Musicians and composers should be good at puzzles, because music is like an enigma.
Sometimes just listening to music can confound and perplex, like a jigsaw puzzle.
Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto might be one of the greatest mystifiers in and outside of music. It is seen by many professional and student pianists as the peak of the piano repertoire and something that must be climbed and mastered if they want to get to the top of the musical world.
There’s one finger playing two notes, hand cross overs and all sort of tricky, but magical sounding effects. When I look at the score, I see something only a dedicated and very experienced musician can handle, and I’m afraid that’s not me. It is beyond my training and my understanding.
I wonder how many people who listen to classical music think that what they hear is mind-bogglingly difficult to play? I guess there are a lot of people who view some classical music this way, and for the most they are right. Even some of the “easier things” like Haydn’s keyboard Sonata Hob. XVI/7 can throw a lot of pianists that have been training for years. It too is in C Major.
Being able to play pieces like the Prokofiev and the Haydn mentioned takes something special, it’s not just training. Yehudi Menuhin said, “Much of my life’s design was laid out before I was born”. That means the understanding and processing of what he was going to do and the music he was to perform came from a tradition not just through his parents but also from a culture that knows art so well that it seems to be in their blood.
Once, composers had all the respect and praise in the music world. As music grew more complex and difficult to play, and sometimes to hear, today it’s the musician who are praised over composers. Their training and dedication for many is so intense that mental health issues are common in the world of professional performers.
I know music is perhaps the most joyous thing to hear and feel, but what many performers have to go through to bring us that music has become a maze of difficulties to work through. Modern music is not just a puzzle to listen to, it’s perplexing to perform.
As a concert reviewer, I see quite a few performers with what I describe as odd quirks of nature. The same can be said of any front-line artist or people in the limelight. The public focus on what performers are doing is intense and nothing short of perfection is expected in most concerts. Of the several hundred concerts I have reviewed in the last few years, there have been only a few that I have thought were not up to a professional standard. That includes some student and amateur orchestras and solo performers. Music is a tough gig.
Getting through this puzzle of music for the performer and for the listener requires a lifetime of dedication and understanding. Intimate and close listening is required to perform and hear the inner music, within music. And, with classical music, there is many levels of complexity, just listen to a fugue or a symphony. Try focusing on two or more melodies being played at the same time, it’s not easy, but it is rewarding.
That’s the benefit of classical music. It is rewarding on many levels, regardless of how tricky it is to understand or play. Every concert I go to or review, I know what has gone into getting that music into my ears. Usually, there are many lifetimes of dedication that go into every concert and every piece of classical music, and that helps me understand and appreciate the jigsaw puzzle of music.