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< Pianos for the People | Main | Bach vs. Beck vs. Bjork >

Window on the soul

Posted at 1:10 PM on March 21, 2008 by Fred Child (2 Comments)

Two of the buzz-making stories in the classical world this month: a newly discovered portrait of Mozart, and a "reconsctruction" of the face of Bach, based on a laser-scan of his skull.

Does it matter? My inner curmudgeon is a-grumble. We've been fighting.

Curmudgeon: Hell-loh!? They devoted themselves to music, they lived before photography. PERIOD. Pay attention to what REALLY matters about them: their music!

Fred: Of course, their music is what draws us in. But when someone creates something we find deeply compelling, isn't it natural to want to know about the people behind the creations?

C: Hah! I hereby revoke your access to the TV remote. All you need is the E! channel.

F: Didn't I catch you laughing at "The Soup" last night?

C: What's your point? I'm deconstructing David Archuleta as a case-study in the decline of postmodern ambiguity in American rhetoric.

F: But McHale was mocking a Tyra clip.

C: Can we stay on topic here? That new Mozart portrait is supposed to be worth millions. Puh-lease! It's a craftless painting by an unknown artist with no sense of light, contrast, color, or line.

F: It's no masterpiece, but it's a soulful painting of the man who wrote that crazy-incredible fugue in his G-Minor Symphony, the guy who wrote those sublime operas, who died while working on that Requiem that I *know* you love.

C: You're an idiot if you're saying that the music changes because I looked at a crummy profile.

F: The music doesn't change, but maybe my PERCEPTION of the music changes.

C: I take it back. You're a SAPPY idiot.

F: C'mon, I *feel* something when I hear his music. That makes me want to know the man, read about him, and yes, SEE him. Knowing even a little about his life and times helps me understand and...you're going to hate this...it helps me relate to his music. Same with the portrait. This new painting shows Wolfgang's face carrying pain, struggling to maintain dignity in the face of his father's disdain, fighting for recognition for his art in a world built on social hierarchy...

C: Now you're on a first name basis because you gazed into his badly painted left eye? You're the same chump who got all choked up watching that youtube clip of Glenn Gould. You LOVED it when they cut to the seagulls on the shore outside his house, and the collie panting at his feet. I swore at them for cutting away, I wanted to see more of his technique at the keyboard.

F: So you admit it! You wanted to SEE him!!

C: Not him, his TECHNIQUE. Did you hear his devotion to that Bach he was playing?

F: You didn't *hear* his devotion, you SAW his devotion. In his hunched concentration over the keyboard, in the way he jumps up and sings the music, then dives back to the piano. Close your eyes, and you don't hear that...you learn something about the artist from that clip by SEEING him.

C: Completely different. That was a film of a pianist deep in the creative process, not a terrible painting of guy from the chest up sitting sideways and stock-still.

F: Completely the same! You got some insight into the creative mind of Gould. I'm not saying the painting conveys the same level of reality about Mozart, but...you love to read fiction, right?

C: Yeah. So what.

F: You're the one who lectured me about fiction reflecting the deep truth of this world better than non-fiction. I'll give you this: the painting may have next-to-nothing to do with what Mozart really looked like. But if I see hope and ambition in the sparkle of his eye, suppressed anger in the slight frown at the corner of his mouth, if I read a little personal neglect into his five o'clock shadow...and if I *believe* that helps me hear a new depth of bittersweet sorrow in the slow movement of his Symphony No. 36, written at the same time...are you paying attention?

C: Shhh, Tyra is talking about the laser-scan of Bach's skull...

F: Really?

C: You *are* an idiot.

Comments ( 2 )

I'm inclined to agree with Fred on this one. I mean, most of us are fortunate enough to be born with five senses, it's only natural for us to want to use as many as we can to help us understand the world around us.

I don't know whether a newly discovered portrait of Mozart enhances or detracts from his music - maybe it's both, or maybe it's neither. I suppose any way you look at it (no pun intended) it shifts the experience a little. But isn't that part of the fun, that our perceptions and understanding of music are always evolving?

Maybe it's a little more uncomfortable for those of us so deeply entrenched in the medium of radio to accept!

Enjoying the blog, by the way. Can your web folks make it an RSS feed?

Posted by Michelle | March 21, 2008 9:02 PM

Great dialogue! I never imagined that Fred harbored an inner curmudgeon. Now, I'm sure that he doesn't.

Posted by Steven Finell | March 22, 2008 7:06 PM

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