Are you serious?
Of course? Then why are you playing? You say you’re gonna play for us. Not with us. But then why can't you talk seriously and explain the world to us? To make us all feel better, in feeling someone is serious about us in this strange world.
Instead (and if you just like it) you play "Once upon a time in the West". A melody, which presumes to play a “Song of Death“ (the German
title of it). And even for this very theme you want to play a play about death, enriched with notes and tones? Is that your idea of seriousness? Or do you just don’t want to be
perhaps your seriousness lies in the fact that you can only play (with) it. That is your way of seriousness. To be truely serious is not your concern, nor your goal. So, please, tell me: Yes or No…Should a play ever be serious? Why should it be ever serious? Then it will no longer stay to be a play. It's been turned – into a game. Maybe a bad game. Thus, all of us (of our music..) will not be able to play (it) – seriously. No, it can’t. We can’t. It’s not the truth, isn’t it? Well, ok! Let’s say: “Serious music“, as it is called in German, is actually a paradox.
Your play may be serious because we know we can't play with emotions. We must not play with them if we want to be serious in our musical play. For it is not a game with music. It is a musical play. So music is a serious play with (and around) our feelings when they yearn to be expressed seriously.
It is, as if these emotions cannot only be felt, but have to be thought, too, to be serious, in musical thoughts. Music is about serious feelings to be playfully contemplated. They are played like this to ensure they can be serious.
A serious play –
Therefore, music is a kind of playfully thinking-feeling, or vice versa, a feeling-thinking, if it is played. That's why she, our love, can only play, while being musically – itself.
That's how it works. And thus we can’t get serious either, if we are driven by thinking (about) our feelings. That would be a serious step towards self-deception. Rather, we can be serious in feeling our thinking. But here too, a playful approach would win out.
For human perception as a whole and as an interplay (!) between perception, cognition and emotion is far too complex to be serious for all these sorts of seriousness. Human perception is able to play, like music, but it does not play a game. It plays a serious and playful play. Like music.
It's true: The real serious things in life are so sophisticated that they can only be brought to existence in a real play. In this context alone they can find their expression, find their way into the world of consciousness through a way of ›emergence‹.
At least, for the real serious things, there is some playful music to speak seriously, to speak honestly. Because if not... everything would be much too hard. Marvelous musical tones are, fascinatingly enough, a perceivable, emotional, playfully-invented something. They address all of us, and that is why they are so magnificent. They cause us to feel and to think, when we perceive and listen to their music.
But the sensitive strengh of music is also a reason why it can easily be mistreated. Therefore, music needs any respected shelter of the "sanctuary" again. Only from there it can safely migrate into the world to perform either in a "complex-mental" or in a “playfully-physical“ way … of life. Only from there it can be serious, for all of us.
Debussy's rhythm-textures are made to create sound textures, which gain their force through the impact of articulation.
An articulation of sound in patterns or pattern-like melodies query the dominance of a pulse-related system consisting in bars and meters. A system which also ties the melodic structures strictly to those meters: even if syncopated rhythms were composed to create tension and conflict between melodies and meters, the conflict is their to be solved in a confirmation of the base-meters and their related bar structures, als well as to confirm the steady pulse of a preselected tempo: music's pulse normally is a solid continuity and not a flexible strap of frequent tempo changes.
In his piano etude nr. 3 "pour les quartes" Debussy searched for another approach to the relation between melody and meter, between a musical pulse of a piece and its sound textures. Although Debussy uses a conventional 6/8 measure (changed to 3/4 bar later on), this tribute to the bar system does not mean in any way, that his music is dominated by this measures. The pulse of the music is just a “virtual“ screen, which provides a background for the virtuosic sound articulations and their flexible timing.
Debussys musical motivs seem to stretch their background-pulse, as if they were doubting of which musical parameter would be the first: the melodious sounds which create a pulse or the rhythm-pulse, upon which the patterns are finally played.
