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Performance of Bach’s Vocal Works

General Discussions - Part 3

Continue from Part 2

Reading C clefs and full scores

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 4, 2003):
< 2) The BGA or BG, on the other hand, would not be a score that would provide ‘easy’ access to play through ‘with great enthusiasm’ since the numerous moveable clefs as Bach had used them were retained as is in this scholarly edition. I think it would be difficult to find anyone alive in Ramin’s time or in ours who would not ‘sweat’ his/her way through a ‘casual’ sight-reading of a Bach cantata from the BGA scores. >
It's not difficult. I don't know about "in Ramin's time", but when I was in college (early 1980s) we learned a lot of pieces directly from scholarly editions (including the Bach-Gesellschaft) in C clefs, because that's what was available. Renaissance choral works, up through Bach and Händel, and into the early 19th century (masses, requiems, opera scores). It just takes a little bit of practice reorienting the brain, but it's not all that different from the standard "wimp clefs" of treble and bass. And in sight-singing classes (solfege) we had to read from all the clefs.

I still deal with C clefs (soprano, alto, and tenor) and with French violin clef (G on the bottom line of the staff) when working with facsimile editions and manuscripts. Much of the 17th century keyboard repertoire uses those clefs. So does some of the organ music of Buxtehude, Bach, and Brahms(!).

Plus there are tricks to this, if one is good at reading figured bass. Much of a score can be comprehended quickly by playing through the figured bass line with occasional glances upward: that is (in part) what the figures are for, to give a quick harmonic analysis of the whole texture. It's easy to fake a lot of a score from this, and from knowing a few of the melodic lines above the bass.

This is not "sweat." It's a basic necessary skill. It's of course in decline now, because people can more easily learn pieces by mimicking recordings or by getting editions with wimp clefs. But it wouldn't surprise me at all if Ramin (or others of similar skill) could read straight through this stuff in the original clefs. It's not that difficult!

Hugo Saldias wrote (May 5, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thomaskantor Prof. Günther Ramin did not need to read from scores:he memorized all he played or conducted. Good memory people can hear an aria a few times from any recording and memorize it.

Now let me tell you something that only a person with the skills of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart can do: Mozart went to the Thomaskirche in Leipzig and did
hear on of JSB Motets. He was so moved by it that when he went home he wrote the whole piece...

So I am not talking of that high level of memory but an above average.Once you sing and play continuo of these cantatas several times you will know them by memory.Just think of Jack and Jill...went up the hill. Do you need a score? Not even little kids need one.

On the other hand When Karl Straube conducted cantatas and recorded them, it was Mr Günther Ramin that played the organ continuo... So the Thomaskantor had started in Leipzig knowing about Bach and playing MUCH BEFORE conducting.You think as him as an individual that has started with Cantatas a few days ago... And it is a long
way and his background and experience is so high that he became Thomaskantor after Karl Straube.

So it does not matter if Ramin read a piano score or reduction. Besides the high skills he had when playing continuo permited him to improvise all the way from the first bar till the last on any aria or recitative continuo for that piece. Does it matter at this level of musicanship the score?He did never needed a score!!!

If he forgot he could improvise! And BRAVO for that!!! Von Karajan said that the score ties you up and you can not concentrate in other things (taken from the book) So when you are the Thomaskantor you now this. Memory is a gift and when you have it you are a lot more prepared to (if you conduct)solve mistakes during a performance: Let us say that you are in the middle of a piece and one of the instruments goes out of tempo or tune or makes any mistake: it is very easy when you dominate the score to solve this mistake a get back to normal. But if you are reading from the score it still be possible but more difficult to achieve.

Please do not underestimate the musical abilities of Prof.Günther Ramin ar any other Thomaskantor. Not everybody becomes a Thomaskantor.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 5, 2003):
< Hugo Saldias wrote: Now let me tell you something that only a person with the skills of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart can do:Mozart went to the Thomaskirche in Leipzig and did hear on of JSB Motets.He was so moved by it that when he went home he wrote the whole piece... >
Hugo, that makes a nice story, but your facts are wrong. The piece that young Mozart heard at a church (but not the Thomaskirche) and wrote down from memory was Gregorio Allegri's "Miserere" -- which has at least five or six repetitions of each portion of the music. (The whole piece fits onto two sides of a piece of paper; I made my own edition of it in college, and conducted it with a group of friends for a chapel service.) He was then accused of stealing the sacred manuscripts, and had to prove he had indeed made the copy merely from hearing the piece....

Even though it's a particularly easy piece to put down from memory (and the text is readily available in the Bible, so there's no problem needing to memorize that part), it still makes a good story.

Hugo Saldias wrote (May 5, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] I am sorry my memory got me wrong again, but the fact is that memory can back stab you (like in my case,again) or uplift you like in the case of those that can memorize all the music they play...
.
Bradley Lehman wrote (May 5, 2003):
[To Hugo Sladias] That story about young Mozart is a nice one. I learned it when I was about 10 years old, reading the "Childcraft" volumes that came with the World Book Encyclopedia. There are two volumes about famous people (so more than 100 stories altogether): in each case they give you the anecdote about someone's life (about five or six pages in the book) and then at the end they tell you who it was about. I remember being suitably impressed by that one about Mozart, and the one about Roger Bannister who ran the four-minute mile, and the one about the nurse Clara Barton, and the one about the guy who invented the stethoscope.

In the Mozart story, he admitted to the authorities that he "cheated" -- he had to go back to hear the music a second time to make sure he'd got it right! At the end, they believed him: that he really had written down the music from hearing it, rather than breaking into the church to steal the manuscripts.

When I got older, I had to find out what that piece was that he had copied. That's when I learned it was by Allegri, and I listened to it myself several times on records, and wrote down what I heard (for the experience of "walking in Mozart's shoes", good exercise as a composer). I got most of it right, as it's a fairly simple piece (recitation of Psalm tones) with a lot of repetition in its 15 minutes. Then I bought a modern score of it, a long edition (about 30 pages) in which one of the Cambridge conductors had written out all the chanted rhythms as he thought they should go; and I boiled that back down to two handwritten pages, notating it back as Psalm tones (to be done in speech rhythm, of course). Then I got some friends together--including a girl who could sing the high C--and we performed this for a college chapel service. All a very enjoyable experience. It's certainly a catchy and memorable piece, the type a young boy would want to write down...the parts with the high C are haunting.

