Friday, April 18, 2008

O Tod, wie wohl tust du!

And so Brahms has reached his end, and I have reached mine. Today I took what may in fact be the last final I shall ever take. 20 listening, and one essay on Brahms's late style (minor gripe: if you give us the essay topic in advance and tell us to choose any four pieces to write about, please do not change this and add restrictions in the actual test. My strategy was to ignore the restriction and argue my points as they were). But I want to take a moment to reflect on this class, the last of my requirement-fulfilling classes, because it was an odd way of teaching.

There were no readings. None. Not even suggested. Instead, we listened to a piece (or several songs/smaller pieces) each week, and the professor gave a detailed explanation of the music. This ranged everywhere from formal patterns to subtextual issues to stylistic comparisons to psychoanlaysis. On the one hand, I really did enjoy the depth of focus, getting to know music intimately. I remember Gerry Levinson's 20th century class at Swarthmore barely got beyond 1920, but I came out knowing Debussy and Stravinsky intensely well and developing an appreciation for it. But at this stage, I must be more cynical. I'll listen, I'll take notes, I'll even repeat it on the exam, but I know that this is not my professor's primary area, and I'd rather hold off my judgments until I read further about Brahms.

It's such a sharp turn away from the standard musicology course I expect. Readings to be synthesized and discussed, musical examples to supplement. I've come to the decision this course offers something important, a reversal to focus on the music most of all. Also, sometimes, you want to just soak up a senior faculty member's knowledge. In Judith Becker's world music class, the Indonesian sections were the best because she had all this information to impart. It may feel lazy at first, but it's valuable learning, and in the wake of Prof. Becker's retirement, you come to realize how lucky you are to have that wealth of information right there.


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