Before reading this, click play on the video above. Watching it is not important, but the sound will (I hope) do something for you. The song is Liebestraume (translated, “A Dream of Love”) by Hungarian virtuoso pianist Franz Liszt. It is, without question, one of the most beautiful single compositions for piano ever written.
Yesterday, as I got ready for an important meeting, I began to hum the melody of this song. It’s one of those melodies that stays with the listener, uncomplicated, natural, easily carried along in one’s head, showing up when least expected. I first heard this piece as a teenager; it was on a CD (remember those?) that my mother bought me while I was still taking piano lessons. Most of the music on that CD I never learned to play, but Liebestraume stuck with me, its captivating, almost mysterious melody giving me an imagination for what I perhaps could learn to play one day.
As I hummed along yesterday, it occurred to me that to Hungarians, Franz Liszt is more than just some ancient composer — he is a giant on the world’s stage, a source of pride for the Hungarian people, and his legacy is still very apparent today, as the airport and many other things in Budapest bear his name. In feeling a certain nostalgic connection to a great composition like Liebestraume, I am in a small way identifying with an element of Hungarian culture that has been incredibly important to generations of Hungarians, oppressed in modern times, struggling now to regain a place of international admiration and prestige. Liszt for them is like a window into the golden period of their nation.
I Don’t Like Classical Music
I stated clearly (I hope) yesterday that I don’t like classical music. While I play it at times for utilitarian purposes in my home, and while I might have some basic knowledge of great composers and compositions, I cannot impress anyone with my knowledge of classical music. Though I even won a state piano competition as a high schooler, playing Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C Sharp Minor (I did always wish that piece had a more compelling name), even the most average of music students is likely to know more classical pieces than I. I don’t really like classical music. But I appreciate it greatly.
There is something to be said for this word appreciate. In all the literature about leadership and developing one’s strengths, it seems that it has lost its significance in our modern vocabulary. Whereas education once pushed people to have an appreciation for a wide variety of things, today’s professional and popular culture encourages one to concentrate only on those things toward which one is already naturally predisposed.
Now, of course some of this attitude is good. Few of us are true Renaissance men, and it is important to recognize one’s unique contribution to any group or society. However, this is an attitude that has seemed to pervade our thinking in modern times, so much so that we have lost an appreciation for appreciation.
Do It For Love.
Why would I do things I don’t want to do? Ironically, the answer is in the title of the song at the beginning of this post. Anyone who has been married or spent any time in a meaningful relationship can attest to the idea that true love at times can be an exercise in doing things one has no personal interest in doing. As men, why do we buy flowers or tickets to operas? Why would we clean the house when we don’t want to? Why would we waste time developing an interest for things which we don’t find interesting? It is not for ourselves, but for those we love. As we love them, they become part of us, and their lives become in some peculiar way extensions of the life we live ourselves.
But what then, of the bachelor? Has one who is socially unconnected any reason to expand his proclivities to those things he doesn’t personally find captivating? I would posit that he does.
In opening ourselves up to new things, we are able to show love to those close to us, and at the same time we also make ourselves into people who are more able to be loved. In appreciating the interests of other people, we give people the ability to appreciate us. In this way, the opening of oneself brings rewards and is also in itself its own reward.
And in strengthening our ability to appreciate things we don’t necessarily like, we share community with all those who have sacrificed their own desires so that we could enjoy the things we do. We see farther only because of the giants on whose shoulders we stand. At some point, every man must bear an undeserved burden for benefits they will not themselves fully enjoy. But bearing that burden makes us stronger, more mature, and helps us become the people we were created to be.