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>        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.

Your post quotes a fairly typical example of a traditional "classic"
performance versus a modern authentic instruments version... without
apparently recognising that the twin traditions may have validities beyond
their "text-book" quality. They are both worthwhile performing traditions;
but because they do different things, they're difficult - perhaps impossible
- to compare. Particularly on disc, each has insights to offer an audience -
different; but real.

The goal of authentic instrumentation is pretty much as advertised: a
recreation of the original sound. So long as people acknowledge the obvious
degrees of uncertainty in such a quest, it's a perfectly reasonable goal. On
disc, at least, the approach is also fairly popular with the audience... a
fair number of people like the new/old sound of authentic instrumentation; &
are willing to buy a lot of full-price CDs to prove it....

(Although this doesn't really impact on my basic argument, one significant
caveat about the authentic instrumentation "market" should be
acknowledged... even on disc its influence has been more critical than real.
The approach has a fairly large share of the new, full price recordings
market; although in terms of total sales (including reissues, etc) its
presence is far less significant. For the technical reasons referred to
above, the approach is fairly rare in the "live" music market)

But re-creation isn't the only goal. The quest for sheer physical beauty in
music or (particularly for soloists or orchestras specializing in 20th
century music) technical virtuousity can be equally valid approaches. More
importantly, these different goals don't always overlap. Perhaps
surprisingly, i can think of an obvious contemporary example:

You may be familiar with the music of the genial American composer & mystic,
Alan Hovhaness. Few composers have written music more suseptible to the lure
of ravishing lushness than AH (one shudders to think what GG would have made
of the "Fred the Cat" sonata, for example); but AH performs his own work
with a far more rugged approach... & i've read interviews where he complains
that his music is generally played too slowly (inevitably to accentuate the
sensuality of the sound). Does a musician - or an audience - go with the
composer or the music or something else entirely? It really depends on the
musical goal intended.

This brings me back (finally) to iconoclasts like GG.

No matter what he might like to think, GG was not a recreator of music...
even in performance, he was more like an essayist, using the music as a
critical point of departure into areas the composer may or may not have
intended. In many - perhaps most - cases, he was searching for the idea
behind the music rather than playing the music itself (this probably his
highly unnaturalistic approach to studio recording). A radical perspective;
but not without interest (a bit more on this below).

>(quoting my previous post:

>>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.

(Material snipped here)

>To play with unjustified musical decisions is not playing
>for the composer, it is playing for me.

It probably doesn't help that i like the music of Schoenberg; but anyway....

One could probably make exactly the opposite case from the same evidence -
indeed, GG has often been accused of placing his interpretations above the
music... ie, that he's subjecting the composer to a revision process rather
than actual performance. At the risk of being lynched, i think that the
accusation can often be proved in the case of GG; but as mentioned above, i
also think that his essayist (for want of a better expression) approach can
be worthwhile... particularly where a single performance tradition has
dominated a work to such an extent that other approaches have been shut out.
This was the case for a lot of the music GG was supposedly mucking around with.

A big part of my problem with your argument is that i remain skeptical about
the whole justification process - far too often it smacks of rationalisation
after the fact. I'm not accusing anyone of dishonesty... just conjecturing
that most people are incapable of truly understanding their own modes of
thought; & use intellectual justifications as rationalisations to "cover"
more subjective reasonings. This seems to me to be even more true when the
justifications cover technical decisions within an interpretation
(particular when they're minor... major changes, obviously, are more likely
to have been "thought out").

I've also found that the statement that something "feels right" often refers
to a kind of semi-conscious logical process with doesn't simply flow out in
words rather than lazy, self-indulgent thinking - or rather, that lazy,
self-indulgent thinking isn't restricted to those who think in this kind of
instinctive manner. It can be - & often is - used by people who vigorously
explain away their actions in detailed didactic tracts (qv most of 20th
century art).

>        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.

I made this point in my previous post; but have to repeat it here: in many
cases, i agree with you on a point-by-point basis (as here) even as i
disagree with some of your basic assumptions.

Go figure....

>       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?

I've pulled these quotes out of context, because it allows me to summarise
my argument better. The late, great actor Vincent Price & his wife (actress
Corale Browne) were art collectors of note, with twin specialities: what one
might call tribal art & contemporary modernism. The story goes that someone
was being shown around the collection; & took particular exception to one of
their modernist works (knowing something of the Prices' tastes, i doubt i
would cared for it either); & asked what the work was called... the person
was told (with the full force of Mr Price's theatrical eloquence): "It's
called: 'We like it'".

In other words, there is at least an element in judgement which is totally
subjective, every man (& woman) for him- (or her-) self, using whatever
information the judger considers appropriate about the score, the history
behind it, performance traditions & our own gut instincts to make an
individual decision. This is a real factor in aesthetics; & can't be
logicked away just because it's messy.

More usefully, i would replace the words good & bad with better & worse, &
use them in a similar sense to that used by a theoretician of science in
comparing two competing scientific theories. A theory is better if it more
accurately predicts a critical phenomenon, worse if its less accurate in its
predictions... & - by analogy - at the most basic level, a performance is
better if it more successfully communicates its intended goal (preferably
without the cheat of an explanatory program). These goals, by the way, could
easily be intellectual, as you describe (although i personally would
differentiate between justifications of technique (which should be means to
an end only) & "true" goals (which derive from a vision of the entire
work))... they could also be instinctive.

Deciding which goals are "better" is more difficult, bordering on impossible
(unlike scientists, we can't really do experiments on our aesthetic theories
- although i've met a few aesthetician theoreticians i wouldn't mind doing
some experiments on)... choice between "goals" really can border on the

To use an example: i see Schoenberg as a 20th century Romantic, the
conductor Pierre Boulez is quoted as seeing him as a innovatory serialist (a
proto-von Webern (or Boulez) if you like)... i think GG is a superb
Schoenberg performer, presumably (i don't know this for certain) Boulez
would consider Pollini far more effective. We could probably quote chapter &
verse at each other until noone in the audience could remember who the hell
this guy Schoenberg was without either of us changing our opinion
(admittedly, that's partly because AS was something on an enigma as an
artist; but anyway)... but so long as the limits to these preconceptions are
acknowledged & not rationalized as "objective", i don't see any real terrors
in these "subjective" responses. They really are all we have to go on....

Sorry to have taken up all this bandwidth.

All the best,

Robert Clements