This paper was written all the way back in 1996 and delivered on April 18 of that year. I was in the second year of a Master of Music Performance degree, and the class was entitled Specialist Seminar. It was led by the miraculous lecturer Dr Barry Bignell. (I don’t think he was a doctor then, but he is now.) I have just rediscovered the paper after a great many years and am always pleased to find that something I did long ago is actually okay. Readable. Makes some kind of sense. I absolutely adored the time I spent doing Masters and remember those two years with immeasurable fondness. I offer the paper entirely unedited. (So if you don’t like my which/that thing, sorry, but that was only ever brought to my attention in a paper I tried to publish after I finished the PhD.)
A couple of weeks ago, when I was still looking for a topic for this seminar – just beginning to worry, in fact – I heard while driving some piano music which I did not recognise, but which gave me a degree of unease. While driving, as we are probably all aware, it is difficult (not to say slightly dangerous) to focus one’s attention entirely on music, in the manner one might were one at home or attending a recital, that is, freed from certain distractions. Also, I had joined in with this music partway through, so that in addition to my not knowing who had written it, I was unaware of how it had started. Nonetheless, these were only secondary considerations, as far as I was concerned – secondary to the feeling which the music transmitted, a feeling of someone in deep trouble. Listening, then half-listening, trying at times to work out who might be responsible (I thought perhaps Schumann if anyone), wanting the music to continue but also wanting it to come to an end in order that I might find out what it was, and then ascertain whether or not there was any basis in my suspicions more importantly about its character, I continued to be preoccupied with the sense that the composer was sorrowful and disturbed indeed. It is rather difficult to explain, and the attempt itself runs a great many risks, not the least of which is that of sounding excessively romantic, and getting carried away more by the language one chooses to use than a delineation of the musical effect, but I felt the same disturbance as I feel in the late piano music of Liszt, to which I’ll be returning: the sense of something standing in the way of the music, refusing to allow it to develop along a single line, scrambling somehow the composer’s efforts and forcing the music to take another, quite uncomfortable, path.
At the conclusion of the performance, the announcer remarked that these had been the sounds of a grieving man. The music was a set of pieces by Leos Janacek, entitled On an overgrown path, most of which were written after the composer’s daughter Olga had died in 1903, still a teenager. Nor was she the first: a son, Vladimir, had died three years earlier, in 1900. The compilation of the work, as a set of pieces, was conceived in 1908 as a memorial to Olga, and published in 1911.
I can’t say that I was at all surprised by this, but it set me thinking about what exactly characterised the music to convey the composer’s grief so strongly to my ears, forced to pay only intermittent attention as I was. (‘Aha!’ I thought. ‘A topic!’)
Gradually the idea broadened, as I thought more and more about this and other pieces of music, many of which I previously knew had been written out of grief (and thus to some extent had to be regarded with suspicion within this enquiry). So too I thought about grief itself, the nature of it and the circumstances of its invocation.
Already, some areas impossible to divorce from empiricism, but some of the most urgent. This seminar is titled ‘Music of grief’, and results largely from my new acquaintance with the Janacek pieces. I have sought to explore the nature of music which expresses, displays, or is born of, grief, by investigating the initial questions they provoked. This has led to further questions, and one or two vague hypotheses. These are firstly, that music of grief is elemental in a manner which corresponds to the nature of the emotion itself. Secondly, that it closes the door on the idea that the interpretation of the character of music is always subject to the caprices of the listener. Thirdly, that it embodies the functions of music as art and ceremony almost by definition, following on its very conception. As a result, the seminar depends on the understanding that music can, either by its own nature or (more likely) by elaboration and association, effectively represent or at least evoke certain emotions and states of mind more dependably over others. It needn’t, necessarily, but I am becoming more and more convinced as I go along, particularly in this area, that it can. Unfortunately, its all a little abstract and idealised, but I think overall it has been a very worthwhile area to consider.
Janacek’s On an overgrown path¹ concludes with the piece called ‘The barn owl has not flown away’, which I played at the outset. The title here refers I believe to a folk tradition that an owl arrives to inhabit a house wherein death is imminent. The title was incidentally added following Olga’s death, added in fact at the time of publication.
