The beginning of the second movement
Over the holidays, I had what I’ll call a spirited conversation regarding objective truth versus subjective truth. Since neither myself nor the other participants are professionals in the cognitive disciplines, the conversation lacked a certain elegance. We spent a lot of time on whether or not a tree falling in a forest makes a sound if there's no one there to hear it.
What can I say? It was the holidays and the TV wasn’t on and our phones were out of sight so we entertained ourselves for hours regarding a question that has no good answer.
Beethoven - Piano Concerto No 4 in G major, Op 58
Conducted by Krystian Zimerman
Once we left the hypothetical forest, the question of truth and music came up. If there is any subject that is, well, subjective, it’s music. While I do not degrade my opinion of others based on their musical tastes, I certainly upgrade my opinion of others if they can talk about music written before 1945. If an individual can talk music, I don’t care if their political, religious, or economic opinions are contrary to mine.
After the night of philosophical revelry had ended, I decided to Google myself into a better understanding of objective and subjective. I quickly realized that I had a good grasp of the terms “objective” and “subjective”.
The true issue, so to speak, was the word “truth”.
Years ago, in this very column, I confessed that I had no interest in being objective when it came to musical reviews because I thought it to be impossible and dishonest to deny my personal feelings, tastes, and experiences. I would express my truth but always with the caveat that it was my truth.
That is, after all, what a column is. It’s one person’s response to a specific event, occurrence, or subject. Ideally, the author of a column has extensive experience with the subject of the column.
The strings represent my worrisome thoughts.
Although it pains me to say this, there is no truth in classical music that can be objectively expressed. There are infinite perspectives to be considered and there is no standard unit of measurement, even though there are several measures of music. Several might be an understatement.
Even though there is no objective truth to classical music that does not mean that there aren’t perspectives that are more beneficial than others. Allow me one example.
The perspective that classical music was and is propaganda for colonialism and the supremacy of “white culture” is less beneficial than the perspective that classical music is the soundtrack to the triumph of the individual over the tyranny of the European caste system.
Neither position can be proven objectively.
If I subscribe to the concept of classical music as propaganda, what comes next? I guess I stop listening to classical music and encourage others to stop because it is a tool of oppression. Whether or not this reduces oppression in our current society is doubtful simply because such a low percentage of people listen to classical music.
The piano represents the calm, internal voice that understands that everything is going to be ok.
If I subscribe to the concept of classical music as a triumph of the individual, I can listen to it with an ear toward freeing myself from the tyranny of my habitual mediocrity. A great example of this is the second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4.
I’m not sure if I’ve written about this in the past but it was part of a live presentation I used to make before the quarantine.
In this music, the strings represent my worrisome thoughts that lead to worrisome emotions that lead to worrisome behaviors. The piano represents the calm, internal voice that understands that everything is going to be ok.
I can listen to this music and begin to create some freedom from the specters of worry and doubt. If I am able to listen to classical music and create an ability to respond to situations instead of merely reacting, then it is a benefit to both myself and society.
Of course, this is not objectively true but it is a perspective that has subjective benefits beyond a vague sense of self-pity.
The second movement starts at the 19:25 mark of the video.