Since I spend in the neighborhood of 1.5-2 hours a day fighting traffic among the incompetent motorists of the Denver Metro Area, I've been listening to lectures from The Teaching Company, an outfit that sells college-level audio and video courses for snotty yuppies like myself seeking to enhance their abilities to impress people at cocktail parties. I made it through the very interesting History of Christian Theology and I'm now approaching the halfway point of How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, hoping to correct the dearth of proper music appreciation in my upbringing.
As with any course it's nice when you figure something out before the professor explains it to you. Such a thing happened to me when I tried to listen to Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 while working at work. Here's a little experiment for you. Play this video and, while listening to the music, try to do anything else.
If you're like me, you won't be able to concentrate at all after a few minutes, and the incessant onslaught of harpsichord notes will start to feel like needles poking you in the scalp.*
Now try it with Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, Second Movement:
A little easier, yeah?
According to the professor, this illustrates a big difference between music from the Baroque and Classical Eras. Both pieces are extremely sophisticated and complex, but the Bach's complexity is right up in your face, and tends to soak up all of your available attention. Mozart's piece hides its complexity under the surface so the immediate experience of the music is more subtle and relaxing.
This is probably old news to most people but I thought it was interesting.
* Just to be clear, I love this piece by Bach, I just can't listen to it while trying to devote my brain to other activities. It's like trying to watch The Seventh Sign while doing housework.
P.S. As an added bonus, here's another piece from the course that I really like, with a connection to one of our own CH bloggers.