Now I just want to acknowledge that one runs, in discussing these areas of intense human emotion, the risk of appearing somehow to annex a repertoire of romantic characteristics for oneself, to seek to encumber oneself with a veil of artistic tragedy, or to demonstrate an heroic depth of feeling. Such is not really my desire. I don’t really want to read in to the music, any more than I have some gothic attraction to grief as an emotion. I don’t think anyone really wants to be given cause to grieve – but it’s there and, as I hope to show, it is a curiously powerful motivation, at a certain stage, for reasons I will consider shortly.
‘The barn owl has not flown away’ is music which makes the most of the starkest contrasts. In the short space of time it takes to play, the musical elements are almost arranged in a row, set in the sharpest relief. More than anything, this is what strikes me now, and struck me on first hearing it: the initial arpeggio, the simmering accompaniment to the owl, and the chorale-like writing in a major key. And that’s all there is really, three parts which are juxtaposed and dealt with in turn. But this is the fourth musical element, the fact of their juxtaposition. Between hearing the music the first and second times (because my next stop was of course the record shop), I concluded that it had been silence which conveyed the despair, the bleak sense of hopelessness which I thought I’d heard. A simple enough supposition, and so often true. But when I heard it again, it simply wasn’t true. There are only the breaks between the individual pieces, and ‘implied silences’, if I may be permitted this rather silly-looking idea. And, on hearing the whole set of pieces a number of times, it is not bleak all over. There are some harrowing moments, but some also of great peace and beauty, such as the opening of ‘Our evenings’ or the stunning ‘Good night’. It is the contrast between the many moods which is now most striking.
So, some early questions, for which I’m sorry to say I have few answers. To begin, what did I hear in the car that afternoon which made the grief so pervasive? Was it actually the music, or something in myself at that moment? How does that differ from what I have heard each time since? Something in the initial hearing struck me deeply, which later consideration and repeated hearings (probably on account of some intent) have obscured. Perhaps I heard a single gesture which constituted an echo of some other music with grieving associations and my thinking, having made an unconscious association, moved down a path expecting the Janacek to display a similar frame of mind. Open to interpretation, the music would not disappoint. (That’s just a suggestion.) Possibly it’s the same variance in mood which allows me to listen happily to a Viennese waltz one day, and switch it off in disgust the next. Here, in any case, is what I suspect.
My concept (or conceit) of implied silence results from my fallible memory of the music as I heard it. Whereas I recalled a greater use of silence, making the grief or the absence audible, the most striking aspect of the music now seems to be the contrasts, wherein Janacek juxtaposes starkly disparate elements: loud and soft, aggressive and reflective, contented and despairing, etc. Beneath the structural aspects of these juxtapositions, as mentioned, there exists (for myself at least) the sound of an unhappy individual, one who has been confronted with (as it happens) the death of a beloved daughter. But none of this tells us how music can so strongly as it did, carry or inspire these associations, these feelings. What ultimately I think Janacek conveys is his acquaintance with the silence of death, and the restlessness and the inner conflict of his music here are the sounds of his struggle against it. And the silence is not audible, but present still: it is the opponent – suspected, known, feared, ultimately victorious. It is that which is displaced by the action of making music. The nature of the music which is made articulates the silence which it combats. This of course seems like a roundabout route, or a clever working out of something very trivial, or even something very obvious. But at the moment, it is the best way I can think of to do it.
The emotive power of music could not seriously be in doubt. The idea that music expresses emotion is, however, wide open to dispute, since as Rudolf Arnheim has said in relation to visual art, emotion cannot be separated from perception and cognition and, to quote the brief prece in Ellen Dissanayake’s fascinating book Homo aestheticus: where art comes from and why (1995, 176), “emotion is better understood as the tension or excitement level produced by the interaction of brain processes of perception, expectation, memory, and so forth, and does not exist apart from this.”
