Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Melodic and Harmonic Hearing

After hearing countless string quartets and soloists play their instruments distressingly sharp I went to Europe in the early 1980s expressly to hear whether playing out of tune had become an internationally established practice.   I was delighted to find that, thanks largely to the early music movement, it had not.

There was one book that completely took my breath away and I find myself using its insights again and again to inform my ear --  by that I mean, to become aware with greater precision of what I actually hear.
Melodisches und harmonisches Hoeren auf Streichinstrumenten by Christian Heman.   I feel as if it let me in on a classified secret.  I know of no translation into English and I have never heard anyone speak of the book or its implications which are, roughly:

Tones that vibrate sympathetically with the pitches and overtones of the instrument's open strings will have a different quality than those that do not.  For example, A will always have a different tone quality than B-flat.  It is not a matter of intonation, but of resonance.

He gives examples of how different scales on the violin become enhanced, informed, intensified, when this is taken into account.

It seems so simple.  What gets in the way oft this being audible in most string playing?