take it to the bridge

by pieces of moments


So this is kinda random, but I was watching Anne of Green Gables (for like, the millionth trillionth gazillionth time) and started thinking about bridges. I have a thing for bridges due to associations I have formed over the years with various types. Quaint bridges to me say “all utterly romantic things happen (or should happen) here” (see ending of afore mentioned film). Large industrial bridges mean going to really awesome places because as a kid I spent a fair amount of time in Coronado, California, and going across that massive blue adventure of a roadway that is the Coronado Bay Bridge signaled to me it was time for pure bliss. Bridges in the middle of nowhere over highways means “we’re lost…oops” (this stems from a hilarious episode during my undergrad days that is too long to get into here, but suffice to say, we had our Chicago ‘L’  lines mixed up…Blue and Red take you to very different places).

Not to skip around too much (but you know how I do love to…), but I always think back to a high school art history project when I read some art historian who begged the question if abstraction would have been linked with the last paintings of Monet if he had not been going blind with cataracts. You see (in case you don’t know) the last works of Monet lean heavily toward abstraction. Some of them look as if he jumped into the ponds of the waterlillies he painted earlier and started looking up through the haze of algae to the light above. So this particular art historian was basically saying, “would Monet have painted something that abstract if he had his full and proper sight?” Interesting question, isn’t it?

I often ponder a similar phenomenon in the music of Beethoven. Would some of his works, like the Grosse Fuge for example, have sounded as brilliantly on the edge of being unhinged if he had not been relegated to only hearing the sounds as they were trapped in the halls of his own mind and not on physically real instruments in physically real performance spaces? 

Perhaps I romanticize the situation? Perhaps. Maybe he would have written the Grosse Fuge that way even if he could fully hear. Regardless, it builds a bridge. It takes counterpoint from the Baroque Era, the structure of a string quartet from the Classical Era, the tempetuous Sturm und Drang of the Romantic Era, throws it all in a processor until the bits are so small they are barely recognizable. But in that deconstruction they become something new.

Or, switching gears a bit, all the works of Carlo Gesualdo sound way beyond their time (well, that and he was c-razy). I’m not sure we can use a bridge metaphor here or just call it straight up time travel. His dissonances are incredibly modern, aren’t they? I first learned of Gesualdo my junior year of college. My music history professor had decided to give us the mother of all listening quizzes – absolutely everything was game. We were all horror struck. Petrified, really is a more appropriate word. We asked “How do we study for something like this?” and he said “You can’t – you either have been paying attention all these years or you haven’t.” Of course, that didn’t keep our seminar class from running to the library to listen to every possible CD we felt might be relevant in saving us from such impending doom. Naturally, on our self-made list of things to review there was plenty of Renaissance music, but no Gesualdo. The day of the ultimate examination we sat with pencils gripped tightly, hands dewy from stress, and heard the most bizarre strains of (what we thought was) a 20th century composer writing in a Renaissance style. We all got that one wrong. It was, of course, Gesualdo, a Renaissance composer who could somehow channel a bridge to the 20th century and its language of dissonance. **

Bridges=transitions. Sometimes we’re not sure where, or what exactly lies on the other side, but change is inevitable and at least in the realm of music its almost always a good thing (well, with the exception of those weird Tchaikovsky techno remixes…but whatever…).

**For anyone actually curious as to the result of this ultimate listening exam: our professor revealed to us after we had all tallied our scores and awaited our grade fate that he was not, in fact, going to grade us on the exam after all but just wanted us to be able to evaluate our overall knowledge of fractions of music from hundreds of years of history.