Category Archives: Performance practice

Rhythm and experimental psychology

In the laboratories of 19th-century experimental psychologists, new concepts of precision-oriented, mechanically regulated musical time emerged as a positive ideal—one that led to the ubiquity of the metronome in the training and practice regimes of classical musicians and pervasive understandings of “good” and “bad” musical rhythm in the 20th century.

Most notably, Wilhelm Wundt included a metronome in the assembly of clockwork instruments employed in his research into the variables of human perception and action. His experiments helped to shape and define modern concepts of rhythm, radically shifting the concept of musical rhythm from a subjective, internal pulse reference to an objective, unerringly precise phenomenon independent of human agency.

At the turn of the 20th century, other psychologists, such as Carl Seashore, disseminated these scientific ideals to a wider public through important music publications, and by the 1920s such ideals were becoming pervasive among both amateur and professional music practitioners.

This according to “Refashioning rhythm: Hearing, acting and reacting to metronomic sound in experimental psychology and beyond, c. 1875–1920” by Alexander Bonus, an essay included in Cultural histories of noise, sound and listening in Europe, 1300–1918 (Abington: Routledge, 2017, pp. 76–105).

Above, Dr. Wundt (seated) and colleagues in his psychological laboratory, the first of its kind, ca. 1880; below, an abridged version of György Ligeti’s Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes.

BONUS: For the purists, a complete performance of Ligeti’s work.

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Filed under Curiosities, Performance practice

Toscanini’s annotations

 

Critics, scholars, and performers have long noted that Arturo Toscanini’s reputation for absolute fidelity to the printed score was little more than a public relations myth.

Now that the legendary conductor’s annotated scores are available for study, three types of alterations can be observed: (1) modifications of dynamics, articulation, bowing, phrasing, and tempo; (2) orchestrational adjustments; and (3) the introduction of new material.

The combination of Toscanini’s Italian musical heritage and Wagnerian aesthetic convinced him that the highest service that a conductor could render was to impose certain types of musical changes whenever he sensed that a composer’s artistic conception was threatened. In his mind, there was neither egotism nor hypocrisy in this approach.

This according to “Toscanini and the myth of textual fidelity” by Linda B. Fairtile (Journal of the Conductors Guild XXVI/1–2 [2003] 49–60).

Today is Toscanini’s 150th birthday! Below, his recording of the first movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, one of the works discussed in the article.

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Performing premodernity online

performing-premodernity

Performing premodernity online, an open-access journal launched in January 2015, publishes papers given at Performing Premodernity conferences as well as reports from workshops and other events.

Performing Premodernity is a research project based at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics at Stockholm University. It is one of eight premodernity projects funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (The Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences). Concentrating on both academic and artistic research, the project aims to contribute to the revitalizing of historically informed performance today.

The journal’s first volume includes papers from a conference that was held in København in February 2014 on Francesco Cavalli’s opera Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne. Below, Soledad Cardoso performs an aria from the work.

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Filed under Baroque era, New periodicals, Opera, Performance practice

Medieval music and memory

Although writing allowed medieval composers to work out pieces in their minds, it did not make memorization redundant—rather, it allowed for new ways to commit music to memory. But since some of the polyphonic music from the 12th century and later was written down, scholars have long assumed that it was all composed and transmitted in written form.

Our understanding of medieval music has been profoundly shaped by German philologists from the beginning of the twentieth century, who approached medieval music as if it were no different from music of the nineteenth century. The fact that a piece was written down does not necessarily mean that it was conceived and transmitted in writing. A new model emphasizes the interplay of literate and oral composition and transmission.

This according to “Medieval music and the art of memory” by Anna Maria Busse Berger (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

Above, Notre Dame Cathedral, an early center of polyphony, around 1450; below, Viderunt omnes. by Pérotin, who is widely considered to be the first to compose at his desk rather than in the church.

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Filed under Middle Ages, Performance practice

Unperformable music

ligeti etude 14a

Some artworks—works of music, theatre, dance, and the like—are works for performance. Some works for performance are unperformable.

Some such works are unperformable by beings like us; others are unperformable given our laws of nature; still others are unperformable given considerations of basic logic.

Musical works that fit into each of these categories really are genuine works, musical works, and works for performance, and the very possibility of such works is ontologically significant. In particular, the possibility of these works raises serious problems for type-theoretic accounts of the ontology of music as well as certain mereological or constitution-based accounts.

This according to “Unperformable works and the ontology of music” by Wesley D. Cray (British Journal of Aesthetics LVI/1 [January 2016] pp. 67–81.

