Posting has been a little light of late. The school year has started, and that means that I’ve been scrambling around trying to figure out where my time should be going each week. As of yet, this has not included the blog, but I do like to blog to procrastinate, so I hope that things will pick up again soon.
This year will be a big change from last year. I’m only taking one music class, a big change from last year which was almost all music classes. The class is on 20th Century Modernism, and I signed up for it mostly because of the discomfort that I have with that period of music. It’s a vast body of work, and it spans from things that I consider some of my favorite music (the ballets of Stravinsky) to things that go completely over my head (Pierrot Lunaire). Modernism is something that is easiest for me to accept in abstract terms–I love modern architecture and visual art–than in any ideological sense (I’ve never been able to understand why a Modern novel is considered as such). Music falls somewhere in between those art forms to me, and I’d like to learn what the intellectual framework of Modernism is at the same time as studying the major works.
So imagine my surprise when the first assigned piece was Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. A whole week. No assigned readings, just listening.
It’s kind of weird for me to think of Bolero as a Modernist piece of music at all, if only because I tend to associate Modernism with “difficult music.” This partly has to do with the way that Modern things are dismissed in our culture, but also with the belief that I have that some composers worked at making their music as inaccessible as possible. Perhaps that’s not true, and I may move away from it. But Bolero is not inaccessible.
I was worried at first that there would not be enough to say about the piece to last three classes, and to Ravel’s credit, that wasn’t true. At the same time, this week has been an exercise in close listening more than analysis. My professor tried to steer us towards analytical clichés like portrayals of the “other” in the second theme versus the “familiar” first theme. The repetition inherent in the piece shut down many analytical avenues, and I thought that the most valuable discussions centered on the orchestration of the piece.
Whatever the dividends, I’ll never again dismiss Bolero as a boring joke.