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Historical Awareness


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In another thread MM wrote

 

This reminds me of a wag at uni, who said over a "nice cup of tea" (honest!), "Why the hell should anyone want to read music? Isn't it better to play it or hear it?"

What a stupid remark. No doubt this person would have got on well with the soprano I once knew, who in her blonde, brainless bimboism couldn't understand the relevance to a performer of musical analysis. "Why should I bother to analyse things like form, phrase structure and modulation?" she whined. "All you need to do is feel the music!" Thick as a whale omelette. This "I don't need to understand music to perform it" attitude goes hand-in-hand with the notion that musicologists are not "real" musicians. This dead-from-the-neck-up attitude usually comes from people attempting to justify their own limited musicianship - people who can see few possibilities (assuming more than one) for interpreting a piece of music - people who fondly imagine that their Romantic performances of Baroque music are oh-so-musical, but who haven't developed the breadth of appreciation to realise how overblown and incongruous they can appear to those with more widely developed sensitivities. It is an attitude that I find deeply insulting to the very many musicologists who are completely at home on the concert platform and who are deeply respected by the musical world at large for the intellect and insight they bring to their performances. Hence the rant.

 

Basically what gets my goat is the arrogance of (often rather limited) performers who think they are superior to scholars. I don't see the reverse: I have yet to meet any scholars who think themselves inherently superior to performers. (I have met one or two who look down on what they see as ignorance, but that is not the same thing.)

 

Surely if you want to be a fully developed musician, scholarship and performance should go hand-in-hand.

 

I shall say no more on this subject or I really will start to throw my toys out of the pram, but feel free to fire at will.

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In another thread MM wrote

What a stupid remark. No doubt this person would have got on well with the soprano I once knew, who in her blonde, brainless bimboism couldn't understand the relevance to a performer of musical analysis. "Why should bother to analyse things like form, phrase structure and modulation?" she whined. "All you need to do is feel the music!" Thick as a whale omlette. This "I don't need to understand music to perform it" attitude goes hand-in-hand with the notion that musicologists are not "real" musicians. This dead-from-the-neck-up attitude usually comes from people attempting to justify their own limited musicianship - people who can see few possibilities (assuming more than one) for interpreting a piece of music - people who fondly imagine that their Romantic performances of Baroque music are oh-so-musical, but who haven't developed the breadth of appreciation to realise how overblown and incongruous they can appear to those with more widely developed sensitivities. It is an attitude that I find deeply insulting to the very many musicologists who are completely at home on the concert platform and who are deeply respected by the musical world at large for the intellect and insight they bring to their performances. Hence the rant.

 

Basically what gets my goat is the arrogance of (often rather limited) performers who think they are superior to scholars. I don't see the reverse: I have yet to meet any scholars who think themselves inherently superior to performers. (I have met one or two who look down on what they see as ignorance, but that is not the same thing.)

 

Surely if you want to be a fully developed musician, scholarship and performance should go hand-in-hand.

 

I shall say no more on this subject or I really will start to throw my toys out of the pram, but feel free to fire away.

 

Funnily enough, I had the same conversation with a different blonde soprano (well, I presume she was a different one!) about four months ago! Must be something to do with the species.... :)

 

There are, of course, two sides to the argument. Scholarship does enhance one's appreciation of music in that one can understand and recognize musical devices and structures employed by the composer. This, I find, helps as a listener and - to a greater extent - as a performer. Certainly, you're likely to make a better performance if you understand how the work is constructed and have the understanding of how to convey aspects of the composition to the listener, although instinct (sometimes uninformed at that) and innate musicianship can often help. As a listener, however, there are times that I think it better to let the music bypass the brain and go straight to the heart.

 

The danger is that sometimes too much understanding about, say, the style of a certain period, can actually get in the way of enjoying listening to a good performance just because it doesn't fit into our accepted idea of how the music should be performed. I'm thinking of some of the comments - however valid - made about the recent organ prom by John Scott being discussed on another thread, which performance I found most enjoyable despite the repertoire and the organ not being natural bed-fellows.

