Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Half-Light and Tone

The notion of the half-heard is powerful.  We find it in the Forgotten Waltzes of Liszt, in the many musical renderings of falling asleep from Vivaldi to Schumann.  It is a quality of sound that cannot be written down.

But Schumann makes it almost impossible to miss, sometimes by his titles, which might be *  *  *  (sorry that I cannot align them properly in this computer program) or by dynamic markings that make no sense in terms of conventional sound because they are simply "too" soft, or because they interrupt what might otherwise be perfectly sensible phrasings.

This morning I was discussing this quality with a casual acquaintance, a professional musician with whose work I am completely unfamiliar.  He described this quality as madness.  I wouldn't put it that way.  For one thing, that makes it too easy to write off as simply the work of a madman--a tendency that people have every time Schumann brings them face to face with something they do not readily grasp.