Those in the know know that I've developed a precise science to listening to music, governed by certain principles of natural law I intuited. First off, you've got to listen to a particular album 20 times. No exceptions: 20 times. 20 is the perfect number to absorb a new piece of music. This derives from Brahms and Wagner's longstanding debate:
20 times is the perfect number, for 20 is 2 multipled by ten, which makes it even. Evenness of course brings to mind the precise symmetry of the classical age.
21 times is the perfect number, because it's one more than 20, representing the progress we've made since the classical era, which we're no longer in (you haven't noticed this).
Richard "Rhymes with Bard" Wagner
P.S. Fuck your 20, fuck the Jews, and fuck you.
It loses nothing in the translation!
So 20 is the number, with these exceptions. Obviously if you've already heard the performance, there's no reason to listen to it 20 times again. If you've heard the piece, but not this particular performance, then you're already familiar enough that only half the listening (half is 50% of 100%) is required, just enough to glean the nuances of the new performance, that being, ten times.
And now, what I listened to these past months. Well the big project was John O'Conor's box set of the Beethoven piano sonatas, which I'd gotten for Christmas years ago but had yet to really delve into. These took 3 months, give or take, to get all the way through, and provided the soundtrack for my Bar studying (I passed it: Mozart effect my ass).
The cycle is a triumph of the classical music genre, from the famous Waldstein to the untitled gems no one knows about, like No.3 in C, or No.6 in F, or everything but the first movement of No.13 (in E-flat). There is a subpar set of sonatinas that some publisher smuggled in as actual sonatas under the Op.49, but even those are charming. As we near the end of the catalog, the works get grander and more robust, like the Ops.109 and 111, and the gargantuan Hammerklavier.
After that, I turned my attention to the Gardiner cycle of the Symphonies. Gardiner is famous for his historically-inspired performances, and he doesn't disappoint, keeping the tempi snappy and constant, without the romantic excess of Furtwangler, et al.
This was really my first time listening to Nos.2 and 4, the lesser known symphonies, which rock, and gave me a chance to revisit Eroica and No.9, which are certainly the most complex and need relistening. The first movement of the Fifth is so thoroughly ingrained in me now it takes constant exertion not to skip the track, but the 4th movement it still fresh and makes up for it. No.8's my current favorite, though this will change as I bore of it (I'm a man, you see).
I spent a couple weeks on a CD of Copland I had, Appalachian Spring and Billy the Kid, plus a couple of Hispanic-inspired pieces. Copland's underrated.
Then it was the Tchaikovsky Symphony Cycle, Haitink conducting. Tchaikovsky is my unrivalled boy. Listening to him led me to vent to my friend Louis about how great he was, with Louis agreeing at times. With Tchaikovsky, you have complete assurances of at least one singable tune in every movement. But a tune ain't everything, contra Webber, so Tchaikovsky fleshes it with skilled orchestration and a logical dramatic narrative. Sonata form is high tragedy in Tchaikovsky's hands: the secondary subject of the classics was meant to add contrast to the principle theme. For Tchaikovsky, it's more--a character or a catharsis. Developments aren't just play--they're rising action, climax, and defeat.
Sometimes he gets lost in what he's trying to say, like in Manfred, but the ride is always enjoyable. Four's the best, Five and Six tie for second, 1-3 are all a step below the latter three, but each pleasant and all capped with a vivid finale. Manfred's an acquired taste. The tone poems are fine ("The Storm"), fun ("Capriccio Italien," "1812 Overture") or both ("Francesca.")
Just finished off a Klemperer recording of Bach's B minor Mass, which is a piece I find myself loving more and more, and am now listening to some harp music written by, among others, my former composition professor.