The truth is, that melody and its intervalls, colours and rhythms are physically interwoven aspects of the same overall thing: sound…
the music's pulse is as relative as time itself just is…
We can divide it in our perception and we normally perceive its parameters as if they were different parts or organs of the music's heart. But this is happening only in our mind. Debussy shows us, that sounds create rhythms and rhythms create sounds. And the music's pulse is as relative as time itself just is, even if nobody could know this fact explicitly, back then in 1915, if this someone wouldn't have already grasped Einstein's brillant theories.
So,what Debussy does, is to shift the time proportions of his sound ideas by quick changes between triplet shapes and duplet shapes, as well as using accents and up tempo speeds of his musical sound-figures to move to high or deep sound registers: these sound colours seem to resume the proportional rhythm speeds in their sole frequency: extremly low or high sonorities, which indicate to be speed rhythms themselves.
The continuity of the intervall shape (the fourths) brings about a sound-shape, which kind of offsets the multible flexibility of the rhythmical proportions and articulations. Moreover this composition-technique of using a certain interval as sound-generator frees the melodic inventions from the bonds of tonal alignment in the conventional major or minor scale. This alignment to the scale structure in traditional music also looks for certain rhythmical implications: traditional tonality normaly means also rhythmic tonality - which is bound to meter and bar as it was described before.
Debussy already in 1915 showed us, which way music could and would go in the future.
Music is sound. Sound is a consequence of articulation (of an instrument's sound-source or a voice). Articulation of sound means expression and initiation of time. Time has one of its origins in the articulation of sound. Thus sound is an instrument to initiate time.
There is a special relation between sound and articulation which leads us to the possibility of perceiving a rhythm. Rhythm is the result of articulated sound, if it is perceivable in a shaped and regular way. Patterns and accents of sound articulation create a rhythm. Rhythm is the base of music, much more than melody. Melody is a medium to mold sound in speech related curves. A medium to add markers to the continuum of sound, its registers from the lowest frequencies to the highest. But melody is only a servant, an ambassador, send out by the ruling articulations of sound itself. It has been invented (together with the pre-built temperament systems) to conciliate listeners with (and protect them from) the roughness of an actually noisy and untempered acoustical reality.
In music's history, there are mainly three composers, who found their musical focus in composing targeted structures to grant a highly controlled articulation of rhythmical sound, aiming at a result, which should combine sound and articulation for an elaborated kind of rhythm feeling (later to be found in the flexible pulse articulations of Jazz). There we are and we have to talk about Scarlatti, Beethoven and Debussy. Surprised?
Of course, every composer whose name survived the extinguishing power of cultural history, probably wrote some very notable things, concerning the above-mentioned topics. And yet if you look closer, you will discover their idiosyncratic approach to notating musical ideas as a composer. And all these approaches mostly do not have rhythmical aspects as a crucial focus.
J. S. Bach focused on his musical counterpoint. Monteverdi developed the theatrical aspects of his musical speech. Händel gave us the grandioseness of virtuosity and its sounds. Mozart always stuns us with his ability to bring musical patterns into an emotional flow of rhetorical and dramatic inventions. Ives and Mahler touch us with their unbelievable sense of starting with a single particle, ending up with a musical mass event and its deeply moving impact. Schubert confronts as with unexpected length of musical time and the subjectivity of its perception. Strawinsky, not surprisingly, worked on rhythmical structures (opposing to Schönbergs fixation on pitches). But his endeavours for rhythmical invention partly excluded a musician's articulation-skills. He delegated the rhythmical sound articulation to the conductor, whose job is to balance all these sophisticated changes of metre and bars. Using this technique of composition Strawinsky's allover sound is strongly attached to pitch and harmony and not so much to the musician's individual sound articulations. Prokofiev had similar problems to actually “free“ the sound for a subjective art of articulation of musical interprets.
None of them really works out the exciting (often precarious) relation between sound, articulation and rhythm. Scarlatti, Beethoven and Debussy did so. So did Schumann and Chopin, but with a different narrative leading to their individual approach (a narrative, which was strongly influenced by aspects of the social and philosophical background of their musicianship back then).
Domenico Scarlatti used the articulative speed of melody-figurations and harmonic accompaniment-patterns to enhance the power of sound.
