Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ah! The quarter note!

Having learned slavishly to count quarter-note beats most people schooled in classical music lose all sense of rhythmic wit, though I argue that Classical composers go to great lengths to give us hilarious quarter notes.

Plant in your head a musical idea that trips along in eighth notes. Now do it at half speed. Feel the tension? Try the opposite: start with an idea in quarters and transform it by going quick-march/double time. Feel the excitement?

Isn't this why you could never successfully count beats in Mozart's Sonata in C typically given to "beginners?" (I couldn't for many years and I notice that others can't either.)

More than once I have observed experienced professionals rendered rhythmically helpless by a single 4/4 bar in which, after many measures of complex multi-layered rhythms, Haydn requires all four members of the quartet to play quarter notes together. Rhythm is motion; motion is always fluid; without inner tension it quickly becomes what one of my adult students rightly calls "plodding."

No wonder people quit, or go downtown where rhythm swings.