Understanding Music

I used to worry a bit about this business that, if you had it explained to you what was going on technically in a piece of music, it might lose its mystery or power. That if, say, a passage in Schubert which once broke your heart was explained away as a Neopolitan sixth or something (that old emotional trick), it somehow wouldn’t work its magic any more.

I still worry about it a bit sometime but increasingly I think the opposite is true. The more you understand technically (at however modest a level) the more you get out of the music altogether, and that includes the emotional content.

I’m definitely not of the “let it all wash over you” school. Nothing against those who are, I hasten to add, but my experience is that you only get part of what great music has to offer that way. The really mysterious thing, to my mind, is quite how it is that, in great music at least, intellectual control and emotional release support and magnify each other. The strange alchemy of our old friends Apollo and Dionysus, I suppose.

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