We are speeding up to a gradual slowing down. It sounds paradoxical. But after the accelerando towards chaos comes the molto moderato, where everything slows down as it nears a semi-permanent state of disorder. The task of today’s Markets and Money is to make sense of this horribly mixed musical metaphor and see if it tells you anything about the stock market.
The world’s cashed-up middle class have reached the molto moderato stage of the composition that is their life. We’re not a musicologist. But for the purpose of today’s Markets and Money, we’ll define molto moderato as an increasingly moderate tempo in life. It’s in contrast with accelerando-the normal state of an expanding system (cheap credit and cheap energy).
Slowing things down at a faster pace is what you do as you get older. People do it. Cultures do it too. Music is an insight into both the composer and the culture. Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 is so energetic and dynamic you can use it as the soundtrack in an animated cartoon skit.
But in fact it emerged as a kind of soundtrack for the times, too. It was composed in 1847, right on the cusp of an epidemic in European revolutions. The industrial revolutions destabilised traditional agrarian European society. That social instability became political instability. Liszt was from Hungary, a country that had its own revolution in 1848. The music captures the time.
It continued to do so in the 20th century. The first time you see the Hungarian Rhapsody show up in a cartoon, it’s 1929 and Mickey Mouse stars in The Opry House. Fans of the Geelong Football Club should pay special attention at 2:00. That’s where you’ll hear a snippet from Les Torreadors in George Bizet’s Carmen. It’s the same music Geelong uses for its team song, which shows you how cultured footy actually is.
Mickey launches into Lizst at the 4:35 mark and all the animals in the audience love it. This must have given Fritz Freleng the inspiration for Rhapsody in Rivets. That was a 1941 animation of an American skyscraper being built by a symphony of construction workers. It was a country on the move – onward and upward!
In 1946 – after the end of the Second World War – Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 2. shows up again in the seven minute Bugs Bunny skit Rhapsody Rabbit, produced by Freleng at Warner Brothers. This skit is arguably better than the one we featured yesterday, The Cat Concerto. That featured Tom and Jerry and was produced by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, two names made unforgettable if you watched cartoons on a Saturday morning.
The Cat Concerto and Rhapsody Rabbit came out at nearly the same time. They’re similar skits. Both studios accused the other of plagiarism. But maybe the timing was coincidental, or emergent. That is, maybe multiple people can have the same idea at the same in history because, as Victor Hugo wrote, it’s an idea ‘whose time has come’.
Compare those cartoons and that music with Artur Schnable‘s rendition of the first movement of Schubert’s Piano Sonata D. 960. Piano Sonatas 958, 959, and 960 were Schubert’s last three piano compositions. He wrote them in 1828, the last year of his life. They were not published until about 10 years later.
Schnable’s performance that we’ve linked to above was performed in 1939, on the eve of the Second World War. There is enough pathos in the piece to begin with, given that Schubert knew he was at death’s door by the age of 31. The tempo of the piece matches the tempo and the feeling of his life. Schnable must’ve felt that when he played it in 1939.
But our mission today was not to give you an amateur and hackneyed version of musical history and cartoons. Our mission was to point out that things happen when they must. And as they happen, the signs in the culture are all around you, in the politics, the music, the sport, and yes, the markets. Tomorrow, the final movement.
for Markets and Money
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