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16 April 2006

A Little Night Music, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Chopin

So I’ve been listening to a little Chopin. I’ve always been interested in classical music. Have always been transported on my tentative forays into the symphony. But . . . and it’s the usual but . . . have always been intimidated by the wealth of material and the depth of my own ignorance.

Which composers will I prefer? What period? Style? Instruments? Which musicians? Which recordings? Good heavens there are so many options, it’s positively paralytic. I always thought that the only way I could really and truly get into classical music was to have my own personal tutor. Actually I feel that way about music in general. CALLING ALL MUSIC SNOBS! HELP! However, I have found a way to begin feeling my way around. Amazon.com reviews and the Yahoo! Music Engine. I love it! For like six bucks a month I can get almost any artist, recording, whatever and download it to my computer for my listening enjoyment. Which is great, cause I’m not a person for whom purchasing CD’s is a good option. I have enough trouble committing to a style of music, much less a particular artist or CD, I like having the option of buying without having the pressure that comes from, ‘okay now I bought it so I really gotta listen to it...for the rest of my life’ this of course leads immediately to my listening nonstop for a month or two and then never picking it up again.

Anyway, about classical music. Here’s what I did. First, I broke it down to the very basics. What are my favorite instruments? Piano and cello. Okay great, start with piano. Next which composer? I already had a composer in mind; Chopin. If you’ve never seen Impromptu featuring Hugh Grant and Judy Davis, you are missing out! It’s a beautiful, fun, funny and literate movie for which the headline stars are just the tip of the iceberg. Also appearing are Mandy Patinkin, Julian Sands, Emma Thompson and Bernadette Peters. Anyway, Impromptu began my fascination with both George Sand and Chopin.

“I am not full of virtues and noble qualities, I love that is all. But I love strongly, exclusively, steadfastly.” – a line in the movie adapted from Mauprat by George Sand.
And the music! I couldn’t believe how beautiful the music was.

So . . . Chopin it was. Then to find a recording. Dear god this was where things got extremely . . . extreme. So I went to Amazon.com and started browsing the classical music section looking for customer selections that mentioned Chopin; trying to find consensus on which were considered the definitive, essential, can’t-miss-this-one recordings. Amazingly, Yahoo Music had many–well, some of them. As a result I’ve been listening to Rachmaninov Plays Chopin.

Color me amazed. I mean shocked. The complexity, the sheer artistry is astonishing. And there’s something else. As complex and intellectual the structures seem in comparison to modern music, almost left brain; the effect, the affect is so primary, so basic I can actually feel certain notes -- certain combinations strike up corresponding emotion inside of me.

Like any good INTP I generally listen to the music I’m in the mood for. Yet something about Chopin’s Scherzo in C Sharp Minor, Op.39 No.3 as played by Sergei Rachmaninov, puts a mood in me.

So. Music experts and snobs, where should I go from here?

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