[PD] Musical notation object on Pd [OT]

João Pais jmmmpais at googlemail.com
Thu Nov 11 10:57:31 CET 2010

> Right.  And, for the sake of argument, let's assume that we can
> precisely reproduce the sonic/cultural setting you were referring to
> in your Beethoven analogy, and we hear the staccato in that setting.
> What's the relevance of that experience for a performer who wants to
> interpret that staccato in a performance?  I think the answer
> depends on issues surrounding the rest of around 200 years of reception
> history of that piece, as well as various other historical/cultural
> /musical factors that the performer keeps in mind.  It could be
> anywhere on a spectrum from completely
> irrelevant, as it is in many performances in the early 20-th century
> on modern instruments, to the sole factor in some other performance.
> But it doesn't make sense to call any point on that spectrum
> "correct" interpretation just because it jibes with the "original"
> sound of the staccato (still assuming that could be known).  It does,
> however, seem fitting to call some interpretations "boring"
> because the performer limits his/her imagination to fit whatever
> models of interpretation are fashionable at the time.
> Also, when speculating about original intentions, it seems curious that
> people tend to assume such knowledge would clear up issues of
> interpretation.  It seems equally possible that, upon magically hearing
> Mozart or Beethoven play some enigmatically notated articulation or
> slur, that one would come out more confused than when they entered.

well, my paragraph was a fast reply to point out that what many people  
take for granted (in this case a Beethoven staccato) isn't that simple of  
a question at all. if I was to write something larger I might have written  
a paragraph like yours.
I don't have the time now to sit down and put this into words, so I'll  
just leave a couple of lines as reply:
- correct or incorrect doesn't exist, just different degrees of depth. how  
to scale the details (e.g. the staccato) depends on your imagination and  
the acustic/physical characteristics of the room and your instrument.  
knowing more about these and your piece shouldn't hinder you from making  
an interesting work, only knowing less.
- I don't believe the "boring" interpretation argument. A very boring  
recording I have are the last symphonies of Mozart played by the Berliner  
Philharmoniker with Karajan, a brilliantly engineered (and fast and loud)  
recording. It's so impressive that it gets cheap. Compare with Bruno  
Walter (on modern instruments) or Gardiner (on period  
instruments/replicas) and you'll get much more detail of interpretation.
- read the writings of Harnoncourt, or statements from any good  
"historically informed musician" (Gardiner, Herreweghe, R. Hill, ...), and  
the point of knowing the history, the original instruments and contexts,  
is to make sure you know more about the piece, and not just what the  
interpretation schools of the latest 100 years (some of them coming from  
russian ascent, as far as piano and string instruments are concerned) tell  
you. Then you can use that knowledge to connect with the present (e.g. in  
how many different ways a staccato could sound back then and how you can  
make it sound like that on todays halls, to keep on topic), and not just  
to "reproduce a photocopy". Like everywhere else, information is power.
- here is a small list of recordings which are much more interesting for  
me to hear than modern ones, where the musicians clearly don't play just  
what's the tradition nowadays, but are informed about the original  
context: Gardiner and his orchestra, Beethoven Symphonies (or pretty much  
everything both together do) / Mullova, Bach Chaconne  
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VL9TFvYyKI, on a modern instrument.  
compare this to any "traditional virtuoso" interpretation like  
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lm1q3gadv50, and tell me which you find  
rigid and "boring") / Herreweghe, Bruckner Symphonies (sound much more  
clear, balanced and detailed with period brass instruments, for example  
the Tuba was almost 2x smaller in the 19th century) / pretty much anything  
up to early barroque (or some Bach) cannot be played in piano, this  
instrument doesn't have the amount of colors and articulations that a  
harpsichord has (unless it's a master like  
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glg99Zc0JjU playing). E.g. particularly  
recordings by Robert Hill demonstrate this, specially the way he plays  
with rubato/metrical time in his interpretations  

(this turned out to be longer as I thought.)

> Maybe a shorter way to say all this is that clear, well thought-out
> scores in the 21st century made by considerate composers have a very
> high likelyhood of receiving a serious and considerate performance.

logically, yes. if the piece isn't uninteresting (one example is the cited  
Stockhausen engraver, who is one of the best in doing scores, but not  
known as a composer at all, and his excepts on the site looked a bit dull  
to me).

> Really, who are these composers whose scores are so misunderstood that
> their complex poly-rythms get played back as homophony?

that would be a award-winning bad performance. but complex poly-rhythms  
being just let loose and not taking care of subtleties (if there are any)  
does happen lots of times. speaking particularly of new music, it's  
usually more a question of shortage of time than incomprehension.

>> What a pieces "really" sounds like
>> is another question, most likely much more complicated, I
>> guess.
> It's actually quite simple: the piece really sounds like what one hears
> when listening to the piece.  What else could possibly be the case?

that's the "zen" answer (simple or not), and is correct. if you throw e.g.  
some Adorno or Lúkacs (any leftist- or art philosopher) into it, it gets  
much more complicated. And also correct.

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