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Re: [BACH-LIST] gould

On Mon, 20 Apr 1998, Michael D. Benedetti wrote:

> More reasons why Gould's versions are completely invalid:
> 5. Gould didn't understand that music is not supposed to be about fun or
> creativity, it's supposed to be like a Civil War reenactment--you're
> supposed to produce the exact circumstances of an ancient event. (Don't
> bother asking to what end.)
> I sure wish all the period instrumentation wankers would have
> had the chance to hear the songs performed by Mozart himself. Cause then
> they'd all be dead and we could enjoy the modern world for what it is.

That must have been some caffeine high, as you claim.  I hope it didn't 
damage you permanently.

Meanwhile, I suspect you don't understand *why* some of us out here who
have doctorates in "period instrumentation wankery" (as you would put it)
choose to use those instruments to make music.  It has nothing to do with
recreating what the composer or his audiences might have heard, a
reenactment.  It has everything to do with being convincing, and develong
an environment that makes the job as natural as possible.  It's becoming
trained oneself in the same way the earlier musicians were trained (and on
similar instruments), so one's repertoire of musical gestures is
automatically appropriate to the music being played and one is then free
to play musically and passionately on top of that.  *That's* authenticity. 

Using the modern piano for some music that wasn't written for it *can*
work, in the same way that it *is* possible (sometimes) to use a pair of
pliers when a wrench is called for.  But the correct tool makes the job a
whole lot easier, because the gestures of using that tool give good
results without any wasted effort (and with less danger of
damaging/distorting the item being worked on).  A tool that is appropriate
and of good quality offers a range of options not available when one is
using a less-appropriate tool.  Sure, a person using the wrong tool can
get "authentic" (convincingly musical) results, but just has to work
harder at it to overcome the limitations of that tool.  And the results
might be strikingly different from the results obtained otherwise. 

In GG's liner notes to the Bach Partitas (on one of the LP issues) he
points this out, too, writing that it's so much easier to bring out Bach's
lines clearly on a harpsichord than a piano because of the "marvelous
clarity" inherent to the instrument.  That he succeeds in doing so on the
piano, the wrong instrument, is a tribute to GG's skill, not to the piano. 
The piano offers *different* possibilities of expressing the music; not
necessarily better ones just because the instrument was invented later. 
In the same way, the modern Steinway or Yamaha or Boesendorfer etc. 
offers different possibilities from the Viennese Stein that Mozart knew. 
It's a whole lot easier (in some ways) to play Mozart on a Stein than on a
Steinway, because the possibilities immediately available are more
appropriate to that type of keyboard writing, and the player's options
playing in the heat of the moment fit more directly into the style. 

On musical terms, GG's (or anyone else one would pick: Gustav Leonhardt's,
Malcolm Bilson's, Virgil Fox's, Leopold Stokowski's, Swingle Singers',
...) success or failure comes down to the question: do their performances
communicate well with *today's* audiences?  It really doesn't matter what
Mozart would have thought of the way Bilson or GG or the Swingles do
Mozart's music, because Mozart is dead.  Does Bilson play Mozart well?  I
think so, because he makes Mozart sound like a good composer.  That's a
modern aesthetic judgment on my part, having nothing to do with what I
would think Mozart would have wanted.  Incidentally, I happen to *like*
GG's Mozart performances, but again that's an aesthetic judgment about
their own merits, again having nothing to do with what I think Mozart
would have wanted.  He makes the music sound interesting and whimsical,
which I think are good traits a composer can put into music. 

I happen to hate the way GG played Ravel's "La Valse," because I think it
sounds graceless and turgid (and drowned in a hailstorm of notes), the
opposite of the way I think the piece ought to go to make a good musical
effect (and again, that's based on my expectations/reactions as a
listener, not on Ravel's "intentions").  GG in this case makes Ravel sound
like a mediocre composer, while Ravel sounds wonderful when this piece is
played by Pennario or Simon or Lortie (et al)...therefore GG's way with
this piece isn't "authentic" even though he's using an appropriate
instrument just as the other players are.  

I also hate the way GG played Handel on the harpsichord, because he makes
the harpsichord sound silly and the pieces sound driven and brutal, and
this doesn't give a good impression of Handel (Handel with a chain saw?). 
In this case GG used the right physical tool but the wrong playing
techniques, which is just as far off as using the wrong instrument.  But
again his failure here is (in my opinion) a failure of musical
communication, not merely some wrong basic choices. 

Is this enough to establish the pattern I'm talking about?  Either the
results are convincing or they're not, and that's a modern (and somewhat
personal) judgment for the listener to make.  Everyone's mileage may vary. 

I do think it's out of line to say that most (or even many) period
instrument practitioners have the goal in mind that you think we do.  If
you happen not to like those instruments or our performances, fine, that's
your choice. 

Bradley Lehman ~ Harrisonburg VA, USA ~ 38.45716N+78.94565W
bpl@umich.edu ~ http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/