That's because in the United States there's this thing called March Madness that everyone gets excited about and I think it has to do with some basketball league finals, something like their Superbowl. It is a big deal. I don't watch basketball so I don't really know who is playing whom or what, but it is big. Still not as big as the Superbowl, and certainly not with performances by Beyoncé insofar as I know.
At any rate, everyone ends up doing some sort of March Madness type of activity, whether it is a recycling drive in a neighborhood or a series of concerts or a fundraiser or really anything one can imagine which would be remotely appropriate to title with March Madness, so I heard about it a lot growing up. Schools love this kind of stuff.
As I was thinking about madness and March the other day, because I've recently placed a calendar in front of where I practice and then of course as I was playing scales I kept going over how many weeks there were left in February, it struck me that something remotely like March Madness for me would be a series of works, serious classical works, which are in fact mad.
As in hardcore dancing or rocking or something totally epic.
And I will not sit here and subject you to Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture (click the white text for a YouTube link, cannons around 2:50), which is in fact supposed to be grand and a bit crazy with canons and all, or necessarily even to something totally mad like The Rite of Spring (tee hee...), but rather to works that are for all effects and purposes not performed as anything but serious repertoire, and for the most part, the composer didn't write simply for the effect of getting their audience to start head-banging.
However, these works definitely give me that feeling. Moreover, I don't think they are works that necessarily need an awful lot of musical training in order to understand the head-banging, rocking, or just downright cool aspect.
So, to start us off, Johannes Brahms.
Brahms was an extremely serious sort of composer, who could hardly bear the sight of his own compositions till he was a middle aged man, and who never ever sent his music quickly off to the publisher. He would struggle and puzzle and rewrite, and destroy first drafts even, just so that the final copy was as perfect as he could manage. Hence why it took him so long to get started. And why historians have barely found any of his first drafts.
Even though he was slow getting things off the ground, he made up for it with hard work, and this allowed him to compose a respectably large body of works in his 63 years of life. Certainly not the likes of Mozart, who popped a song off every time he saw a pretty girl or had a drink, or Haydn, who was commissioned to write so much music in such a short amount of time that he became a master at recycling his own tunes, but quite a bit anyway.
One of his wonderful works is the Piano Quintet in F minor, opus 34. There are four movements in this work, but the third movement is the one I want to share with you. (please start playing it, and then read on!)
It begins with a mysterious, if not somewhat ridiculous, pizzicato C string in the cello (you may have to turn up the volume to hear it), which would be funny if it wasn't for the fact that the piano comes in soon after with a decidedly sinister little melody. This melody might even be scary if it wasn't for the rest of the strings who come in before things get too serious and introduce, quietly and carefully at first, what will by the end become enough to make you (yes you, my dear reader) ready to JUMP UP AND DOWN VIOLENTLY.
I highly recommend patiently waiting for the end of the 7 minute work to get the full effect. But meanwhile...
There is a beautiful trio section in the middle filled with classic Brahmsian harmonies that just make you want to melt with joy or love or something incredibly happy. It is a gorgeous work, really, but part of me is always jarred a bit thinking about how Brahms thought up something quite like the sawing, repetitive pattern that comes up at the end, which I would consider pretty hard rock-y and head-banging-worthy.
In case you weren't convinced by the Amadeus Quartet and Eschenbach, here is a clip I would have used from YouTube to introduce this altogether if it weren't for the fact that the very very beginning is most unfortunately cut off. Do enjoy this version with Pinchas Zukerman and Ida Kavafian on violins, Paul Neubauer on viola, Gary Hoffman on cello, and David Golub at the piano.
I think the most important thing to realize is that for most of these poor wonderful musicians, this may even have been the closest they've been to a rock concert (joke!). Musicians have always been fantastic at juggling intensive classical music study/work with incredibly crazy parties involving plenty of alcohol, pop/rock/etc. music, going out for drinks, dancing at clubs, etc. The thing is, they just might really be dancing to this at house parties (or the aforementioned Rite of Spring. And I'm not referencing PSY like I did last time. If you didn't click to it before, you should now...) while a non-musician might never even know this piece exists, let alone pull out one of their 2+ recordings excitedly to play it after a few drinks.
The other thing musicians, string players in particular, like to do is to have "sight reading parties" where everyone brings all the sheet music they own and invites all of the musicians they can think of and then plays through music as long as people are still up for it. Sometimes these are impromptu when musicians gather at other musicians' homes, particularly when there is a piano and sheet music collection available. The vast majority of such parties also involve growing states of inebriation, but this isn't a necessary requirement for a good time, especially when there are movements, such as this one, to read through. Musician karaoke, if you will. And this is definitely a great song to belt out!
So, next week I will have another bit of music ready for you... and a little info to go with it. Hope you enjoyed this Brahms work as much as I did, and listen to the whole thing when you have the chance!