An ode to simple beauty

Today’s post, as you can see from the title, is focused upon simple beauty. No, I’m not referring to the contestants for Miss South Carolina 2012, I’m talking about the word simple in a figurative sense, when applied to those pieces of music that manage to reach deep into our hearts while still maintaining a simple, perfect form.

You see, nowadays virtuosity (both in playing and in composition) is a go-to praise-magnet. Super-virtuosos writing for hyper-virtuosos, who can display their talents to the world in a wizardly flash of speed and brilliance. And there’s nothing wrong with that… as such.

But, sometimes – actually, often in my case – we yearn for simple beauty in our music.

While virtuosos get rave reviews with the critics, it’s not as often that we get to appreciate the quality of playing in single notes. It’s not often we get to appreciate how a musician makes use of silence and those openings between the passages that bring us space to breathe, reflect and wonder.

A wise man once said ‘Ponder not the path’ (was that from Superman? Lord of the Rings?), but perhaps it is this ponderous spirit that should be embraced in the rush, rush world of 2012. It takes courage to play simple pieces, more courage to play them simply and even more courage still to leave the silence necessary to give them their true beauty.

Grieg’s simple beauty

With Edvard Grieg’s Lyric Pieces you have an exceptional example of the simple beauty of the piano. 66 short pieces published in 10 volumes that set a wonderous scene and offer our souls a chance to pause, reflect and listen.

There are superior versions by Sviatoslav Richter, Daniel Levy and Leif Ove Andsnes, while there is even a recording of Grieg himself playing parts of the collection. Today’s video showcases the piece Arietta, a personal favorite of the composer and the very first composition in the cycle. It is also the theme that closes the cycle under the name of ‘Remembrances’, played this time with the slant of joyful, humorous nostalgia that we often feel when looking back at a moment from our past.

Final thoughts

In a world where things are dumbed-down on a daily basis, the word simple has gained a decidedly negative reputation. Yet this article is a simple ode to simplicity in music.

Just because a piece of music has the air of simplicity, it doesn’t mean it is easy to play. Far from it. Oftentimes, these are the hardest pieces to interpret.

When Picasso said that to paint you had to first be able to draw a straight line, there was a real truth in his words. The real mettle of a musician could easily be judged, not on his ability to play the most complex pieces in the musical canon, but on his ability to play and bring beauty to the very simplest pieces.

So, with no further ado, here is Grieg’s Op.12 No.1 ‘Arietta’ played by Sviatoslav Richter.


P.S. – I’d like to apologize to our subscribers for not posting over the past week. It’s been seven days of movement, upheaval and very little sleep, but things should normalize from now onwards!

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