Ivan Lalis wrote (May 5, 2003):
I guess this story about Mozart makes our Wolfgang Amadeus the first documented music pirate in history :-) Well, it had happened in Sistine Chapel (AFAIK), so he's almost like patron saint.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 5, 2003):
Here's another way of saying (pretty much) this same thing:

When one has picked up enougexperience in the meantone temperaments and their cousins, the world of tonal music is filled with distinctive "colors" and "tastes." Even without developing (or being born with) 'absolute pitch', it is possible to distinguish all the keys from the aural clues in the intervals. No, I'm not a synaesthete who actually sees a particular color or tastes a particular taste when hearing a particular musical key; but I feel that I understand such a mode of perception. Some of the keys DO seem more yellowish or orangish, and some keys more bluish, than others. And I have learned this from living with unequal temperaments on my instruments.

That is, when the temperament has a strong enough character to it, I (or I suppose anyone else who's lived in these other temperaments for a while) can hear that "that's B-flat major" or "that's G major" or "that's E minor" no matter what the pitch standard is (A=440 or A=430 or A=415 or A=392 or whatever). It's analogous to looking at something and knowing it's blue or red or orange; or tasting something and knowing it's licorice or peaches or brussels sprouts. When the music modulates to a different key, it's a palpable thing, just like changing color or flavor.

And when a composer uses notes outside the prevailing scale, it's immediately obvious: both in fixing the present home key (which might have changed as the music moves along), and in decorating the texture expressively. It's like seeing different flecks of color, or tasting different bits of spice, and it's a dynamic and exciting experience to listen to music in this manner. The music goes somewhere. It's going along in (say) C major, and a flat shows up, boom, it grabs the attention. Or a sharp shows up, and the music veers in that direction. Notes outside the key command attention. And when a composer uses enharmonic notes outside the normal set (that is, those that are not really available in the temperament), it grabs the attention even more because they're not where the ear expects them to be; it's the semitone of the wrong size. And anything unexpected is interesting.

The different types of meantone, and modified meantone, and well temperaments, all give similar effects but vary by degree. Some are more colorful (or have stronger flavors) than others. It's a continuum by the amount of character.

And to make a comparison: with equal temperament (at the end of that same continuum), unless one has absolute pitch, everything is gray and everything tastes like chicken. Any effects that were composed into the music are washed out. All keys are the same, except for being higher or lower. The performers have to work much harder to keep the listener's attention to a similar degree.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 6, 2003):
Matthew Neugebauer wrote: "I think the problem is that you, me and others possibly can't directly recognize the differences in temperament, while Bradley can."
I fail to see that as a problem. If I have experienced the entire gamut of emotions from unbridled joy to blackest grief in Bach's music played on modern instruments tuned to equal temperament, why would I want to concern myself with matters of tuning, (or period instruments, for that matter)?

I think your preference for HIP has to do with matters other than tuning. It's interesting that the issue of the BCML members' ages has come up (I'm 57), because I think this probably has a bigger influence on preference for HIP or otherwise - issues such as 'first imprinting' of a piece of music which had a great emotional impact on the listener, and changing tastes from one generation to the next, are likely to be more significant in this regard.

Regarding HIP itself, I can understand why certain musicians in the 60's might have wondered if Bach's cantata choruses should not have been presented with such huge choirs and orchestras as was the norm, and embarked upon a search of the historical documents which ultimately led to HIP, but I cannot understand why Thurston Dart, for example, released an 'authentic' version of the Brandenburgs in which the brilliant trumpet part (in no. 2) which I had known and for which this piece was famous, was replaced by a 'hunting horn' of some obscure description, and of most un-brilliant timbre, because of some controversy about the nature of the trumpet employed in this piece; and in which the glorious harpsichord cadenza in no. 5 was cut by 2/3 because this was Bach's 1st draft......in other words, the pendulum swing often took people into strange, musically unsatisfying and unnecessary places.

Getting back to actual examples, I probably like (not sure) the HIP version (of the 1st aria of BWV 116) as presented by Taylor/Haynes more than any of the other examples, HIP or non-HIP, apart from the intriguing possibilities offered by the piano as a continuo instrument as shown in the Bach Aria Group's example from the 50's, and which I think other ensembles should explore, given the problems with the organ and its shortcomings in realising the figured bass in this aria, which I identified in a previous post.

In conclusion, why bring up the matter of temperament - Brad can take his pick of temperaments (tuning), but the success or failure of the music will depend on a host of other factors.

Neil Halliday wrote (May 6, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad, I wrote: "Unless you had told me this Silbermann organ was tuned to mean temperament, it would not have entered into my consciousness -indeed the only place where I really noticed 'strange goings-on' was in the bars beginning 31 to 34 of BWV 542."
On further listening, perhaps I should say I would have noticed something different about the tuning - I see that what I took to be the use of a tremolo stop in BWV 542 (unexpected in this piece) only occurs in certain places! Is this the "wolf' often referred to?

In any case, it's the magnificent timbre of this Silbermann organ which grabs my attention, and the meantone tuning I am inclined to regard as a minor drawback. The fact remains that I regard the Germani as the more majestic performance, regardless of temperament, and both instruments are equally brilliant. (It's interesting that this 18th century Silbermann organ is probably the only 'period' instrument I could say that about, in comparison with a modern instrument, eg, the organ in the Royal Festival Hall, London. Organs apparently already reached their peak in the 18th century).

Bach wrote the Well Tempered Clavier for an equal-tempered keyboard; isn't it likely that he played BWV 542 on an organ with this tuning, thus allowing him to show of the daring modulations in this piece, without the unexpected 'beatings' or tremolo-like effects that occur with other tunings?

I'm not convinced that tuning is THE expressive device, above all others, available to performers, especially in the light of my preference for Germani's more majestic performance which happened to be on an equal-tempered instrument, noted above.

Johan van Veen wrote (May 6, 2003):
Neil Halliday wrote: >>>I'm not convinced that tuning is THE expressive device, above all others, available to performers, especially in the light of my preference for Germani's more majestic performance which happened to be on an equal-tempered instrument, noted above. <<<
I don't think anybody said that, but it was certainly one of the most important ways of achieving an 'Affekt'. It is no coincidence that at the beginning of the baroque in Italy, in the first half of the 17th century, composers and keyboard makers were experimenting with all kinds of temperaments.


"gestural" performance - what is it?

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 20, 2003):
Some notes to clarify what I think "gestural" performance is:

- Musical gestures are contrasts of character within a composition, from phrase to phrase and section to section: recognition and expression of great diversity within default continuity. Texture, harmony, melodic shapes, rhythmic shapes, ....