Beethoven worked on the rhythmical power of accents and syncopations, interfering the metrical order of bars.
Debussy felt the chance to use harmonic fields as a rhythmical motor, thus generating melodies and sound.
All the three will be the subject of detailed analyze in the next blogs.
Nowadays nobody would claim that music without vocals and lyrics does not make sense. the average listener seems to be able to refer to musical parameters like rhythm, melody or sound and
harmony, if he wants to listen to any kind of music without words. But how is it possible, that a rhythm-pattern or a melody phrase is "under-standable"? Our
perception has learned to summarize different acoustical sounds, which have appeared to us in almost any kind of special and regular ways, forming "somehow sensible and rational" shapes and
patterns to a graspable allover-sound. What we understand of
this allover-sound, consists in its structure: repetitions, sym-metries, similarities, contrasts etc..
Can that be all? Are we supposed to be satisfied with nothing else then (mostly) simple-planned-structures, which are unfolding in the musical process of time? Like being satisfied with a simple meal of roast potatos with bacon?
The truth is: There is no meaning in music. The meaning is created in our mind. And our mind is communicating with the structure it perceives, while comparing it with all the stored treasures of emotional sound experience. This communication is a process of matching the previous musical memories with the actuality of the offered sound of music. A matching, which is almost always interesting enough as a procedure for our mind. Of course, music should match our taste and, most notably, bring us back to good memories of our former emotional experience. Once, if this thing happened, music is just the wellness-key to our psyche. Its meaning is a memory-turn to brain areas of good feelings. Music is an acoustical trigger software, a "little helper" for our emotions. No more, no less.
What play does a musician play as an interpreter of a musical composition of the classical music's culture? Is it about expressing his own role in a determined cultural play about obviously old-fashioned musical styles? Or is it even still possible to speak about the musical 'self' with all attached emotions, like in Pop and Jazz? And could this interpreter do so in aiming at a brilliantly witty version of the interpreted composition? Or is a non-trivial self-expression only the result of utterly creative working, as being fulfilled in creative art from painters or composers or improvisation artists like jazz-musicians? So, to finally express it in a defeatist manner: Is musical interpretation just a (virtuoso skilled) dedicated service on behalf of a highly lifted cultural act, which in truth is out of touch with reality for long?
Eventually, there are two answers. First one follows the insight, that all expression of a somewhat inner « self » is a romantic illusion, only crucial and alive amongst the merchandising products of the Pop culture industry. Yet this attitude may arise
the uncomfortable question, if the image of a serious artist in enlightened postmodernism can be only filled with irony and anti-subjectivitiy. Which is a dusty answer, too precariously allied to escapism.
The other answer implies an utopian dream: Any interpreter should be a magician of a new dramaturgy of time.To be that, classical musicans have to restart learning the forgotten art of decoding the mysterious time-lines in the deep structure of an outstanding musical composition. Doing this magic thing, interpreters offer the recipients totally
new experiences in witnessing amazing events and processes of the biggest gift we have in life, which is the gift of time itself. Only with the experience of time as an essential ressource in our life we can develop the potential to create changes in society which are worth living for.
In a master piece of classical music's repertoire normally the most crucial parameters of the music are notated. The notation system provided the composer with graphic signs to pass on his ideas
to coming generations. These signs can be ususally read without too much misinterpretation of the composer's will. With regard to these "terms of business", what parameters of musicality remain
to be executed by the pro musicians, who are trained to perform the well-known music in a perfected way and a fulfilling attitude which does not allow too much deviation of the common stylistic
access modes to the repertoire.
Moreover, the special conditions of a concert, concerning the room's acoustics, the quality of the instrument of the musician, the form of the day of the virtuoso could bring imponderable circumstances to the performing act, bringing pretty much enough
"creative" flexibility to the artistic act of playing composed music.
So, do we need more? If the musical technique of the player is perfect enough and the virtuoso actually performs what the composer intended, and if the concert hall has a good atmosphere, what else could we need to add a special pinch of inspiration to a master piece performance to make it unique?