 

Of course scholarship and performance should go hand-in-hand, with the former enlightening the latter. Scholarship is only unhelpful if we allow it to get in the way of enjoying listening to the music.

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He who ignore Hystory, condemns himself to repeat it.

Any candidate for a 20th century flash-back ?

 

Suffice to say that in Belgium, after the federal elections this June,

the situation is so complicated that we still do not have a government.

As a result we already have, on our main newspapers forums, people

who advocate things like deportations of populations.... :)

And this for so "serious" reasons as...Languages!

 

This is frightening to the point I do not even feel the envy to joke with it,

as usual.

Now about music the question isn't so critical of course. But let us imagine

we get rid of any historical knowledge.

We would change our way to play Bach every five years or so, without previous

backup.

And in the end we would lose Bach, exactly like a file on a crashed hard disk...

 

More.

Since more than a century now we work hard to understand Bach's music

historical context, among others, the organs that suit his music best.

And though....It is only since the fall of the iron curtain that we commence

to understand that matter better -1989-.

To the point we realize today we have no one "correct Bach organ" in Belgium.

 

Even worse.

An association still wants to build a "Bach organ" but in a false, neo-baroque way

in Belgium (we fight merciless against that project). It is planned to vaguely copy

a builder.....Bach himself heavily criticised for poor materials and belated specifications.

 

So even with a good deal of historical awareness, we still make lots of mistakes !

 

Pierre

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In another thread MM wrote

What a stupid remark. No doubt this person would have got on well with the soprano I once knew, who in her blonde, brainless bimboism couldn't understand the relevance to a performer of musical analysis. "Why should I bother to analyse things like form, phrase structure and modulation?" she whined. "All you need to do is feel the music!" Thick as a whale omelette. This "I don't need to understand music to perform it" attitude goes hand-in-hand with the notion that musicologists are not "real" musicians. This dead-from-the-neck-up attitude usually comes from people attempting to justify their own limited musicianship - people who can see few possibilities (assuming more than one) for interpreting a piece of music - people who fondly imagine that their Romantic performances of Baroque music are oh-so-musical, but who haven't developed the breadth of appreciation to realise how overblown and incongruous they can appear to those with more widely developed sensitivities. It is an attitude that I find deeply insulting to the very many musicologists who are completely at home on the concert platform and who are deeply respected by the musical world at large for the intellect and insight they bring to their performances. Hence the rant.

 

Basically what gets my goat is the arrogance of (often rather limited) performers who think they are superior to scholars. I don't see the reverse: I have yet to meet any scholars who think themselves inherently superior to performers. (I have met one or two who look down on what they see as ignorance, but that is not the same thing.)

 

Surely if you want to be a fully developed musician, scholarship and performance should go hand-in-hand.

 

I shall say no more on this subject or I really will start to throw my toys out of the pram, but feel free to fire at will.

 

 

========================

 

 

Two points deducted for repetition.....I've read this before!

 

Now to be utterly and inspiringly controversial, who is the greatest performer among the following:-

 

1. Albert Schweitzer

 

2. Virgil Fox

 

3. Ton Koopman

 

4. Edwin Lemare

 

5. Luciano Pavorotti

 

 

They all made their mark after all, and they are still listened to to-day....in the case of Koopman, because he is still alive of course.

 

I suppose we might also ask whether Beethoven was better than Elgar, rather than merely more prolific.

 

Elgar was, of course, entirely self-taught, and very much "middle England....from wheres they torque funny like.

 

I love a good rant! I listen avidly to Jonathan Ross of a Saturday on Radio 2.

