Monday, November 14, 2011

What Would Beethoven Think OR Relax to the Classics

Would Beethoven be appalled that his compositions appear on CDs with cheesy titles and cheesier photographs like The Ultimate Relaxation Album II? After all, this was a man who believed: "Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of woman." He was a man of lofty aims who, in my opinion, took music to heights unmatched by anyone before or since. I cannot conceive of him sitting down at the piano to compose something merely "relaxing": he was after much more than that. And yet, I cannot deny that I feel at peace with the world, and yes, relaxed, when I listen to the sublime second movement of his 5th Piano Concerto, which appears on the Ultimate Relaxation Album II.

I was reminded of this wonderful side effect of some classical music--its ability to relax us and offer respite from the world--while reading There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz. Published in 1991, it's a portrait of two brothers growing up poor in Chicago's Henry Horner Homes, a dangerous public housing complex where mothers feared their children might not live to see 18. As depicted by the eloquent Kotlowitz, the younger brother, 9-year-old Pharoah, whose childhood is under threat from his surroundings, "clutched his childhood with the vigor of a tiger gripping his meat. He wouldn't let it go." He also "listened to classical music on the radio because, he said, it relaxed him."

Over the years, many have asked Kotlowitz what became of Pharoah and his older brother, whose lives he chronicled over a two-year period, and whose futures matter to readers before they've finished the second chapter. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune makes it plain that like many who grow up poor in violent surroundings, their lives have been difficult. But I hope that wherever Pharoah is, he continues to take solace in music, and that it brings him some peace.

Inspired by this moving book and by young Pharoah's appreciation of classical music, I updated a CD list I created a few years ago called Relax to the Classics. You can access the list here and then check out a little respite from the world yourself. And feel free to chime in with your favorite piece of music to relax to--classical or otherwise.


Linda K. said...

Relaxing to the classics compilations may be a little cheesy, but I always figure, if it makes someone appreciate classical music, then go for it! At least it's a little less cheesy than "Switched On Bach" played by a synthesizer. (Although I have to admit I enjoyed those CDs as well.)

Laura A. said...

I agree 100%! A few years ago, a classical music critic said that we don't need any more compilations of that sort, his sneer practically audible. But if it opens the door to classical music appreciation, how can that be bad?

Thanks for your comment, Linda!

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