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Expressivity & Expression




Craig Schweickertwrote wrote:
(...) the lute has a more intimate sound. All in all, I find the lute a more "human" instrument, the lute-harspichord more a machine. As a result, an adept lutenist like Smith can make his instrument speak and sing in ways that a lute-harpsichordist can't. (He cringes, waiting for the thunderbolt from BPL...) The keyboard instrument closest to the lute in scale and expressiveness is the clavichord, and it's interesting that Bach is reported to have often played the Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin on that instrument, not the lute-harpsichord.

Bradlery Lehman wrote:
Thunderbolt? No, I agree with you. The lute is much more expressive than the lute-harpsichord, for the reasons you pointed out. Especially when it's played by somebody as good as Smith is. The player's fingers have direct contact with the strings, starting and stopping the sound and controlling the tone and dynamics...a range of expressive possibilities limited only by a player's skill and imagination (which in Smith's case seems to be nearly unlimited).

And that's not to mention the fancy stuff such as playing different notes with a unison pair of strings ("splitting the courses"), as in the works of Bakfark.... Good lutenists can do things that we keyboard players can only dream of and wish for. We're constrained to play the strings only by proxy, even when the mechanism is as simple and direct as a clavichord's is.

And on some lute-harpsichords there are registers with no dampers: that is, the player has absolutely no control over the end of the notes, they just resonate until they're done.

I don't know about Hopkinson Smith being related to Francis Hopkinson Smith; but I do know he's a cousin of Baroque violinist Sarah Sumner. She told me about "cousin Hoppy."

Jim Morrison wrote:
Hmmm, one wonders if Brad isn't playing some kind of semantic game with us here. Perhaps if we'd asked him if he thought that a regular harpsichord (say Italian), rather than a lute-harpsichord, was less expressive than a lute if he would had said 'yes' so easily. Brad, if you've got the time, could you write in a little about what you mean by 'expressive?' Volume dynamics? Tremolo? Vibrato? Is there a pretty firm understanding of the term 'expressive' in the music world? I'm simply an uneducated outsider asking what could be a silly elementary question. Is a lute more expressive than a piano, another keyboard instrument in which the fingers of the performer do not come in contact with the strings. On the face of it, this finger on the string aspect of the lute seems relatively trivial to me. Think of all the boring harp and guitar players we've all heard. And if the lute is much more expressive than a lute-harpsichord, or perhaps harpsichord in general, why play the lute-harpsichord at all? What does one gain when playing a harpsichord that one doesn't get with a lute? How does all this relate to the old harpsichord or piano debate? Are Hopkinson Smith's discs really more expressive than Parmentier's. O'Dette's more so than Baiano's? Gallagher's more than Landowska's? Surely that can't be what is meant. It's certainly doesn't sound like anything Brad would say, but I'm wondering how he would avoid being pressed into this position? How about Craig? Do you think the Smith recordings that you've heard are more 'expressive' than, say Verlet's Froberger and Couperin? As much as I've been transfixed by Smith's work, I'm still not comfortable saying something like that.

Puzzled Jim (who finds himself in the very Twilight Zone position of defending the harpsichord against Brad?!? ;-)

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 22, 2002):
All these questions! Hmm, where to begin?

I'd say: yes, a lute is more expressive than a regular harpsichord. I'd put them in this order from most expressive to least (always of course assuming a good quality example of each instrument): lute, clavichord, regular harpsichord, lute-harpsichord. A mechanical-action pipe organ has about the same level of finger-controlled expressivity as a harpsichord; an electric-action pipe organ has less. A piano and a fortepiano are also there somewhere in the middle, about the same as harpsichord: less than clavichord, but definitely more than lute-harpsichord. I'd say a guitar is in there at about the same level as clavichord, but less than lute (a lute's frets are movable...).

I think some of it goes back to things I was saying a month or two ago about how few moving parts an instrument has. Those with fewer parts put the player into more direct contact with the physical production of the sound: its beginning, the tone during the note, the end, in addition to all the subtleties of articulation and timing. The human voice, a drum, a lute, a clavichord, a cornetto: these are so direct. Harpsichords, organs, and (especially) pianos are much more complicated machines. They abstract the tonal production into nice pre-packaged sounds. It's a trade-off: they let the player produce more notes simultaneously with facility and brilliance, and usually with more volume...but they take away the player's control during a note. A player cannot shape the volume, the pitch, or the tonal envelope during a note on organ, piano, or harpsichord; s/he can only control the events at the beginning and the end. That's the price to pay for the mechanical advantages. (I'd also say that harpsichordists have much more control over pitch subtleties than pianists do, but we're getting into a different area here.) OK, OK, a drummer also can't control the sound during a note....