 

:)

 

MM

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Funnily enough, I had the same conversation with a different blonde soprano (well, I presume she was a different one!) about four months ago! Must be something to do with the species.... :)

 

There are, of course, two sides to the argument. Scholarship does enhance one's appreciation of music in that one can understand and recognize musical devices and structures employed by the composer. This, I find, helps as a listener and - to a greater extent - as a performer. Certainly, you're likely to make a better performance if you understand how the work is constructed and have the understanding of how to convey aspects of the composition to the listener, although instinct (sometimes uninformed at that) and innate musicianship can often help. As a listener, however, there are times that I think it better to let the music bypass the brain and go straight to the heart.

 

The danger is that sometimes too much understanding about, say, the style of a certain period, can actually get in the way of enjoying listening to a good performance just because it doesn't fit into our accepted idea of how the music should be performed. I'm thinking of some of the comments - however valid - made about the recent organ prom by John Scott being discussed on another thread, which performance I found most enjoyable despite the repertoire and the organ not being natural bed-fellows.

 

Of course scholarship and performance should go hand-in-hand, with the former enlightening the latter. Scholarship is only unhelpful if we allow it to get in the way of enjoying listening to the music.

 

=================

 

 

I agree!

 

 

MM

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He who ignore Hystory, condemns himself to repeat it.

Any candidate for a 20th century flash-back ?

 

Suffice to say that in Belgium, after the federal elections this June,

the situation is so complicated that we still do not have a government.

As a result we already have, on our main newspapers forums, people

who advocate things like deportations of populations.... :)

And this for so "serious" reasons as...Languages!

 

This is frightening to the point I do not even feel the envy to joke with it,

as usual.

Now about music the question isn't so critical of course. But let us imagine

we get rid of any historical knowledge.

We would change our way to play Bach every five years or so, without previous

backup.

And in the end we would lose Bach, exactly like a file on a crashed hard disk...

 

More.

Since more than a century now we work hard to understand Bach's music

historical context, among others, the organs that suit his music best.

And though....It is only since the fall of the iron curtain that we commence

to understand that matter better -1989-.

To the point we realize today we have no one "correct Bach organ" in Belgium.

 

Even worse.

An association still wants to build a "Bach organ" but in a false, neo-baroque way

in Belgium (we fight merciless against that project). It is planned to vaguely copy

a builder.....Bach himself heavily criticised for poor materials and belated specifications.

 

So even with a good deal of historical awareness, we still make lots of mistakes !

 

Pierre

 

 

========================

 

 

How very interesting Pierre.

 

This is exactly what I have found with the fall of the Iron Curtain.......it's like seeing the academy of old Europe open up before one's eyes.

 

MM

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========================

Two points deducted for repetition.....I've read this before!

 

Now to be utterly and inspiringly controversial, who is the greatest performer among the following:-

 

1. Albert Schweitzer

 

2. Virgil Fox

 

3. Ton Koopman

 

4. Edwin Lemare

 

5. Luciano Pavorotti

They all made their mark after all, and they are still listened to to-day....in the case of Koopman, because he is still alive of course.

 

I suppose we might also ask whether Beethoven was better than Elgar, rather than merely more prolific.

 

Elgar was, of course, entirely self-taught, and very much "middle England....from wheres they torque funny like.

 

I love a good rant! I listen avidly to Jonathan Ross of a Saturday on Radio 2.

 

:)

 

MM

 

To mis-quote Kipling: if you can enjoy hearing Schweitzer playing Bach, MM, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din! :blink:

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This is a topic that I came across in my studies at the Birmingham Conservatoire. I believe if anyone is going to perform a piece of music then one should have at least read about the composer and the meaning behind the music. This should then influence the way in which the music is performed, rather than seeing the music as blobs on page which some musicians do.

 

In the organ world the same thing applies and I hear so many people interpret JS Bach in the way they think it should be played because their teacher telling them to do so and the pupil failing to as WHY? I know that Bach is a big subject in itself because there is a lot we don't know about how his music was performed. As for scholars, they can be very good but it can detract from the musical wizardry that is about music. After all music is a form of communication and is not something that is written about totally.

