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  • Translator: Timothy Covell Reviewer: Morton Bast

  • Well when I was asked to do this TEDTalk, I was really chuckled,

  • because, you see, my father's name was Ted,

  • and much of my life, especially my musical life,

  • is really a talk that I'm still having with him,

  • or the part of me that he continues to be.

  • Now Ted was a New Yorker, an all-around theater guy,

  • and he was a self-taught illustrator and musician.

  • He didn't read a note,

  • and he was profoundly hearing impaired.

  • Yet, he was my greatest teacher.

  • Because even through the squeaks of his hearing aids,

  • his understanding of music was profound.

  • And for him, it wasn't so much the way the music goes

  • as about what it witnesses and where it can take you.

  • And he did a painting of this experience,

  • which he called "In the Realm of Music."

  • Now Ted entered this realm every day by improvising

  • in a sort of Tin Pan Alley style like this.

  • (Music)

  • But he was tough when it came to music.

  • He said, "There are only two things that matter in music:

  • what and how.

  • And the thing about classical music,

  • that what and how, it's inexhaustible."

  • That was his passion for the music.

  • Both my parents really loved it.

  • They didn't know all that much about it,

  • but they gave me the opportunity to discover it

  • together with them.

  • And I think inspired by that memory,

  • it's been my desire to try and bring it

  • to as many other people as I can,

  • sort of pass it on through whatever means.

  • And how people get this music, how it comes into their lives,

  • really fascinates me.

  • One day in New York, I was on the street

  • and I saw some kids playing baseball between stoops and cars and fire hydrants.

  • And a tough, slouchy kid got up to bat,

  • and he took a swing and really connected.

  • And he watched the ball fly for a second,

  • and then he went, "Dah dadaratatatah.

  • Brah dada dadadadah."

  • And he ran around the bases.

  • And I thought, go figure.

  • How did this piece of 18th century Austrian aristocratic entertainment

  • turn into the victory crow of this New York kid?

  • How was that passed on? How did he get to hear Mozart?

  • Well when it comes to classical music,

  • there's an awful lot to pass on,

  • much more than Mozart, Beethoven or Tchiakovsky.

  • Because classical music

  • is an unbroken living tradition

  • that goes back over 1,000 years.

  • And every one of those years

  • has had something unique and powerful to say to us

  • about what it's like to be alive.

  • Now the raw material of it, of course,

  • is just the music of everyday life.

  • It's all the anthems and dance crazes

  • and ballads and marches.

  • But what classical music does

  • is to distill all of these musics down,

  • to condense them to their absolute essence,

  • and from that essence create a new language,

  • a language that speaks very lovingly and unflinchingly

  • about who we really are.

  • It's a language that's still evolving.

  • Now over the centuries it grew into the big pieces we always think of,

  • like concertos and symphonies,

  • but even the most ambitious masterpiece

  • can have as its central mission

  • to bring you back to a fragile and personal moment --

  • like this one from the Beethoven Violin Concerto.

  • (Music)

  • It's so simple, so evocative.

  • So many emotions seem to be inside of it.

  • Yet, of course, like all music,

  • it's essentially not about anything.

  • It's just a design of pitches and silence and time.

  • And the pitches, the notes, as you know, are just vibrations.

  • They're locations in the spectrum of sound.

  • And whether we call them 440 per second, A,

  • or 3,729, B flat -- trust me, that's right --

  • they're just phenomena.

  • But the way we react to different combinations of these phenomena

  • is complex and emotional and not totally understood.

  • And the way we react to them has changed radically over the centuries,

  • as have our preferences for them.

  • So for example, in the 11th century,

  • people liked pieces that ended like this.

  • (Music)

  • And in the 17th century, it was more like this.

  • (Music)

  • And in the 21st century ...

  • (Music)

  • Now your 21st century ears are quite happy with this last chord,

  • even though a while back it would have puzzled or annoyed you

  • or sent some of you running from the room.

  • And the reason you like it

  • is because you've inherited, whether you knew it or not,

  • centuries-worth of changes

  • in musical theory, practice and fashion.

  • And in classical music we can follow these changes very, very accurately

  • because of the music's powerful silent partner,

  • the way it's been passed on: notation.

  • Now the impulse to notate,

  • or, more exactly I should say, encode music

  • has been with us for a very long time.

  • In 200 B.C., a man named Sekulos

  • wrote this song for his departed wife

  • and inscribed it on her gravestone

  • in the notational system of the Greeks.

  • (Music)

  • And a thousand years later,

  • this impulse to notate took an entirely different form.

  • And you can see how this happened

  • in these excerpts from the Christmas mass "Puer Natus est nobis,"

  • "For Us is Born."

  • (Music)

  • In the 10th century, little squiggles were used

  • just to indicate the general shape of the tune.

  • And in the 12th century, a line was drawn, like a musical horizon line,

  • to better pinpoint the pitch's location.

  • And then in the 13th century, more lines and new shapes of notes

  • locked in the concept of the tune exactly,

  • and that led to the kind of notation we have today.