Many thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention! Above and below, György Ligeti’s Étude No. 14A: Coloana fara sfârşit (Column without end), one of the works discussed in the article.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Performance practice

The challenge of free improvisation

 

Free improvisation, which arose among jazz musicians but now encompasses a broad range of musical interactions, is best understood as a forum for exploring interactive strategies.

The practice emphasizes process, an engendered sense of discovery, dialogical interaction, the sensual aspects of performance, and a participatory aesthetic; its inherent transience and immediacy challenge dominant modes of consumption and sociopolitical and spiritual models of the efficacy of art.

This according to “Negotiating freedom: Values and practices in contemporary improvised music” by David Borgo (Black music research journal XXII/ [fall 2002] pp. 165–188).

Above and below, Ornette Coleman’s group in the early 1960s.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performance practice

Vespro della Beata Vergine

Vespro della Beata Vergine Bärenreiter

In 2013 Bärenreiter issued a new Urtext edition of Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine, one of the most beloved sacred works of the 17th century.

The volume originated in a graduate seminar at the University of North Texas under the direction of the Monteverdi specialist Hendrik Schulze, who served as the book’s editor.

The edition combines the latest in musicological research specifically with the needs of the performer in mind, making a modern interpretation of this 400-year-old work possible. This new research has led, for instance, to a divergent evaluation of the Lauda Jerusalem oriented towards performance practice, with numerous additional accidentals and a new interpretation of the melodic variants from the different part books.

Below, John Eliot Gardiner leads a full performance of the work. Go ahead, you deserve it.

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Filed under Baroque era, New editions, Performance practice

Peter Brook and Carmen

Carmen

The 1981 premiere of Peter Brook’s and Jean-Claude Carrière’s La tragédie de Carmen at the Opéra in Paris sparked considerable controversy over its focus on the bleaker, darker aspects of the story.

In their revision of Bizet’s Carmen, Brook and Carrière attempted to be truer to Prosper Mérimée’s 1845 novella, emphasizing the basic components of its tragedy: sorcery, sexuality, obsessive love, and death. They removed the comic elements from Bizet’s work, reasoning that the composer had been constrained by a theatrical medium that demanded the inclusion of comedy.

This according to The tragedy of Carmen: Georges Bizet and Peter Brook by William Manning D. Mouat, a dissertation accpted by the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1996.

Above and below, Zehava Gal in the title role.

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Filed under Opera, Performance practice

Marilyn Horne and ornamentation

In a 1993 interview, Marilyn Horne discussed her study of the few examples of Rossini’s written-out vocal ornaments.

“I knew that if I ornamented that much I would be highly criticized for it. And so I did just a little bit—and was highly criticized for that!”

“Oh yes, we couldn’t win. In the beginning, I fought those ‘ornament fights’. I had terrible battles about it, especially with Italian conductors, because they are still very much under the influence of Toscanini, who ‘cleaned up’ everything.”

“I remember one particular conductor, his name was Argeo Quadri, and he talked like this: ‘Ah, signora, non si puo cantarlo così.’ Finally I said to him ‘Maestro, I went to a medium last night’—his eyes got bigger and bigger—and I said ‘I talked to Rossini stesso, and he said “Vai, Marilyna, vai!”’ Quadri laughed. He didn’t know whether to take me seriously or not, but he said okay, you can do your ornaments.”

This according to “La Rossiniana: A conversation with Marilyn Horne” by Jeannie Williams (The opera quarterly IX/4 [summer 1993] pp. 64–91).

Today is Marilyn Horne’s 80th birthday! Below, the diva demonstrates.

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Julian Bream, autodidact

As a child, Bream first learned to play the guitar along with his father from “an extraordinary little book, and that was great fun.”

When he was around 11 Boris Perrot, the president of the Philharmonic Society of Guitarists, heard him and, duly impressed, offered to teach him. The boy was honored, but soon found that he disliked the outmoded technique that Perrot insisted on.

Bream stopped the lessons and never took another one; instead, “I watched how Segovia did it and made up my technique as I went along.”

“Actually, I think I must have been quite a little horror because I was very instinctive about things. I only did what I wanted to do. I didn’t care a damn what other people wanted me to do.”

This according to “Julian Bream at 60: An interview” by Gareth Walters (Guitar review 96 [winter 1994] pp. 2–15).

Today is Julian Bream’s 80th birthday! Above, the guitarist in 1947; below, his arrangement of Danza del molinero from Manuel de Falla’s El sombrero de tres picos.

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Filed under Curiosities, Performance practice