Atonality Aversion

On Friday we’ll be going to another performance of the Columbus Symphony.  Part of the Symphony’s American Roots Festival series, the performance will mix familiar pieces — such as George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and an overture by Antonin Dvorak — with some works that are totally unknown to me, including George Antheil’s Jazz Symphony and Kurt Weill’s Little Threepenny Music.

I’m always game to listen to a new musical composition, but I approach such performances with a mix of anticipation and apprehension.  I love classical music and enjoy just about everything from the baroque era forward — until we get to the “modern” classical music of the mid-20th century.  Atonal and jarring, discordant and squawking, the modern compositions are just not pleasant to hear in my view and suffer by comparison to the richly melodic and beautiful compositions of the masters.  It’s as if the classical music world hit the wall around 1950 or so.

Some people suggest that those of us who don’t like the modern stuff simply aren’t sufficiently refined and sophisticated in our musical tastes.  Their arguments remind me of the scene in Defending Your Life where Albert Brooks and his after-life guide are eating a meal.  Albert’s steak looks very tasty, while the guide’s plate is filled with what looks like elephant droppings.  When Albert asks about the difference, the guide explains that because Albert only uses a tiny fraction of his brain, much less than is used by the guide, he can’t possibly appreciate the exquisite and nuanced flavors in the plate of crap.

So perhaps my brainpower isn’t adequate to the task of enjoying modern symphonic  music — or maybe I just like steak.  I’ll be interested to listen to what Friday brings.

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