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Most Challenging Also Most Rewarding?


foreignwords
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I'm sure this can't just be me personally. 

I've noticed, no matter what kind of music from what style or era, the stuff that challenges me the most, that causes me perhaps the most confusion or perplexity at first listen is the same stuff that, when given serious attention to, also becomes the stuff I tend to love the most. 

For not classical music, the biggest example of this that I can think of is Joanna Newsom, starting with her album Ys. There are only five tracks on the album, and really each one of them is splendidly wonderful. A good example of her style, and one I especially love, would be the second track. A friend first introduced this to me a long time ago, and I was appalled. But at his encouragement to give it a chance, I listened repeatedly, and it clicked, and this album of hers (as well as her three-CD release after it, ​Have one on Me) hold their places among the small handful of 'modern' or 'pop' or just non-classical music that I hold dear to my heart. 

Classically speaking, a few examples would be the late piano sonatas of Alexander Scriabin. Early in my more studious listening efforts, when I decided it was time to start listening to stuff other than Chopin or Schumann, even Scriabin's earlier work seemed strange, but again... after repeated listenings, I really came to love them. They don't seem so... outrageous now. My favorites are probably the eighth and the ninth. 

The same was kind of the case with Mahler, not because of tonality, but his works present their own challenges. The length of his symphonies alone can be daunting. Anyway, I adore them. 

Perhaps the greatest contrast between first reaction to current feelings toward the work is probably Schoenberg's piano concerto. The first time I listened to it, I didn't. I mean, I got through maybe the first few minutes before I had had enough. And now I feel it is a stunningly beautiful work, perhaps one I'd choose to hear live over Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Brahms, anything else. It's remarkable.

I want to say, though, that even if I was repulsed by some of these pieces at first listen (and I wouldn't use such an extreme word to describe my initial response), I still feel there was something that clicked, an inkling that at least told me to keep trying with the piece, but that could just be a biased opinion based on my current feelings toward them. I have not been inclined to give Boulez's Le Marteau or Berio's Sinfonia or Schnittke's first symphony second listens, for example. Boulez's piano sonatas still intrigue me, and I've gone back to listen to them a number of times, but my latest fascination has been Milton Babbitt, more specifically his second and sixth string quartets, Composition for Four Instruments, clarinet quintet, and Three Compositions for Piano. I am finding it to be really wonderful to get to know these pieces better. 

What about you? What are your hate-then-love pieces? What was the process like? (I have mainly discussed more modern works, but there's no reason why someone wouldn't have issues coming to love Mozart or Beethoven or Bach if their tastes lie more in complicated modern works. Perhaps the challenge is the lack of challenge, the straightforwardness, whatever. I'm only now really getting into the classical era and starting to find it more beautiful than bland). 

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For a long time I've largely ignored most 20th century music.  Now I've really discovered the Soviet composers like Prokofiev and Shostakovich; Prokofiev especially is now one of my favorite composers.  Even my 3 year-old daughter is a fan (she loves his Toccata in D minor!).  Most modern classical stuff is still to way out there in my mind but perhaps that will change over time as well.  I've tried getting into Babbitt but I still don't get him.

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My first real hurdle was becoming a Mahler-ite. At the beginning (meaning when I started really getting into classical music, at age 12-13) I didn't know anything about him but his First Symphony, which I tended to confuse at times with Beethoven's Pastoral or Ninth. But within a year and a half I got to realize how wonderful his works are, even if long. As of now, the only work by him I still struggle with a bit is the Third Symphony.

 

Next step was Shostakovich, which I took a bit longer to love. But I totally do now. Prokofiev was never that hard for me, though.

 

I have begun to come into terms with Alban Berg lately, but I still can't stand most of the atonal/serialist/modernist guys, no matter how long and hard I've tried. Let's not lose hope, though!

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If you had asked me 3 years ago my opinion of the likes of Scriabin, Prokofiev, and heck even some of the guys here on YC, you would have gotten a flat response at best. But it didn't take too long for me to start liking it more and more. It seems to me that the more I listen to something (assuming it has any merit to begin with) the more I can appreciate it.

 

If I understand what you're getting at correctly, I think you're right. I think the music that is the most special to me is the music that took me a bit longer to get into (mostly, I mean does anybody really need a second listen to love Tchaikovsky?). There's a feeling of satisfaction after having learned to appreciate something (it's as if you actually did learn something) that can surpass the feeling you get when you like something right away.

