An attempt at reviewing music

I’ve only explored the world of classical music for a couple of years, so I don’t claim any expertise on the matter. Still, I think I can offer some kind of review of the music, not the performance itself, in the form of a journey of my thoughts during the performance.

Last night, I went to see a chamber music concert with Yefim Bronfman, Gil Shaham and Lynn Harrell. On the program were Mozart’s Piano Trio in C Major; Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E Minor; and Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat Major.

First up, the Mozart. I cannot get myself to like most of what Mozart has written. His operas are generally an exception to that rule, but the rest I find simply and frankly boring. As noted in the program: “These last two of Mozart’s piano trios catered more carefully to the contemporary Viennese taste than did many other of his works from those years, and seem to have been created for quick sale to the amateur market.”

Even though it is later remarked that “Alfred Einstein, however, cautioned against belittling this music for its commercial intent, because ‘the yard-stick of perfection against which we measure these two works was put into our hand by Mozart himself.”

Still, my main argument against Mozart is clearly audible in this piece; it is too formulaic. I can see how it is suitable for home entertainment and an atmospheric setting for a party, but without having the company of friends or the comfort of homely surroundings, I cannot intensely listen to these Mozart compositions without feeling bored.

Perhaps I was not pulled into the music because it was not telling me a story. In contrast, what caught my full and undivided attention during the Shostakovich was the story dripping from the sheets of music. The Shostakovich was written for intense listening. Last night’s program offers some illustration: “the first movement begins with a short lyrical ‘landscape’ introduction […] the whole movement leaves the impression of a calm and clear poetic picture of everyday, specifically Russian life.”

Other key words from the program include “conveys,” “images,” and “evoked,” whereas the Mozart program includes words such as “motive,” “notes,” “melody,” and “forms.” It is a battle between facts and story; and story always wins.

The Schubert falls somewhere in between. Not surprisingly, Schubert is situated in between Mozart and Shostakovich on music history’s timeline as well. The program notes that “as are many of Schubert’s instrumental works, the E-flat trio has been accused of being prolix and overly long,” but continues later “yet there is in the music of Schubert […] not so much the sense of longueurs in his lengthy flights of wordless songs, but rather one of generosity, of an unstinting gift of the tones that welled up.”

As the tones that welled up in Schubert’s mind, thoughts welled up in my mind during the performance. I have encountered that with all the Schubert compositions I have attended. Whenever I listen to Schubert, my mind goes on a journey that doesn’t stop at one particular point; it keeps going from one random subject to another, from what I did today to what I should do tomorrow. Long as his compositions might be, they never bore me and always yield some great, new creative thoughts.