Bloganuary: “What is a song or poem that speaks to you and why?”

This question is both easy and hard, as I could go in so many directions. I was surrounded by literature and music as a child and have carried some favorites with me throughout life, revisiting as one might a smorgasbord.

I recently got to thinking that it’s almost time for me to enjoy my yearly listen to Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird, a piece of music that has been with me since early childhood. I say “yearly listen,” because I ration my listening to it, as otherwise, I am a little afraid it could someday lose its magic. The Firebird is one of those few works of art that never fails to bring me to tears every time. I know full well this is going to happen, too; the catharsis is everything.

When I was under the age of eight, I loved two versions of The Firebird, both on vinyl (here I age myself). I can’t remember the identity of the standard orchestrated version, who was the conductor, and so on – but the other version was an otherworldly electronic adaptation, performed on synthesizers by Isao Tomita, a Japanese pioneer of electronic music. I remember well the cover of Tomita’s album, emblazoned with a fierce-looking, shocking pink and red phoenix. I had free access to the turntable, and used to dance to it unabashedly. As a child, I had no clue it was written as a ballet; the dance just seemed like the correct thing to do.

VIDEO: Stravinsky: The Firebird performed by the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Maestro Valery Gergiev. I like this version because the conductor completely loses himself here. He’s like a medium inhabited by a spirit. The music for me, too, is trance-inducing. I’m a little annoyed by the ambivalent looking people in the audience – I’d kill to see this performed live.

The “why” to today’s question is complicated. I understand this music differently than I did when I was a child, but still love it for the same reasons, some of which are intuitive. Even before I learned about the piece’s foundation in Russian folklore, it always seemed to me a fantastical fairy tale. It has a clear storyline, a villain, pathos, romance, and triumph. The time signature changes, from the low, opening double-bass notes to the fiery brass at the finale, are extraordinary, and impart incredible drama and texture to the piece. The word “fearless” comes to mind when I think of its composition.

VIDEO: Here’s Tomita’s version in all its glory. If you are a newbie to Firebird, I recommend giving the Vienna Phil a listen first, then try this one.

I also love the piece simply because it is a sentimental favorite, and a relic of my childhood fantasy world. I adored this piece before I studied music and developed anything that could be construed as “taste.” I always want to follow along to the end, even though I already know the story.

2 thoughts on “Bloganuary: “What is a song or poem that speaks to you and why?”

  1. I love music as well but I can not come close to your ability to break it down and bring it to life the way that you did here. I am not a listener of “classical” music but this for sure wants me to fire up my satellite radio and seek it out. Thank you, this was wonderful to read.

    Liked by 1 person

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