Friday, April 4, 2014

Minuets are Back in Style

Quite by chance and trapped in a dentist's chair, I heard the entire Haydn Symphony No. 92, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.  I was fascinated, as I always am by Haydn; and particularly by the minuet, which Bernstein got pretty much wrong.

No wonder!  He was active when people did not yet know that there was more to a minuet than counting to three.  I am happy to report that minuets have come back into style--which means that more and more frequently one hears them rendered as they would have been in the 18th century.

The difference is variation:  What seems to be a repetitive rhythm in strict 3/4 time turns out to be successive contrasts when rendered a la minuet.  For example:
 Long---- short Long---short Long---short Long---  looks like a simple Strong----weak repeated

But in the minuet it would come out like this:
Strong ---Strong weak (Strong on a tie or in a rest!) weak, alternating strong and weak every two beats, whether or not a fresh attack coincides with a strong beat.  (Impossible to render plausible in words....)

This incredibly interesting syncopation is difficult to do, delightful to the ear, and would certainly have inspired incredible dancing.