Nevertheless, a great many people will agree concerning the effect of certain pieces of music on them, and there seems to be a common knowledge, at least among composers of tonal music, as to what will have a certain effect. (Incidentally, the examples I am using in this paper are all Western, all tonal (more or less). Perhaps when I’ve worked it all out here, I’ll move elsewhere.)
I would like to try some examples, not necessarily of music of grief, but of music which I find, for some reason or other, moving. The slow movement of Brahms’ first piano concerto is to my mind some of the greatest pathetic music of all that I have heard. A passage I would like to play which occurs early on in this movement always has a certain effect on me, and I have been interested, particularly while working on this paper, to find out why.
It’s a simple progression, around the cycle of fourths, and it contains no surprises in terms of the resolutions – but for all that and knowing all the time where it is going to end up, there is for me an exquisite sadness and an apprehension of fragility which I find deeply moving. In the suspensions, which from even as early as the first one are all predictable, and the contrapuntal texture, which is by no means new or unfamiliar, comes a clear and personal picture of the complexities which underlie all human experiences and emotions. Similarly, during the development section of the first movement of Haydn’s Symphony no. 85, subtitled “La Reine”, comes a moment of particularly focused feeling. It, too, is nothing more than a reworking of the materials of the first subject, exactly what might have been expected, and it utilises a harmonic pattern very similar to the Brahms, which had been being used since tonal functional harmony was developed, but its appearance affords a moment of surprising depth.
Perhaps it is the fact precisely that in these two examples we are not surprised by what happens, that our expectations are fulfilled (even if only for this brief moment) which moves us.
To take another example from Brahms, the Intermezzo op. 118 no. 2, of which I’ll play a little, seems to convey, or should I say seems to elicit a recognition of, a similar poignancy.
(I wonder whether that would be how I heard it had I not been aware that Brahms referred to his late piano pieces as “the cradle songs of my sorrow”?) A performance such as that of Peter Erskine’s composition ‘On the lake’ (Erskine 1993) mingles elements of pathos and quiet joy with which everyone is familiar.
And there is also a very definite physical effect which music may have, as was outlined in one of the physiology and psychology papers last year. Last Friday night I was waiting to play in the Green Room at the Concert Hall, and so to hear a little of the concert I wandered in backstage where the sound is relayed through small speakers along the walls. Owing to its excessive overexposure and the ‘holy cow’ nature of both work and composer, I apologise for bringing it up at all, but the Orchestra was playing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony no. 9. As probably most of you are aware, during the last ten minutes or so nothing much happens, that is, the music winds down into a kind of stasis, reaches an impossible quietness, and slowly, slowly, draws to its conclusion. I was not myself previously aware of this. The sound had long been lost on the tiny black and white TV set at the security desk, yet the conductor was not turning around, and people were not clapping. Was it still going? – And this was when I went on downstairs to assess the situation. For the lack of activity, the music was truly, entirely, compelling, and once I sat down near the speaker, I couldn’t, nor did I want to, move, until it was finally over. Again, one simultaneously wants and does not want this music to finish. Possibly on another occasion I might have missed this effect altogether, but at that moment, it got hold of me. Particularly Mahler, who was an avowed composer by programme, would not deny the power of music to convey or evoke (whichever you prefer). Listen to the ghastly sweeps of his scherzi and tell me there isn’t someone who remembers every instant of being absolutely terrified.
Experience has taught me (now there’s an epistemological question²) that the more obvious musical tools one might think to employ in writing music which is concerned with the expression of grief are probably slow tempi, quietness, flat keys at least and probably minor at that, and falling melody.
Immediately (and this wasn’t considered more than a moment ago) the comparison springs to mind between two very well-known and -loved pieces of orchestral music – Bach’s Air from the suite no. 3, and the first section at least of the Adagio for strings and organ by Tomaso Albinoni. The latter has an immediate association for many people since Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli, one which discourages impassive or ‘objective’ assessment. However, although both these pieces are slow and reasonably quiet, it is only the Albinoni which seems like ‘sad’ music to most people because it satisfies all the very simple criteria above. There is a complexity in the Bach Air, I argue, which sounds less hopeless, blending more light and dark of life (that is, without the impetus of a moment of consuming grief) than the elegaic Adagio.
