Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Hearing First

My young adult reading student demonstrated perfectly today what it means to read the right way around.  He was sight-reading the Clementi Exercise in A major, from Preludes and Exercises, a piece that looks, at first glance, mindlessly mechanical.  I had him size up the first measure, close the book and play it.

It was fascinating to observe his errors, i.e., his re-arrangements of the possibilities presented in the measure: to see how he internalized the vivid clash between the rhythmic and acoustical content of the bar.  An experienced musician, like myself, would have simply analyzed the rhythms and mechanically reproduced the notated elements--no problem, no interest.  The struggle to get the arrangement of sounds to correspond to the notation, which he accomplished by not looking at the score, transforms the entire exercise from predictable to exciting.

I compare under-appreciated Clementi to the team of mathematical geniuses who invented Fortran, except that he was a one-man committee whose achievement consisted of composing studies and sonatas that sensitize our touch to the remarkable acoustics of the newly invented piano.