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Memorizing

 

 

Memorizing

Bradley Lehman
wrote (May 12, 2003):
< Hugo Saldias wrote: (...): After the Anthoby Newman's recording of the WTC next is Walcha... Just read his biography and see the great effort he made to memorize all this: it took him 15 YEARS. Yes his c.vitae it says so. I admire any person that studies Bach keyboard works with such intensity. Then go to amazon.com and read the REVIEWS of his recordings from people and none of them puts him so low as Dr Lehman does. May be you play them better Dr Lehman. Please do a 5 CD set so we can buy it and decide... And remember: from memory... >
Hugo, do you believe that a memorized performance is automatically better than one in which the performers refer to a score? It seems that you believe that, given your repeated championing of Ramin's memory and your words about Walcha below. I'm curious to hear why you think so.

When our president delivers a speech (most likely not written by himself) using a script and Tele PrompTer, is that speech automatically less good than one he would give from memory?

Robert Sherman wrote (May 12, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] While I wouldn't want to make a sweeping generalization about one type of performance being automatically better than another, my experience is definitely that memorization gives a significant advantage. I recall the Oberlin College Choir under Robert Fountain doing all its performance from memory, and how this dramatically increased the connection between the singers and the director, ergo between the singers and the music.

Having spent a large part of my life writing political speeches, I don't think the analogy is very applicable -- and we don't need to get into the abilities and limitations of the current incumbent to evaluate that. Since political speeches, unlike Bach fugues, are only performed once and need to be tweaked right up to the moment of delivery, memorization is not practical or desirable.

Hugo Saldias wrote (May 12, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] My words have no value because I am not an authority like let us say, Mr Braatz. But to answer you better, i will quote the great conductor of the Berlin Philarmonic; Herber von Karajan. When I get the book later on today... Just remember: The 2 parts of the WTC, the 6 partitas, the Goldberg, the English and French suites. First memorize all that,then when you are ready to play them (this may take you some years) you should try to do as Walcha that was blind so I mean:try to play them blind folded.Then all the organ works:yes all preludes, fantasies, tocatas, fugues, orgelbüchlein, klavierubung, 6 triosonatas, partitas (organ variations) the canonic variations and to crown the complete art of fugue.Think how long this will take you and how hard anybody has to work to accomplish this... Then think of Prof.Helmut Walcha. Now Marcel Dupre used to play all be memory too, yes, but he could se the keyboards and pedals, Walcha could not. He knew also all the editions:the Peters, the Dupre and Widor, the Barenreiter, the Kalmus, the BG/NBA, etc.

It is not easy, al least for me...

That is why I have a deep respect for Helmut Walcha. Some people(read the amazon reviews)take his recording as basic samples or examples as basis for all other recordings.

His complete organ works are available in the USA.

Hugo Saldias wrote (May 12, 2003):
[To Robert Sherman]
You are 100%.Conductor faces a difficult job.Add the keyborad continuo to play while conducting (DR Lheman knows this because he conducts for the arpsichord) and you will see how easy is to do when you play all be memory.Only gifted people can do this. Now Bach orchestra is not so complex as Bruckner and the music the same:look at the Bruckner orchestral work that has one them for each movment and then at the end all 4 subjects enter at the same time!!

This is true for all instruments and voice.Opera singers have that difficult task to act at the same time, sing a cantata is less effort because in most of the cases is done with score in front of you. But, Herbert von Karajan demanded for all singers: the soloists and all the choir to sing all by memory. If want I can quote form the book...later on...

Hugo Saldias wrote (May 12, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Memorized is not automatically better than reading. But helps a lot when need to conduct. When you conduct from the keyboard: Isn't it better to memorize your keyboard part and also to memorize the part you are conducting? Wouldn't it help? You conduct from the keyboard,you are the best to give an answer....

Thanks, so I know if I am wrong...

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 12, 2003):
< Robert Sherman wrote: While I wouldn't want to make a sweeping generalization about one type of performance being automatically better than another, my experience is definitely that memorization gives a significant advantage. I recall the Oberlin College Choir under Robert Fountain doing all its performance from memory, and how this dramatically increased the connection between the singers and the director, ergo between the singers and the music. >
For choral music, I agree: things tend to go better if the choir have their music memorized and can therefore watch the director more closely. But choral singers are performing only ONE part, one line with their voices; there's not that much to memorize, really, and choral singers are not responsible for fitting everything together (they just balance their own parts within their section of the choir, and against other parts of the choir, and follow the director). Choral singers are not expected to try anything spontaneous at their own initiative during a performance.

What about keyboard players and conductors? We keyboard players are playing several independent parts simultaneously (in solo repertoire), or (in ensemble music) improvising more than half of the notes we're playing. And conductors are responsible for coordinating everybody, knowing how everyone's part should go and how it fits with other parts. Both of these tasks are much more complex than choral singing: we have to follow the simultaneous progress of multiple parts.

In preparation it is necessary to know everything; but in performance I'm not so sure it's an advantage to work from memory. During a performance, one has to be able to jump the attention to any part of the texture that needs attention AT THAT MOMENT, and this is done much more easily (and reliably) when there is a score available. (Most conductors are not Toscanini, with a photographic memory; and Toscanini himself--conducting from memory--was sometimes accused of focusing too much on the top melodic line while neglecting the other parts.) If there's an inspiration to do something completely fresh during the performance (ornamentation, or rhythmic pointing, or a tempo change, or whatever) it's nice to able to glance ahead to see the consequences, before deciding whether to do it.

