Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Rhythm: In Youth My Weak Point, Now My Strength

If keeping the beat (whatever that is) were really the most important element in music I would never have persevered to become a musician.

As a young player dealing with notated music of other eras I simply could not keep a beat on the piano.  (It was a problem I never had on the organ, interestingly.)  When I was playing music written in my time, by Gershwin or Morton Gould, for example--music that corresponded to what I heard on a daily basis--there was no problem.  So what is happening here?

I have grown to understand that the inherent tension between sonority and duration is so dramatic that it defies notation or theoretical explanation.  An example:  I play a chord in Beethoven that sounds absolutely wonderful.  I love it and want it to last forever.  But Beethoven specifies that I must let go of it, after a mere eighth-note duration.  But why should I when that goes against all my instincts? 

That is the drama I am talking about.  It could be that the essence of rhythm in classical style is better conveyed by dealing with release than with attack.