What is expressivity? Let me try a definition. "The ability to make each moment sound exactly right for the music: a balance of variety and consistency, a range of possibilities controlled in an orderly and imaginative sequence, to communicate something through and beyond the notes." Some instruments offer a wider range of possibilities than others, moment to moment. Every mechanical design gives some advantages and some disadvantages. When an instrument offers eighteen thousand things that must be controlled at the same time (pitch, tone color, articulation, release, rhythmic placement, volume, tonal shape, connection within a phrase, weighting against other simultaneous notes, difference of attack/release against other simultaneous notes, pronunciation, control of the room's space, control of an audience's attention, ..., ..., ...), it's no wonder that players choose to focus on only several of those elements at the same time, maybe just one or two. We're only human, and even the most omni-attentive have limitations. The player's attention has to be focused somewhere for the music to make sense moving forward. It's nice in some ways that some instruments take care of many of those elements by themselves, so the player can focus on others.

In the end I still think this comes around more to a player's imagination and soul and commitment than to any question of the instrument (or voice) being played. A great player is going to do things that transcend the limitations of the machinery being used: controlling the passage of time in a way that's about more than mere notes and phrases. The player, not the tool, makes the music. People such as Hoppy Smith, W Hazelzet, P Wispelwey, S McNair, S Richter, S Rachmaninoff, B Streisand, W Landowska, P Casals, A Lawrence-King... have such an amazing range of expressivity that it hardly matters what instrument (or voice) they're using. We hear their thoughts, their imagination, some portion of their soul communicated directly through the music as they react to every moment and make it special. It's the players who are expressive, and secondarily the instruments.

There are a number of dimensions here, intersecting at various angles. Some instruments offer more expressive range than others, absolutely: more options that need to be controlled simultaneously. Some players (as players) have more range than others, more possibilities they can deploy, a combination of skill and imagination. Some players can transcend their instruments. Sommusic is more expressive than other music. Some audiences are more receptive to expressive range than other audiences. Some days are more conducive to good range than other days! There are all these continuums crossing one another.... And it's the musician's job to pick some suitable path through that multi-dimensional field, using the best of his/her ability to express whatever the piece at hand has in it, according to the possibilities of whatever instrument is in use, according to the needs and possibilities of each specific occasion.

How's that for the quick and simple answer? Should I veer more into metaphysics?

You mentioned boring guitarists and harpists. It's not the guitar's or the harp's fault if it's just means the player picked some path that doesn't show much expressivity, on this particular occasion in this particular music. Yes?

Why do people play the lute-harpsichord? Because it sounds nice, makes a pleasant effect. That plus at least some hagiographic influence: Bach's biographies said he had one, so therefore we assume it must be great, so therefore it gets played. Every instrument needs at least one hero.

Pete Blue wrote (May 22, 2002):
I'll probably provoke the ire of all with this post, but I find these threads comparing the "expressivity" of instruments or performers, divorced from what they're expressing, to be pointless and resulting only in truisms. The only meaningful discussion of such matters is in relation to THE MUSIC (and not just the score). All the enlightening threads on this List, and there have been many, center thereon. Am I missing something? I find golf pointless, too.

Jim Morrison wrote (May 22, 2002):
[To Pete Blue] Just got those emails on 'expression' and haven't digested them yet, but I'd like to say I'm sympathetic to Pete Blue's position. If we're having trouble finding lute recordings/concerts that are more 'expressive' than the best (pick what you mean by best) most expressive harpsichord recordings, then I think that fact calls into question the idea that one instrument is more expressive than the other. Perhaps performer and music matter so much that questions of the expressability of their instruments are trivial.

I'm not trying to say the harpsichord is more expressive than the lute. I'm just not sure that ranking instrument in terms of expressivity is a possible measurment (what are the units? expressions) or even useful if it can be done. What do we do with such knowledge? Lament that Leonhardt didn't play the lute instead of the harpsichord? Ah, the expressions that have been lost.

more later

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 22, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] As instruments, the clavichord is more expressive (offers more possibilities moment to moment, offers more options that need to be controlled) than the lute-harpsichord. Absolutely.

