Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Early Does Not Mean Simplistic

Last night I attended a concert by an early music group made up primarily of players of viols with some individual solo parts, violin and vocalists.

First, addressing pitch:  There are a limited number of pitches in this music.  Is that really true?  Not if the vocalism that clearly prompts them is taken into account, in which case one would be struck over and over again by the dynamic range possible when the direction of approach is taken into account.  The violinist understood this and played so that it came alive in pitch.  The accompanying viols were careful, did not pick up the ball much less return it.  Result: droning.

Second, concerning rhythm(s): The bowing technique of period instrument invites rapid response, more like flickering than changes of bow direction.  This puts some attacks on the early, some on the late side side of the beat.  Again, the violinist stood out while the others seemed to be hiding behind correctness.

I don't go to concerts to hear correctness.  I want the players' listening to raise my listening to a new level. 

Tonal Refraction and the Limitations of Standard Music Notation

I have been reworking a Tonal Refraction of Schumann's Waldszenen, the subject of Vol. II of my series on Tone Perception Visualized.

It is a cycle of nine puzzles, some more puzzling than others.  The one currently foremost in my imagination is called Einsame Blumen and is marked to be played Einfach.  (Isolated Blossoms ?  to be played simply?)

I observe certain rules in making a Tonal Refraction: The tones under a slur rise if the last note under the slur is higher than the first, fall if the last tone is lower, and do not assert direction if the two notes are the same.  What a revelation this is when playing the work!

As a child I was taught that musical phrases go somewhere.  Here only some of them do.  Are those the isolated blossoms to which the title refers?  If so, the phrases that do not move are only increasing that quality of isolation.  What about the left hand articulations:  staccato eighth notes function very differently from sustained half notes under those right hand groupings.  Maybe simply observing these articulations is, in fact, the"simply" Schumann had in mind.

All I can say is that it is bloody difficult to do it.