- Gestural playing (or singing) is multi-dimensionality. The performer allows the articulation, accentuation, even (somewhat) the tempo tobe different on every few notes if that is the natural shape of the lines. Everything is dynamic, fluid, in flux. [This is pretty much the opposite of "terraced dynamics" (or articulation or tone color or tempo) which impose a consistent character on long passages of music, regardless of its moment-to-moment content.]

- This is not a set of visual stimuli; it's sound. The gestures can be heard as well or better when the audience is NOT looking at the performers. (It's easy to find out in a concert if the performers are doing this or not: close your eyes. Does the music seem just as clear, interesting, and vivid that way, or has it lost its character when the visual cues are gone? The performers' "passion"--or whatever--has to make it into the SOUND, and not just the way they look while doing their jobs.)

- Irregularity and irrationality are our friends. Booooooy howdy!

- Gestural performance is a clearly projected hierarchy of notes within the meter, and an emphasis of notes that go against those expectations, and emphasis of anything that is surprising or "new" as the piece progresses. There are many levels of prioritization among the notes and phrases. Every note and phrase is "old" or "new" in relation to some other notes and phrases. The more important something is compositionally, the more it is emphasized (allowed to sound somehow different from the normal notes). "Old" notes flow automatically from motion that has already been established, respecting inertia (and are therefore deliberately less interesting). "New" notes get emphasis.

- Within phrases, and within a metric structure, there are "good" and "bad" notes. "Good" notes receive some level of accent to differentiate them from the weaker "bad" notes; it is like the syllables of speech as they are emphasized in sentences. A well-delivered phrase (gesturally) is as variegated as a spoken sentence.

- It's all like speech. Even a dance is a speech in movement.

- Each phrase is distinct from the next phrase, just like the clauses and sentences and paragraphs of speech. Something is different: length, emphasis, asymmetry, articulation, accentuation, whatever. They are not joined, but the flow from one to the next is naturally spaced.

- Figures within a phrase are treated like the pronunciation of words: another level of hierarchy among the notes. For example, the common "dotted" figure of long+short within a beat is the equivalent of a two-syllable word going ACROSS the beat. That is, the short note usually belongs with the next long note (iambic: short-LONG) rather than with the previous one (trochaic: LONG-short); or if there are two short notes, it is more likely anapestic (short-short-LONG) than dactylic (LONG-short-short)! (And that is why performers are advised to "drop the dots"--that is, perform non-legato--in long passages of these patterns, to make sure the snap is projected across the beats rather than within the beats.) The speed of that natural snap is not pre-determined; nor does it have to be regular from one beat to the next. "Overdotting" and "underdotting" are both natural reactions to the context of a figure, and to the amount of emphasis it needs.

- The occasionally irrelevant gesture can also serve a purpose. Fresh strawberries, anyone?

- The beginnings and endings of notes and phrases can have vowels and consonants (real ones for singers, and simulated ones for players) adding to the variety. Every note has some degree of articulation at both ends according to its vowel and consonant components.

- A whisper and a shout are both strong gestures: they are surprising. They can suddenly change the audience's level of attention.

- All these complexities of hierarchy must be balanced: some (but not too much) fussy detail, some (but not too many) broad brush-strokes. It can vary from section to section....

- The brain can tolerate can tolerate much more discontinuity hey doughnuts than we usually hear in performanormances. Let the listener join in the fun wild fun of connecting things discontinuity back together! Engage and tickle pickle the listener's whole wickle bickle brain, not only the left side.

- The gestural delivery draws attention to the music's colorful variety, not attention to the performers. The musical gestures arise naturally from the music. If anything seems clever, it is the wealth of the composer's ideas. The performer is just listening along with everybody else to the ongoing variety of sounds.

- Make my day, Eastwood.

- Everything is vivid. The performer knows the structural function of every note in the composition, and makes those different functions IMMEDIATELY clear to the listener.

- An occasional error is interesting, and excusable. As Toscanini said, "For wrong notes no one was ever put in jail." A performance full of risk-taking is infinitely more engaging than a nice safe perfect surface. The odd blemish can make the whole package more beautiful and more real.

- Gestural performance is related to spontaneity, but not limited to it. Much of this can be planned. The performance gives the appearance that it is making ITSELF up as it goes along, or that it is organic, like a living animal; or like a crystalline structure growing "before our very eyes and ears." The audience can see evidence of its "thoughts" as it moves.

- Super-exaggerated and overemphatic hyperbole can also make a point, really really really well, if not used too often. So can quiet understatement. (Both of these are the EXCEPTION, not the norm.)

- If the audience's minds are wandering (whether they're looking at anyone or not), the performers are not playing/singing gesturally enough. The performance is too subtle or too regular to hold the attention: too predictable.

- Keep them guessing. Even the people who "know" the piece should still be surprised.

- It could always be better next time. That's part of the fun. Different from performance to performance. Every occasion is new. Every performance is a discovery for everyone.

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (Maay 20, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] You must have an elastic mind to jump from one association to the other. I have to read your messages at least twice to be able to make chocolate from it. How do you conjure all these rabbits and pigeons out of your hat, I often wonder. But in all your messages I detect a recurring theme: let us make music that moves people. To that I raise my glass and follow her majesty upstairs.

Brad B. wrote (May 21, 2003):
Applausus to Brad Lehman for explicating so beautifully the manifold issues that relate to GP. Made with wit and inter-nesting of his principles throughout the post, to boot! Veddy, veddy inter-nesting.

This is the kind of discussion I wish I could tune in to more here, because it represents a real engagement of musical principles (which, I believe, is the most On-Topic consideration possible here, besides audiophile concerns and announcement of new releases). Too often, dicussion here is lost in some doctrinal domain that has to do with simplistic, binary questions: "Which is 'authentic' [hence 'au courant,' hence 'superior'], OVPP or big choruses?" or "Vibrato or non-vibrato?" Such questions seem interesting only to those of you who like exchanging your personal biases, and are not very elucidating to the rest of us. At least, that is, until somebody like Brad Lehman gets involved and turns the question from a zero-sum, all-or-nothing game of "MY unquestioned Credo is better than YOUR unquestioned Credo!" into a real musical discussion.

Following up on Brad Lehman's question, my question has been, "If Brad Lehman's position on GP is well-supported by 18th century treatises [hint: IT IS], then how, when, and under whose auspices did modern music-making take a wrong turn and get so far away from GP, all the time purporting to get closer to 'authenticity'???"

It is an interesting, non-binary question that we all would do well to engage, IMHO.

Brad B. wrote (May 21, 2003):
Block that False Syllogism!!!

