now, the temperature has dropped sufficiently to allow for some long-sleeve action in bed.  Thankfully, wonderfully for how good it is to sleep when the temperature cools down that bit more.  I'm looking forward to the cooler weather.  It has been a great summer, but I'm over the heat now.  I'm looking forward to some cold nights, so bring it on.

I ain't re-reading what I've just written, too tired.  I'm off to sleep. zzz!

...and I've read about 50 pages of Mockingbird thus far.  Yes it is kinda good.

Paul Hewson shooting star

i'm in the sunshine A mate of mine produces a monthly songwriter newsletter which goes out to a hundred or so mainly Sydney-based...