Friday, June 13, 2014

Standing on One's Nose

Tonic.  Dominant.  Standard theoretical vocabulary.

Useful terms?  It all depends.

Yesterday the limits of their usefulness were tested so beautifully that I hope I will never recover from the shock.  It came via the natural horn in E-flat morphing from its B-flat, one of its happiest tones, to A-flat, one of its least possible tones, into my entrance on B-flat.

The temptation is overwhelming to enter boldly on what is, after all, the dominant in E-flat, the tonality of the piece.  But yesterday I chose instead to match rather than "correct" the quality of the horn's falset A-flat.  The difference was staggering.

Played on a modern horn this situation would not arise.  A-flat? No problem!  But Brahms stipulated Waldhorn (i.e., natural horn) for his Trio Op. 40 for Horn, Violin, and Piano.  And this must be the reason why:  The acoustical specificity of this most fragile instrument dictates meaning, not the theoretical function we hide behind so that we don't have to listen.

The art of music is, after and before all, listening, not playing.