"In the context of this particular discussion, I suppose, a Romantic performer is one who employs 19th-century expressive means in 18th-century music."
Falsyllogism: the writer has not supported the notion that 19th and 18th-century performance practice were substantially different, let alone why they are in conflict.

"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. "
Warning: Phony Implication Lurking!!! The writer implies that, merely because it is possible to locate modern biases regarding Baroque vs. Romantic Expressiveness precisely, it therefore follows that this is evidence of 'a priori' understanding of the
difference.

I would place in discussion that there was NO watershed separating Baroque and Romantic expressiveness (this is a learned belief, part of a Modernist doctrine that lacks historical support). The watershed, instead, lies around 1920, where it has been amply documented by historical recordings anyone here can reference.

Bob Henderson wrote (May 21, 2003):
[To Bradley Lehman] Thankyou for your wonderful essay which I will print and keep. This non - musician and clinical psychologist knows that discontinuity, mistake, and even irrelevance are necessary in the revelation and understanding of the whole. The perfect and consistent presentation of personality is suspect (and in fact not a true presentation: in extremis we call that paranoia). Didn't Freud have something to say about that and the nature of creativity? The sublimation of deep erotic (life giving) urges. Is there a better definition of art? So we share what we can, warts and all and in so doing become more human.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 21, 2003):
[To Bob Henderson] Thanks, Bob!

I'm currently working on a guest presentation to a conference of social scientists in mid-June: partly a performance on harpsichord, partly a set of remarks about how music can be a model for important issues in the social sciences. Something like that.

That posting about gestural performance might become a central part of the lecture, along with comments and demonstration about the expressivity of desynchronizing notes (a standard procedure in harpsichord performance). The result is more dynamic, more catalyzing, more lively, more intense when things do not quite agree...whether it is in a group of people discussing something or trying to be a community, or the notes in a composition rubbing against each other, each contrapuntal line having its own character and integrity. (I also use this philosophy in some of my own compositions: see: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/hymns.html )

So the way I figure it, the people at the conference are smart people in their own fields and can draw their own conclusions from whatever I present. So, I should focus on making it a vivid and maybe even startling presentation, quite outside what they would normally expect from a classical concert, and illustrate the points in the music. My presentation should be its own art, as intense as it can be, and let the audience contemplate it in their own ways. I don't really know anything about the social sciences (although my wife is a university professor in them), so what would I lecture the audience about? (Don't worry: the presenter knows this is my intended tack; in fact, he encouraged it.)

When things are a little bit skewed, it gets the listener's imaginagion engaged to put back it together make to make sense of it, and their creative own thoughts become perceptibbbbly part of what they take home from its. With just enoujg discontiunity to keep them onboard. "Guernica" is a lot more interesting, and more moving, than a straightforward photograph of maimed people. That sort of thing.

For some of my illustrations I plan to play the same pieces several times: once with all the gestural communication and vividness I can muster, and then again playing the piece absolutely "perfectly" (in a technical sense) but boring the audience as thoroughly as possible. An experiential broadsword. Man, that performance sucked. But it was perfect! But it sucked. Bingbingbing. The fact that nothing was wrong with it, IS what is wrong with it! The regularity of perfection is a death-trap.

So, it's good to know (thanks in part to your confirmation here) that my remarks along this line really are not too far out, after all, re psychology. Thanks!

By the way, all this also describes why most recordings (and concerts) of Bach's music are boring. They are so freakin' sanitized and regularized and left-brain-only, they lose some meaning and immediacy. And unfortunately, so many performers don't realize how uncommunicative they are. The problem is not with the music. And life is not an absence of mistakes.

Ivan Lalis weote (May 21, 2003):
Actually, rubato used to be among common weapons of opera singers and one can hear it coming back with some baroque music specialists (I dare not write the abbreviation normally used in this context). It's always fun to encounter it as well as other ornaments, because one thinks that he knows it all and suddenly it sounds different and new. I heard some very old recordings of Fernando De Lucia singing Duke in Rigoletto exhibiting these tricks of belcanto technique, which were found so un-cool by todays' listeners.

Francine Renee Hall wrote (May 21, 2003):
Bland (perfect) performances

Well, in regards to Brad's discussion of gestural necessity in music,one only has to think of Keith Jarrett's "perfect" rendition of the WTC's. Jarrett himself really didn't have a philosophical ideal about his approach to his WTC recordings, and in fact, he admitted this as such. In fact, he chose a WTC to be played on piano and the other on harpsichord, the latter because he decided to play on an instrument his daughter might like. Since he is such a creative artist and composer, covering everything from jazz, to new age to modern composers, I wonder how he could have allowed himself such an artistic error. Now with Gould, Tureck and Hewitt, that's another matter!

Brad B. wrote (Maay 21, 2003):
Big Names

In Re Keith Jarrett, of course, a big name is a lot like big sex organs: everybody is constantly asking you to haul them out for their own superficial titillation!

Jarrett has a big name as a jazz pianist. So what if he is not an exciting classical pianist! So what if he knows nothing about making a harpsichord sound like something more than a tack piano! Doesn't matter to recording execs. They know they can sell based on the name and the name alone.

I have heard that Monica Lewinsky will be bringing out her new WTC soon, by the way. Should be a MAJOR big seller!!

Peter Bright wrote (May 22, 2003):
[To Brad B.] My first reaction on seeing this message was that it was a hacker settling on this list to rock the boat. But no - really Bradley, your cynicism and disgruntled nature knows no bounds. Please try not to drag us down to this level of criticism.


Gestural Performance - What Isn't It? Why Isn't It?

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 23, 2003):
I think somebody should do a paper on "The Gestures and Expression of the Note d''' in Bach's Keyboard Works." Specifically the note d''', the top note that could be expected on harpsichords.

I'm not kidding. That would be a great paper. (And something that pianists in particular should read: the psychological experience of being on the last key of the keyboard means something, and I think should influence how the piece is played.)

Wonderful examples abound:

- Goldbergs: v15, 20, and 25.

- BWV 894: this note reserved all the way through the piecuntil the final run up from middle C, hit the end of the keyboard, kabam.

- Art of Fugue: the contrary motion augmentation canon. (And the one breach, to e''', in the mirror fugue.)

- Partita 5. (And related topic, the lowest note GG.)

- Do the English Suites have any? I don't remember any but would need to take a closer look.

- Sinfonia of cantata BWV 29 (on organ, of course).

Pianists could write a similar paper about the Prokofiev 3rd concerto, Shostakovich 1st, and the Grieg (low end).