But: Robert Hill playing lute-harpsichord is more expressive than Robert Hill playing clavichord. He sounds more comfortable with controlling the lute-harpsichord's expressive resources (mostly limited to issues of timing) than he does with controlling the clavichord's resources. That is, on lute-harpsichord more of Hill's own expressive range comes out. And Robert Hill on regular harpsichord is better than Robert Hill on either clavichord or lute-harpsichord. He's able to control all the harpsichord's resources, which are more than a lute-harpsichord physically has.

Ditto for Leonhardt: he's best at harpsichord and organ, and less interesting when he plays clavichord or fortepiano; he's also made at least one recording playing viola da gamba. Hoppy Smith is better on lute and vihuela than he is on guitar (I have a Sor CD of his, Astree 8730). Andrew Lawrence-King is better on harp than he is on harpsichord. Mikhail Pletnev is better at piano than he is at conducting. These people are all very fine at their alternate media, but they're best at their specialty.

As I said yesterday (and various times earlier), it comes around more to player than instrument. Players who perform on more than one instrument are of course more comfortable on one than another. That's because the various instruments do offer more or fewer resources than one another, and different types of resources. They are good at different things.

Pete Blue wrote (May 22, 2002):
[To Bradley Lehman]
Your post seems (I say in all modesty!) to support my point. Your observations are so obviously true, they're truisms. Let me apply the proposition: a modern piano is more expressive than a harpsichord, to performers I know who have recorded on both instruments. My conclusions:

(1) Rosalyn Tureck is more expressive on the piano than on the harpsichord.

(2) Wanda Landowska is more expressive on the harpsichord than on the piano.

(3) Keith Jarrett is inexpressive on both.

I don't see anything enlightening in what I just said (there may be a chuckle in there). It's just raw opinion.

As for the topic of lute-harpsichord vs. lute, I also don't see the point of a comparative analysis. I've enjoyed my Kim Heindel CD for years, and it never occurred to me to compare his expressivity to any lutenist's.

Jim Morrison wrote (May 22, 2002):
< But: Robert Hill playing lute-harpsichord is more expressive than Robert Hill playing clavichord. He sounds more comfortable with controlling the lute-harpsichord's expressive resources (mostly limited to issues of timing) than he does with controlling the clavichord's resources. That is, on lute-harpsichord more of Hill's own expressive range comes out. And Robert Hill on regular harpsichord is better than Robert Hill on either clavichord or lute-harpsichord. He's able to control all the harpsichord's resources, which are more than a lute-harpsichord physically has. >
How about Brad and I try agreeing for a second and then see if that can take us somewhere later.

I agree that Hill's harpsichord recordings are more expressive (in some sense, though I'm still trying to reconcile Brad's definition with what I more intuitively understand as expression) than his lute-harpsichord recordings. And his lute-harpsichord recordings are more expressive than his clavichord recordings.

Who would argue that the Franco/Flemish harpsichord, with its louder volume, more colorful harmonics, larger keyboard, different manuals and different stops is in some clear ways more 'expressive' than a clavichord. Which one is 'absolutely' more expressive, I'm not comfortable saying.

Pete Blue wrote (Maay 22, 2002):
[To Jim Morrison] I still don't get it. You seem to agree with Brad that Hill plays Insrument A more expressively than Instrument B and plays Insturment B more expressively than Instrument C. And Brad is willing to say categorically (though you aren't) that Instrument A has a greater capacity for expression than Instrument B and Instrument B has a greater capacity for expression than Instrument C. But what if somebody plays the less expressive instrument more expressively? If both statements about expressivity mean something, wouldn't that situation be a rarity, if not an impossibility? But it's not. In the clavichord world, for example, Richard Troeger comes to mind, and my beloved old Thurston Dart's French Suites, and maybe Ralph Kirkpatrick's WTK. (Others will no doubt have better examples.)

Sorry, but I haven't learned anything from your discussion. What you and Brad are saying borders on tautology: if an instrument or a performance is more expressive, it's more expressive; if less, it's less.

Peter Bright wrote (May 22, 2002):
< (3) Keith Jarrett is inexpressive on both. >
I think we should add "in his Bach playing" to the above - his (piano) playing can be extraordinarily expressive in some of his improvisatory workouts in the field of jazz...

Michael Grover wrote (May 22, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] Hrmph. This admitted amateur enjoys Jarrett's flute(recorder)-harpsichord sonatas with Michala Petri, but I know I'm in the minority there. Haven't heard any of his solo Bach.

Donald Satz wrote (May 22, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] I find Jarrett's set of Bach's French Suites on harpsichord to be a fine one. Generally, I think his Bach is much better on harpsithan piano because of his very smooth playing.

