Category Archives: Performance practice

Medieval music and memory

Although writing allowed medieval composers to work out pieces in their minds, it did not make memorization redundant—rather, it allowed for new ways to commit music to memory. But since some of the polyphonic music from the 12th century and later was written down, scholars have long assumed that it was all composed and transmitted in written form.

Our understanding of medieval music has been profoundly shaped by German philologists from the beginning of the twentieth century, who approached medieval music as if it were no different from music of the nineteenth century. The fact that a piece was written down does not necessarily mean that it was conceived and transmitted in writing. A new model emphasizes the interplay of literate and oral composition and transmission.

This according to “Medieval music and the art of memory” by Anna Maria Busse Berger (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

Above, Notre Dame Cathedral, an early center of polyphony, around 1450; below, Viderunt omnes. by Pérotin, who is widely considered to be the first to compose at his desk rather than in the church.

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Filed under Middle Ages, Performance practice

Unperformable music

ligeti etude 14a

Some artworks—works of music, theatre, dance, and the like—are works for performance. Some works for performance are unperformable.

Some such works are unperformable by beings like us; others are unperformable given our laws of nature; still others are unperformable given considerations of basic logic.

Musical works that fit into each of these categories really are genuine works, musical works, and works for performance, and the very possibility of such works is ontologically significant. In particular, the possibility of these works raises serious problems for type-theoretic accounts of the ontology of music as well as certain mereological or constitution-based accounts.

This according to “Unperformable works and the ontology of music” by Wesley D. Cray (British Journal of Aesthetics LVI/1 [January 2016] pp. 67–81.

Many thanks to Improbable Research for bringing this to our attention! Above and below, György Ligeti’s Étude No. 14A: Coloana fara sfârşit (Column without end), one of the works discussed in the article.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Performance practice

The challenge of free improvisation

 

Free improvisation, which arose among jazz musicians but now encompasses a broad range of musical interactions, is best understood as a forum for exploring interactive strategies.

The practice emphasizes process, an engendered sense of discovery, dialogical interaction, the sensual aspects of performance, and a participatory aesthetic; its inherent transience and immediacy challenge dominant modes of consumption and sociopolitical and spiritual models of the efficacy of art.

This according to “Negotiating freedom: Values and practices in contemporary improvised music” by David Borgo (Black music research journal XXII/ [fall 2002] pp. 165–188).

Above and below, Ornette Coleman’s group in the early 1960s.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performance practice

Vespro della Beata Vergine

Vespro della Beata Vergine Bärenreiter

In 2013 Bärenreiter issued a new Urtext edition of Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine, one of the most beloved sacred works of the 17th century.

The volume originated in a graduate seminar at the University of North Texas under the direction of the Monteverdi specialist Hendrik Schulze, who served as the book’s editor.

The edition combines the latest in musicological research specifically with the needs of the performer in mind, making a modern interpretation of this 400-year-old work possible. This new research has led, for instance, to a divergent evaluation of the Lauda Jerusalem oriented towards performance practice, with numerous additional accidentals and a new interpretation of the melodic variants from the different part books.

Below, John Eliot Gardiner leads a full performance of the work. Go ahead, you deserve it.

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Filed under Baroque era, New editions, Performance practice

Peter Brook and Carmen

Carmen

The 1981 premiere of Peter Brook’s and Jean-Claude Carrière’s La tragédie de Carmen at the Opéra in Paris sparked considerable controversy over its focus on the bleaker, darker aspects of the story.

In their revision of Bizet’s Carmen, Brook and Carrière attempted to be truer to Prosper Mérimée’s 1845 novella, emphasizing the basic components of its tragedy: sorcery, sexuality, obsessive love, and death. They removed the comic elements from Bizet’s work, reasoning that the composer had been constrained by a theatrical medium that demanded the inclusion of comedy.

This according to The tragedy of Carmen: Georges Bizet and Peter Brook by William Manning D. Mouat, a dissertation accpted by the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1996.

Above and below, Zehava Gal in the title role.

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Filed under Opera, Performance practice

Marilyn Horne and ornamentation

In a 1993 interview, Marilyn Horne discussed her study of the few examples of Rossini’s written-out vocal ornaments.

“I knew that if I ornamented that much I would be highly criticized for it. And so I did just a little bit—and was highly criticized for that!”

“Oh yes, we couldn’t win. In the beginning, I fought those ‘ornament fights’. I had terrible battles about it, especially with Italian conductors, because they are still very much under the influence of Toscanini, who ‘cleaned up’ everything.”

