But my vest and bow tie combo was white when I got to the club..........
2011 wasn’t just a year to hear new performances and recordings, it was also a great time to get to know some older shit that perhaps had slipped under my personal radar for a long time. You never know what is going to capture your attention, but when something grabs you you just hold onto it as tight as you can, like you would your children in a thunderstorm or a fake 38DD breast in the cordoned-off area behind the bar because I mean you already paid for two drinks plus the $40 for the actual dance and Jesus can’t I just touch the damn thing. Sequitir.
Best music I learned and listened to what could best be described as an uncomfortable amount in 2011:
I discovered quite a nice little selection of moderately hidden gems in 2011, some of which I wrote something about already. Who could forget my thoughtful and inspiring posts about the Magnard Symphony no. 3
or the Khatchaturian Symphony no. 2
? Well, you could, but that’s not the point. There was also the wildly entertaining Santa Cruz de Pacairigua
by Evencio Castellanos, Alfredo Casella’s kick-ass Symphony no. 2
, and the frenzied machinery of Alexander Mosolov’s The Iron Foundry
But 2011 for me will largely be remembered for my exploration of two new favorites that are worlds apart: the music of Bernd Alois Zimmermann and the symphonies of Robert Schumann.
I don’t remember exactly what got me so into Zimmermann, but I guarantee it came from the titles of his works. I’m a sucker for an interesting title, which is how I discovered Kabelac’s Mystery of Time and Griffes’ The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan, and Zimmermann stands toe-to-toe with the best of them when it comes to compelling titles. From the “Nobody Knows de Trouble I See” Trumpet Concerto to the Rhenish Carnival Dances to Alagoana, Zimmermann makes my sensors perk up pretty easily, kind of like gaydar only for 20th-century avant-garde and postmodernism. But the pieces that stood out most to me were three of his last and most powerful works: Stille und umkehr, Requiem for a Young Poet, and Ich wandte mich um und sah alles Unrecht das geschah unter der Sonne.
Stille und umkehr means “silent and reversible” according to my German friend Google Translate, and it is an obsessive study in color and control, which I believe I referred to as the kind of music that would make great accompaniment to holding someone prisoner in your basement. Requiem for a Young Poet is a masterpiece of 20th century depression and suicidal angst, a grand spectacle of gloom. What it lacks in the musical perfection of someone else with problems (like Shostakovich let’s say) it more than makes up for in sheer intensity and commitment to its own insanity. I dare you to not be completely gripped by it, perplexing as it may be.
Completed only 5 days before his suicide, Ich wandte mich captured me the most. It’s title is taken from Ecclesiastes 4:1, and perhaps the verse is what made the work speak to me so much: “So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.” Say what you want about suicide, but its safe to say that if Zimmermann couldn’t handle injustice and inequality in 1970, I’m fairly certain he would not have fared well in the ensuing 40 years. Needless to say, this is music for very particular times and places, probably alone and almost certainly in the dark. But I’ll never forget finding these dark gems in a year that was probably well-suited to their discovery.
Fortunately it wasn’t all gloomy in 2011, as I also managed to go completely apeshit over the symphonies of Robert Schumann. I knew the symphonies in passing, like a casual football fan who knows who Drew Brees is but couldn’t exactly tell you who he plays for or why he’s good. They were another lug nut in the vast Austro-German symphonic machine, but I was busy with Haydn and Beethoven and Brahms and Mahler and I didn’t have time for songwriters with questionable orchestration skills. Christ, I was still unwrapping what was Great about Schubert 9.
And then I listened to the Spring Symphony on some random day and was like, “Jesus.” OK, he was 30 years old before embarking on symphonic writing so perhaps there’s no comparison to prodigious debuts like Shostakovich or Mahler, but what a bloody fantastic pronouncement of your skills. Right from the get go, Schumann jumped in confidently and ended up producing four unquestioned masterpieces which, and I never thought a day would come where I would say this, I would take over Brahms’ four unquestioned masterpieces if I had a gun to my head, or even the veiled threat of a spanking for that matter. They’re different and we don’t have to compare them and blah blah blah, but the relationship between those two men is well-documented, and the “this boy is the future” shit obscures the fact that the man making that statement (and similar praiseworthy remarks for Mendelssohn and Chopin) was himself a fucking force. Schumann, probably because he was a hell of nice guy, undercut his own legacy with his effusion for his contemporaries and musical heir.
The moral of this story, and this year: keep your eyes and ears open to everything. Schumann wasn’t exactly hiding from anyone, but if you give the symphonies a fair listen, you might find yourself questioning everything you thought you knew about German Romanticism. And if you didn’t happen to know or care about German Romanticism, then there are few better ways to walk in that door than with Schumann, and perhaps few better ways to walk out of its last fleeting vestiges than with Zimmermann.