Dec 8, 2015
“Devastating, terrifying, catastrophic, lethal. . .all these adjectives and more were used to describe the effects of Hurricane Sandy that pounded the northeastern United States in the fall of 2012. Grief, shock and an intense sense of vulnerability are rampant. So ‘near the surface’ have been the feelings of all of us, that the slightest nudge can still send many of us into tears.”
I wrote those words about the effects of a hurricane. I could write the same words today about the senseless killing of innocent people. Not that this is a new human behavior. World War II concluded only 70 years ago, and people have been violently ending the lives of innocents from the very ‘dawn of humanity.’ ‘Dawn of humanity‘ – sounds rather like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? But I went on in November of 2012. . .
What has all of this to do with classical music listening? Sometimes, especially in times like these times, we need a therapeutic experience. . .an experience that both expresses and liberates the intense feelings that have been building up inside us. I suppose that those of us who are so inclined and legally able could just have an alcoholic beverage or two.
But instead of numbing our feelings, we can choose to get ‘in touch’ with them. And there is nothing quite like invisible, abstract music to achieve that. Perhaps one of the most amazing qualities of wordless movements from symphonies, concertos and chamber music works is that these compositions can mean so many things, emotionally, to so many different individuals. Their very wordless-ness allows them to reach deeply inside a vast audience of different people – and yet all feel moved by the music!
So unique is this experience from deep listening that some deny that abstract music ever expresses common feelings that could be easily described in words such as happy, sad, angry, etc. They conjecture rather that wordless, abstract music expresses an inner emotional life that all human beings have, but which is totally beyond verbal description. I leave you to draw your own conclusions on this matter.
But whatever you conclude, I encourage you – urge you – to listen to some classical music of your choosing as one method of dealing with overwhelming situations. Whether it be the traumas inflicted by terrorists or the many other trying experiences of this life. . .we need help in dealing with them. When I encounter tragedies that defy explanation such as the loss of innocent life, I personally often turn to Brahms. He seemed to ‘get it.’
In November of 2012, I chose a movement from the Brahms Symphony No. 3, which so perfectly expresses grief. But today I think we need reassurance. In the fourth movement of his Symphony No. 1, Brahms begins by referencing the ‘dark clouds’ – the troubling feelings. But then takes us on an emotional journey in which we work things through to a state of ‘all is well’ and much more. This 17-minute sample from Symphony No. 1 will explain all. . .without words.