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I mean does anybody really need a second listen to love Tchaikovsky?

 

My first love is still the strongest. In fact, nothing has been as musically pleasant for me as that "awkward" moment when I realize I'm listening to something by Tchaikovsky that I had never heard before, just by the sound of it. Unfortunately, I've almost run out of compositions from him (so I'm already digging deeply into his operas in search of it).

 

BTW, I tended to reject opera at first, so the fact that I was able to turn myself into an opera-lover could easily fit into this topic. I dare to say that this transformation was possible due to just two masterpieces: Bizet's Carmen and Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. But the ones who made the sell were Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades and Puccini's Tosca. Too bad I haven't still learned to fully swallow Wagner.

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BTW, I tended to reject opera at first...

 

That's kind of encouraging. I am the same way. I've listened through Das Rheingold a few times, as well as La Traviata, but that's about it. I think the two major things that kind of... turn me off to it or make it not as easy to listen to is that I do a lot of my listening at work or at least at a computer or doing other things. Opera isn't absolute music. I suppose it can be enjoyed that way, but I feel like I'm cheating myself if I don't follow the libretto. Granted, much of it is beautiful music by itself, but if you don't follow the story to some extent, the meaning gets lost. that coupled with the length of many of them. Even smallish operas rival the length of the longest Mahler symphonies. Das Rheingold is over two hours, and it's the petite-est of the set. 

They're putting on Fidelio at the local theatre this summer, and it's a fantastic orchestra, so I will definitely go see that. I'll take a cue from your suggestions here as well, Austenite. It's kind of the genre/form of music I've most blatantly neglected. Didn't think of that when I was writing the OP. 

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One disadvantage we have living in the present is the challenge of misunderstanding the affect of a work in the context of the time it was written in. Mozart and Haydn were arguably just as revolutionary - if not more so - than Beethoven when considering their accomplishments within the greater musical world at the time. I think there are a great number of examples of similar situations throughout musical history.  Conversely, Bach, whose music is often subject to an unwarranted perception of being very complex, was quite backward-thinking in style compared even to Handel. Part of the problem is that nothing except the most avant-garde shocks listeners anymore, when there are no confines a listener can justly expect anything to happen - and I'm not saying that's an inherently bad thing.  It's a blessing and a curse particularly for composers.

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Part of the problem is that nothing except the most avant-garde shocks listeners anymore, when there are no confines a listener can justly expect anything to happen - and I'm not saying that's an inherently bad thing.  It's a blessing and a curse particularly for composers.

 

Indeed!

 

That's why I don't quite get the real criticism about a certain piece (or style) being "predictable" (what is NOT predictable nowadays?). There are a few other blanket criticisms that often hit a given composer's works, regardless of the fact that they are ultimately empty (i. e. a work "falling flat", being "cheesy", "trite", etc., without explaining WHAT is exactly wrong with them, what makes it "fall flat", or "cheesy", or "trite"). But hey, this also means a lot of freedom for any composer, since they do no longer need to worry about the "shock value" and thus might as well focus on the music itself.

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Post Tonal music is...umm...how do put this...far beyound the stretch of imagination of any modern composer tool box. Yet, we can use the styles and methods that came out it. For me, I am poly stylist. I can write in genre period and mix and match them too, which is fun!

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It just takes time to grown mentally and spiritually. Sooner or later you develop at least some tolerance towards contemporary music you once rejected. It happened to me too. But there are some composers that I still don't really like: Bruckner is boring, Mahler is too "egoistic" for my taste (although I enjoy his 1st and 4th symphony), Messiaen is having some trouble with formal approach ("copy-paste" too frequently)... Among modern composers I always try to understand the content - even in 4'33'', even though I don't take such compositions very seriously. There are some composers which may still be too "dissonant" for many although not for me: Lutoslawski, Dutilleux, Tüür, Lindberg.

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It just takes time to grown mentally and spiritually. Sooner or later you develop at least some tolerance towards contemporary music you once rejected. It happened to me too. But there are some composers that I still don't really like: Bruckner is boring, Mahler is too "egoistic" for my taste (although I enjoy his 1st and 4th symphony), Messiaen is having some trouble with formal approach ("copy-paste" too frequently)... Among modern composers I always try to understand the content - even in 4'33'', even though I don't take such compositions very seriously. There are some composers which may still be too "dissonant" for many although not for me: Lutoslawski, Dutilleux, Tüür, Lindberg.

