Wednesday, June 5, 2013

About Rests

Anyone who has ever played chamber music -- anyone except a pianist, of course -- will have had to deal with rests that make no sense whatsoever.

Take the 5 bar rests in so many Mozart string quartets, which are commonly notated with a set of symbols inside of a single bar with the number 5 on top.  What is one to do, just sit there and count?

What's the fun of that?  It makes me wonder what the parts would have looked like in his day.  Whatever they looked or look like the problem remains that the player can only imagine imagining what "must" be going on during that time span and perhaps anticipating the sense of the coming re-entry.

I enjoyed this sport during the brief time when I attempted to figure out what music looked and felt like to an amateur by buying a tuned-in-the-factory cello and pretending I knew how to play it.  It was great fun, especially during the rests.  Noticing that my last note preceding the rest rarely if ever had anything to do with the end of a phrase, I was left to guess where the phrase actually ended, where the next began, and whether my next entrance had anything to do with phrase structure.

As often as not I would hear notes that seemed to prepare my entrance and I would simply come in because it felt right, not because I had counted properly.  The music had made it almost impossible to count the rest objectively.

From this experience I developed a healthy respect for rests and for the deception for which they stand.

This led me to conceive of chamber music as high sport.