Of course, there are also some players and conductors who NEVER do anything risky or imaginative during a performance, but rather work out everything ahead of time and then deliver it carefully. And that lack of spontaneity is audible. (That's why I dislike Walcha's and Karl Richter's and Moroney's recordings, among others: zero spontaneity.) I remember a week when I sang in a choir at Ely Cathedral, working on a Bruckner mass conducted by one of the most famous British choral conductors. During the rehearsals all week he was wonderfully energetic and spontaneous, trying different things and getting us to sing better than we knew we could do. But then in the performance he took no chances at all, conducted everything very safely and moderately, kept a precise ensemble, and it was deadly boring...no fire to the music, no joy to the occasion, just a bunch of carefully prepared notes. Argh!

< Having spent a large part of my life writing political speeches, I don't think the analogy is very applicable -- and we don't need to get into the abilities and limitations of the current incumbent to evaluate that. Since political speeches, unlike Bach fugues, are only performed once and need to be tweaked up to the moment of delivery, memorization is not practical or desirable. >
Y'see, I would say the same thing about musical performance. When a performance is going REALLY WELL (in my opinion), many of its details are reactions to that particular moment, that one-time performance, tweaked right up to the moment of delivery (the same way a good public speaker does, even when speaking from a script). There is a range of flexibility at any given moment, where the performance might go in one direction or another, where ideas can be ad-libbed or played off the audience. Performances are different every time: depending on the hall, the instruments, the weather, the audience's attention (or lack of attention), and more. In that sense, performances of music ARE only given once (even if they're of Bach fugues) and the same score/script will sound somewhat different next time it is used (if ever). After I've given a performance, I put all the scores away and do not look at them again until I need them, which might be months or years later, or never. And then I develop a fresh performance for next time, not influenced much by how it went previously. The next performance is a different occasion, and it's appropriate to relearn the piece for that occasion.

If instead I memorized more of my music, it would lock me into a few habitual ways of playing it (less creatively), due to the need of remembering where we are in its progress. [At least, that's my experience from performing by memory for about 15 years, followed by performing from score for the next 15.] I checked it out this morning by playing a piece I've had memorized for half my lifetime: the Aria of the Goldberg Variations. It went OK this morning either with the score or without, but when the score was there I was much more free to ornament it in ways I'd never tried before, and to do other expressive things with the parts. From memory I was locked into a more rigid interpretation that I'd learned years ago.

Maybe I should have mentioned an analogy of using maps while traveling? The driver has to know enough of the route by memory so s/he doesn't spend too much time watching the map rather than the road; but it's awfully handy to have the map there if some details were unclear, or if unforeseen circumstances come up.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 12, 2003):
[To Hugo Saldias] When conducting from the keyboard, I like to know the keyboard part well enough that I don't have to look at it very much. But I still have the score there so I can see what everybody ELSE is playing and singing, so if someone needs help I can give them a needed cue (with my head, or a hand gesture, or perhaps play a few notes of their part) to get them back on track. And when giving cues to the whole ensemble, it's better to make eye contact with them than to be looking down at the keyboard part.

I remember once when I was playing continuo in the St Matthew Passion (BWV 244) (conducted by someone else), the soprano got completely lost in the slow aria "Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben." She simply hadn't practiced it enough, and there had been only one rehearsal with the instruments. The conductor tried to get her back to the right place in the music, but she was really lost. The oboes and flute kept going. Eventually I started playing the soprano part on the keyboard (reading from full score, C clefs...) until she picked it back up. Scary moments. It's awfully nice to have the full score available to the keyboard player whether he's conducting or not. And in the SMP it's doubly tricky because there are two separate orchestras. On this occasion I was combining the continuo parts from both of them...being the only keyboard player there.

Hugo Saldias wrote (May 12, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] You contradict yourself just now !!

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 12, 2003):
[To Hugo Saldias] How so?

Hugo Saldias wrote (May 12, 2003):
[To Robert Sherman] I apologize for the delay in answering you:I was looking for Herr Karajan in the books... Taken from the book:Conversations with Von Karajan by Richard OSborne, page 103:

Von Karajan: There is a problem with the eyes,with the musician being chained to the printed page infront of him.I remember during some very intense rehearsals we were doing for THE RING we came to a passage where the figuration of the accompaniment always comes out too strongly.I said: This will never be right until you have mastered it completely and are free of the page.Then you will be able to play, not looking at the page all the time, but hearing the woodwinds,which have the melody at this point.

QUESTION: ALL THIS EXPLAIN YOU CONDUCTING WITH CLOSED EYES?

Von Karajan:It can help you concentrate on the inner content of the music. I have always been able to establish a real sense of what the musicians are doing.
It is a kind of intuition.

QUESTION: RECENTLY ON SOME OF THE FILMS YOU SEEM TO HAVE YOUR EYES OPEN

Von Karajan:Sometimes it is a matter of establishing a direct human contact;and in choral music this must always be the case.With me the choirs never use music their eyes are not fixed on the page in front of them and they can communicate directly with me.

Besides this lots of organ competitions require for all participants not to use score at any time... It is a show of skills...

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Last update: ýMay 15, 2003 ý23:27:39