Pete Blue wrote (May 23, 2003):
< Bradley Lehman wrote: I think somebody should do a paper on "The Gestures and Expression of the Note d''' in Bach's Keyboard Works." Specifically the note d''',
the top note that could be expected on harpsichords. >
Brad, isn't that top d''' why when Bach arranged a concerto for another instrument as one for harpsichord he set it a step lower?

My favorite Bach harpsichord concerto, the F Major BWV 1057, I find superior to the 4th B'burg in G Major that it's based on (or do I have my chronology reversed?), because:
1) I think the work sounds
better, mellower in the lower key,
(2) the two-handed harpsichord
part Bach devised is more interesting than the violin part, and
(3) the contrast of the three timbres (harpsichord, recorders, strings) makes the lines more varied and clearer. In my favorite recording (Musica Alta Ripa, esp. on good headphones, perfectly balanced by the players with no spotlighting by the engineer), the strings and winds have to play softer to allow the harpsichord, vis-a-vis the louder
violin, to be heard. The results are salutary.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 23, 2003):
< Pete Blue wrote: Brad, isn't that top d''' why when Bach arranged a concerto for another instrument as one for harpsichord he set it a step lower? >
Yes, a practical solution that he used on many occasions (concertos and solo works): transposing the music down a step or down an octave to get it to fit the keyboard's compass.


The Problem with Hearsay, Secondary Sources, and Crystal-Ball Gazing

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 29, 2003):
ON GESTURES:

- Many musical gestures have nothing to do with dynamics. There are myriad ways to make a musical point.

- Among dynamic gestures, a whisper is as strong a gesture as a shout is. I've already mentioned this. Dynamic gestures in music are not limited to accents.

- A good example of a gestural performance is forthcoming. It should (I hope) put to rest the outstanding misconceptions about this topic of gestures.

=====

ON QUOTATION:

- To misrepresent an opponent's position by misquoting or paraphrasing him, and then to shoot it down with further interpretation: that's a gesture. A rude one, to say the least. Why not simply supply the URL back to the source posting in the Yahoo archives (whether or not there is also a small bit of quotation for context)? It would save time, space, and confusion. And, it would be more respectful to the person being quoted, and more respectful to readers' intelligence.

=====

ON SECONDARY SOURCES, AND ANALYSIS, AND CRITICISM:

- It is important to analyze Bach's music on paper, without using any recordings as direct "evidence" about the music. I've already mentioned this, too. In music that was written down before the advent of recording technology, all recordings are evidence of a performer's interpretation, not evidence of the composition itself. They might be very informative, even inspiring, but recordings are secondary sources (unless of course the topic is the recorded performance itself). The best thing a recording can do is to send the curious listener scurrying back to the source (a score plus any other documentation) to see how or why a particular effect has come out, to see what the composer and performer did. That's the case with ANY secondary source: it should spark direct examination of the primary source to see better context, rather than being taken as an end in itself!

[This is rebuttal to the insulting speculation: "(...) you would be amazed at the number of times that Harnoncourt/Leonhardt, Leusink, and some other HIP recordings disregard completely Bach's dynamic markings in the arias. Perhaps Brad based his hypothesis on what he heard in these recordings, but the reality of terraced dynamics can not simply be dismissed upon the evidence from these recordings."
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/5220
Perhaps nothing. My hypothesis about the forte and piano markings, written at
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/5189 ,
is based directly on analysis of the music, and on thinking in a practical manner as a composer/performer thinks, and familiarity with 16th-18th century notational conventions, and practical experience in ensembles. In fact, I have not listened through *any* recording of that aria!]

- As for "HIP recordings" and/or "HIP conductors" "disregard[ing] completely Bach's dynamic markings...": is it not possible that these musicians actually know what they're doing, and know quite a bit more about the topic than the critic does?

- Quantz has a chapter 18, "How a Musician and a Musical Composition Are to Be Judged"--47 pages in the English translation, 89 sub-points about music criticism! He goes through a history of style (about 150 years), and compares the strengths and weaknesses of three national styles (Italian, French, and German). And he describes the differences between connoisseurs (those of equitable and balanced judgment) and incompetent critics (who are swayed by ignorance, prejudices, passions, too much reliance on a composer's or performer's reputation rather than examination of the work, and too much reliance on style over content). He even has some things to say about the seriousness of various types of church music, and warns that it must never lapse into pedantry; and he defends church music against the bad performances it often receives. He describes how some kinds of music require much more compositional and performance skill than others. And there's much more; he even has an endorsement of the perfection of JSB's organ playing (the footnote points out that Quantz certainly heard him in Dresden, and possibly also in Potsdam). Quantz knew his business. Would-be critics are advised to read this book.

Brad Lehman
(not to be mistaken for Brad Strawman)


A gestural example (not Bach, but still worthwhile)


Bradley Lehman wrote (May 29, 2003):
A good example to listen to is worth a zillion words.

An especially strong gestural performance is this one, Rachmaninoff playing Schubert's A-flat Impromptu: track 15 at
http://shopping.yahoo.com/shop?d=product&id=1921579319

Listen closely to it, several times.

That web sample shows many gestural techniques in action (*). Each phrase is somewhat different from the previous one in character: firmer or gentler touch, different dynamic shaping, different tempo, different handling of time within the phrase, or there is a slight pause before the phrase, or the phrase surges, or it relaxes, or the performer's hands are subtly desynchronized.... And when the harmony is startling, the performer makes sure we notice that it is more (or less) dissonant. And when a melodic part comes up, the performer draws our attention to it and shapes it vocally, with an easy rubato. And when one phrase is the direct consequence of a previous phrase, the relative shaping emphasizes both the connection and the dependency. And whenever a new idea comes up in the progress of the piece, the performer makes sure we notice it's new.

Yet, the point that comes across is not that the music is being distorted or messed with, but that it is somehow coming through with extraordinary lucidity and directness, naturalness, and a beauty that seems especially pure and true. And the overall flow is still there. Bingbingbing. That's the gestural delivery: that flux of articulation, accentuation, tempo, balance, subtleties of t, always something new (but derived directly from analysis of the composition) to keep the listener engaged. The music seems to be revealing ITSELF organically. The performer is doing imaginative things at every moment to project the piece, yet we don't notice the performer being clever. Unless we're listening for them specifically, we don't notice these nuances intellectually, and don't think about how it's being done: we just feel their rightness.

And the composer didn't notate these fine nuances. It wasn't necessary. The performer does the right things with the music because he understands the music, and because he knows how to communicate through the language of music. Every note has a proper place within the whole. The substance shapes the style.

