Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Monday April 27 2015

I find writing about music very difficult, because … why bother?  I like what I like and you like what you like.  Either this is a music blog, in which case we can all agree about how right I am to like the music which I like (which you like also), or it is not.  And, it is not.

Nevertheless, here is a blog posting which is sort of about music, except that really it is about how the mind works, which this blog is often about.

On Saturday morning, I was woken by my alarm clock to make sure that I started the recorder on my radio to record CD Review, which I duly did, very dozily.  I then, dozily, heard the announcer telling me that I was about to listen to Beethoven’s First Symphony, first movement, and I duly listened.

Beethoven’s First Symphony has a very particular start which is, if you know the piece, instantly recognisable.  However, I have not known it, in the sense of hearing it and knowing with certainty that this was Beethoven’s First Symphony, until last Saturday morning.  I could recognise the tune and hum and conduct along with it, but I was unable to tell you which piece it was with complete confidence, the way I could and can with all Beethoven symphonies from Third to Ninth.  I might well have guessed it right, but it would still have been a guess.  But this time, I am pretty sure that hearing that very recognisable opening of Beethoven’s First together with being told immediately before it began that this was what it was may actually have stuck in my head, as a twinned pair of facts.

This was because I was half awake, but not fully awake, I think.  I was, I surmise, in a highly “suggestible” state.  I think that’s the word the psychologists use.

The reason that all of this matters to me is that, as I get older, I find that getting to “know” a piece of music, as in: going from knowing it as a piece of music to knowing it as a piece of music and also being able to identify it, going from knowing it to knowing what it is, is becoming a rather rare experience.  There is lots of music that I know in the sense of being able to hum along with it and of knowing approximately what is about to happen next, but as the decades roll by, I still can’t identify these pieces.  The pieces I got to know well when I was young are like a fixed catalogue of pieces I know and can identify, rather than something that is expanding steadily.  The catalogue is only expanding very slowly.

You may say: But merely knowing or not knowing the mere label of something is rather a superficial matter.  Well yes, that may be.  But I don’t think knowing the label of a piece of music prevents me from getting to know it more in all the deeper and more meaningful senses.  Rather the reverse.  Knowing what the music “is” frees my mind to concentrate on all of the more interesting things about what the music “is”, as opposed to the superficiality of what its mere label is.

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