Music of grief (or so it seems to me, for this is only really a matter of opinion) which draws the listener to something of a state of unease or empathy will probably be of a more contradictory complexity. It is far more likely to contain elements of the unfamiliar or the unwelcome. The greater use of dissonance which developed during the Romantic period – and this is where I cite particularly the late piano pieces of Liszt, such as ‘Nuages gris’ or ‘R.W. -Venezia’ – led arguably to a closer depiction of the ‘ugliness’ of grief.
This undeniably bleak piece, to which I referred following Tom’s presentation yesterday,³ almost invites adjectives. They are, of course, easiest when the emotion or the inspiration is this obvious. Bleak, dark, depressing, hopeless, pessimistic, and so on. I am convinced, as I said yesterday, that this music communicates immediately all these things, and I am not sure that any further knowledge of the technique involved would improve one’s perception and feeling of it.
To take a more recent example, Miles Davis’ (1974) homage to the recently departed Duke Ellington, ‘He loved him madly’, is aching, spare music which resists both tonality and pulse for a considerable amount of time, yet remains compelling. Simplistic though these points may seem, they are the materials which are in the end responsible for any immediate impact. And the Janacek cycle, by virtue of the immediate contrasts within single pieces such as ‘The barn owl has not flown away’ or ‘Good night’ (which contains dynamic contrasts unusual for anything conceived of as a lullaby); or through the contrasts between other consecutive short pieces in the cycle, particularly Unutterable anguish and In tears, is music which mirrors the complexities of the human being, in sadness, in anger, in denial, and so on. Thus its associations are manifold, and its impact is complex. And whereas the sound of the Bach seems to come more from consideration, from taking apart, an analysis which is possible from a degree of objectivity; the Janacek or the Davis is of a complexity which follows on the heels of the feeling itself – pre-analysis, at a stage of confusion and immediacy. Grief will always be at this stage when felt. (The date of recording of ‘He loved him madly’ is given as May 1974. Ellington died on the 24th of that month. You can’t get much harder on the heels than that.)
The setting off of opposites can be the unadorned element of unease which conveys deep reflective emotion and sadness. These contrasting elements may be very close to onomatopoeic representations of the complex emotions which constitute grief. A roughness, which might suggest anger, or put more simply the intrusion of conventionally ‘unmusical’ elements – unusually wide dynamic shifts, for example – may be a parallel, a sonorisation of the intrusive nature of death or grief. It may be the struggle with something unfamiliar, which one doesn’t quite understand; it may mirror the natural jealousy or petulance of the grieved.
Silence has not always occupied the place it does now in the field of music theory or discussion. Through the thoughts of musicians like Artur Schnabel and more obviously John Cage, people were encouraged to recognise the importance of silence in structuring the sounds which displaced it. So silence became, in a manner of speaking, audible, and has long since been recognised as an expressive tool in its own right. But of course it has always, to a greater or lesser degree, been utilised in Western tonal music; perhaps even an early example of the implied silence I’m trying to elucidate could be said to have occurred in J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion. Throughout the work Jesus’ words have been accompanied by strings as well as continuo, clearly to emphasise them and set them apart from those of the evangelist. During the crucifixion, however, at the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” the strings are removed and only the bare continuo remains. This same implied silence, perhaps a sense of foreknowledge, is what I think is present in Janacek’s pieces.