Jim Morrison wrote (May 22, 2002):
Yeah, I think we're having trouble adequately sharing vocabulary at the moment to carry on the thread at a depth of conversation that we'd like to be able to. Probably not worth the trouble right now to puzzle it out and get us all on the same page. Thanks for trying though. Let me end my section of the thread by recommendation those Dart French Suites on clavichord, an instrument I happen to enjoy lisetning to. Some people think I'm got some finicial incentive by recommending Brad's recordings as much as I do. But I don't and I really think they are first-rate clavichord discs.

Jim (who is now very gun-shy about using the word 'expression' and will soon put on Smith's Mouton disc for the first time and try not to think of the word at all)

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 22, 2002):
[To Pete Blue] Heh, I hear you, Pete. But let's take this observation to an absurd extreme to show why it's not a tautology. Which is more expressive, absolutely: a piano or a pair of maracas? And consequently which is more difficult to play as well as it can be played? The more expressive an instrument is, offering possibilities that must be controlled, the more difficult it is. People can play reasonably well on difficult instruments, sure, but I'm talking about the type of playing that is at the pinnacle of achievement. QED.

And I have a cherished LP of one of my heroes, Pablo Casals, who grunted: "A piano can be much more expressive than a, uh, uh, clavicembalo. Then why not accept the music of Bach with a piano?" In defense of both Casals' taste and the harpsichord, I hasten to add: the harpsichords available in Casals' day were pretty awful examples of harpsichords. They were the type that caused his esteemed colleague (Sir Thomas Beecham, Baronet) to remark: "The harpsichord sounds like two skeletons copulating on a tin roof."

I agree with both Casals and Beecham, a bad harpsichord (the only kind they knew) sounds like garbage and has no expressivity. So does a bad piano. But a good harpsichord and a good piano are both so expressive and so difficult to play well that one can always learn more, always improve oneself in their mastery. I don't know that I'd say the same thing about maracas, a less expressive instrument. What is there besides shaking them a few different ways?

Someone, I forget who, observed that "there are two instruments that are acceptable to play badly in public: the piano and the guitar." That just makes the achievements of Segovia and Rachmaninoff all the greater, by comparison. Last night I listened to both volumes of "A Window in Time," the Telarc CDs of Rachmaninoff's piano rolls from the 1920s. Whether he was playing first-rate or third-rate music, Rachmaninoff's performances were stunning, especially in his control of rhythmic nuance and dynamic shading. (That's obvious both in his acoustic/electrical recordings and these piano rolls.) Every note, every phrase, every nuance has meaning and direction, and astonishing control in the service of boundless imagination. Nobody, nobody has played a piano better than that in the past century; maybe a few have played as well, in different ways, but this is the pinnacle. He conducted almost that well, too. With a musical personality that strong, it doesn't matter much what the medium is, as long as it's adequate for the performer's expressive skills. Somehow I don't think Rachmaninoff would have done as well with a pair of maracas; they're not expressive enough.

Peter Bright wrote (Maay 22, 2002):
[To Bradley Lehman] Hmm, so the harpsichords in Casal's day sounded like copulating skeletons on a tin roof. Well, I kind of like Landowska's Goldbergs from around the same period. Should I be worried about my psychosexual health?

Pete Blue wrote (Maay 23, 2002):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thank you for your measured reply to my rant. I do have criticisms, though, of your piano vs. maracas contest. A pair of maracas, instruments with no fixed pitch, is not intended to be expressive like a piano and in any case is but one of a panoply of percussion. If you had contrasted Rachmaninoff to, say, Evelyn Glennie, then you might be able to evaluate the expressivity of fixed-pitch vs. non-fixed-pitch instruments in the hands of masters. Or vocal expression: for example, Peter Pears, whose singing at times came perilously near to speech, versus the young John Gielgud, who was said to "sing" the role of Hamlet. These contests may not be fruitful but are at least fair.

Trevor Evans-Young wrote (May 2, 2002):
[To Michael Grover] I agree. I really enjoy the flute sonatas and have his Goldbergs which I enjoy also. I don't remember it being inexpressive.

Pete Blue wrote (May 23, 2002):
[To Trevor Evans-Young] This defensive thread was apparently prompted by my putdown of Jarrett, which was meant to be amusing in context. I was discussing solely the issue of modern piano vs. harpsichord and thus was referring exclusively to Jarrett's WTK, which he recorded on both piano (Book I) and harpsichord (Book II). I didn't think it necessary to mention that Jarrett is indisputably one of the greatest jazz artists and I did not mean for my remark to extend to his other Bach recordings.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 24, 2002):
[To Peter Bright] I also like both of Landowska's recordings of the Goldbergs, and most of her other Bach. Don't worry.

