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[Bradley P Lehman <bpl@umich.edu>: my postings to f_minor crashing today]

Here're Bradley's comments-- again missed by the group as a whole because of
the crash.


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Date: Thu, 4 Apr 1996 16:20:26 -0500 (EST)
From: Bradley P Lehman <bpl@umich.edu>
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To: Mary Jo Watts <mwatts@rci.rutgers.edu>
Subject: my postings to f_minor crashing today
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Could you please repost these two messages (below) to the list?  They 
keep coming back to me as undeliverable to f_minor, with the error 
"aliasing/forwarding loop broken".  Thanks!

(Without these two, Captain Nemo's references to my postings don't have
any context.)

Bradley Lehman, bpl@umich.edu       http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/  

Date: Thu, 4 Apr 1996 14:19:01 -0500 (EST)
From: Bradley P Lehman <bpl@umich.edu>
To: Captain Nemo <nvalle@haverford.edu>
Cc: f_minor@gandalf.rutgers.edu
Subject: Re: GG: Convincing Interpretations? Validity? (Was Re: GG: Beethoven & Brahms)

Captain Nemo had these things to say recently about Rachmaninov:

March 31:
>(...) I feel that the definition of "convincing interpretation" to be a
>very curious topic. Although we have some information regarding the
>performance practice of Beethoven's era, it is still very unclear how
>exactly Beethoven would have performed it, or that he even would have been
>consistant in his performances of it (presuming his deafness wasn't an
>        Rachmaninov is another fine example.  We have several piano rolls
>of his, and, if I am not mistaken, a few bad recordings.  We notice that
>his tempi and use of rallentando are VERY different than those of
>performers today (particularly in the famous c# minor prelude from op 3.
>and the gm prelude op 23 no. 5).  Was Rachmaninov wrong?
>        Who is to say that Beethoven wouldn't have taken such liberties
>with his music?  I don't doubt that he did.  And I don't doubt that
>performers in his day did as well.

April 4:
>(...) 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). 
>        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.

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. 

Have you heard the way Bartok played Beethoven and Scarlatti and his own
works on his recordings: his remarkable phrasing and tone and clarity? 
Have you heard the way Rachmaninov played Chopin, Schumann, and
Rachmaninov?  (Some of us out here consider Rach's Chopin some of the best
recordings of all time, the best performances of *any* repertoire by
*anyone*.) Have you heard the way Cortot played the Chopin waltzes, and
compared that with his student Lipatti's performances?  Fascinating stuff. 
If we read that Schubert performed any of his songs or song cycles for his
friends, singing and playing the piano part simultaneously, can we
consider it "right" that nobody else in modern times (not even Nat King
Cole or Harry Connick, Jr.) has attempted this level of authenticity in

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. 

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)? 

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? 

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. 

Gould, more than most other performers or writers, did a lot to make such
artistic pluralism acceptable.  He campaigned for the idea that there is
no one right way.  Let's enjoy all the perspectives that different
performers bring to musical works, instead of arguing about who's "right." 

Bradley Lehman, bpl@umich.edu       http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/  

Date: Thu, 4 Apr 1996 16:09:56 -0500 (EST)
From: Bradley P Lehman <bpl@umich.edu>
To: Captain Nemo <nvalle@haverford.edu>
Cc: f_minor@gandalf.rutgers.edu
Subject: Re: GG: Convincing Interpretations? Validity? 

(This posting does get to the topic of Gould by the end, so be patient...)

On Thu, 4 Apr 1996, Captain Nemo wrote:

>         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).(...)
>         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
> positions.

But I *have* read and re-read what you wrote, Captain, several times, and
that's why I asked my questions of clarification in the first place.  It
still looks as if you're dismissing Rachmaninov.  You may not have
intended that at all, but that's how it looked each time I read your

You have now admitted more clearly that your standard of evaluation is the
score.  Well, that's as much or more a late-20th-century whim than
anything else you say.  Most of the music we're talking about was written
more than 80 years ago, at times when "fidelity to the score" was not
necessarily the virtue it's made into today.  It's anachronistic to judge
performances of such music by the standard of how closely the sound
matches the supposed objectivity one sees on the page.  (And even that
depends on which edition one uses, or which manuscript of a particular

The reason I responded to your collection of recent postings is that on
most points I agree with you.  We seem to have similar ideas, but phrase
them differently. You seem to be arguing for a similar level of artistic
pluralism as I am; but your aesthetic standard (the score is Truth) is
different from mine. 