In Homo aestheticus, Dissanayake takes a Darwinian or ‘speciescentered’ approach to the development of art, arguing that it as much as any other was a natural human need and allowed the species to survive. Her definition of art is as simple as ‘making special’, and this is a definition which extends from earliest prehistory to the present, slightly misguided, day. In the first of my papers last year, I decided that the act of improvising music could be seen as the ‘commemoration of experience’. This commemorative function echoes the idea of ‘making special’, because although the impetus might only be one’s everyday life, each effort is to make that experience, to the very best of one’s ability, worth looking on a second or third time, and perhaps even worth others’ looking on. An example of purely commemorative music, not setting out from the moment of grief yet doubtless a response to it, is the Duke Ellington record …and his mother called him Bill, recorded in 1967, shortly after the death of Ellington’s musical collaborator of over twenty years, Billy Strayhorn. The new recordings of Strayhorn’s music on this album make no attempt to overplay the sadness of any members of the band – the ballads are sensitive as always and the tunes which were designed to cook, cook. Duke’s own private tribute, a reading of Lotus blossom (which is said to be solo but actually contains an audible bowed double bass) is a warm and lyrical performance which focuses attention on the beauty of Strayhorn’s composition rather than on Ellington’s frame of mind.
Similar to this is Bill Evans’ solo recording of ‘Danny Boy’, the first recording he made following the shocking death in a car accident of his chosen bass player, Scott LaFaro. Obviously there’s sadness and tenderness, but the two piano players are, I submit, no longer grappling with their grief. Dissanayake speaks at length of the concept of dromena or ‘things done’: these are analogous with commemorative actions, whereby what is done and the very fact of doing pays attention (or homage, should that be the case) to what is commemorated. It’s a valuable thought, because we are at a stroke relieved of the baggage of ‘high art’. And fundamental to my argument is that Janacek, as any commemorative composer, most probably had anything but high art on his mind when writing and compiling On an overgrown path, simply because he was undertaking something so very personal. This in turn shaped the music (of course), and then our apprehension of it. Music of grief is dromena, it is ritual and ceremony, it is quite possibly art (particularly when defined as ‘making special’) – these things are decided in the intent. In fact, they are probably decided ahead of intent, more by definition or by need at the time of grief – which somehow in itself tends to my way of thinking to make the music more elemental, nearer universal. (Universality is such a difficult one.)
I began all this trying to avoid that word more than any other. (Universal to Western ears, perhaps. But even then.) The music is both response to, and containment of, devastating emotion. This is anything but art for art’s sake. It is a profound and necessary gesture and the profundity and necessity are (I believe) present in the sound.
The discussion of grief tends toward a level of cliché which is, I think, indicative of the general inability to place it in words of one’s own determination. But grief, like music, is beyond words. It is an intense, and (one would like to hope) unfamiliar feeling, infrequent enough in most of us for regular examination – what we carry on with us is a solitary version of the experience, and such rarely require words. At the same time, everyone is at one time or another subject to it. (It is a universal. Can the musical expression be so also?) It is simultaneously obvious and obscure – the effect saturating and undeniable, but a precise verbal expression near impossible. It is not defined, yet known. As T.S. Eliot (1963) has said,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them.’
(Burnt Norton, part V.)
The blinding feelings of sadness, anger, loneliness, loss of hope, confusion, disruption to order, of having been slighted; the feelings of sympathy with or for others, of a diminished community; all these feelings are poorly expressed except by the often repeated patterns of words – what we say. This, though, should scarcely surprise us as grief itself is not a linguistic ‘construct’ (for want of a better word; in fact I’d rather say ‘clothesline’ than construct), and the experiencing of grief runs deeper than words we can think of for ourselves to fit its expression. Nor can it be explained or talked away. Endless verbalisation still leaves the residue of feeling, and time is always needed to come to terms with the kind of loss which makes us grieve.
I would like for a moment to look a little further afield, in fact to William Wordsworth, who lost his daughter Catharine in 1812, when she was four years old. This poem dates from 1815:
Surprised by joy – impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport – Oh! with whom
But thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind –
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss! – That thought’s return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.
(Gardner 1972, 516)
There are, of course, volumes on volumes of poetry written on such a theme. The W.H. Auden poem which Matt recites to honour Gareth in Four weddings and a funeral springs to mind as another, quite different, equally remarkable statement of enormous grief. The memorial nature of Wordsworth’s poem, and the grief of the poet, are most affecting in its final lines: ‘that neither present time, nor years unborn/Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.’ The final scenes in the films Longtime companion and Angel baby, and the pivotal scene in Truly, madly, deeply all similarly reflect with staggering poignancy what I believe is a fairly basic human desire – to see again someone whom we love, who has died. Wordsworth’s complex emotions apparently include a fair amount of self-disgust and a feeling of responsibility which has been, even momentarily, neglected – responsibility at all times to carry and be affected by the grief of his daughter’s death. And part of my question in formulating this paper concerns this need on the part of composer, poet, artist, to commemorate and contend with these things through their individual art forms.