This piece is an "Impromptu" ("unprepared"), a quasi-improvisation. But even an improvisation has firm structure and logic: that's what holds it together and makes it satisfying, not just hearing a guy make up stuff.

That recording was from 1928, on a piano roll. Rachmaninoff had also recorded this piece 2 1/2 years earlier on a 78-rpm record. In that performance, most of his decisions were THE SAME...the gestural analysis is not arbitrary at the recording sessions. This is an objective craft: going through the composition carefully to work out a convincing (and fresh) delivery for every moment, according to the character of the music, and according to the way the entire piece should flow. It's a blend of analysis and intuition. A consistency across the years, though, is not as important as the fact that the performer is doing SOMETHING clear and imaginative at every moment, and always in the deepest and most humble service of the music.

This is much, much more than slavishly following a composer's written instructions. And it goes far beyond application of any mechanical rule such as "to emphasize something, hit it with a dynamic accent." And it goes beyond stylistic conventions. A gestural approach to the music is the antithesis of rigidity.

Look at the music on its own terms, learn what makes it tick (at all levels, from large paragraphs down to individual notes), do something intelligent and beautiful. Straightforward process. Not easy, but straightforward, given a sufficient level of analytical insight and imagination.

This can be done in any music if the work is given enough focus, enough respect, enough preparation time; but it's still rare. Some of that rarity is because listeners don't expect it (and don't insist on it); and some listeners and performers don't realize it's possible. A much lower level of achievement passes as good enough, or is even hailed as "great," by the _hoi polloi_. That lower level is merely the "safety net" level for a gestural performer: one can always fall back on that if things are not going better, or if the circumstances don't allow that much preparation...a safety-net performance will still be at least good, and enough to fool most of the people most of the time.

What is the gestural approach?

Yo there, composition! Hello! Hey, I like you. Where would YOU like to go today, and how can I help you get there?

(Excerpts from my lecture notes on this topic of gestural delivery. In the lecture I of course play these two CDs themselves instead of an Internet excerpt.)

Brad Lehman

"Must a Spam haiku
Conform to the rigid box
Like Spam does?"

(haiku by a friend of mine, years ago)

(*) And, to make it even more mind-blowing: in that first minute (the web sample) Rachmaninoff is holding some intensity in reserve. He gets even more strongly (and more obviously) gestural at the later climax of the piece, making it even more emotionally compelling. The overall structure of the interpretation is already worked out to fit the shape of the piece...as it must be. Everything is in its proper place.


A Matter of Principle

Peter Bloemendaal wrote (May 30, 2003):
Following the discussions on gestural performance, terraced dynamics, Bach’s markings, Bach in the 21st century, Quantz etc., I must admit I can not enter these discussions as a musicologist or a Bach scholar. I do not even play an instrument properly. I am just a singer in an amateur (i.e. Bach lover, Liebhaber) choir. Yet, I think there is a matter of principle, applicable to all aspects of arts. It is the question I already mentioned in an earlier posting, that is to whom do works of art belong, to the creators or to the receivers, which are In literature the readers, in painting, the plastic arts, films and photography the observers, and in the case of the performing arts the musicians, the dancers, the actors, the singers, who again are creators in their own right. I agree with those who believe that there is a similarity in the relations between a composer and his oeuvre, God and his creation, and parents and their offspring. God did not create his creation and creatures as his possessions. We are not his puppets but free persons. We can choose, indeed we must choose between good and evil, learning to distinguish between right and wrong. God is not making that choice for us. Neither is he taking the responsibility for the way we live our lives. It is ours and ours alone. In the same way parents do not own their kids, but their main aims are to let their kids grow up safely in a loving atmosphere, providing the means to unfold their talents and leading them to responsible independence.

Back to Bach, I believe that any musician has the right to play Bach at his own level and to her best abilities. This includes my wife who just started playing the piano at 51 and my granddaughter of 3 and a half who will be playing Bach in a year or so. I do not think Bach would have objected to that AT ALL. It also includes professional musicians, as long as they are integer, respectful and conscientious. So, I think musicians have the freedom to adhere to HIP or non-HIP, or draw the line at any aspect in between, or formulate an even more radical point of view. Independent from the question whether Bach or Quantz or Braatz approved of this. So anyone is free to play Bach on period instruments or not. Any conductor may opt for trebles and counter tenors or female voices. From 1988 until 1995 we (Holland Boys Choir) performed SMP with exclusively male singers. Martinus Leusink, then still a treble, sang all the soprano solos. After that we have always had a female soprano and at times a female alto. Isn’t that legitimate? After all Bach did some rewriting himself for occasions when a certain voice or instrument was lacking. Glenn Gould had the right to play the Goldberg Variations the way he did, which made him famous, Bradley Lehman has the right to play them on the harpsichord, whether he will be famous or not. (Shall I keep my fingers crossed?) And who would blame McCreesh for realizing his ideas of performing SMP and finally putting it on CD? You may argue, but you can not deny him the right to do so.

A cantata or any other work being completed, Bach had to let it go! Once he had given life to it by composing and entrusting it to paper, it was meant to live a life of its own. Such is the fate of musical compositions. They have to be created again. Is anyone entitled to decide whether this second creation adds to or diminishes the original composition? And if you say yes tot that, who is, on what grounds and on what criteria??? Talking about a specific instrument, if you do not have a thorough knowledge and experience of all the relevant aspects, beware of giving an opinion. It bites back.

Now, of course Bach was a performing artist himself and that is how he became a re-creator of his own works every time he performed them anew. I am sure that like every performer I have heard more than once he would not reproduce his works like a Xerox. Bach’s contemporaries were even more amazed about his achievements on the organ than about his genius as a composer, and his playing got them awestruck (including his own children and Quantz, who were great musicians and composers as well). Now whatever Bach’s markings were intended for (interesting contribution, Uri), my comsense tells me that Bach was master over his markings. He must have been a gestural performer. In spite of all the terraced dynamics in the world, he would not have thought “there is still room for some reasonable, contained flexibility within these sections of terraced dynamics”. He must have employed his entire musical talents and no one hearing him would have moaned about terraced dynamics, for crying out loud. Clinging desperately to markings, rules or conventions is for the lesser gods. A true musician makes music transcending the barriers of what scholars or would-be scholars would impose on him. Would not a genius as Bach was and still is say “amen” to that?

Tom Brannigan wrote (May 30, 2003):
[To Peter Bloemendaal] Thankyou Peter............for a breath of fresh air.

