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Sense Of Architecture


Nick Bennett
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In another thread somebody remarked that one person's interpretation of a particular piece has more "sense of architecture" than another's.

 

That set me wondering what it is one has to do when playing a piece to increase the "sense of architecture" in one's interpretation.

 

Any thoughts?

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In another thread somebody remarked that one person's interpretation of a particular piece has more "sense of architecture" than another's.

 

That set me wondering what it is one has to do when playing a piece to increase the "sense of architecture" in one's interpretation.

 

Any thoughts?

 

 

Several. I would start by paying attention to three elements - phrasing, speed and registration.

 

Phrasing is quickly dealt with. It is a matter of being thoroughly consistent. Composers practically always litter a work with scraps of melody or rhythmic patterns that are identical on paper. These absolutely must receive identical treatment in your performance. A Bach fugue must not only start and finish at the same speed, but the theme when in the pedal part ought to be presented exactly the same as when it's in the hands.

 

Speeds have to be correctly related to each other. In the case of a Bach prelude and fugue, the two speeds are rarely the same, but they are often proportionate. An example might be The Great Prelude and Fugue in C: in the 9/8 rising figure of the Prelude, IMHO the three-quaver group lasts the same as the crotchet pulse in the Fugue - i.e. rather stately. Mind you, if one is going for the grandeur of The Big Finish, with 32' drawn for that Pedal entry, this is part of the point!

 

Taking a romantic work, there has to be contrast. I have heard all music described as a balance between tension and relaxation. I recently heard a famous player rattle through the A minor Choral of Franck. Surely, however fast one plays the opening section (and all sections in similar style) the middle section with the Trompette melody must be 'seriously relaxed' by comparison? Franck himself makes this clear, because at the end of this Cantabile section, when the semiquaver action is brought back, he reminds us (in brackets) that the speed in now twice as fast. Good composers shape their works with variety in mind, you must achieve this result when you re-create them. Even famous, fast war-horses have moments of relaxation.

 

When I started out, I used to record my actual performances at every opportunity, not least because I sometimes found that these did not sound the same as I thought they did. The widest divergence from my musical aims was always the speed. If there's a rule, I now think that one can safely err on the side of playing slightly slow while one would be foolish and often un-musical to play as fast as one can! There are players with stunning techniques who I strongly suspect play quite so fast because they can. In my whole repertoire, there are about a dozen pieces which I play literally as fast as I can (to excite, even to show off!) NB There are no Bach items on this list!

 

 

The other factor contributing to a sense of architecture to the listener IMHO is registration. We are all familiar with scores where the composer merely says f, mf , fff etc. Particularly on a smaller organ, one is easily tempted to go for broke each time f or ff appears. If the composer has been helpful, it will be clear where the real climax is in a work. If this is not obvious, one can safely go for maximum at the end. Anyway, if I have a full organ of Great to Fifteenth and Swell with Cornopean, I would be unlikely to use this much until the grandest moment arrives - I'm deliberately keeping something back so that the most satisfying (or substitute loud, grand, rich etc) effect comes in the right place.

 

When one plays on a large organ the temptations can be quite difficult to control. I have just recorded the Liszt 'Ad Nos' at St.George's Minster, Doncaster. Here there are 35 pedals stops, the Great boasts four chorus reeds and huge quantities of Mixtures; one could easily draw the whole lot for Liszt's fff. So....what happens when he writes fff again? And again? And again? Discretion says: this is not 'the' loud bit, it is 'a' loud bit. I deliberately vary it - mostly building towards moments that have to totally thunder down. This IMHO is part of respecting the architecture of a work.

 

Hope this helps.

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Several. I would start by paying attention to three elements - phrasing, speed and registration.

 

Phrasing is quickly dealt with. It is a matter of being thoroughly consistent. Composers practically always litter a work with scraps of melody or rhythmic patterns that are identical on paper. These absolutely must receive identical treatment in your performance. A Bach fugue must not only start and finish at the same speed, but the theme when in the pedal part ought to be presented exactly the same as when it's in the hands.

 

Speeds have to be correctly related to each other. In the case of a Bach prelude and fugue, the two speeds are rarely the same, but they are often proportionate. An example might be The Great Prelude and Fugue in C: in the 9/8 rising figure of the Prelude, IMHO the three-quaver group lasts the same as the crotchet pulse in the Fugue - i.e. rather stately. Mind you, if one is going for the grandeur of The Big Finish, with 32' drawn for that Pedal entry, this is part of the point!