The answer could be as simple as surprising. The interpret should play the music, as if he would discover it during the performance. The piece should sound as if it is played for the first time, which is actually true, because at this place and at this time, the music
will rise its voice the first time. The old music is reborn at a completely new moment of time. Only if this very new moment can be articulated by the player, the music will come to its best appearance: it is not a crucial point if the music is actually new or old, but
if it sounds new or old.
Once, a well known piano professor in Germany commented on his student's struggles to interpret a composition of the classical music's repertoire: "Just let the music play itself.." What a
sentence. The composed music must be able to play itself. It doesn't need to much interpretation because its melodies and rhythms, its harmonies and sound textures are strong enough to sound
perfectly, without some added marks of interpretation? Well, the aesthetic approach of this professor surely was, to prevent to much alteration by inadequate efforts to interpret a
music, which is, in its notated form, an interpretation itself. I. E. it is the composer's talent to comment on musical art's traditions in his own notated musical thoughts. Being
a notated form of art, composed music possibly just needs a kind of transformation or translation into real sounds, which shall reach the audience in a concert. In this respect, the
musical virtuoso is not so much an interpreter, but a highly skilled wizard of the genius of the (mostly already deceased) composer. So the composer is the interpret, not the pianist or
violinist. Could we say so? No. The pride and the vanity (may it be justified or not..) of famous classical interpreters would be insulted by such a degradation, no matter if a modest
and special-intelligent musician perhaps could agree with that view.
In the eighties and the early ninties, sound producers and composers of popular music often desperately tried to make their drum beats (or other digital instruments) sound more "human". And they had to grab deeply into their bag of tricks to prevent sounds from sounding to clinical. There was the so called "human factor", meaning they had to program slight mistakes into the digital soundmap which should bring a human effect of flexibility and richness in variation to the artificial sound-world of samples and synthesizers. They were obviously situated at the other end of the range of influences determining the effects of human intervention on a "prepared" (meaning not improvised) music. Interventions which are meant to bring this "prepared" music to its best results.
This is very interesting! Whereas classical musicians try to "reduce"to much impact by over-interpretation or unwanted mistakes, this modern species of sound composers seem to rack themselves to
create an impression of "romantic" human influence. That may be the clear result of the circumstance in classical music, that brings a"hidden" co-player to the stage, which is the composer of the
adored traditional music itself. Whereas in popular music only the interpreter, no matter if it is the producer in a studio or the musician on a stage, brings the music's authenticity to the
audience. There is no hidden coplayer and nowadays the methods of arranging and producing a perfectly "human" sound out of the digital wonderbox have been developed to a point of
genuineness, which can't be denied even by a hater of these styles of music. But is there something like a positive "human factor" in classical music's interpretation? A factor beyond efforts to
avoid mistakes or to prevent too much interpretation? A factor which could lead to a kind of musicality which goes far beyond the composer's dreams of its own music? This will be the issue of my
The exciting relation between chance and determination used to be an issue of discussion in the avantgarde music scene of the 60’ties. Composers were “addicted“ to complex structures. An ensured and understandable perception for listeners was not a point of much consideration for them. Complexity was estimated as an ultimate truth for itself, no matter if anyone could grasp what they had notated in their scores. The so-called serialism and aleatoric were the two opposite points of stylistic invention during this time.
Today this period of modernism is a historical phenomenon at best, quoted and presented for a small interested
audience in rare concerts.
The musical concepts have of that time failed to become an established part of the concert business, just because they were to difficult to be perceived as beautiful works of art. They had denied common textures of tension and alleviation of tension in music, which had been a crucial part of dramaturgy in compositions for many centuries. The audience was too much accustomed to dialectic structures providing us us with an inner guideline for our sensation of music.
Still, the issue of chance and determination could be an issue worth caring for in making music and in interpreting music. Nowadays performers try to controll every ever so tiny detail of their play. Nothing is left to chance. The results must be perfect to its ultimate ends –
a trend which meanwihile leads to equalised outputs at concert halls. Everything sparkles, everything is grandious,
everything is overwhelmed with virtuosity, an artistical gift every listener is more than familiar with. Nothing could cause an affaire or a scandal at the musical events and if so, the scandal
is probaly part of a media strategy for the artist’s public image. The audience of today is perfectly trained to be enthusiastic, coming across as a feature of easygoing understatement
“celebrated“ by a globalized bourgeoisie.