Bradley Lehman wrote (May 30, 2003):
[To Peter Bloemendaal] Beautiful message, Peter!
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/message/5224

Some further thoughts, on various and sundry:

- Recently my wife brought home the 11-year-old girl she has recently begun to mentor (through our church program): straight from a soccer match. Quite a good young pianist, too. We gave her the tour of the house, and got to the harpsichord, clavichord, and parlour organ. This girl said, "Wow!" and sat down at each of them in turn, going through her piano pieces (Anna Magdalena Bach selections, and more) with great enthusiasm and skill. It was a joy to hear her play, and fun to hear her exploring what each instrument can do. Play. Later in the visit, she went back to these instruments and played some more. Play!

- CPE Bach must have been a gestural performer, too: both on the reports of the way he moved people when he played, and on the things he wrote in his book Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments. It's an extremely detailed book, a counterpart to Quantz'. He says his father taught him to know each style (French, Italian, German) well, and to pick the best from each to build one's style: "utilize all that is good, no matter where we may find it." Also, in the chapter about providing keyboard accompaniment, he gives catalogues of techniques one can use in all sorts of music to improvise greater expressivity far beyond the page, wherever it is needed: thickened or thinned chords, broken patterns, octave doubling, non-harmonic notes, changes of manual (if available), much more...on harpsichord, piano, clavichord, and organ. His emphasis is on playing the correct amount of sound and articulation at every given moment, to realize the composer's expressive intentions. And he even lists some explicit situations where the performer must IGNORE whatever dynamic marking he sees on the page, and play more firmly: whenever the music modulates (to emphasize the dynamics of harmony!); the cadential progression setting up a soloist's cadenza; the first note after a general pause; whenever the ensemble needs more help to stay together; more. All very practical, and all to help the audience (and the other performers!) "get" the music!

- Geminiani was another one who said the musician must go far beyond the page. His treatises are attempts to make explicit--in notation and in a lecture--the expressive nuances that the best players and singers already use, but which are not usually written down. Most of his points are melodic, but he also has a few paragraphs (and two pages of examples) for harpsichordists, revealing a "secret" technique of adding non-harmonic notes to continuo realizations to give them the needed spice...and he says this essential practice has already been in place more than 100 years. And he himself was dismissed from an early job (as a violinist leading an orchestra) because he played with so much rubato (sprezzatura, the rhythmic inflection of the melodic parts) the other players couldn't stay with him. Geminiani wrote: "(...) playing in good taste doth not consist of frequent Passages, but in expressing with Strength and Delicacy the Intention of the Composer. This Expression is what every one should endeavour to acquire, and it may be easily obtained by any Person, who is not too fond of his own Opinion, and doth not obstinately resist the Force of true Evidence. I would not however have it supposed that I deny the powerful Effects of a good Ear; as I have found in several Instances how great its Force is; I only assert that certain Rules of Art are necessary for a moderate Genius, and may improve and perfect a good one. (...)" Indeed: the craftsmanship of a good performance consists in large part of objective knowledge beyond the page, and the following of specific advice above one's own Opinion, because the techniques have been proven empirically to move people. (Not just in Geminiani's own time, but now: when good performers do those specific things, whether it's 18th century music or something else, people are moved. I've seen it, and done it, myself: the reactions of the people are palpable.) And that's something that Quantz also wrote: to judge the quality of a performance and a composition, closely observe the reactions of an audience that consists of both connoisseurs and ordinary folks.

- As I've mentioned earlier, Geminiani's melodic advice is exactly the kind of stuff practised by Bing Crosby, Barbra Streisand, and other popular 20th century singers (although they probably didn't get it from reading Geminiani). Why are these singers popular? Because they move people. These techniques, objectively, when used well in service of the music, move people! Geminiani said so explicitly, and he is right. What is the correct way to perform music, tastefully? With a delivery that moves people.

- Re Peter's remarks about the danger of judging performances without sufficient knowledge of the specific instruments: right on. Tom Braatz has also said that, re choral and solo singing, also correctly (and my too-predictable quarrels with Tom have been mostly about the extraordinarily dismissive--and grossly under-informed--things he says about instruments, along with his dismissive language about voice types and stylistic types instead of assessing the work). Quantz, in his chapter 18, has specific sections about judging the principal instruments, and sections about judging the various types of vocal performance. (Quite a bit about solo singing, both Italian and French, and a smaller bit about the German, but nothing about choral singing, alas.) Also, as I mentioned yesterday, Quantz warns about being seduced by style over substance; and about being swayed by people's reputations above listening to the actual work. Wise advice. Quantz' views are a valuable window into the values of that culture, and the balance of the national styles. We're still of course free to pick whatever style(s) we fancy, but it's worthwhile to know what was considered great or terrible by the people who were actually there when the music was new. It might nudge us to change some of our own values....

- Recently I found some things in a pleasure read through Harold Schonberg's book The Great Conductors: the usual stories about how Bach was impatient with fools and incompetents, and painstaking about everything, and hot-tempered, and overwhelmingly strong in his musical leadership. Schonberg goes on to say that about just about everybody, all those 17th and 18th century composers/performers: that they had forceful personalities (even the relatively sweet Haydn) that took over every performance they had a hand in. Schonberg also has an anecdote about Mattheson and Handel getting so ticked off at one another over the leadership of one of Mattheson's operas that they went to a duel, and Mattheson nearly killed Handel: he hit one of Handel's coat buttons with his sword and (fortunately for everyone) missed Handel's flesh. Strong personality, strong temperament, is part of the territory in all the artistic fields. There were all sorts of disagreements, then and now; the constant thing (if anything) is the strength of expressivity and passion.

- As I was saying yesterday about secondary sources, they should never an end in themselves. Secondary sources are the material filtered through (and often grossly shortened, or even changed) somebody else's opinion, somebody else's explication. They should spark inquiry back to the primary sources to see what was really said, in greater context. And even the primary sources should be treated with care: get to know the writer's WHOLE perspective, don't just search for individual lines to quote in support of whatever point one wants to make. Responsible scholarship (in any field, including music) has a respect for the integrity of an opinion, and the context of a fact.