“Romantic' expression is fundamentally different from 'baroque' expression"

Pete Blue wrote (May 19, 2003):
I find the subject quote, which is from Johan's post replying to Izabela, provocative but needing discussion. Johan wrote:
< If there is any composer of the 18th century, who is very German, then it is Bach. So I would say: yes, Bach should be performed the 'German way'. If there is such a thing as a German style of singing, I am not sure. The difference between British and German performances of Bach have a lot to do with pronunciation, articulation, stressing of words and syllables etc. And in Bach the text is certainly more important than in Händel's operas.

Unlike you I don't care about the 'old-fashioned' performances of Bach's vocal music. I'm not saying they are not expressive, but - for example - the SMP as recorded by Mengelberg is expressive in a romantic way, in that it is the music that moves, whereas in good, expressive HIP-performances it is the strong relationship between text and music that moves. For me the criterion is: what did Bach want to deliver? In my view: not music, but text - more precise: the meaning of the text. If only the music moves, the performance doesn't deliver what Bach wanted to tell.

'Expression' isn't the same for everyone or for every period in music history. 'Romantic' expression is fundamentally different from 'baroque' expression. >
BUT read the following remarks made by Enoch von Guttenberg in his interview, to be found (in three languages but here in the awkward English translation) on the Farao Classics website, concerning his new recording of the SMP (and see Paul's useful post from last week about that recording):

"...[M}y personal affinity to the Gospel ... I still place above the music itself. For Bach wanted to serve the Gospel with his music. And the absurd thing is, if you try to live the Gospel as Bach evidently wanted, you are decried a Romantic -- a reproach I have been confronted with for 30 years.... I excessively work with the knowhow of the historical performance and must state: if you go through with it without concessions, the circle suddenly closes and you arrive exactly at those positions again for which you were decried a Romantic."

[Guttenberg cites the example of the five contrasting textual and harmonic settings of the Passion chorale in the SMP and states that, unlike the usual practce in HIP performances, they must be interpreted in five different ways:] " ... I am responsible for showing Bach's different intentions for performing each chorale according to its text and its harmony. And I do not take this for Romanticism, but for a necessity arising from the composition itself."

I infer from the above (the entire is worth reading) that Guttenberg's premises are similar to Johan's -- for both, the text comes first -- but his conclusion is the opposite -- that "Romantic" and "Baroque" can be not only not different, but identical. Or is this a misreading on my part?

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 19, 2003):
[To Pete Blue] "Romantic" and "Baroque" (whatever those silly posthumous terms mean, anyway) expression? I think I see where the distinction is coming from, and what it's supposed to be, but these really should both be subsumed under "Enough" expression. When the music is played/sung with enough expression, it makes its case. When it isn't, it's dead.

Here's a cross-posting of mine from the BachCantatas list, just a bit ago:
Thomas Braatz wrote: (...)
So it appears that Goethe and Schweitzer (on his real life of Christ research) are sending necessary warning signals that we should not allow our present-day arrogant views color our understanding of the past. It does not prevent us from engaging in historical research, it only warns us of the dangers that easily present themselves when we think we have 'a lock' on what people in an earlier period really thought and felt (for instance, how the members of the congregation attending the Leipzig church services might be 'bored out of their minds' if Bach did not dream up wildly dramatic 'gestures' to wake them up out of their stupor.) >

There are also dangers when people make arrogant assumptions about authenticity, and arrogant assumptions about what the performers are trying to accomplish.

Look. I really don't care very much about how the people in Leipzig c1730 thought and felt; they are dead. I don't care to try to reproduce the sounds they heard, either, other than as a rather morbid museum curiosity. We live in a different time, a different place, and all those people are dead. The past is gone. If they were bored, that's their problem. If they were moved to ecstasy, good for them. Nifty. But they're still dead now.

