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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).
Hello, I'm a beginning music composition student at Washington State University, and there's a question that has been increasingly interesting me: What defines a "good" piece? I've been fascinated with theory, partly because I'm interested in trying to determine this answer, but so far it has generally eluded me. Why, for example, are Bartok's string quartets valued over Schubert's? Or why is Rite of Spring preferred over Firebird? I'm currently trying to write a piece for clarinet, but I'm kind of stuck because I can't decide when something I write is "good" or not. Sometimes there are notions that some pieces narrowly miss greatness because they don't develop their ideas enough, but what determines if an idea has been adequately developed? What are the correct ways to "develop" an idea? When are you developing an idea, and when are you actually introducing a new idea? I feel like these are some basic elements of composition theory, but I don't have a very firm grasp of them. I'd love to hear any of your thoughts on the matter. Thanks!