The part of your postings that I'm taking exception to is your apparent
judgment that performers' feelings and presumably subjective musical
instincts are not as valid as something else, namely the marks in the
score.  I submit that such a policy might be foreign to the composers of
the works under consideration.  For them, the reality of "this is what the
music means" or "this is how this music should be played" might have had
far less to do with the written score than you seem to assume.  

I'm arguing simply for a balance: please give performers more artistic
credit in the creation of a performance.  Their reasons for any particular
decisions don't have to be objectively justifiable by positivistic
criteria.  And their reasons don't even have to be necessarily articulable
in words.  (I'm reminded of Peter Schickele's famous line about "PDQ 
Bach's intentions, if indeed he had any....")

> (...) 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.

Again, how can you judge that a performer's feeling is not "substantial
justification" for any decisions?  Intuition, feeling, and sensitivity to
environmental factors can be just as valid reasons as logic and research,
especially where an art form (music, in this case) is concerned. 

I have advanced degrees in both musicology and performance.  The thing
that disgruntled me most about the way I saw the field of musicology being
done was that many writers tend to belittle anything that can't be
justified by (supposedly) objective fact.  The need to categorize things
overwhelmed the art, the humanity, the irrationality that makes musical
works live in the first place.  I left musicology as a professional field
because (in general) it ran roughshod over the validity of performers'
feelings and instincts.  "Objectivity" can tend to bulldoze meaning. 

>         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.

You're entitled to your opinion of what makes you sick.  :) But I still
disagree with you about that apparent assumption that the music is
captured in the score, waiting to be revealed magically by someone who is
selfless enough to do so.  Some music is that way, and some isn't. 

Some music can't live at all unless the performer personalizes it
completely.  An obvious example that springs to mind is much of CPE Bach's
music; another is Froberger's.  And some of Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, and
Tchaikovsky....  If the expression isn't a revelation of the performer's
feelings moment to moment, as suggested by the composer's structure and
notes (but not limited to the composer's structure and notes), the music
goes nowhere. 

>         *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.

As a counter-proposal: some of us performers believe that our job is to do
justice to the composer's gestures (not the notes).  That involves
figuring out what every given group of marks means, as expression of a
musical idea in a context, internalizing it, and then making it one's own
natural expression.  It's a translation of concepts, not notes.  It's
construction of an entire field of possibilities, and using the
possibilities that correspond to what a composer specified.  It's training
oneself to do things in the same free spirit that the composer experienced
internally while composing or performing the piece.  (And again, the
composition experience may have had very little correlation with the
process of writing it onto paper.) The goal, of course, is to perform as
if one is letting the piece be of oneself: an attempt to personify the
composer in action, as much as possible. 

That is not "performer's ego."  That is an attempt to make performance a
creative sparkling act, instead of a re-creative one.  Many listeners know
immediately whether something "in the moment" is happening or not in a
performance, even if they can't put that realization into words or
conscious thought.  If one goes to a concert in which the performers
onstage are simply going through a ritual execution of a series of
decisions which they've made "objectively," there is nothing really
happening.  For the bulk of the mainstream musical repertoire, that's
deadly (in my opinion).  

Again trying to keep this pointed toward Gould, that's the reason that
much of his work comes across well to me.  I get the sense that he's
making it entirely his own.  It's either his deconstructive commentary on
a piece (e.g., Appassionata), or it sounds as if he's composed it himself
on the spot (e.g., first movement of Bach's D-major concerto), or it
sounds like playing for the joy of playing (e.g., Meistersinger Prelude). 
Gould succeeds because he makes the music his own, *not* from any
justification by score.  The musical gestures he uses are often
unmistakably Gould.  And his justification is that he presents a coherent
product, a performance that is a work of art.  It is coherent because he
internalized it. 

It seems to me that Gould left the concert circuit for a very good
artistic reason which he never necessarily stated flat-out: that
environment didn't allow him to use his creativity.  He found that he was
stagnating, having to play the same pieces many times in ways that he or
others had played them before.  Gould wasn't getting to use his own skills
at their best; it's too exhausting to have to re-imagine the same work
multiple times.  The concert environment placed upon Gould the expectation
of being a re-creator, and he didn't want to work within those limits.  He
didn't want to have to illuminate himself repeatedly in relationship to
any given piece (if *any* performer of this century had a strong capacity
for self-illumination, it's Gould).  Much better to make a piece one's own
for a short time, record it while it's still fresh in the personal
creativity, then move on to another interesting project. 

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

I'm sorry that you feel misunderstood and misrepresented.

Bradley Lehman, bpl@umich.edu       http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/