A person can scarcely accomplish anything, especially over an extended period of time, without a decisive commitment to the undertaking. One is unlikely to find a productive niche in life by bouncing from endeavor to endeavor. Decisiveness has a value in many settings, certainly here.
Film and Stage
- Shakespeare’s Hamlet (performances by Olivier, Smoktunovskiy, Branagh, and Tennant) is a cautionary tale about indecisiveness
- Billy Liar, about a young man who lives in a fantasy world but cannot make up his mind about what he wants, or whether he cares about anyone but himself
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Beethoven dedicated his Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, “The Emperor” (1811) (approx. 35-40') to Archduke Rudolf, who was his patron and music student. “Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto begins with a bold and unexpected announcement. Four chords in the orchestra, outlining the most elemental harmonic progression (I-IV-V-I), stand as mighty pillars. Each initiates an expansive cadenza from the solo piano. . . These first bars establish the piano as a heroic, convention-defying protagonist.” “In sending his final piano concerto to his publisher, Beethoven clearly admonished: 'The Concerto will be dedicated to the Archduke Rudolph and has nothing in the title but Grand Concerto dedicated to Hs. Imp. Highness the Archduke Rudolph.'” “Beethoven was deeply concerned with the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment, and most particularly with the dilemma of the individual’s right to be free versus society’s need to be governed. Beethoven was among the many thinkers who first believed that as liberator of Europe from monarchies, Napoleon was a champion of human freedom who betrayed this noble cause by arrogating the power and privileges of monarchy to himself.” Top recordings, among many, are by Lamond in 1922, Schnabel in 1932, Ney in 1944, Gieseking in 1945, Edwin Fischer in 1951, Fleisher in 1961, Rubinstein in 1963, Perahia in 1987, Zimerman in 1989, Pollini in 1993, Grimaud in 2006, Bronfman in 2006, Fellner in 2010, Sudbin in 2011, Zimerman in 2021.
- The first movement, Allegro maestoso, begins with the solo pianist unconventionally announcing the theme. This tone of everything-under-control remains throughout the movment. This is music with a powerful sense of purpose.
- The second movement, Adagio un poco mosso, is one of music’s most episodes. Despite the tender tone, the soloist takes charge, as if to reassure everyone that all will be well.
- In the third movement, Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo, soloist and orchestra proceed full steam ahead to a definitive conclusion.
- Klebanov, String Quartet No. 5 (1965) “duly brings an incremental expansion of Klebanov’s idiom in the harmonic astringency and emotional restiveness of its opening movement, qualities distilled in the Andante’s oblique progress towards a fervent climax and quizzical close. The alternatively energetic and pensive Vivace builds to a decisive conclusion.” [Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone magazine, November 2021 issue, p. 51.]
Most people will display a look of pleasure and begin to keep time to music with a strong beat (groove). “The sensation of groove has been defined as the pleasurable desire to move to music, suggesting that both motor timing and reward processes are involved in this experience. . . the sensation of groove is supported by motor and reward networks in the brain . . . the basal ganglia are crucial nodes in networks that interact to generate this powerful response to music.” This positive response probably reflects the natural human craving for certainty. “The pleasure of prediction is more . . . when you listen to music based on repeating patterns.” There is nothing ambiguous about a strong beat, especially when it is loud. People are inclined to like music that is just complex enough to pique their interest, yet is easily followed – is predictable and certain. “Moving to music is an essential human pleasure particularly related to musical groove. Structurally, music associated with groove is often characterised by rhythmic complexity in the form of syncopation, frequently observed in musical styles such as funk, hip-hop and electronic dance music.” “. . . the biological link between movement and auditory rhythms in our species is supported by the capacity of high-groove music to stimulate arousal in the central and peripheral nervous system, presumably via highly conserved noradrenergic mechanisms.” The allure of a strong beat is especially strong in a group setting. “The regularity of musical beat makes it a powerful stimulus promoting movement synchrony among people. Synchrony can increase interpersonal trust, affiliation, and cooperation.” As a result, people in cultures all over the world dig the groove.
- Afro-electronic albums, including Amar 808, “Maghreb United” (2018) (36’); Boddhi Satva, “18” (2020) (179’); Guedra Guedra, “Vexillology” (2021) (39’); Hagan, “Textures” (2022) (47’); ÌFÉ, “IIII + IIII” (2017) (61’); Keleketla!, “Keleketra!” (2020) (68’); Kondi Band, “We Famous” (2021) (36’); Konono No. 1 & Batida, “Konono No 1 Meets Batida” (2016) (61’); Otim Alpha, “Gulu City Anthems” (2017) (66’).
- European groove albums, including Labi Siffre, “Remember My Song” (1974) (53’); Bernard Estardy, “La Formule du Baron” (1999) (37’); Jean-Claude Pelletier, “Streaking” (1973) (40’); Doris, “Did You Give the World Some Love Today Baby” (1969) (66’); Ezy & Isaac, “Soul Rock” (2015) (1974)
- Electronic groove albums, including Drive Like Jehu, “Yank Crime” (1994) (70’); Black Midi, “Schlagenheim” (2019) (43’); Shellac, “At Action Park” (1994) (37’); Polvo, “Today’s Active Lifestyles” (1993) (41’); Don Caballero, “American Don” (2000) (56’); The Fall of Troy, “Doppelgänger” (2005) (45’)
- Latin American eco-tronica albums, including Barrio Lindo, “Fulgor” (2019) (48’); Rodrigo Gallardo & Nicola Cruz, “El Origen” (2017) (40’); Monte, “Mirla” (2020) (32’); Chango Spasiuk & Chancha Via Circuito, “Pino Europeo” (2018) (42’).
- Metal groove albums, including Metallica, “The Black Album” (1991) (938’); Pantera, “Vulgar Display of Power” (1992) (53’); Sepultura, “Chaos A.D.” (1993) (47’); Skinlab, “Disembody: The New Flesh” (1999) (42’); The Haunted, “rEVOLVEr” (2004) (53’); Machine Head, “Burn My Eyes” (1994) (56’); Gojira, “From Mars to Sirius” (2006) (71’); Lamb of God, “Ashes of the Wake” (2004) (66’); Kill II This, “Deviate” (2001) (46’).
Opposite: Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a character study in indecisiveness. Among the musical works inspired by the character are:
- Ambroise Thomas, Hamlet (1868) (approx. 160-200 minutes), an opera about Shakespeare’s most infamously indecisive character. Here are links to performances conducted by Plasson in 2000, de Almeida in 2001, de Billy in 2003, Plasson in 2006, and Niquet in 2011.
- Joseph Summer, Hamlet (2006) (approx. 200 minutes): Here is a link to the premier recording.
- Franz Liszt, Hamlet, S. 104 (Poème symphonique No. 10) (1858) (approx. 15 minutes)
- Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Hamlet (overture – fantasia), Op. 67, TH 53, ČW 50 (1888) (approx. 18-19 minutes)
- Edward MacDowell, Hamlet and Ophelia, Op. 22 (1878) (approx. 17-18 minutes)
Other compositions about indecisiveness:
- Deniz Peters & Simon Rose, “Edith’s Problem”
From the dark side:
- Sloane Crossley, Cult Classic: A Novel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2022): “The key here is a throbbing, urgent ambivalence: Does Lola want to be married, really? Does she want to connect with another person, or is she just looking to get high off the rush of falling in lust? How can anyone make a grand decision about her life if the paths not taken keep popping back up? One thing is for sure: You never really escape your past. You just learn to live around it, or, if you’re lucky, you learn how to make peace with it instead.”