Thursday, December 24, 2009

The period instrument movement has done us a service by elevating articulation to its rightful place as a primary conveyor of musical sense. When listening to music of the past we tend to smear it all together in one run-on phrase, imparting to it a sing-song quality that is hard to find compelling. Perhaps in response to that habit far too much modern music recreates the run-on quality. The slight alterations that disturb otherwise endless repetitions of four note figures are perceived by some as meaningful but I fail to take them in out of a life-long preference for musical punctuation.

Two examples show how I came to be aware of that preference. The first was when, as a teenager, I pronounced Brahms a meaningless composer. I knew his music from a Peters edition in which all (I would venture to guess that's not an exaggeration) of Brahms' slur marks were extended by one note to "resolve" over the bar line or on the next beat. How ecstatic I was to find the Authentic Edition in my College Library, at that time the cheapest available, printed by Kalmus.

The other example is indirectly musical. The poetry of Emily Dickinson, read in a conventional edition, lies flat upon the page. Just a glance at a facsimile page of one of her handwritten, hand-sewn books alters one's reading forever.

What we see affects the way we hear. The way we hear is closely connected to what we imagine as possible or potential.

Enjoy this season of lots and lots of familiar music.