Music Mania

by Lorne Taichman

My current playlist has one entry, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4. I listen to it at least once a day, and if rushed, I tune to the first movement and skip the rest. I love the way it begins so hesitantly and then gains in confidence as the theme is developed. It moves me each time I hear it. No. 4 has been the sole occupant of my playlist for the past few years. Before I focused on No. 4, I spent several years listening to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, also a masterpiece. I spent the 1990s in the company of the Emperor, that is the Emperor Concerto, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5. I know – I am the most boring and unimaginative listener. I am a borderline obsessive compulsive when it comes to music – I understand. I can’t help it. Let’s face it, when it comes to music we are not fully in charge.

I was first introduced to Beethoven’s piano concertos in the early 1990s when I purchased a five CD set with all five concertos on the Telarc label performed by Rudolf Serkin. The nice man at the CD store said they would never wear out, no matter how many times I played them. After a ruthless number of performances on my weary CD player, one CD began skipping, another developed a weird sound, and one just wouldn’t play at all. With the loss of that CD set I migrated to YouTube.

I think I know the origin of this fixation. Some sixty odd years ago, for reasons that now elude me, I bought a record of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. You know – “dah dah dah dum.” Well, after listening to that several hundred times, I recall feeling physically lifted, suspended in space, while the music rushed headlong on to its crescendo. That was the moment I fell in love with classical music and Beethoven in particular. Over time, I did manage to listen to other pieces. As a teenager, Ravel’s Bolero was good for making out, though those opportunities were infrequent. For several years in the early 1970s I listened only to James Taylor singing Fire and Rain. I loved the gentleness with which he came at those sad lyrics. Focusing on James Taylor was my attempt to be hip. For two years from 1980 through 1982, I gave all my attention to Dvorak’s New World Symphony. That piece seemed to capture the promise and hope of America. But when I learned that my brother had a deadly form of cancer, I punished myself by abstaining from listening to that piece. A few years back I enrolled in James Smith’s IRP class on Beethoven…masterful. I attended the entire series of lectures and concerts on the Beethoven symphonies given by Leon Botstein, the conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra. All nine symphonies are glorious, but they do not calm the soul like the piano concertos.

Some weeks past, I attended a country western concert at Symphony Space by a group called Ham Rodeo. It was unusual and energizing. When I returned home, I put on No. 4, just to settle down. I enjoy going to the NY Philharmonic Open Rehearsals at Lincoln Center. In fact, recently, I attended a rehearsal concert by piano soloist Stephen Hough. He was rehearsing Concerto No. 3 for a performance that evening.

You may be wondering why I ignore Beethoven’s piano concertos No. 1 and No. 2. It’s not a mystery. I enjoy them, yes, but they don’t capture me in the same way as Nos. 3, 4 or 5.

I should confess, I also listen to the 3rd Movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. It is the auditory definition of beauty. On NPR, I once heard of someone who listened to that movement every evening of his life. Now, that is an obsession.

For some years a disturbing thought about death was how would I manage in the absence of those musical pieces. In my musings, I imagined myself, looking down from above, witnessing my family and friends as they went about their lives. But the mystery was, which concerto would I be listening to, No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5, or even the second movement of Symphony No. 9?

Lorne Taichman: This essay was written in 2019 for the Advanced Autobiography Study Group coordinated by David Grogan. Lorne has been a member of IRP/LP² for about nine years.