How can we escape the tediousness? The answer is rather simple. We need mistakes. An exicting process of musical interpretation needs the tension between a perfectly controlled performance and a simultaneous freedom to make it different at every moment during the real time of the event. If professional performers aim to extinguish any playful possibility and any fresh risk of their musical plan, they will stifle their own charism. The tension between determination and chance should be used make things lively and we should not ignore that chance in our addiction to be perfect.
Is our culture shallow? Yes, of course it is. Day by day we face pure superficialness, because it is the surface area where we learn about any
cultural things. And these things have to sparkle like diamonds to be discovered by us. We want things to sparkle, because then we are more happy and satisfied. That is a crucial part of our
biology. Animals have to tout for their courtship display, using only the best they could develop in their evolution - just to be more showy. So, the surface is the first encounter we meet when
we have to decide if we are interested in something or not.
That is also true for any music genre. Especially the honorable classical music always did everything to polish its sounds with twinkling effects, figurations and timbres. Music in an ivory tower, aiming at ultimate intellectuality, is rather rare. Music normally wants to be heard. It has to polish its surface – at least a little bit. Even if a sound is intentionally ugly and rough, we have to admit, that this message is primarily made to draw attention by dialectical opposite. Beauty may twinkle in the dark, too.
But how can we know then, if a musical gem is really worth to take a bit more of our tightened time. We have to listen to its explicit ways of time-articulation. Listen to how the musical pulse is played. Do you feel an agile dancer or an annoying machine? Or is the beat machine charming, ready to enter your body without violence?
Again, Mozart is a perfect example. His musical pulse is supposed to be easy and flowing, providing the rhythmic flow for charming melodies. But there is a deep gap, overlooked by interpreters much too often. Mozart delivers smooth sound surfaces to us, where we may slip. His music wants us to explore if the musical surface is identical with its subtexts. Mozart is brutal exactly in the moment when he pretends to be smooth and tender. So his rhythm articulation can’t be a harmless flow, garnished by some idle melodies.
The timing for this music should be enterprising, ready to face any melodic inventions with a maximum musical power of a specialized rhythm feeling. A musical timing which knows how to enter a melody phrase in order to make it swing and to make it expressive.
So the musical surface of an accompaniment-pattern has to be napped by minimal accents or minimal rubato-playing within the patterns.
Music, which has been composed to be performed by professional musicians, must be notated in a complex system of figures.
The figures must be decoded and transformed into sounds of music. This process of transformation is necessarily a process of invention. It is not a search for an ultimate truth, possibily
contained in the codes of the score or a tracking for any intentions of the deceased composer.
There my be stylistic rules for musical interpretation, which has been researched by musicology. We know, in parts, how historical music has been performed in the old times. And there may be lots of further issues for a research concerning historical performance practices. Nevertheless, we can't find the hertitage of historical music and its message for todays recipients in any suggested will or style of contemporaries of a music, which has been faded away ages ago.
A historical score of music is not a painting which must be restores by specialists. A historical score has been composed to give a chance to generations of musicians to reinvent concepts of music with the support of fabulous ideas by someone who once notated his musical ideas. But this someone was wise enough to know that the notation of musical signs would always need interpretation and creative transformation during a performing process. Musical notation never wanted just one possible sounding result nor any best result. Musical notation as a graphic system has been created to build well-defined outlines for the memory. These outlines do need not only translation or restauration but creative reinvention. Invention during the act of a musical performance means to build a shape of music and sounds, new and unpredictable for the very moment of real time.
If interpreters of composed historical music do not take the risk to rebuild their phrases and melodies as if they would be invented right now, they will tend to churn out dreary sounds, just reanimated pictures of a musical past
which is supposed to be exciting and precious. But this could be a big error. Music is only alive, if it is invented at the moment when it is performed.