I'm saying, and have been saying all along: when we perform this music today it needs the clear gestures if it is to get through to people who are not sitting there with scores and libretti, that is, ordinary people. (And it also gets through better to people who DO have the scores and libretti, nudging them to listen with their ears first rather than their eyes.) If we want the music to sound 'alive' and relevant today, it must be put across vividly...vividly, 'alive', with attentiveness to the gestures that are in the music, rather than downplaying them (making them too subtle). Vif, life. The musical term vivace does not mean "fast," it means "lively," with life. The music comes across as a living thing, happening right there in the moment. All music of consequence is vivace whether the composer has troubled to say so or not. Even the music that is adagio ("at ease") must still be alive, vivace; a relaxed person or animal is still breathing and moving. The music is alive, and the listener responds to it with attention, as if it were a person or animal right there in the room. Animal, anima, life, with a soul. A piece of music is a living thing. Living things move and breathe and are flexible and irregular and they react to stimuli. Dead things are ossified, stiff, frozen in time, unchanging, unresponsive. They have no dynamics: they don't move. Things in museums, if they were ever alive, are definitely dead now.

Historical research (in performance practice, music theory, composition, organology, biography, aesthetics, ...) is of value insofar as it suggests expressive possibilities that may not have occurred to the performers otherwise. It gives the performers a bigger toolkit of imagination to work with, and a broader selection of materials, and a more useful collection of instruction booklets. Performers are not REQUIRED to use those particular tools or ideas, the ones contemporary with the work; but the selection of those tools and the appropriate instructions often make the task of communicating the work considerably easier.

Things are easiest to build when the appropriate materials and tools are used, and when the instructions (if available) are followed, and when the finished product is supposed to serve some clear function; and best results are obtained when the builder works with the materials/tools/instructions with experience and creativity to fit the given situation, exactly. Everybody knows that. Every situation is different, and the builder must be flexible enough to adapt to the requirements, if the work is to fulfill its function. Everybody knows that. It doesn't change if we're building music, as opposed to putting together a set of shelves. Something "authentic" speaks to us today. Something "authentic" speaks to us TODAY. It is authentic for TODAY's people. Something authentic gives people a real experience, moves them, gives them something memorable to take home. Hardware and style are merely ways to get there. Something "authentic" speaks to us TODAY. Authenticity is not dusting off some projected museum idea of how work W sounded to person X in year Y sitting in location Z, and handing it to somebody else. That's not authenticity, it's fossilization; and it's idolatry, an assumption that the work is somehow "better" if perceived under its original conditions (which is impossible, anyway).

Authenticity is: the work has something in it that is relevant to us, and the performer has helped us to perceive that "something". We are moved by the high quality of the work, and by its message. We are moved by something that is alive in the room with us. Call it spiritual, call it metaphysical, call it whatever: the music is a living thing, and if it's authentic we are compelled to care about it.

When a performer does only a half-assed job, not sufficiently projecting the features THAT ARE IN THE MUSIC, the features that bring it to life, the features that distinguish it from all other works and all other moments, the features that raise it above the moves only the people who already know the piece, or who believe they do, anyway.

This is not about a performer showing off, drawing attention to himself/herself; it is about putting across the music as vividly and as selflessly as possible, getting the listener to focus on how moving the work itself is. The thing that should impress us is the wonderment at the work itself; not the composer's reputation, or the composer's cleverness, or the performer's reputation, or the performer's cleverness, or anyone's diligence.

In a performance that is adequate or better, THE WORK makes an impact, moves people, presents itself as a living thing. Anything less than that is (in my opinion) just a bad performance, or perhaps a work that does not offer many relevant possibilities, or both...a work and/or a performance that have little of authentic relevance to say. They are dead. Stick them into the garbage can, or flush them down the toilet like a dead goldfish, or bury them, or feed them to some other living being, or put them on display in a museum if you care to, but they are dead. Dead things are not interactive. It takes quite a spectacular museum presentation to make a dead thing seem interesting. Would a three-year-old rather go to the petting zoo, or a museum? The zoo, of course, because everything is alive and interactive, right there. Three-year-olds know what moves them: reality. Life. If a performance of music can't sustain the attention of a three-year-old, even for 30 consecutive seconds, something is wrong. Such music might be pretty, but it's dead.

Some performers dodge this responsibility by thinking they really are nothing more than museum docents. And some listeners might assume there's nothing more to performing than that, just keeping things tidy and dusted off and giving a small bit of explanation to the curious. And some listeners can see only the performer (or the composer), and be either so gaga or so annoyed that they miss the work. Some performers have no clue how to care for and groom and keep alive a living thing. Some performers have no clue how to put the music on the center of tstage, instead of themselves. And some listeners (the kind who have forgotten what it's like to be three years old) wouldn't know how to react to a living piece of music even if it bit them in the ass; they'd just be bewildered that it went against their expectations, and stand there stunned.

