When I started listening to classical music, it often felt like wandering through a strange and alien city. Huge strange and startling edifices rose up above, strange and wonderful. It sometimes felt awe-inspiring, but often it just felt confusing.
Once in a while I would recognize something, and cling on, hopefully…
Most often, I just felt lost.
“What more do you want?” Kandinsky asks (see picture above).
I can only speak for myself (and Oliver Twist) and ask, please, for more. Wandering around an unknown world is fine, by all means hike away! But it’s never going to hurt to know something about the architecture and history of the place, is it?
If all you want to do is tick destinations off a list, then by all means rush round the world on a whistle-stop tour. The trouble is you never actually get to know somewhere properly.
I would approach classical music more as travel than tourism. It is only by spending time in a place, by understanding more of the culture and history that formed it, that you really get to understand that place better, and see it from the inside out.
I recommend concentrating on just a few pieces of music, even single movements of those single pieces. Get to know them well. Listen to them, actively, a number of times.
That is after all the method of this entire course. Listening, and then re-listening to a very small number of pieces.
The more I listened to classical music (or rather the more I relistened to it), the more I started to piece together rough maps for those few pieces I enjoyed. Gradually, the sounds revealed more of their inner structure. Introductions, Finales, Codas: all useful map-reading skills for uncharted waters.
Map-reading skills for classical music is what this course really aims to teach you. Recognising themes, hearing them in different keys, in development. The different forms of the music itself as well – Symphony, Concerto, the Sonata Form – knowing something about the context of music will only help you appreciate it better.
It can be pleasant to be washed away an aural tidal-wave, but it is only by listening to classical music, paying careful attention to it, that we perceive its structure more clearly. We need to make out the parts in order to see the whole.
In other words, you don’t need listen to more.
You need to listen more.