Teju Cole on Classical Music

Teju Cole
Teju Cole

Back in February, Van Magazine, an independent publication that celebrates classical music, published an interview with the writer Teju Cole. On his engagement with classical music, Cole reveals:

“I’m not educated in it at all. I grew up in Nigeria, and I was there until I was 17 years old. [I heard] a bit of classical music passively, just because my dad had some LPs lying around. There were some compilation cassettes in the car that we’d hear on the way to school. There would be a Bach Sonata, followed by smooth jazz, or whatever. I certainly did not think of it as a separate category of music, and also there was not a whole lot of it.

But when I came to the U.S. for college, my inner autodidact kicked in, and I became fully absorbed both in jazz and classical music. I remember my two most intense initial experiences were with Mahler and Beethoven. I had a Beethoven’s ‘Greatest Hits” tape that I bought from Walmart, and I just wore it out with repeated playing. And I think this was my first experience of repetitive listening that didn’t settle down into a simple pleasure; that always revealed new information. With pop music, after a while you’ve heard what’s in there, and you listen to it again because it’s a reliable pleasure. But the experience of listening a 12th time and discovering a new instrumental line, or a new piece of the compositional logic, was new to me. And I sort of fell in love with this layering, this endlessness, of great composed music. By 1996, the only real ambition I had in life was to have three recordings of every Mahler symphony.”

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