It seems that the compulsion to compose or write specifically with these things in mind is an act of many functions, not the least of which is to recall or invoke somehow the individual who has died. Music, too, could be said to take the place of the words we lack for the expression and relinquishing of grief. ‘Music sounds the way emotions feel,’ said Susanne Langer (cited in Dissanayake 1995, 146). Certainly for the composer it seems almost self-evident that this is the case: grief is not expressed in language – it is extremely difficult to describe or define, even – and the nonlinguistic, perhaps equivocal, nature of music allows it to answer where words fail. More personal, more descriptive, more comprehensive, and in the communication of personal feeling more immediate and affecting. (Incidentally, the final chapter of Dissanayake’s book, entitled ‘Does writing erase art?’, discusses the idea (put forward in this instance by Professor J. Hillis Miller) that experience and meaning cannot exist without language.
This is an idea the author refutes, looking back to the evolution of the species and the time before language, when (one supposes) there was only the experience which led to its development. It’s another topic and another paper, but music might be seen and investigated by those interested in life before words as something which subsists even now, still communicating directly to our specifically nonlinguistic selves. Because that’s obviously what it is.)
If art is defined as ‘making special’, then the art which is a product of grief will possibly be more elemental again, because neither it (which has ‘made special’, thus is itself special) nor by any means that which inspired it (grief on account of death, as the most obvious example) is at all everyday. When the inspiration itself is more than everyday, the art which makes this special will, it would seem to follow, affect so much more strongly. And the choice of musical materials, if in the composer’s hands at all (as I suggested it might less than usual be) will begin to be determined by its close proximity to the composer’s own feeling. This is my answer on why the Janacek affected me so much.
It’s very complex, and difficult to set down in order, because so many of the elements overlap, but my idea is that the grief which inspires one to write, to commemorate, produces work which is strengthened particularly on account of the nature of its inspiration. It affects the listener firstly by transmitting the bleakness and engendering something of a shared feeling of despair; also by permitting the listener to identify through a recognition in this context of his or her own experiences of this nature some sort of universality to the concept and the feeling. It commemorates that person who has died both as portrait and as historical document – it is the composer effectively saying, I felt this way right now and have set it down, for these reasons: firstly, to relinquish its immediacy; secondly, to convey to others how I feel and to let them understand why; also to perform the ceremony of wishing farewell in the terms of that which I do best, most personally, and without words. There is at the root of it all an immediacy and a necessity, which compel the composer to compose, the poet to write – which may or may not be in the order of the sublimation or channeling of violence of which so much is said regarding music and drama. We may now align this necessity with the propulsion of music of grief which I mentioned at the outset, when I said that it seemed to be subject to a power greater than that of itself or that of the composer (even though this is, I will admit, a pretty spacy thought which still depends always on perception).
The music itself, its character and power to affect, is of course central. That the music might have any purpose at all, it has been written in a certain way. That different people favour certain pieces of music either throughout or at certain times in their lives is evidence that there is great diversity in the material which we call music. That people choose to be affected in different ways at different times (“I don’t want to hear that at the moment – I’d prefer this”, or “I can only take that in small doses”) displays a correspondence between music and mood which is immediate, even visceral. The reverse of this can happen too, as in the case of my experience of the Mahler, the music affecting us unexpectedly. Grief is the one state of mind which, more than any other, might seem to dictate the musical material. Examples are of course legion. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata op. 13 is a very famous (most of my examples today are, I’m afraid) case in point. Within moments, the pathétique nature of the music is demonstrated in its extreme.