  • Well notation not only passed the music on,

  • notating and encoding the music changed its priorities entirely,

  • because it enabled the musicians

  • to imagine music on a much vaster scale.

  • Now inspired moves of improvisation

  • could be recorded, saved, considered, prioritized,

  • made into intricate designs.

  • And from this moment, classical music became

  • what it most essentially is,

  • a dialogue between the two powerful sides of our nature:

  • instinct and intelligence.

  • And there began to be a real difference at this point

  • between the art of improvisation

  • and the art of composition.

  • Now an improviser senses and plays the next cool move,

  • but a composer is considering all possible moves,

  • testing them out, prioritizing them out,

  • until he sees how they can form a powerful and coherent design

  • of ultimate and enduring coolness.

  • Now some of the greatest composers, like Bach,

  • were combinations of these two things.

  • Bach was like a great improviser with a mind of a chess master.

  • Mozart was the same way.

  • But every musician strikes a different balance

  • between faith and reason, instinct and intelligence.

  • And every musical era had different priorities of these things,

  • different things to pass on, different 'whats' and 'hows'.

  • So in the first eight centuries or so of this tradition

  • the big 'what' was to praise God.

  • And by the 1400s, music was being written

  • that tried to mirror God's mind

  • as could be seen in the design of the night sky.

  • The 'how' was a style called polyphony,

  • music of many independently moving voices

  • that suggested the way the planets seemed to move

  • in Ptolemy's geocentric universe.

  • This was truly the music of the spheres.

  • (Music)

  • This is the kind of music that Leonardo DaVinci would have known.

  • And perhaps its tremendous intellectual perfection and serenity

  • meant that something new had to happen --

  • a radical new move, which in 1600 is what did happen.

  • (Music) Singer: Ah, bitter blow!

  • Ah, wicked, cruel fate!

  • Ah, baleful stars!

  • Ah, avaricious heaven!

  • MTT: This, of course, was the birth of opera,

  • and its development put music on a radical new course.

  • The what now was not to mirror the mind of God,

  • but to follow the emotion turbulence of man.

  • And the how was harmony,

  • stacking up the pitches to form chords.

  • And the chords, it turned out,

  • were capable of representing incredible varieties of emotions.

  • And the basic chords were the ones we still have with us,

  • the triads,

  • either the major one,

  • which we think is happy,

  • or the minor one,

  • which we perceive as sad.

  • But what's the actual difference between these two chords?

  • It's just these two notes in the middle.

  • It's either E natural,

  • and 659 vibrations per second,

  • or E flat, at 622.

  • So the big difference between human happiness and sadness?

  • 37 freakin' vibrations.

  • So you can see in a system like this

  • there was enormous subtle potential

  • of representing human emotions.

  • And in fact, as man began to understand more

  • his complex and ambivalent nature,

  • harmony grew more complex to reflect it.

  • Turns out it was capable of expressing emotions

  • beyond the ability of words.

  • Now with all this possibility,

  • classical music really took off.

  • It's the time in which the big forms began to arise.

  • And the effects of technology began to be felt also,

  • because printing put music, the scores, the codebooks of music,

  • into the hands of performers everywhere.

  • And new and improved instruments

  • made the age of the virtuoso possible.

  • This is when those big forms arose --

  • the symphonies, the sonatas, the concertos.

  • And in these big architectures of time,

  • composers like Beethoven could share the insights of a lifetime.

  • A piece like Beethoven's Fifth

  • basically witnessing how it was possible

  • for him to go from sorrow and anger,

  • over the course of a half an hour,

  • step by exacting step of his route,

  • to the moment when he could make it across to joy.

  • (Music)

  • And it turned out the symphony could be used for more complex issues,

  • like gripping ones of culture,

  • such as nationalism or quest for freedom

  • or the frontiers of sensuality.

  • But whatever direction the music took,

  • one thing until recently was always the same,

  • and that was when the musicians stopped playing,

  • the music stopped.

  • Now this moment so fascinates me.

  • I find it such a profound one.

  • What happens when the music stops?

  • Where does it go? What's left?

  • What sticks with people in the audience at the end of a performance?

  • Is it a melody or a rhythm

  • or a mood or an attitude?

  • And how might that change their lives?

  • To me this is the intimate, personal side of music.

  • It's the passing on part. It's the 'why' part of it.

  • And to me that's the most essential of all.

  • Mostly it's been a person-to-person thing,

  • a teacher-student, performer-audience thing,

  • and then around 1880 came this new technology

  • that first mechanically then through analogs then digitally

  • created a new and miraculous way of passing things on,

  • albeit an impersonal one.

  • People could now hear music all the time,

  • even though it wasn't necessary

  • for them to play an instrument, read music or even go to concerts.

  • And technology democratized music by making everything available.

  • It spearheaded a cultural revolution

  • in which artists like Caruso and Bessie Smith were on the same footing.

  • And technology pushed composers to tremendous extremes,

  • using computers and synthesizers

  • to create works of intellectually impenetrable complexity

  • beyond the means of performers and audiences.

  • At the same time technology,