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GG: Convincing Interpretations? Validity? (Was Re: GG: Beethoven & Brahms)

>While i agree with a lot of your ideas on a point-by-point basis, i'm not
>sure i can agree with this basic assumption. Why should the fact that a
>position can be justified make it valid, "right" or even interesting? All it
>means is that the position taken is consistent with a number of intellectual
>assumptions, which may or may not be stated; & which may or may not be
>appropriate to the piece in question. I've heard plenty of carefully, even
>reasonably argued musical positions which have resulted in total misfires...
>& yes, a few have come from the keyboard of GG.

[In the interest of space, most of the rest is snipped]

        Ok, I see what you are saying.  First let me state that the bulk of
my arguement was regarding "convincing interpretation" which I believe to
be impossible.  That is, there is no truly right answer; we cannot guess
what Beethoven would have done because A)  We have no way of knowing how
Beethoven would have played it (there is an on going debate of what the
tempi really are, how loud is forte, etc.)  B)  We have no way of knowing
how the audience would have heard it (today we have a different set of
criteria upon which we judge music)  C)  We are not attempting to reproduce
it in a manner that Beethoven would have done (we are playing on a
different instrument which has different capabilities and require a
different technique) D)  Even when we do know the right way of playing it,
we don't do so (see Rachmaninov example) and E)  Even the composer has no
right way of playing (see Stravinski example).
        Ok given this, how do we judge a piece?  What is it that makes one
performance bad or good?  How do we know when we hear two presumably note
perfect performances that one is a good interpretation and one is a bad
        Well, to begin, we need to consider, shall I say, the culturual
baggage which we have acquired.  Knowing that we can never have the exact
interpretation(s) that Beethoven would have, and knowing that we would not
appreciate that (those) very interpretations that Beethoven's audience
would have, we have come up with ways which will please the (20th century)
audience, which have been developed and modified over time to suit the
audiences of recent past from those which were for late 19th century
audiences, ad infinitum.  What we are doing today is a perversion of what
would have been done (perversion not at all in the bad sense; in fact,
there is no possible way of avoiding this distortion of the music).
        Granted that, today, there are certain types of performances which
are "wrong," some which have no coherency with what we would expect, thus
we perceive them as "incorrect" in our ears.  But I argue that the only
performances which are wrong are those which are inconsistant to the music
and cannot be substantiated by some semblance of a logical justification.
Allow me to justify this admittedly bold statement.
        It must be acknowledged that we are certainly not performing
Beethoven's pieces as Beethoven would have (I am picking Beethoven because
he was the orignal subject of the orignal post off of which we have taken a
tangent regarding this issue).  The only thing which, in our mind,
determines if something is right or wrong is this culturual baggage which
we cannot but carry.
        I conjecture that there is no true justification for our culturual
baggage.  That this is just an accumulation of vogues built upon vogues
with only a grain of truth contained within.  I think proof is in the
recent past.
        Consider a 50's recording of a Mozart Requiem (I am thinking of the
Vienna State Opera Orchestra with Hermann Scherchen conducting, 1958)
which, back then, was considered a text-book performance.  Take any of the
more recent performances (Gardener) which is also considered, currently, a
valid performance.  The tempi, dynamics, ways of singing, phrasing, etc.
etc. etc, are completely different.  The only things consistant are the
notes (although there are a few notational mistakes in the earlier
recording which can be attributed to insufficient musicalogical research on
the material, which in some editions today are not corrected, e.g.
Lacrymosa, measure 24 alto part).  The only way that I can justify this is
the changing our expectations in the music, an entirely subjective process.
Therefore, since it is subjective process, there are no univeral rights or
wrongs (unless you want to get into a philosophical debate over the term
subjective, which I'd really prefer to avoid.
        Since no note-perfect performance can truly be right or wrong as
far as I am concerned, how do I judge what is good and bad?

>Frankly, i'm always happier with someone who answers vaguely that the
>performance "just feels right". At least that way, i can be sure of the
>honesty behind the concept, if not its logic.

        I am not pretending to be free from my culturual biases; I am by no
stretch of the imagination completely objective.  But I am not willing to
judge a performance of a work which is not "standard" to today's ear as bad
so quickly as others.  Of course, initially my judgment of a piece revolves
around how a perceive it.  However, if it is a piece I care about (as
opposed to say Schoenberg where a good interpretation is no better than a
bad interpretation) I will try to justify any musical choice by examination
of the score, comparison with other recordings, playing through a part of
it myself and so on.  If I can find an internally implicit justification,
then I am satisfied that it is a good recording, perhaps equally as good as
a completely different way.  Nothing is more pleasing to me is to discuss
with a performer/conductor about their choices and to question them about
those choices versus others (unfortunately some performers become defensive
when questioned e.g. Richard Kapp of the Philharmonia Virtuosi).  The most
convenient is when the performer writes about his reasons (hence one of the
reasons I find Glenn so wonderful, he justifies many of his unorthodox
musical decisions).
        Conversely, I find it least satisfying when I speak to a performer
and they have no idea why they did something.  I don't question their
honesty; I certainly believe them.  But I feel that they are completely
relying on the whims of their culturual baggage and expectations as opposed
to working with the only thing that has remained constant (more or less)
throughout the centuries:  The Music.  Their "aesthetic whims" are those of
a 20th century performer playing for a 20th century audience.  If they can
find a reason in the music for a musical decision, then they are
transcending their baggage and working with the music.
        And the thing that upsets me the most is that nowadays we have
these, shall I say, performing jocks who blatently know nothing of the
music and play it with a self-righteousness which nausiates me to no end.
Those who play for themselves, and not for the composer.  I find this to be
a gross act of disrespect.  When I play (and I am by no means a profecient
performer), I play for the composer, out of respect for the composer, in
praise for the composer, with thanks for the composer for blessing me with
his/her work.  To play with unjustified musical decisions is not playing
for the composer, it is playing for me.
        Which brings me to a final, somewhat tangental point:  syntax.  I
feel that it is egotistical to refer to ones interpretation of something as
ones own.  That is, you might often hear a conductor, when refering to
Beethoven's fifth, say something like "Have you heard my fifth."  This
infuriates me to no end because I have found people who to some extent
really believe that it is their fifth.  To some extent it is, but the
interpretation could not exist without the notes; the interpretation is
completely subordinate to the notes.
        I do not expect that all people should agree with me.  Admittedly
my points are contraversial to some degree (although I believe that I am
right ;} ).  I guess my goal is simply to have people think about what I
said (wrote).  We have to stop being passive listeners, letting the vogues
of the time push us along like a shepherd to sheep.  We must be active
listeners, we must take control of our ears, and the interpretations by
performers who play for them.  I cannot be a passive listener; the music is
just too powerful to just bounce off my eardrums.  I must assimilate as
many aspects as I can.  I realize that this requires work, and, I fear,
that this is the problem.  Many of our performers are unwilling to work as
hard as I am willing to listen.

Captain Nemo

Haverford College
370 Lancaster Ave.
Haverford, PA 19041

Phone:  (610) 896-1680


        I go out into the hall to knock in a nail.  On my way there, I
decide I would rather go out.  I obey the impulse, get into a train, come
to a railway station, go on travelling and finally end up - in America!
That is modulation!
                                         Anton Webern, from "Towards New Music"

"The purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of
adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of
a state of wonder serenity."
                                        Glenn Gould