Monday, July 5, 2010

Now that instruments have stopped "talking" music theorists are desperately trying to put language back into music. I have heard many papers on erudite aspects of how music relates to linguistics, involving analyses of metric structures and melodic lines, for example, in relation to syllables and spoken phrase inflection.

But instruments used to talk! Abstruse argument was not required to get the drift.

In the same way that every voice has its own registral colorations and that vocal tuning is a matter of overtones vs. linear tension, so, too, instruments like the natural horn inflected pitches relative to one another by virtue of their diverse coloration--it was all part of the act, not something added on by some intellectual process.

You cannot tell me that among the first things composers noticed about the fortepiano was that the black keys and the white keys in juxtaposition produced differently inflected tone qualities. There was no other keyboard instrument that did so. And it happened all by itself, simply as a matter of instrumental mechanics.

And then piano teachers got the idea that all the notes should sound the same: Equal strength in all the fingers, equal strength in every successive tone of every scale. And then the theorists got busy trying to put language-referenced inflection back into music.