- An example is Robert Donington's book Baroque Music: Style and Performance (1982), a secondary source which has been quoted here recently. It's a reworking of several of Donington's own earlier books: as he (sometimes grudgingly--it's obvious) updates things he had thought were nicely settled, but which have changed in light of evidence that came to light more recently. Any field is always changing, as more is learned; good scholars keep things open-ended, and any hypothesis might be retested and discarded later. And Donington himself admitted up front that his book is merely a summary, a place to start (not end) inquiry. From the Author's Note: "The present book has in view the needs of students, performers and others for a basic grounding. It summarizes the principles of authentic interpretation in baroque music and their practical application in performance. It deliberately leaves out the more complicated or controversial refinements, but it brings in whatever I should now regard as essential, substantiated by the evidence of the baroque composers and writers themselves. Not every reader, I hope, will take this evidence in quite the same way, for baroque music was never meant to be taken in quite the same way, and we shall not succeed today by being rigid and impersonal. But in providing the basic information, I hope to have given readers the means by which their own understanding and interpretation of the music may fall within the broad boundaries of baroque style and performance." He also, in the opening chapters, reminds us that "personality and temperament are legitimate variables," and "flexibility is of the essence of good baroque interpretation," and "it is possible to be inconsistent, wayward, imaginative and unpredictable, and if you are sufficiently in touch with the style of your piece, no harm need come of it, but rather all the enjoyment of a spontaneous liberty within bounds." Conviction is the key.

- Donington's is a very good general book, and for the most part he is even-handed with the facts. (And it should be noted: he is very clearly against the mid-20th-century form of "terraced dynamics" that Uri described. I checked it again this week, rereading Donington's whole chapter about dynamics. Donington is also against the overuse of messa di voce, the < > lozenges, which he blames on current (1970s) "Continental experts" who can only be the Dutch circle and Concentus Musicus Wien.) But I'd like to emphasize from his Author's Note: it's a book for beginners, he has deliberately left out things that would complicate issues, and the included choices are still his own opinion about what is important. The gross dangers are: (1) an assumption that everything important has been included, and (2) an assumption that his very short quotations from sources represent those sources adequately. At least he guides the advanced reader back to the primary sources, while not giving page or chapter numbers; one must still do a full search to find where Donington got something from for his quotations. (That full perusal is a good idea, in any case, to get appropriate context.) In short, his is a good book for people who would rather not do their own homework; and, at least, a decent place to START inquiry.

- One of Donington's best points (in my opinion) is his advice that performers start from a clean text and then thoroughly mark it up with decisions they have made about interpretation: to remove all tentativeness of indecision from the moment of performance. In practice, and in performance, a fully marked score is extremely freeing: all the syntactical stuff has already been decided, as background, and the performer's imagination is free to concentrate on putting the music across to the attentiveness (or non-attentiveness) of the people in the room, taking it moment to moment. I also wrote an essay about that several years ago: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/purc.htm
But I derived that technique not from Donington at all (whose book I didn't see until years after I'd developed it for myself): I got it straight from Bach. This was not psychic stargazing of any kind. Rather, as I prepared performances of the Art of Fugue, Bach's supremely difficult yet manageable harpsichord piece (quite a bit tougher than the Goldberg Variations), I found it to be the only way I could bring sufficient confidence and freedom to play the work in public. My mind had to be assured that I had indeed analyzed every moment (as reflected in my markings), because there are four distinct things going on at once, and that multi-tasking really makes the mind's capabilities expand. It changed my life; thank you, Johann Sebastian Bach! I learned this not because Bach said so, but because his exemplary music forced me to learn it. That piece is his valedictory treatise about playing harpsichord! That piece requires all the skills of keyboard art: analysis, complex fingering, phrasing, improvisation (in a canon!), composition (in an "unfinished" movement), cross-hands, voices passed from one hand to the other, harmonic and melodic thought processes, complex simultaneous rhythms, reading, stamina, mental discipline, flexibility, methods of contrapuntal clarity and accent, new practice and relaxation techniques for the difficult physical motions. And at dozens of places Bach also demonstrated here how pure ideas are always tempered by practical considerations: playability trumps theory. And a comparison of the autograph version with the later print shows the composer's mind at work, revising ideas, discarding ideas, adding new ideas, shuffling everything around to improve the structure. Amazing stuff. And it says much more in notes than could be said in words. It doesn't just teach music, it teaches one how to learn the musical craft!

- There are many excellent musicians--professionals, university professors, and accomplished amateurs--who bring strong general skill but no specific 17th/18th century understanding to an ensemble performance. If such performers have consulted Donington's--or similar--books and music dictionaries to learn about Baroque music, doing such background work at all, it is often at a very shallow level: for permission to do something, or to pick up a few fresh ideas, or to grab a memorable quote, taking the writer's conclusions as the end in themselves. That's better than nothing, sort of. But some of us have gone far beyond that, evolving styles that are not limited to what any single writer (old or modern) says: through examining the primary sources and (even more importantly) getting back to the imaginative basis of the music itself, thinking as composers/improvisers within the apprentice system. That is, we try to learn the music from the ground up the same way those people did, with the same basics from their own past and their own milieu, taking those as in no way inferior to modern and more generic methods. When one is trained INSIDE these specific styles, speaking them as a natural rather than a foreign language, the appropriate expression of the musical gestures comes easily. (It's like "method" acting: be that character, and behave like that full-fledged person.) It frequently happens that the harpsichordist is the only person in an _ad hoc_ ensemble--even of professional musicians--who has any training in this; and with any knowledge of the expected freedom--freedom coupled with strict objective principles of craftsmanship. And, sometimes, it's a situation when a harpsiprobably shouldn't even be there, another instrument would fit the music better; but someone has reasoned, it's 18th century music, we must hire a harpsichordist! Or, again just as frequently, someone with very good general piano or organ skill is hired to whack through a continuo part that has already been realized by an editor, and the player has no clue about the language that is being spoken in those notes, or how to pronounce any of it, or how to bring any freedom to it, or how to transcend the editor. (I'm also regularly given continuo parts that were previously used by a different accompanist, and often find markings that indicate someone has carefully prepared the editor's detailed right-hand part exactly...this is like being on a different planet, being handed one of these parts, seeing somebody's misplaced 20th century literalism in action.) There are all sorts of gigs, and one tries to make the best of each situation; that again requires creative imagination. The goal must still be to move the people who showed up.

- And there's always more to learn. Those of us who do specialize in this must still keep improving ourselves year after year, and learning techniques from instruments and voice parts other than one's own, and learning more of the repertoire. Every instrument informs every other instrument; and every style informs every other style. And it all still comes back around to play. Play. All this art should never sound like the hard work it is. It is supposed to sound easy, and absolutely unpedantic, and spiritual. Another essay of mine, along those lines: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/sprezza.htm
It's just as important, maybe even more so, to build up other aspects of spirituality as to practice the notes. More can be learned by reading good material, and by singing through instrumental parts, and vice versa, than directly by rehearsing a piece in the medium of its presentation.

Paul Farseth wrote (May 31, 2003):
[To Peter Bloemendaal] Amen to Peter.



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