Sunday, February 24, 2008

Classical Music and a Nation's Character

Has anyone else out there noticed that a nation and the way in which is functions, and the will of it's people often come across in its classical music? When I hear a piece of classical music written by a Russian composer, it always makes me think the composers main message was "there is no bread," or "were all going to die." As opposed to an American piece where you can often feel the hope and optimism.

In the Russian music, matter how triumphant many parts of the piece are, the main message seems to be one where hope BARELY beats out despair. My main example of this is Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Especially with the movement commonly called "The Great Gates of Kiev." This is a triumphant piece, but some parts make you want to give up hope for the motherland and get in line for some bread.

American pieces, on the other hand, practically exude optimism. Look at John Phillips Sousa or Aaron Copeland. One of my favorite pieces is Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." You can not get more optimistic then that.

Now I am no expert when it comes to music and it's sociological aspects, but it seems to me there is a definite correlation.


Anonymous said...

I don't think you can break it down to just Country A vs Country B, but I think there's probably a correlation between what's popular in one place and time and the current political climate or... buzzword coming... zeitgeist.

I don't think you can say ALL Russian music is depressing or ALL American music is uplifting, but it probably has to do with what the composer was feeling and what the populace was looking for at that time. Mussorgsky may have had contemporaries making happy-go-lucky music who were overlooked at the time, so we aren't as aware of them now.

Alexander Borodin has a lot of lovely music that I think is pretty happy. Shostakovich, too. Not as poppy and peppy as Sousa, but still pretty uplifting.

Anonymous said...

And Tchaikovsky! Is The Nutcracker full of despair?

Anonymous said...

"This is a triumphant piece, but some parts make you want to give up hope for the motherland and get in line for some bread."

As your wife, I declare this the funniest line you've ever written.