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[nvalle@haverford.edu (Captain Nemo): GG:forwarded message from Nemo]

This was sent during the crash from Nemo


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Date: Thu, 4 Apr 1996 15:22:23 -0500
To: mwatts@rci.rutgers.edu
From: nvalle@haverford.edu (Captain Nemo)
Subject: GG:forwarded message from Nemo


To: f_minor@gandalf.rutgers.edu
From: nvalle@haverford.edu (Captain Nemo)
Subject: Re: GG: Convincing Interpretations? Validity?

>That dismissive comment about "Even when we do know the right way of
>playing it, we don't do so (see Rachmaninov example)" compels me to
>Captain, you're implying that Rachmaninov didn't know "the right way" to
>play his own music?  (Or perhaps someone else's music?) I'm curious what
>your standards of "the right way" are.  The printed score?  What you
>happen to like on any given day?  A performer's reputation at the time, or
>subsequently?  All those might be valid; just let us know why you think
>your understanding is "right" and someone else's is wrong.

        I am afraid that you misunderstand me entirely.  What I was saying
is that Rachmaninov plays his music a very particular way (using
rallantandi and accelerandi at his own liberty).  If you listen many of
today's "convincing" recordings of his music by other performers (even
Horowitz), you will notice that his interpretation is completely different.
My question "was Rachmaninov wrong?" was a rhetorical one.
        Of course he's not wrong!!!  But rather why is Horowitz
("convincing" as he is) right when he is completely different??
        I strongly suggest that you reread what I wrote because this second
paragraph completely misrepresents me.  My point is exactly the opposite.
I do not believe that the performers whims make a performace ok (remember
my example from the string quartet that visited my college in my first
post).  It is careful score study and going with the only consistant
evidence we have since our whims are 1996 whims, which are different from
1950 whims which are vastly different that 1850 whims.  I am over
simplifying now; you should reread what I wrote.  If I was unclear, then I
apologize, but I do feel that a careful reading should clarify any of your
potential problems with what I said because it seems that we have similar

>I'm assuming that your reference above to "several piano rolls of
>[Rachmaninov's], and, if I am not mistaken, a few bad recordings" is a
>reference to 1920's and 1930's sound quality from 78's.  Have you *heard*
>all those records?  Rachmaninov was very choosy about what he allowed to
>be released, and consequently the level of personal artistic quality is
>exceptionally high and consistent.  It's also instructive to listen
>comparatively to the pieces which he recorded several times, to hear what
>changed in his interpretations and what remained consistent.  Many of the
>details that sound like whims were very carefully worked out, but there's
>spontaneity, too (and remember also that all these were done without the
>benefit of any splices; his control within freedom is astonishing).  To my
>ears, the musicality is overwhelming.  It doesn't matter whether the way
>he treats detail and rhythmic freedom are out of vogue or not.  It doesn't
>matter whether he adds an extra chord to the end of his own published
>G-minor Prelude.  How can that be called wrong?  How about the way he
>improvised a cadenza in one of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies?  How about
>the way he changed the dynamics in Chopin's second sonata, such that a
>number of later pianists have chosen to play it Rachmaninov's way instead
>of the way Chopin's score indicates?  For me, Rachmaninov's
>interpretations, with his spark of something special happening, make
>almost everybody else's seem boring.

        This is my point exactly.  This is why I am frustrated with today's
performances.  If you ask a performer today "Why did you do that?" they
will very often say "I don't know.  Because I felt like it."  No
substantial justification.  No reason behind their performance of a certain
chord progression that particular way.  Even if they disagree with
Rachmaninov, they better tell me why they are doing it differently than
him; maybe (and it's not unusual as I know two composers who have recently
had their works performed by major chamber groups) the performer saw
something the composer didn't or saw it in a different way.

>So, Captain, I think if you'd go listen more actively to all of
>Rachmaninov's records and give him a fairer interpretive shake, instead of
>first dismissing him as wrong, you might actually enjoy his work.  Same
>for Schoenberg, whom you dismissed as a composer because it doesn't matter
>to you how well or badly his works are played.  Have you read the book
>that Gould wrote about Schoenberg?  Do you know the String Trio, or the
>Serenade (one of Gould's all-time favorite works)?  Have you listened
>comparatively to what you'd consider good and bad performances of his
>works (or delineated for yourself what "good" and "bad" mean to you here)?

        Ack!!!  I have.  I love Rachmaninov despite the bad recording
quality!!!  Despite the piano rolls.  I wouldn't have it any other way.
What bothers me is that a performer who performs them different can't even
tell me why they do it.

>Drawing Gould more firmly into this: one often sees comments dismissing
>young Gould's recordings of the last three Beethoven sonatas, and
>middle-aged Gould's recording of the Appassionata.  I wonder how much of
>that is mere prejudice.  People can always set up standards by which other
>people are "wrong."  I find that those particular four recordings of
>Beethoven work well for me, because I hear Gould (1) being interesting,
>(2) projecting quite a lot of serenity (yes, even in the Appassionata) and
>other clear affects, (3) choosing ideas and going with them confidently,
>and (4) helping me enjoy the music.  It doesn't matter so much to me
>whether I agree with his specific approaches or not; in those records, he
>is at least doing something that is clear.  I listen to and watch Gould's
>televised performance of Ravel's "La Valse" for the astonishment of it, to
>watch some enjoyable and focused piano-playing, but if I want to hear a
>performance that sounds more graceful and elegant to me, I go listen to
>somebody else.  Why should one expect a single performance of anything to
>illuminate all its aspects at once?

        ACK!!!!!!!  It's those standards (the culturual baggage) with which
I am at odds.  That's why I am not so quick to judge Glenn's recordings as
bad; quite the contrary I find them to be MORE rewarding because he can
justify evey note, every dynamic, every tempo.
        Of course no one performance can illuminate every aspect of the
work.  But, we can expect that a careful study of a score will produce a
more enlightening performance, because it will reflect the composer, not
the performer.  I will not let the performer illuminate him/herself through
the music.  It makes me sick.

>When I choose to listen to Beethoven's seventh symphony (just to pick
>another example), some days I'll prefer the way Carlos Kleiber did it, or
>either of the Klemperer recordings, or Harnoncourt, or Mengelberg, or
>Bohm, or Casals, or others.  They're all distinct works of art which do
>different things for me, and I like them all for different reasons.
>There's no way I could say that one is right, and that therefore all the
>others are wrong.  I want to have them all.  Wagner as performed by Gould,
>Toscanini, Klemperer, Furtwaengler, and Karajan (etc.) are all different
>entities, to be considered on their own terms.  I have at least thirty
>different recordings of Bach's "Art of Fugue," including three of my own
>concert performances; there are different insights available in listening
>to any of them, and I enjoy them for different reasons.  That speaks to
>the richness of the works: there's always more to them than some "right"
>way.  Any given performance is only one way among many.

        *sob*  What I said was there was no right performance.  We can
never perfectly immitate what Bach would have done; we don't even make an
effort to do so (not orignal instruments) and we shouldn't make an effort
to do so because we aren't the same audience.  The one thing that has
remained consistant throughout the ages is the music, the notes on the
page.  The performers job is to do justice to those notes.  When the
performer gets in the way, then I become upset, because we are letting our
20th century attitudes, not to mention egos get, in the way of the music.
Our job as performers is to represent the music of the compser.  And the
only way we can do this is to scutinze the score to the highest possible
detail, to justify each musical decision with something in the score.

        Please, I beg you, reread my previous posts more carefully as you
have completely misunderstood and misrepresented my position.



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