Time and complexity
To state the probably very obvious, the term “classical music” is as unhelpful as it is useless. The idea that any one term could effectively sit as an umbrella over music as diverse as 16th Century madrigals, romantic period piano sonatas, a Mahlerian symphony, Wagnerian opera, Schubertian lieder or a Thomas Adès chamber work is obviously flawed. The fact that such a term is widely used, seemingly as comfortably by those that listen to the music it attempts to encompass as those that don’t, is maybe the starting point for a series of musings that I’ll get to here in time. For now I mention it merely to highlight the size of the task facing someone setting out to try and engage in any detail with what we know as classical music. It’s not just about wondering where you start, as it is knowing where on earth it may stop and how you keep yourself from getting totally lost along the way.
The best place to start though is probably with what we already know. My route to classical music is perhaps a more unusual one, coming as it does from the direction of modern and twentieth century composition. So given that I had been immersed in the music of Luigi Nono, Helmut Lachenmann and the like, and had naturally already stepped backwards to Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School, it was always probable that my earliest explorations into the realm of music commonly known as “classical “ would have been through Vienna. If I explored the music of Strauss I absolutely devoured Mahler almost two decades ago now. If the bombast and drama of Mahler was at one end of the spectrum so my interest in quiet, intimate modern music such as that written by members of the Wandelweiser loose collective of composers lead also to a preoccupation with chamber music. This interest was amplified by the presence of a regular weekly chamber concert series locally that I have often attended, so bringing with it a love of late Beethoven string quartets as well as the music of Schubert, Bartok, Webern and other composers that worked a great deal in chamber territory.
In truth, I could probably just listen to Mahler’s symphonies and little else for the rest of my time and still find new things to say on a regular basis. Throw the broad panorama of chamber music into the equation and I wouldn’t come close to exhausting even a small fraction of what I’d find to say about such a library. The fact that my interests are continuing to broaden as I brush up against more and more subcategories of the classical music supergenre then makes even contemplating where this could all lead a daunting prospect. I have come to adore the structural brilliance and beautiful romance of a piano sonata, an area of music I previously had rejected as too busy when cast in the sparse shadow of the Morton Feldman piano music I had spent decades entrenched within.