18 Oct 2012


A friend sent me a CD recently and asked me to have a look at the booklet.

The CD was a remix of Paula Tsui’s songs. In the booklet, Chet Lam described Paula as a respectable singer who insisted to do her own music with little regard to the trend.

The analogy I immediately recalled was Franz Schubert. A prolific composer who wrote almost a thousand pieces before he died at 32, Schubert was unfortunately not very much treasured during his days. The audience then favored ‘grand’ pieces, and his romantic style was too soft for their taste. Several decades after his death, his works became increasingly popular. Of course, similar stories are just all too common among artists. When people become history, we can finally filter out the influence of trend and see their true worth.

To sidetrack a bit, Schubert’s works were also mentioned in Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami. In one scene, Oshima talked about Schubert’s Piano Sonata in D.

“It’s a tough piece to master. Some pianists can play one or maybe two of the movements perfectly, but if you listen to all four movements as a unified whole, no one has ever nailed it. A lot of famous pianists have tried to rise to the challenge, but it’s like there’s always something missing. There’s never one where you can say, ‘Yes! He’s got it!’ Do you know why?”

“No,” I reply.

“Because the sonata itself is imperfect. Robert Schumann understood Schubert’s sonatas well, and he labeled this one ‘Heavenly Tedious’.”

“If the composition’s imperfect, why would so many pianists try to master it?”

“Good question,” Oshima says, and pauses as music fills in the silence. “I have no great explanation for it, but one thing I can say. Works that have a certain imperfection to them have an appeal for that very reason – or at least they appeal to certain types of people. Just like you’re attracted to Soseki’s The Miner. There’s something in it that draws you in, more than more fully realized novels like Kokoro or Sanshiro. You discover something about that work that tugs at your heart – or maybe we should say the work discovers you. Schubert’s Sonata in D Major is sort of the same thing.”

I knew Schubert’s sonata was not popular but did not know it was imperfect. I knew what I was doing was imperfect but did not know it was not popular. In any case, I will continue to do what I think is right. And thanks for the CD.

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