 

Taking a romantic work, there has to be contrast. I have heard all music described as a balance between tension and relaxation. I recently heard a famous player rattle through the A minor Choral of Franck. Surely, however fast one plays the opening section (and all sections in similar style) the middle section with the Trompette melody must be 'seriously relaxed' by comparison? Franck himself makes this clear, because at the end of this Cantabile section, when the semiquaver action is brought back, he reminds us (in brackets) that the speed in now twice as fast. Good composers shape their works with variety in mind, you must achieve this result when you re-create them. Even famous, fast war-horses have moments of relaxation.

 

When I started out, I used to record my actual performances at every opportunity, not least because I sometimes found that these did not sound the same as I thought they did. The widest divergence from my musical aims was always the speed. If there's a rule, I now think that one can safely err on the side of playing slightly slow while one would be foolish and often un-musical to play as fast as one can! There are players with stunning techniques who I strongly suspect play quite so fast because they can. In my whole repertoire, there are about a dozen pieces which I play literally as fast as I can (to excite, even to show off!) NB There are no Bach items on this list!

 

 

The other factor contributing to a sense of architecture to the listener IMHO is registration. We are all familiar with scores where the composer merely says f, mf , fff etc. Particularly on a smaller organ, one is easily tempted to go for broke each time f or ff appears. If the composer has been helpful, it will be clear where the real climax is in a work. If this is not obvious, one can safely go for maximum at the end. Anyway, if I have a full organ of Great to Fifteenth and Swell with Cornopean, I would be unlikely to use this much until the grandest moment arrives - I'm deliberately keeping something back so that the most satisfying (or substitute loud, grand, rich etc) effect comes in the right place.

 

When one plays on a large organ the temptations can be quite difficult to control. I have just recorded the Liszt 'Ad Nos' at St.George's Minster, Doncaster. Here there are 35 pedals stops, the Great boasts four chorus reeds and huge quantities of Mixtures; one could easily draw the whole lot for Liszt's fff. So....what happens when he writes fff again? And again? And again? Discretion says: this is not 'the' loud bit, it is 'a' loud bit. I deliberately vary it - mostly building towards moments that have to totally thunder down. This IMHO is part of respecting the architecture of a work.

 

Hope this helps.

 

Extremely well said! :D

I especially agree with what you've said about registrations and speed... and recording yourself is SO important; I always seem to play much faster than I think I'm playing at the time. Now that I know that, from numerous 'live' recordings, I've learnt that I can really take my time. At a certain recital in a certain French cathedral last summer (trying SO hard not to name drop here! ;) ) I was very aware of this and as a result felt that I'd almost ground to a halt at times, especially as the instrument sounds very immediate, and the acoustic very dry (which of course it is not) when at the console. Hearing it on an unofficial recording from down in the nave, I think that the speeds are just right, but even then they're still on the faster side of the fence!!! :unsure:

 

P

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I have studied with a number of very eminent teachers over the past 45 yeas or so and I must say that Cynic summarises the situation absolutely suberbly, and succinctly,

above (and PS does he want the music I offered him by e-mail about ten days or so ago when he was away?). Very well said.

 

One point from Cynic that I would stress as being very helpful is about recording yourself. William Whitehead has greatly encouraged me to do this; it is so helpful and not a little painful and humbling at times. When I commented to him that my performances that I record never sound as I thought they did and that I notice all sorts of things that I had missed when playing *live" his reply was that everybody finds exactly this. So yes, invest in some sort of recording device - I often use a mini-disc recorder when practicing - but don't let that become a substitute for real listening.

 

Malcolm

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I really cannot think of anything to add to Cynic's wonderfully comprehensive reply, except, perhaps, that I think frame of mind also enters into it. Before starting a long piece I try to conjure up a holistic feeling for the musical journey ahead, particularly the timescale and overall shape of the piece. Whether it would make any difference if I didn't do this I'm frankly not entirely sure! But I think it would.

 

I always seem to play much faster than I think I'm playing at the time.

I am just so glad that I'm not the only person who finds this.

 

I also agree wholeheartedly about recording yourself. A very educational and humbling experience!

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Cynic,

 

Thankyou for your post. It as a considerable help to those of us a little further down the food chain.

 

 

Yes, indeed, quite fascinating. Next time I hear a shapeless performance of anything it will be interesting to think about which of these points was the main culprit. Especially if I am playing!!

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