I hadn’t listened to Schubert’s Fifth Symphony in far too long, and I did today. I have a special relationship with that piece – or rather, it has one with me. It was one of the pieces I heard on recording from my first weeks out of the womb. I knew how it went before I could talk. And whenever I play it, I’m transported into feeling like I’m a child hearing music again, as something magical and captivating that I can’t figure out. It links me to a preverbal relationship with music, and reminds me, in a way unlike any other work, of how music must sound to people who can’t read it. There are other works that I was familiar with as early, such as Mozart’s D Minor Piano Concerto and his D Major Piano Sonata K. 576, but those I’ve analyzed many times with classes, and the spell has been broken. I have intentionally never cracked a score to Schubert’s Fifth. I can’t quite picture how it’s notated – I could figure it out, but don’t want to. There are even syncopations in the first movement where I’m not sure where the downbeat is. I hear that flute obligato joining the main theme and I’m instantly in another world, safe and secure, and nothing bad has ever happened. It’s an almost entirely right-brain experience (though there are still passages where I can’t keep the phrase “flat submediant” from leaping into my left brain). Someday before I die I want to open a score of the Schubert Fifth and break the spell, but I’m in no hurry. I feel like something about still having that experience intact helps keep me honest in my own composing.
I think the pieces my son must have that relationship with are John Adams’s Grand Pianola Music and Steve Reich’s Octet. (And incidentally, my son’s band Liturgy is opening their European tour in Oslo tonight.)