Less is More

Sometimes it’s the simple statements that have more resonance.

We are shaped and fashioned by what we love. Goethe

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Einstein

Short quotations are easier to remember and short poems can sometimes have more impact than lengthy ones. Apparently it can apply to music too, although memorable pieces can be deceptively simple.

These words are attributed to Chopin, the Polish-born pianist who many thought to be French as he pursued a career in the salons of Paris: Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.


Locus Iste

Locus iste a Deo factus est,
inaestimabile sacramentum;
irreprehensibilis est.
This place was made by God,
a priceless sacrament;
beyond reproach.

Locus Iste Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) written in 1869 for the dedication of the votive chapel of Linz cathedral.

This piece of music could also be described as a priceless sacrament. It’s so easy to be moved, uplifted by such music in spite of being unsure of the existence of God. What is it that makes a piece of music transport the listener to another place?

Certain voices – Janet Baker’s for one, when singing Elgar’s Sea Songs can have a similar effect. I was in my thirties before I became aware of her voice, whereas the slow movement of Schubert’s Quintet in C, and that of Max Bruch’s violin concerto No. 1in G minor both moved me indescribably when I was still in my teens and continue to do so fifty years or more later.

If I were to write a list of music that has such an effect, it would probably run to more than a dozen – without actually stopping to do that, I can’t be sure. Just thinking about it, makes me realise that most of these pieces could be described as sacred music and yet they have the power to move even the ‘doubters’. What is it that makes them so powerful?

Violins and cellos seem to stir deep feelings, but then the powerful sound of the organ in Saint-Saens’ symphony is uplifting but very different.

Do the words have a significance for me? No not really. In fact the words, if they’re in English, can get in the way and distract. Latin words, long since forgotten and never really mastered at school anyway, are just a series of sounds that accompany the music – the voices being like extra members of the orchestra.

Perhaps, just perhaps, if I was subjected to a week’s retreat where I had the opportunity to listen to a continual supply of these pieces of music, I might almost begin to believe. But I somehow think it would take more than that. Maybe, like Levin in Anna Karenina I could be ‘prescribed’ various texts, by friends, but even then ….