Back in my day,

I had to walk to school only one sun-filled block, downhill. I get the impression that it was very different for Mr. Holland. Here's his homework, which is seemingly about an all-Brahms program given by the Emerson String Quartet, on what must’ve been a tough day for Mr. Holland to get excited.

You greet a cold, hard, wintry Sunday afternoon with either avoidance or embrace.

In other words, you commit suicide or you live. Okay, so that’s probably not exactly what he’s intending to convey. I’ll try that again. On a typically lazy Sunday, either you avoid going outside so to stay all fuzzy and warm, pessimistic about the yucky conditions, or you go outside, optimistic about the day’s potential. I’ll buy that.

Stay home and dream about the beach at Waikiki, or go hear the Emerson String Quartet play Brahms chamber music in three different minor keys.

One can avoid the day by staying home and dreaming of Waikiki, or one can embrace the day by going out to listen to Brahms. Sounds great to me. I love Brahms’ music. I’ll go out on a cold, hard, wintry day for some good Brahms. But, wait. Three minor keys? Aren’t minor keys usually associated with sadness and, or, cold, hard, wintry days? Maybe I won’t go outside if all I hope to get is a cold, hard, wintry day. That does not sound pleasant. Sorry, Brahms.

For all their sophistication and invention, Brahms’ string quartet’s are tough love, and hearing consecutively both ends of his Opus 51—one piece in C minor, the other in A minor—is an awful lot of genial determination at one sitting.

Here, I believe that “genial determination” refers to the Emerson Quartet. Their concert plagued by a nasty winter’s day, with sophisticated and inventive music in three different minor keys, making for tough love. You gotta really, really want it. I wonder what Mr. Holland wanted?

To ensure any hint of a smile off its collective face, there was the F minor Quintet for Piano and Strings after intermission...

Good. Something to make the six-mile, uphill trek on a snowy day worth it.

The quintet may be the most welcoming of the three items, but it is also classical music’s prototype for stubbornness.

Well, so much for that. I should’ve stayed home, had some hot cocoa, curled up with my absurdicon thesaurus and listened to the radio play convivial flute music, all the while dreaming of Hawaii and its long-overdue statehood.

First Brahms wrote it for five string players and didn’t like it. Then he wrote it for two pianists and didn’t like that either. Clara Schumann told him that the final version sounded like orchestra music...

Brahms: too stubborn to “stay the course.” Flip-flopper. I wouldn’t vote for him. Nor would I walk twelve miles uphill in a fierce snowstorm to listen to his music.

...indeed the piece is an awful lot of energy crammed into one relatively small piece.

It’s welcoming; it’s stubborn; it’s dense. The quartets are tough love. They’re all in minor keys. Hmmm. I’m on the fence. But, before I think about putting on my galoshes, Mr. Holland, entice me a little more for my troubles.

Brahms evidently did not wait for inspiration to compose, the result often being intense rectitude born of enormous craftsmanship.

Uninspired? Righteous craftiness? I just lit the fire, put the water on the stove, slipped into my brand new Fun Sleepwear Mario Brothers Red Mushroom Slippers, and got out the thesaurus. All that’s left is to turn on the radio and find some conviv...

In this quintet some light is allowed to enter. Measures of lyrical beauty and even jauntiness help mitigate—for both players and listeners—the virtuoso fierceness that makes the first and last movements sound so...

Halt! How could I have been so rash? There is something in the quintet that will make all of the snow trapped in my long johns melt! Let’s get dressed! We’re going out! But first, let’s finish Holland’s thought. Now, what about the first and last movements sounding so... what?



I don't know what to do.

I know. I'll make a list. Brahms and his music has been described thusly: sophisticated, inventive, stubborn, dense, uninspired, righteously crafty, warlike—and, to top it off, all behind this imposing backdrop of a cold, hard, wintry day.

Doesn’t it sound eerily like something we’ve heard before? Wait! Oh no. You can’t be serious. Could it be? Really?

It is easy to understand why Schoenberg so attached himself to the music of Brahms...

Fuck. It is.

Another backhanded insult to Schoenberg, or at least whatever Mr. Holland decides he associates with Schoenberg.

...[Schoenberg] would go on to raise the idea of high density to another level.

Dense = bad?

I don’t think I ever came across the “idea of high density,” sir. If by “high density” you mean that Brahms’ music was dense (stated above) and Schoenberg liked (“attached” himself to) dense things, thus Schoenberg liked Brahms, then I am forced to call you a sack-of-mostly-Hudson-River-water. Brahms was dense compared to Beethoven. Beethoven was dense compared to Handel. (continue ad infinitum) Hell, Bach’s music is still dense. Whatever.

I thoroughly sympathize with your Sunday afternoon walk in the five-foot high snow up the Himalayas to get to hear some good music by a good composer only to get paid to write about it. I don’t, however, sympathize with your ideological chauvinism towards certain music. If you don’t like Schoenberg, that’s fine. No one is forcing you. Nevertheless, as a member of the press, reporting on concerts and giving your opinions, it is your duty to understand the music to a higher degree than your readership, and then write about it in an intelligent and fair manner. If you can’t, or won’t, understand, or learn about, organicism, “developing variation,” or the f-ing definition of density, not to mention the history and development of ideas within a specific musical community (about which you opine often), then you are 1) doing your readership a disservice by insulting their intelligence, 2) proliferating absurd and generally negative myths about musicians and their music, 3) effectively stifling the new music culture’s ability to gain an already dwindling audience, self-perpetuating classical music’s extinction, in general. To put it another way, learn your shit or we’ll keep writing things like this.

Sorry, again, about the white-out conditions when you tried to scale that cliff on your way to see the Emerson String Quartet. I’ll have some cocoa ready for you when you get home.


Aaron said...

Also, would it trouble the guy to learn how to fucking write? Or could the Paper of Record hire an editor? Because, dude:

"To ensure any hint of a smile off its collective face"

This makes no sense, as far as I can tell. It's also semiliterate. Doesn't he want the smile to be "on" "their" collective face?

I can think of at least two people who would be delighted to get paid to listen to good music by talented performers who can write circles around this guy.

Sator Arepo said...

Good stuff. Is Mr. Holland, perhaps, our equivalent of HatGuy?



Sator Arepo said...

@ Aaron,

I was going to go after that sentence next. WTF? Is "ensure...off" some sophisticated construction of which I am unaware?

Aaron said...

Not to the best of my knowledge.

He might have meant to use "erase" instead of "ensure," which would make the "off" make more sense. Even then, though, he should use "their" rather than "its" if the face is "collective." Since (as Empiricus shows) we can't really tell what he thinks of the F minor Quintet, I think we'll just have to guess at which way he screwed up the sentence.

Perhaps Mr. Holland was so disturbed by having to brave the wilds of midtown Manhattan in January that it affected his writing.

Or maybe he's just a hack.