I get real pissy when music is used as a cellphone ringtone. It still jars the hell out of me when a song abruptly sputters out of a tinny cellphone speaker, and the absolute worst is when no-one answers and so it repeatedly loops through the first 5 seconds. Don’t even get me started on ringtones which are actually supposed to be played on an orchestra.
However, after complaining about all that in a somewhat uptight and snobby fashion, if I absolutely HAD to choose a piece of classical music to use as a ringtone I think the first 30 seconds or so of this would be pretty swell:
And that’s because… DUN DUN DUN… it sounds like a freakin’ telephone.
That’s the second movement of Nielsen’s Symphony No. 6, by the way.
Sometimes I would give my left leg — well maybe just a little piece of it, perhaps just the slimmest sliver of a pinky toe — to be able to instantly conduct some piece of market research all the way back through history. For example, I would love to see a graph which shows what activities people were mostly doing while listening to music, plotted all the way back through several thousand years. This piqued my interest after I listened to the third movement of John Adams’ Grand Pianola music on the walk into work last Friday, and the music crescendoed in sympathy with cresting the hill:
A flock of birds had been busy on the path, and as they scattered, and the slope evened out, the music provided a perfect accompaniment. That made me start to think about how in modern times we have the luxury of personal soundtracks. I bet that most music is now listened to on MP3 players, while people are walking, or running, or sitting on the train. It’s pretty obvious that if this is true, it must only have become true within the last thirty years or so. That’s amazing. If you wanted to walk or run somewhere with a soundtrack before around 1980 (when the Walkman was invented), you basically needed a marching band to be running alongside you.
That’s mind-blowing — and something I usually take completely for granted, as I’m sure does everyone else who was born on this side of 1980.
A hilariously appropriate incident of this was just brought to my attention via the always awesome reddit:
This is a “recording” of John Cage’s 4’33″. If you try to play this video you will see that:
NOTICE: This video contains an audio track that has not been authorized by WMG. The audio has been disabled.
Hah! The joke’s on you, Warner Music Group!
Of course, this wasn’t the first time that 4’33″ has been the subject of copyright dispute. You can read about how Mike Batt was sued for infringing on the same copyright here.
Beethoven is a tough little nut to crack. I remember once reading that you should get through all of Shostakovich’s string quartets before even attempting to understand Beethoven’s. Beethoven is so famous that it’s sort of overwhelming when you first start listening to classical music, because it seems like all of his music should sound amazing right away. And a lot of it doesn’t. I remember it sounding surprisingly… old fashioned. I suspect that at a lot of people claim they think the 9th is the epitome of great music, when in fact they don’t like it that much at all, they’re just playing to its reputation.
I’ve been listening to classical music for just over six years now, and I still only know a small portion of Beethoven’s stuff well. Every couple months I’ll inch into a new (“new”!) one of his pieces, either deliberately or accidentally. The latest incarnation of this was the 24th piano sonata, in particular the second movement:
This came through my headphones halfway up the march up the slope to work. It grabbed my attention because the first few bars instantly made me think of “Rule Brittania” in a somewhat cheesy fashion, and then right as I was about to skip the track it abruptly slipped into that crunchy dissonance. I love that kind of contrast, especially when it was composed such a long time ago. This is the kind of piece that makes me truly appreciate what a pioneer Beethoven was: things like the last movement of the Hammerklavier sonata, and the Grosse Fugue. Not the 9th.
Dedicated to rescuing the world’s best music from a slow, certain death at the hands of tired traditions and oppressively ordinary thought
Quite a mission statement! Check it out here.