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I even have CDs, Holz!

 

Just an example:

http://www.amazon.fr/J-S-Bach-Organ-Works-...y/dp/B0000C9V7L

 

Pierre

This is interesting. Pretty much the first organ LP I heard, just after I had first begun playing the organ when about 12 years old, was a recording of Schweitzer playing Bach's Toccata, Adagio and Fugue. I was bowled over by the grandeur of it. Of course I didn't know any better. That was then and styles have changed enormously since those days. In the 60s it was already customary to rubbish Schweitzer's playing, especially his slow speeds and since more innovative approaches were on offer (not least Rogg), I never went out of my way to hear him again. I have often wondered what my reaction to his playing would be today. I went through most of the samples on Amazon and was surprised at how musical I found most of his speeds, even some of the ones that initially seemed ponderously slow. Only once or twice did I find myself failing to get onto his wavelength. The advantage of "weighty" Bach is that it gives the music a stature that well befits the musical giant we perceive Bach to be. Whether that has anything to do with how Bach perceived himself might of course be an altogether different matter. As for Schweitzer's articulation and his use of reeds, I could not claim that they do the music too many favours. Nevertheless, I suspect we could still learn at thing or two from Schweitzer.

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As for scholars, they can be very good but it can detract from the musical wizardry that is about music.

Yes, but it shouldn't. Of course, we have to admit that not all scholars are top-class performers, any more than all performers are top class scholars. Whichever side of the divide on which we sit (there should be no divide, but there we are), most of us fall short to a greater or lesser extent. The number of people who truly excel in both spheres is probably rather tiny. However there is no reason why scholarship should detract from the musical wizardry because the responsibility of the musician to deliver a musical performance exists quite independently. What scholarship does do is to present challenges to the performer to make vibrant music within set parameters (time, place, instruments, performance practice and the rest). This is inevitably more difficult than simply making your own empirical decisions and it tends to find people wanting. Probably everyone is found wanting at some point or other.

 

I would agree that the obligation to perform musically must be paramount. However the notion of what is musical is subjective, isn't it? It seems to me that an appreciation of historical context has often enabled me to find music where others have found only barren notes.

 

(I know I said I wouldn't comment any further, but you never seriously expected me to keep my word, did you? :))

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For my two Cents, euh, Pennies, I still think much of Bach is played

about two times too fast.

 

When one see the specifications, and hear the so heavy, rich tones of organs

like the Wagners and the Trosts, it is even more blatant.

"ta-ti-ti-tu-ta" with screaming, tierce-less Mixtures in Bach, sorry; to me it's

not only musically bad, but historically false.

 

Want for some MP3, Ladies and gentlemen ?

 

Pierre

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Yes, but it shouldn't. Of course, we have to admit that not all scholars are top-class performers, any more than all performers are top class scholars. Whichever side of the divide on which we sit (there should be no divide, but there we are), most of us fall short to a greater or lesser extent. The number of people who truly excel in both spheres is probably rather tiny. However there is no reason why scholarship should detract from the musical wizardry because the responsibility of the musician to deliver a musical performance exists quite independently. What scholarship does do is to present challenges to the performer to make vibrant music within set parameters (time, place, instruments, performance practice and the rest). This is inevitably more difficult than simply making your own empirical decisions and it tends to find people wanting. Probably everyone is found wanting at some point or other.

 

I would agree that the obligation to perform musically must be paramount. However the notion of what is musical is subjective, isn't it? It seems to me that an appreciation of historical context has often enabled me to find music where others have found only barren notes.

 

(I know I said I wouldn't comment any further, but you never seriously expected me to keep my word, did you? :))

 

 

==============================

 

 

 

This is actually a very interesting subsiduary subject, so I would like to indulge myself with a new thread under the head of "What makes a great performer? Scholarship, technique or musicianship?"

 

Pierre's contribution about the speed people take Bach is, I believe, also very relevant.

 

MM

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