This month in Classical and Experimental Music (as well as related genres and subgenres), I would like to focus on “quiet music.” William Cosgreve wrote the oft-misquoted line “music has charms to soothe the savage breast,” and many people have taken this to mean that the aim of music is solely to soothe. Classical music in particular is plagued by this notion, despite the fact that many of the most popular pieces in the repertoire are anything but soothing. I would defy anyone to relax to Beethoven’s Ninth or Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, for example. To me, it is also hard to believe that emotionally-charged works such as Barber’s Adagio for Strings find their way onto compilation discs such as Classical Music for Sleep.
While I disagree strongly that the purpose of music is to calm savage beasts or breasts (enjoying my fair share of rousing or aggressive music), I continue to be drawn to softer music – the Impressionist music of Debussy and Ravel, the experimental and expressive music of Feldman and Webern, Ambient classics by Eno and Budd, the cool jazz of Davis and Evans. Quiet music invites you in – perhaps simply by being hard to hear. You have to seek it out, and it rewards you in different ways than louder, more assertive music.
For August, let us share with each other some of our favorite “quiet music.” Post audio and video for us to enjoy, and write about why you enjoy these pieces. To begin, let me point out two items:
1. A previous post of mine, on George Crumb’s Vox Balaenae. [link]
2. An interesting version of the second movement of Webern’s Five Pieces for String Quartet, played by Spooky Actions (clarinet, electric guitar, double bass, and percussion). The composition itself ends at 3:10, but the group continues with an improvisation in the style of Webern.