 

I just kind of love all of this that you said.... While I'm really starting to get into Bruckner and LOVE Mahler (but can definitely see what you're saying), I do like the swathes of sweeping generalization that kind of quite accurately characterize the overall listening experience of some of these folks. Well said. 

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Bruckner is/has been/was a challenge for me. 

It took me some time to get really into Mahler symphonies, but the real challenge there was just the length, I feel, just getting my head around an 80-90 minute symphony, especially as early in my 'learn about classical music' efforts as it was, but I really love his stuff now. While he certainly has an overall style, each piece is so strikingly individual, each symphony very much has its own personality and identity, for better or for worse (I love them all, but I can see how some wouldn't).

I say this being far less familiar with Bruckner than I should be (far less familiar with him than Mahler for sure), but my overall impression is that he wrote the same symphony nine times (or like... 10 and 3/4 times if you count the study symphony and the retracted one, and 9 being incomplete). I say that knowing full well that they're not ​the same, but my impression is that they're much more the same than Mahler's output, which isn't to say that the latter's are  better or right, but that it's why they were captivating and easy to identify and remember. 

It took lots and lots and lots of effort last year to really begin to 'get' his fourth, but it was suggested (along with the seventh) as a good place to start. I listened to recording after recording after recording over and over and over again to start to get it, and it only got to feel emotionally significant when I was already quite familiar with it. 

It's puzzling to me what doesn't 'click' with me for Bruckner. I love the scherzos of his first and third symphonies, and the first movement of no. 1 is quite captivating, at least the opening. I'm familiar-ish with the ninth, and it's enjoyable, but it is taking me a long time to warm up to him, and I have been trying really hard. 

That all being said, I bought a ticket last night to hear his eighth here at the end of may and am looking very forward to it. 

Edited by foreignwords
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Bruckner is/has been/was a challenge for me. 

(...)

I say this being far less familiar with Bruckner than I should be (far less familiar with him than Mahler for sure), but my overall impression is that he wrote the same symphony nine times (or like... 10 and 3/4 times if you count the study symphony and the retracted one, and 9 being incomplete). I say that knowing full well that they're not ​the same, but my impression is that they're much more the same than Mahler's output, which isn't to say that the latter's are  better or right, but that it's why they were captivating and easy to identify and remember. 

 

 

Totally agreed. Bruckner remains a tough pill to swallow for me, since I still tend to find his symphonies quite boring. The commonplace comparison with Mahler drives me up a wall in fact, since they have virtually nothing in common except for being Austrian and writing nine mega-symphonies plus an unfinished one.

 

I became a Mahlerian rather easily, starting from his First Symphony and finding him upping his game on the Second and Fourth. I ultimately got to love all of his symphonies except the Third, which still puzzles me a bit. On the other hand, Bruckner just turns me off as easily - his Third Symphony being perhaps the only production of his that I find at least somewhat interesting.

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Totally agreed. Bruckner remains a tough pill to swallow for me, since I still tend to find his symphonies quite boring. The commonplace comparison with Mahler drives me up a wall in fact, since they have virtually nothing in common except for being Austrian and writing nine mega-symphonies plus an unfinished one.

 

I became a Mahlerian rather easily, starting from his First Symphony and finding him upping his game on the Second and Fourth. I ultimately got to love all of his symphonies except the Third, which still puzzles me a bit. On the other hand, Bruckner just turns me off as easily - his Third Symphony being perhaps the only production of his that I find at least somewhat interesting.

 

Oh how I wish I'd heard this a year ago. I was perplexed for the longest time why these two guys are almost always mentioned practically in the same breath in most 'music history' discussions, and yet... one of them was so utterly captivating while the other was, at the worst, boring, and at best, usually, lyrical or scherzical. 

 

I'm coming around to Brucker (extremely) slowly, but I'm glad I'm not the only one that thinks these two have ​far far more not in common than in common.  

I quite love the third. It was one of my slowest to warm up to, though. I started with the fifth, then the second, then 1, 6, 4, then the rest. The strange number 7, of all of them, was perhaps the quickest for me to really come to love, although it is by no means my favorite. I know it's the black sheep of the bunch, but I really like it. The one I'm still least familiar with (aside from Das Lied) is the eighth, but only slightly less so. 

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