The Ketchup Is too Spicy for My Tater Tots

You think the title is on the ridiculous side? Well, have I a review for you!

The Seattle Chamber Music Festival is beloved by its fans for its Romantic sweet spot, but even the most ardent champions of easy-on-the-ear melody would have had to reconsider the merits of dissonance last Sunday night.

Damn! That, indeed, sounds spicy. So spicy, in fact, I might reconsider renewing my subscription to Earplugs-R-Us, the Anti-modernist Relief Association’s bi-annual magazine that caters to concertgoers who are routinely subjected to unresolved fourths. The magazine also comes with complimentary earplugs, duh.

But, really, who am I kidding? Bring on the pain! Bring on the pain!!

The evening opened with Mozart's crisp and deceptively melodious Piano Trio in B-flat Major...

Bring on the p...


Uh, surely, the Mozart isn’t the spicy bit; it doesn’t even hit the “Romantic sweet spot.” It makes me wonder, then, what, if anything, could make one “reconsider the merits [really, merits?] of dissonance”?

Compared to the pleasant, cuppa-tea-with-milk-and-honey Mozart...

(Does your stomach churn when you see “cuppa,” too?)

Compared to the [...] Mozart, Prokofiev's Quartet No. 2 in F Major is a stiff shot of vodka.

Prokofiev? You’re shitting me.

F friggin’ major!?

And dissonant to the point that it makes one wonder if dissonance is overrated? Huh? What are you? Eight years old?!

To jog our memories, maybe we should give it a listen.

Example 1: Movement I

Oh! Now I get it. Because Russians drink vodka, see, unlike Mozart. And they’re all bears, bears who drink vodka. So, they’re un-bear-ably dissonant.



Wait. That doesn’t make any damned sense. What’s really going on, here?

Maybe the rest of the review will explain.

The starting Allegro is a stolid contraption of levers and pulleys, a steel factory producing energy in the form of audible vibrations.

Not to ruin your nice little story, but did you ever consider that the actual, in-front-of-you string quartet is, you know, making real, audible vibrations?

Maybe it’s just me, but confusing the real for the simulation (metaphoric description) is, well, a detrimental symptom of postmodernism that nobody needs; not here, anyway.

It seemed impossible that the night could get any better, but after intermission it did.

I’ll cut to the chase: it was Lalo. Lalo’s Piano Trio in A friggin’ minor. (The descriptive writing is a bit over the top, here, so it is omitted) Anyway...

End of dissonance inquiry.

I don’t get it. Either our author has a weak stomach or...I just don’t get it.

Maybe the title and hook left us some clues.

Review: Stiff shot of dissonance vibrates at Seattle chamber-music fest
Sumi Hahn
Special to the Seattle Times

No help here.

Dissonance in music is a taste acquired over time.

If only Bach wrote dissonant music...

Like a craving for coffee or scotch, the appetite for such harmonics is also culturally conditioned.

That’s part of it, sure, I guess.

One man's song may well be another man's noise.

There you have it: dissonance.

And now: Mozart, Prokofiev, and Lalo. Enjoy!


Gustav said...

Jebus, someone should really publish a list of musical terms and their definitions, a reference book of sorts, to help people not completely misuse words like dissonance.

However, I will add that this particular quartet does utilize some funky folk themes, and lots of effects including some imitation of uncommon central Asian folk instruments. Which to less seasoned reviewers, I guess, could be confused with being dissonant. That is, if we're being extraordinarily forgiving.

...nah, I take it back. It can't be confused.

btw, Edouard Lalo...I hate that guy.

Anonymous said...

For those who forget, the dissonant intervals are 2nds, 4ths, 7ths, and any augmented or dimished intervals. We define style by where and how dissonance is placed. The Prokofiev, while using the notes of the major mode, is dissonant in the amount of the above mentioned intervals, and is modern in where its dissonances are placed. That the piece is dissonant, and how it is dissonant, is very easily heard.

Bach understood the psychology of dissonance quite well. Check out:
Perhaps the words of this chorale are worth investigating-- a lecture from the great master on music and human nature?


Gustav said...

A good point, CM. Prokofiev is clearly more dissonant than your average romantic composer. However, the larger-scale harmonic layers of Prokofiev aren't necessarily that much more dissonant (at least in this piece). I think the objection is a nuanced difference between a dissonant piece of music, and one that utilizes dissonant intervals/chords. No amount strong beat 2nds and 7ths, I think, change the fact that we clearly hear that Prokofiev quartet in F, with emphatic tonicizations.

Empiricus said...

Perhaps I understated the point, that it was so dissonant that "even the most ardent champions of easy-on-the-ear melody would have had to reconsider the MERITS of dissonance."

In my opinion, the Prokofiev is pretty darn easy to follow despite its relatively high density of dissonance, not to mention its easy-on-the-ear melodies. In other words, as Gustav points out, it is clearly in F, with cadences, phrases, form, trajectory, etc. Dissonance, in Prokofiev's sense, is superficial, an aesthetic, which does not impede on its intelligibility in a way that, say, early Cornelius Cardew did, and consciously.

To say that the merits of dissonance would have to be reconsidered is, at best, unaware of the past 100 years, and at worst, forgetful of how much the entire history of Western music treated dissonance.

Maybe the Prokofiev was out of the box for this particular ensemble; but then again, as listeners, or critics, today, are we to shelter ourselves from that which does not give us instant gratification?

Besides, nothing is fun without dissonance.


Nice to see you CM.

Sator Arepo said...

"...but even the most ardent champions of easy-on-the-ear melody would have had to reconsider the merits of dissonance last Sunday night."

Welcome to 1921. Spoiler: Don't get too comfortable, there's another big war coming.

Anonymous said...

Gustav is certainly right. We do have a language problem here. "Phrase" and "cadence" mean entirely different things in Prokofiev and Mozart. And "cadence" only applies to both pieces if it means "an event marked by certain characteristics at a specific point in time during a piece of music." The "prolongations" are substantively different as well.

I'm surprised though you take issue with this critic as she prefaces this review with that classic falicy that our cognition of intervals is strictly culturally aquired. While that is nonsense, at the very least we can strive to use more descriptive nomenclature!

Sator Arepo said...

I don't think that's entirely fair; at least, to assert that "phrase" and "cadence" mean ENTIRELY different things in Mozart vs. Prokofiev is overstating it. They actually *mean* more or less exactly the same thing, but are articulated in different ways--sometimes in quite small (but vastly important or profound) ways.

Anonymous said...

True enough SA. Entirely is too strong a word. The difference though is great enough that one wouldn't date the the Prokofiev in the Classical or Romantic Eras. In analysis I would avoid the word "cadence" unless the root motion, voice leading, a chord members defined it as something you would see in the Tchaikovsky Practical Guide. Otherwise I would use "phrase ending."

Dumb analogy, but it's like we're looking at a bicycle and a motorcycle. I'm saying they're very different in how they function. You're saying they're very similar in the general concepts. From a compositional standpoint, knowing how one works doesn't translate in knowing how the other one works.