Probably this is too famous and its associations too widely known for impartial discussion, but even at the time when it was written Beethoven could think of no more expressive way to convey his mood. Although it only makes sense to say that music only has meaning for us through our perception of it, it seems also fair to say that certain outcomes (emotions, associations) are more probable than others when we process this information. So if the music has no intrinsic character then at least it is more likely to draw one than another response from the listener. If this were not so, would there then be ‘passion music’? Would one write a ‘Tragische Ouvertüre’, or a set of ‘Liebesliede’? (Still I am not prescribing words to music necessarily – the reaction is not linguistic, and what I have suggested is not enough to claim absolute universality for- the music – besides which I happen to think that given the quantity of music in the world, and the variety of sounds which have been produced in the many cultures which have been researched and documented, absolute universality of any music is highly unlikely.)
All I can really conclude is that music of grief suggests more than any other for me the possibility of elemental universals in music. But can we, after all, ever really know precisely how this is done? How even do composers generate ‘original’ work, in the light of what we recognise? These are big questions of epistemology, and ones from which I’m tempted, at this late hour, to run. I lazily think of Patrick White, who refused to undergo psychoanalysis for fear that the uncovering of the source of his writing might bring about its extinction. A pompous thought, but a good one (in the absence of any other) on which to close.
Dissanayake, Ellen. 1995. Homo aestheticus: where art comes from and why. Seattle: University of Washington Press. (Originally published 1991.)
Eliot, Thomas Stearns. 1963. Collected poems 1909-1962. London: Faber and Faber.
Gardner, Helen (Ed.). 1972. The new Oxford book of English verse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Brahms, Johannes. 1976. Klavierstücke op. 118. Published by G. Henle Verlag, München. (Original work composed 1892.)
(no date given) Konzert, d-moll, für Klavier und Orchester, op. 15. Published by C.F. Peters Corporation, New York. (Original work composed 1854-59.)
Haydn, Franz Josef. 1786. Symphony no. 85, in B flat major: ‘La Reine’. Excerpts transcribed, in the absence of a score.
Janacek, Leos. 1978. Compositions for piano. Series F, volume 1, of the Complete Critical Edition. Edited by Dr. Ludvik Kundera and Jarmil Burghauser. Introduction by Dr. Ludvik Kundera. Prague: Editio Supraphon. (Original work composed 1901-11.)
Liszt, Franz. 1881. Nuages gris. In Palisca, Claude (Ed.). 1988. The Norton anthology or Western music. (2nd Ed.) New York: W.W. Norton and co.
Recordings included in this post (some recordings date from later than its delivery)
Leos Janacek. 1995. Piano music, Lisa Moore, piano. Tall Poppies TP066
Johannes Brahms. 1998. Piano concerto no. 1, Maurizio Pollini, piano, Berlin Philharmonic, Claudio Abbado. Deutsche Grammophon 447 041-2
Franz Joseph Haydn. 1999. The ‘Paris’ Symphonies nos. 82-87, Frans Brüggen, Orchestra of the 18th Century. Philips 462 111-2
Johannes Brahms. 2000. The Final Piano Pieces, Stephen Hough, piano. Hyperion CDA68116
Liszt, Franz. 1990. Sonate h-moll; späte Klavierwerke. Performed by Maurizio Pollini. Deutsche Grammophon 427 322-2
Davis, Miles. 1974. Get up with it. Sony Records SRCS 5726-7.
Erskine, Peter. 1993. You never know. ECM 1497 517 353-2.
Ellington, Edward Kennedy “Duke”. 1967. …and his mother called him Bill. RCA Victor LSP-3906. (This is the original LP release.)
It’s interesting to consider another poem, this a sonnet by Christina Rossetti, which I read again while working on this paper:
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more, day by day,
You tell me of our future that you planned;
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve;
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
(written 1858; Gardner 1972, 725)
Sentimental, no doubt, but almost as if Catharine herself were speaking, given Wordsworth’s state of mind.
¹ The first set of pieces, the ones with titles
² One of the conditions of papers for this semester was that they should contain an epistemological question. Here I am being a smart-arse.
³ I remember Tom, but I regret to say I have no recollection of his seminar paper.