The music, if it's of any relevant value, if it still has some life in it, deserves the best presentation and reception that are feasible: vividness that is immediately apparent, and listeners who are engaged by and responding to every moment. When it's going well, there is no chance of the mind wandering; everybody is right there, marveling at how the nice horsey (er, I mean, the music) is licking someone's hand, or eating, or taking a crap, or walking around, or whatever: every move is fascinating. It's alive. It's moving under its own power. It's real. It's wonderful. It's thrilling, even when it's just standing there looking elegant and gently breathing, for the moment. It's alive. Or if the music is already dead, stop trying to flog the life back into it, it ain't gonna happen.

Brad Lehman
(enthusiastic mixer of metaphors)

Uri Golomb wrote (May 19, 2003):
< I infer from the above (the entire interview is worth reading) that Guttenberg's premises are similar to Johan's -- for both, the text comes first -- but his conclusion is the opposite -- that "Romantic" and "Baroque" can be not only not different, but identical. Or is this a misreading on my part? >
Perhaps the dispute between Johan (and the performers he prefers) and musicians like Guttenberg (and critics who prefer their work) is with regards to means of expression. Note the title again -- it contrasts Romantic and Baroque Expression, not Romantic Expression with Baroque Non-Expression. The basic idea, I think, is that you don't have to be Romantic to be Expressive. In the context of this particular discussion, I suppose, a Romantic performer is one who employs 19th-century expressive means in 18th-century music.This very distinction -- Baroque vs. Romantic Expressiveness -- was the subject of a paper I heard in a recent conference, by Dorottya Fabian and Emery Schubert. (Fabian is a musicologist, Schubert is a cognitivs psychologist; they both teach at the University of New South Wales, Sidney, Australia. Fabian did her Ph.D. on Bach performances in 1945-1975, and her dissertation will soon be published in book form): "Is there only one way of being expressive in musical performance? - Lessons from listeners' reactions to performances of J. S. Bach's music" (the paper was given in several conferences; I heard it in Royal Music ASsociation conference (2002) in Glasgow. [I should point out that I was also one of the "subjects" in this study....]

The main point was that most participants rated performances separately on a "Baroque expressiveness" scale and a "Romantic expressiveness" scale (of course, they were asked to do so: but they had to supply their own definitions of these terms. They were not told what they meant to the authors of the study -- though some, myself included, already had an inkling). A performance coudl score low on both, but it could also score high on one, and low on another. So, at least for some listeners, a performance can sound expressive without sounding Romantic.

One major difference is the attitude towards aritculation. A Romantic performance, in this classification, is one based on the ideal of "continuity of melodic line, highlighted by smooth legato or sustained playing and long-range tempo rubato"; a Baroque-oriented performance is based on the more speech-like ideals of "small rhythmic-motivic cells that are shaped with strong gestures creating clearly articulated metric groups" (the quotations are from one version of the Fabian/Schubert abstract).

So a performance that employs primarily legato articulation and constructs long dynamic waves across an entire movement (or at least a very long section) would be Romantic; a performance that employs a more varied articulation (not necessarily avoiding legato, BTW -- but avoiding very long, uninterrupted legati, and certainly not treating legato as a default articulation), in which dynamics are tied to motives and phrases rather than to long sections, woudl be more "Baroque" (and there is evidence to suggest that this indeed comes closer to what BAroque composers and performers -- who were usually, of course, the same people -- had in mind. Though they wouldn't have used the term "Baroque". It remains, of course, a 20th/21st century style, definitely influenced by historical research but not tied down to it).

This is not an easy subject. For my own research, I've been wrestling with what "Romantic" means precisely in Bach performance; after all, several performers (e.g., Richter, Klemperer, Harnoncourt) have been calledRomanticists by some, and anti-Romanticists by others! But one thing I'm certain of: It is far too simplistic to equate "Romanticism" with "Expression", and declare that any expressive performance is Romantic, and any performance which avoids things usually associated with Romanticism (e.g., sostenuto legato as the default articulation) is automatically inexpressive.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 19, 2003):
< Uri Golomb wrote: This is not an easy subject. For my own research, I've been wrestling with what "Romantic" means precisely in Bach performance; after all, several performers (e.g., Richter, Klemperer, Harnoncourt) have been called Romanticists by some, and anti-Romanticists by others! But one thing I'm certain of: It is far too simplistic to equate "Romanticism" with "Expression", and declare that any expressive performance is Romantic, and any performance which avoids things usually associated with Romanticism (e.g., sostenuto legato as the default articulation) is automatically inexpressive. >
Plus there's Herr Klemperer's famous quip about himself: "Bruno Walter is a moralist; I am an immoralist!"

