Call to Adventure – Part 3

In my last post I presented three poems by Frost, Eliot, and Tennyson that represent individuals living a life based on each of the three ways of accepting the call to adventure: 1) the call is unrecognized, 2) the call is ignored, or 3) the call is accepted.

Now, I would like to present three very well-known classical music pieces that depict a life lived based on the same three ways of accepting the call to adventure, as represented in the composers’ own artistic styles rather than the artistic styles of the poets.

Symphony No. 9, Second Movement “Largo” (Dvorak, 1893)

This is the most famous movement from the composer’s most famous symphony.  The composer wrote this piece while on a visit to America.  He was greatly influenced by the Native American music and African American spirituals that he heard during his visit.  An 1893 interview in the New York Herald quotes Dvorak, “In the [African American] melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.”  This piece reflects these melodies used to project a sense of resignation to life’s realities. 

A student of Dvorak was inspired to write lyrics to the main melody of the piece entitled, “Goin’ Home.” The following line from the lyrics depicts the mood of the musical piece:  “Dere’s no break, ain’t no end, Jes’ a-livin’ on, Wide awake with a smile, Goin’ on and on.”  This melody expresses a melancholy and uneventful everyday existence similar to that expressed in the works of Degas and Frost.

Symphonie Fantastique, Fifth Movement, (Berlioz, 1855 version)

This work evokes images of loneliness and grief about one’s life lived without love and affection.  Overwhelmed by the beauty of an actress, the composer fell madly in love.  To win her love, he thought of composing a “fantastic symphony.”  The composer wrote a note to be distributed to the audience prior to the symphony’s performance:

“A young musician of morbid sensitivity and ardent imagination poisons himself with opium in a moment of despair caused by frustrated love.  The dose of narcotic, while too weak to cause his death, plunges him into a heavy sleep accompanied by the strangest of visions, in which his experiences, feelings and memories are translated in his feverish brain into musical thoughts and images.  His beloved becomes for him a melody and like an idée fixe which he meets and hears everywhere.

Perhaps this composer’s representation of human disintegration is not that dissimilar to that of Eliot.

Also Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30, Sunrise (R. Strauss, 1896)

This piece is the introduction to the tone poem, based on Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical work of 1891. The music suggests a powerful call to action and a willingness to charge forward.  There is little doubt that the adventurer has accepted the call and is ready for the adventure.  Perhaps the power of this piece echoes a similar courage found in the Tennyson poem. 

Next up ballet.

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