Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Vibrations in Tension with Note Values

I used to fantasize what would now be called an art installation, which would require hundreds of participants carrying balloons on which were inscribed quarter notes, stationed on bridges, overpasses and other conspicuous public spots throughout the five boroughs of New York.  At a given signal these identical balloons would be popped.  The quarter note dead!  Once and for all!

This is only one of my many unrealized projects.  But think about it:  You were probably taught, as I was,  that all you had to do was count and rhythm would be in order.

Well, it never worked for me when I was young.  As soon as actual vibrations collided with the beginnings and endings of those quarter notes of which I was supposed to be keeping track, everything fell into disarray.

This morning I observed that very disarray as the subject matter of the first five pieces in Schumann's Album for the Young.  In Nos. 1, 3, and 5, he treats quarters in combination with eighths, with combined sounds of such variability as to require the kind of attention that can never pall.  Playing those same pieces without that attentiveness makes them incomprehensibly dull.  Nos. 2 and 4 are complete contrasts: The Soldier's March comprised of detached eighths followed by eighth rests - a highly articulated variation of that impossible quarter note, while Chorale is a study in unit rhythm based on spoken inflection, the true rhythm of plainsong-derived chorales.