Michael Tilson Thomas: Music and emotion through time (2)
This is the kind of music that Leonardo DaVinci would have known.
And perhaps its tremendous intellectual perfection and serenity meant that something new had to happen -- a radical new move, which in 1600 is what did happen. (Music) Singer: Ah, bitter blow! Ah, wicked, cruel fate! Ah, baleful stars! Ah, avaricious heaven! MTT: This, of course, was the birth of opera, and its development put music on a radical new course.
The what now was not to mirror the mind of God, but to follow the emotion turbulence of man. And the how was harmony, stacking up the pitches to form chords. And the chords, it turned out, were capable of representing incredible varieties of emotions.
And the basic chords were the ones we still have with us, the triads, either the major one, which we think is happy, or the minor one, which we perceive as sad. But what's the actual difference between these two chords? It's just these two notes in the middle. It's either E natural, and 659 vibrations per second, or E flat, at 622. So the big difference between human happiness and sadness? 37 freakin' vibrations. So you can see in a system like this there was enormous subtle potential of representing human emotions.
And in fact, as man began to understand more his complex and ambivalent nature, harmony grew more complex to reflect it. Turns out it was capable of expressing emotions beyond the ability of words. Now with all this possibility, classical music really took off.
It's the time in which the big forms began to arise. And the effects of technology began to be felt also, because printing put music, the scores, the codebooks of music, into the hands of performers everywhere. And new and improved instruments made the age of the virtuoso possible. This is when those big forms arose -- the symphonies, the sonatas, the concertos. And in these big architectures of time, composers like Beethoven could share the insights of a lifetime.
A piece like Beethoven's Fifth basically witnessing how it was possible for him to go from sorrow and anger, over the course of a half an hour, step by exacting step of his route, to the moment when he could make it across to joy. (Music) And it turned out the symphony could be used for more complex issues, like gripping ones of culture, such as nationalism or quest for freedom or the frontiers of sensuality.
But whatever direction the music took, one thing until recently was always the same, and that was when the musicians stopped playing, the music stopped. Now this moment so fascinates me.
I find it such a profound one. What happens when the music stops?
Where does it go? What's left? What sticks with people in the audience at the end of a performance? Is it a melody or a rhythm or a mood or an attitude? And how might that change their lives? To me this is the intimate, personal side of music.
It's the passing on part. It's the 'why' part of it. And to me that's the most essential of all. Mostly it's been a person-to-person thing, a teacher-student, performer-audience thing, and then around 1880 came this new technology that first mechanically then through analogs then digitally created a new and miraculous way of passing things on, albeit an impersonal one. People could now hear music all the time, even though it wasn't necessary for them to play an instrument, read music or even go to concerts. And technology democratized music by making everything available.
It spearheaded a cultural revolution in which artists like Caruso and Bessie Smith were on the same footing. And technology pushed composers to tremendous extremes, using computers and synthesizers to create works of intellectually impenetrable complexity beyond the means of performers and audiences. At the same time technology, by taking over the role that notation had always played, shifted the balance within music between instinct and intelligence way over to the instinctive side.
The culture in which we live now is awash with music of improvisation that's been sliced, diced, layered and, God knows, distributed and sold. What's the long-term effect of this on us or on music? Nobody knows. The question remains: What happens when the music stops?
What sticks with people? Now that we have unlimited access to music, what does stick with us? Well let me show you a story of what I mean by "really sticking with us.
I was visiting a cousin of mine in an old age home, and I spied a very shaky old man making his way across the room on a walker. He came over to a piano that was there, and he balanced himself and began playing something like this. (Music) And he said something like, "Me ... boy ... symphony ...
Beethoven." And I suddenly got it, and I said, "Friend, by any chance are you trying to play this?" (Music) And he said, "Yes, yes. I was a little boy. The symphony: Isaac Stern, the concerto, I heard it." And I thought, my God, how much must this music mean to this man that he would get himself out of his bed, across the room to recover the memory of this music that, after everything else in his life is sloughing away, still means so much to him? Well, that's why I take every performance so seriously, why it matters to me so much.
I never know who might be there, who might be absorbing it and what will happen to it in their life. But now I'm excited that there's more chance than ever before possible of sharing this music.
That's what drives my interest in projects like the TV series "Keeping Score" with the San Francisco Symphony that looks at the backstories of music, and working with the young musicians at the New World Symphony on projects that explore the potential of the new performing arts centers for both entertainment and education. And of course, the New World Symphony led to the YouTube Symphony and projects on the internet that reach out to musicians and audiences all over the world.
And the exciting thing is all this is just a prototype. There's just a role here for so many people -- teachers, parents, performers -- to be explorers together. Sure, the big events attract a lot of attention, but what really matters is what goes on every single day. We need your perspectives, your curiosity, your voices. And it excites me now to meet people who are hikers, chefs, code writers, taxi drivers, people I never would have guessed who loved the music and who are passing it on.
You don't need to worry about knowing anything. If you're curious, if you have a capacity for wonder, if you're alive, you know all that you need to know. You can start anywhere. Ramble a bit. Follow traces. Get lost. Be surprised, amused inspired. All that 'what', all that 'how' is out there waiting for you to discover its 'why', to dive in and pass it on. Thank you.