Monday, July 11, 2005

SHADES OF MELANCHOLY...

For many years, I used to think that there is only one kind of 'melancholy'. But at least when it comes to music, I have discovered there are fine shades of melancholy; I have chanced upon two, and I am sure there are many. Possibly the best examples of each that come to my mind are the following:

* Beethoven's String Quartet in C Sharp Minor, Opus 131- If I have to mention the most depressing piece of music I have ever heard, it would probably be this one. Not that it's badly composed; that would be an infinite insult to the great man. It's simply beautiful, but at the same time, it literally rakes your soul and tears your heart apart, and plunges you into the depths of loneliness. There is some indescribable quality about this piece that fills you suddenly with what seem like all the woes, all the sadness, and all the despair in the world. This piece was played at Robert Oppenheimer's funeral, because it was one of his favourite pieces. Personally, I would never vouch for it; if anything, it would make the people at the funeral feel as if a few more among them had passed away...I find it really and terribly depressing and disturbing, and I am never going to listen to when I am feeling very low; I think that would be a sure recipe for me to gravitate towards suicidal tendencies...

* Pachelbel's Canon- On the other hand, if I have to name the most beautiful and inspiring melancholy piece of music I have ever heard, it would be this. I have never listened to anything else composed by Pachelbel, and I believe it was truly unnecessary for him to do that; this one creation, I am sure, has completely and totally immortalized him in the annals of music. This piece is a signature baroque piece, with intertwining tunes languidly flowing into each other, and building up to a crescendo, before ebbing away. I first heard this composition (well, one version of it that is) many years back as a schoolkid, and I have to confess that its beauty moved me to tears, and it still continues to move me, no matter how many times I listen to it. If Opus 131 represents all the pathos in the world, I would believe that Canon represents all that is good, inspiring and full of hope. At the same time, the piece retains its somberness throughout its progression (which makes it melancholy in the first place), imparting a low-key, modest ethos to the atmosphere it creates. I believe that, Oppenheimer's tastes notwithstanding, if any piece had to be played at a funeral, I would probably like it to be this one. I think that it would be an inspiring coda that would parallel mortal life, signifying hope and beauty, and eternal faith in the shape of things to come. Listening to Canon is like slowly but surely rising up into the open sky, figuratively and literally transcending the limits and corporeal attributes of our human existence, like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which would be an apt metaphor to our lives; no matter how we spend them, in the end they always signify that quintessential human quality of hope, and then gradually, just like the coda of Canon, we gracefully bow out and fade away, leaving behind a world that forever holds promise for us, and that is the wiser, if not the better for it...

There are many versions of Canon, including the vile 'remix' versions produced recently...please eschew all of them, and listen to the one by the Berlin Philharmonic (Herbert von Karajan conducting), which I think is the best one. And of course, my perceptions of the above two pieces are very subjective, and I would be interested to know what others think of them.

Update: Actually, I have to admit that Handel's famous 'Largo' from 'Xerxes' conforms more to the second description which I have penned.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another depressing piece is Tchaikovsky’s symphony number 6, Pathétique. Leaves you feeling weird once the Finale Adagio Lamentoso is over.

9:37 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I never thought of the Pachelbel Canon as sad although it does sound solemn. It gets played quite frequently at weddings in the U.S. It's also the butt of lots of jokes because it sometimes gets overplayed on radio stations. In music theory 2, our prof referred to it as the Taco Bell canon, which I later discovered was not an original joke. If you want depressing, you could try these in this order after Tchaik's sixth: Mahler's sixth, Mahler's ninth, Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, Mahler's Tenth (Barshai version), Schnittke's eighth, Allan Pettersson's seventh and eleventh.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Chris, I don't "want" depressing...but I will certainly give them a shot! :))

3:58 PM  
Blogger Sumedha said...

Today, at work, I chanced upon Pachelbel's Canon in D minor (is that the same?) while exploring other folks' music.
It is subdued (as compared to Beethoven's 5th symphony, say) but quite optimistic, I think.

12:08 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home