Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Hearing Secret Harmomies

Looking at this , the most remarkable statement*, made so serenely, is that were it possible for the composer to be  in an audience we must question whether he would  recognise his own work,  and   that this is a measure of how distant we are, in performance,  from the composer's intention.

Bruggen is not speaking only of early works - but of all music.  Most know: that scores are merely indicative; systems of notation imperfectly read, and read differently from time to time;  instrumentation often unspecified and certainly unfixed as instruments alter their technical characteristics;  pitch very up and down;   tempi  - I wouldn't dare go there.   Musical hierarchies used to settle these matters are a reflection of notions of hierarchy and importances within wider sociocultural constructs - not for nothing did the idea of the conductor as master, nay, hero of the technically perfect  but standardly-performing ensemble players, the welder of a single voice from disparate instrumental parts, establish itself in keeping with the idea of the hero leader in other facets of our culture and history.

Then there is us, the audience; not necessarily knowing much but knowing what we like; drawing on our responses, our feelings, on the effectiveness of the manipulation of our emotions to decide if a performance of a well-known work is 'true'.  As well as being alive - slow to change at times -  but shifting with styles and re-interpreted 'expositions' to impose new versions of 'true'.

Being alive, as the composer, conducting or performing oneself wouldn't  make 'true' easier to reach, or only very rarely, and only for the very few performer-masters: just think of those dreadful recordings of poets declaiming their own works, and the capacity to speak words springs to life as a wholly other art-form from the capacity to write them.   

Only the artists, it would seem, can enjoy their art to the full, as they experienced it - interpretation muffles our perception of what they do so that in attempting its reproduction we render it unrecognisable to its originator.

Perhaps it's for the best, for all of them are walking close to madness.  Except for Bach, of course.

Oh, and readers may like to listen here .

*[the translation is poor, 'righteous' should be translated as 'true']


A musician said...

But does the composer always have intention? What about re-workings and subsequent alterations of a work? What if he changes his mind about the interpretation? (See or rather hear Stravinsky's 4 different recordings of the Rite of Spring - he conducts all of them - from 1928, 1940, 1960 and 1961).
Berio listened to a friend playing Gesti and remarked "did I write that?" (he had forgotten). Xenakis sat in the audience at the premiere of Kombo, which they were playing at half speed as it was technically impossible to realise what he had actually written, and he congratulated the performers profusely (he hadn't noticed).
It's a tricky question, that of the performer's responsabilities v. composer's intentions. Many theoriticians (not performing musicians) argue that composers do not actually have intentions, or that if they have they did not know they had, and in any case we (performers, audience) cannot know what they are as the composer cannot express them.

hatfield girl said...
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Weekend Yachtsman said...

Tempi - I'll dare to go there in a small way.

I don't believe that all medieval music was performed at the lento-to-adagio tempo at which we normally hear it today.

These people didn't spend their entire lives in huge resonant buildings, any more than we do.

hatfield girl said...

I hadn't meant intention to be used in anything but its every day meaning M, just 'what you set out to do', not all the Anscombey stuff. The repeated performance changes might be adjustments to try for a closer fit to what the composer meant to be heard while he remains constant to the composition as first conceived; but perhaps not. Perhaps he had all kinds of second thoughts and stimulations from reactions to his work and perhaps that is part of the creative process. How do we know when a work has achieved its final, or definitive, form?

A vivid and active musical mind might not mind a half-speed performance but find it an interesting take on the composition; after all musicians don't need the instruments to hear their score - indeed is it not easier and quicker just to read to yourself, rather than do it out loud? Apart from the joys of communication, of course; without them we, Audience, could be dispensed with but would be much missed even for our contribution to the realisation of a composition. We can be full of surprises, serendipitous adjuncts to the original intent.

I don't accept that a composer cannot express his intentions - but he may well keep changing his mind, being diverted. After all, what else is a divertimento? And as for a Partita!

hatfield girl said...

Agree there, Yacht. Lots of 'early musicians' are, or rather were, just gloomy-minded. Probably because they were reviled and lonely. And some suspected they had to take it slowly as they weren't very good at playing their instruments.

Nowadays things go with considerable bounce (indeed often too much for my taste) don't you find?