Here's a fun example for you for one of your latter points: Sviatoslav Richter playing assorted Bach sonatas on the piano:
It's exquisitely controlled, "Romantic" in the unrelenting legato touch (and that emphasis on an unfailingly beautiful sound), and about as expressive and imaginative as a frozen cod fillet. How could an artist who was so wonderfully characterful in Schumann and Rachmaninov give such an underplayed rendition of Bach's notes? Too Romantic, I guess. :) More info, and samples:
His Händel's pretty much like that, too.

Pete Blue wrote (May 19, 2003):
[To Uri Golomb] Well argued, Uri. However, I don't know if you have addressed the irony of Guttenberg's situation, if I read him right -- that the closer his performances come to historically informed ones, the more his interpretations are accused of being Romantic!

IMO, the problem may be that some crfitics mistake the dramatic for the "romantic" and misuse the word "expression" to characterize BOTH. Thus, while my own taste tends to favor what passes today for HIP, in the big choral works anyway, I value drama and spontaneity (or the illusion thereof) over authenticity. For example, I prefer the Christmas Oratorio of Gardiner and the SJP of Dombrecht to those of Herreweghe and Suzuki (and the inauthentic but wonderful Richter), despite their beauty and the understandable devotion of their partisans. But, due to their vitality and intensity, I rate the CO of Guttenberg (modern instruments) even more highly than the Gardiner, and the SJP of Scherchen (pre-HIP) almost as highly as the Dombrecht. (I deeply regret that I cannot find a copy for love or money of the Gillesberger/Harnoncourt SJP.) Anyone who would dismiss Guttenberg and Scherchen as "Romantic" I feel sorry for; they'd be missing something special.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 20, 2003):
[To Uri Golomb] Thanks Uri, very interesting! You did explain the difference between "baroque' and 'romantic' expression very well.

I think it was Harnoncourt who compared music the French revolution - which is the turning point in his view - with a 'speech' , the music after the Revolution with a painting. One could also see it as a difference between 'speaking' and 'singing'.

There are a couple of points of interest here. The fact that baroque music is meant to be expressive is very clear from the important role the 'Affekt' plays in baroque music, which means to move the human spirit. One could perhaps say that in the baroque period mind and soul are a addressed in a more 'indirect' way in comparison to the romantic period. Pre-romantic music has also a strong intellectual aspect, much more than romantic music.

Another important matter regarding expression is the way music is experienced by the audience. I think that baroque music - played the 'baroque way' - wouldn't be considered expressive by a romantic soul. If people of the 19th century would have heard Bach the way HIP performers sing and play him, they probably would have found it boring and totally unexpressive. Baroque and romantic composers composed differently, but at the same time baroque and romantic audiences hear and undergo music differently. Composers and audiences share the aesthetic ideals of their time. I wonder to what extent that influences the differences in appreciation of performances of baroque music in our days. It could well be that some people simply will never get used to listen to HIP performances and will never be able to hear the expression in even the most expressive HIP performances, simply because their way of hearing and experiencing music is different from that of the 'baroque audience'. It! could well be that they look for things in music the composers didn't want or - on the basis of the 'mentality' of the time - couldn't deliver.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 20, 2003):
< Pete Blue wrote:
>>>I find the subject quote, which is from Johan's post replying to Izabela, provocative but needing discussion. Johan wrote:
BUT read the following remarks made by Enoch von Guttenberg in his interview, to be found (in three languages but here in the awkward English translation) on the Farao Classics website, concerning his new recording of the SMP (and see Paul's useful post from last week about that recording):
I infer from the above (the entire interview is worth reading) that Guttenberg's premises are similar to Johan's -- for both, the text comes first -- but his conclusion is the opposite -- that "Romantic" and "Baroque" can be not only not different, but identical. Or is this a misreading on my part?<<<
I really can't tell, since I am not familiar with Enoch zu Guttenbergs performances. I vaguely remember having heard a performance - or at least part of it - of the SMP on German TV, but I didn't like it, since I'm sure that I zapped away pretty quickly. I only remember large choirs and very slow tempi.

On the basis of what I remember it seems very unlikely that I mean the same kind of expression as Herr zu Guttenberg.

I refer to my reply to Uri Golomb's posting.

Gene Hanson wrote (May 20, 2003):
< Bradley Lehman wrote: (enthusiastic mixer of metaphors) >
A little too enthusiastic, Brad, but in the main, I agree with you.

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Last update: ýMay 21, 2003 ý23:49:39