“I remember one particular conductor, his name was Argeo Quadri, and he talked like this: ‘Ah, signora, non si puo cantarlo così.’ Finally I said to him ‘Maestro, I went to a medium last night’—his eyes got bigger and bigger—and I said ‘I talked to Rossini stesso, and he said “Vai, Marilyna, vai!”’ Quadri laughed. He didn’t know whether to take me seriously or not, but he said okay, you can do your ornaments.”

This according to “La Rossiniana: A conversation with Marilyn Horne” by Jeannie Williams (The opera quarterly IX/4 [summer 1993] pp. 64–91).

Today is Marilyn Horne’s 80th birthday! Below, the diva demonstrates.

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Julian Bream, autodidact

As a child, Bream first learned to play the guitar along with his father from “an extraordinary little book, and that was great fun.”

When he was around 11 Boris Perrot, the president of the Philharmonic Society of Guitarists, heard him and, duly impressed, offered to teach him. The boy was honored, but soon found that he disliked the outmoded technique that Perrot insisted on.

Bream stopped the lessons and never took another one; instead, “I watched how Segovia did it and made up my technique as I went along.”

“Actually, I think I must have been quite a little horror because I was very instinctive about things. I only did what I wanted to do. I didn’t care a damn what other people wanted me to do.”

This according to “Julian Bream at 60: An interview” by Gareth Walters (Guitar review 96 [winter 1994] pp. 2–15).

Today is Julian Bream’s 80th birthday! Above, the guitarist in 1947; below, his arrangement of Danza del molinero from Manuel de Falla’s El sombrero de tres picos.

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Filed under Curiosities, Performance practice

Library of Greek Musicology

In December 2011 the Laboratory of Greek Music at the Ionian University, Kerkyra (Corfu), launched the book series Ellinīkī Mousikologikī Vivliothīkī (Ελληνική Μουσικολογική Βιβλιοθήκη/Library of Greek Musicology) with a volume curated by Charīs Xanthoudakīs and Arīs Garoufalīs on the relationship between the great Greek conductor and composer Dīmītrīs Mītropoulos and the Athens conservatory Odeio Athinōn.

Mītropoulos studied at the Odeio Athinōn from 1910 to 1919. Returning from a period of study in Berlin in 1925, he served as conductor first of the orchestra of the other Athens conservatory, Ellīniko Odeio, then from 1927 to 1937 for his alma mater, where he also taught composition. He also created a combined orchestra from the two schools in a Syllogo Synafliōn (Club Concert) that achieved considerable glory in its brief existence, featuring guest appearances by Richard Strauss and Alfred Cortot and a 1933 performance of the “constructivist” Zavod (Iron Foundry) by Aleksandr Mosolov.

The book, O Dīmītrīs Mītropoulos kai to Odeio Athinōn: To chroniko kai ta tekmīria (Dīmītrīs Mītropoulos and the Odeio Athinōn: Chronicle and archival materials, ISBN 978-960-86801-8-0), consists of two parts: a biography of Mītropoulos, and a collection of 85 reproduced documents from the Odeio’s archives illustrating the narrative of the first part, including meeting minutes, personal correspondence, and texts of speeches, together with excerpts from the most recent scholarly studies of Mītropoulos’s life and works before his emigration to the United States and international fame.

Below, Mītropoulos rehearses and performs Liszt’s Faust symphony with the New York Philharmonic.

Related article: Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896–1960)

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Basse danse with attitude II

The letters of Andrea Calmo, a 16th-century Venetian actor and playwright who wrote of having been taught the bassadanza by wolves, highlight how dance was regarded by a member of the middle classes in Venice.

As well as having a general appreciation of dance, which he saw as an enjoyable and moral activity, Calmo was knowledgeable about dance specifics and accurate in his use of dance terminology; in fact, his knowledge of dance practices was extensive enough to enable him to use specific dance references as a tool in creating the humor in his letters.

In a letter wooing a fine dancer, Calmo’s praises include the following:

“Now you can perform well the salti a torno, performing capriole, dancing on only one foot for half and hour, and moving the other foot so quickly it is as if your feet were tickling.”

“Alas, that to go behind, in front, those riprese, those clever steps and turns on joined feet, and all with mesura, with design and grace, in addition to the beautiful, grand, well-rounded and well-proportioned bosom.”

This according to “Learning the bassadanza from a wolf: Andrea Calmo and dance” by Jennifer Nevile (Dance research: The journal of the Society for Dance Research XXX/1 [2012] pp. 80–97). Above, Ball in Venice in Honor of Foreign Visitors, c.1580 (Italian School). Below, bassadanza with attitude!

Related article: Basse danse with attitude I

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Filed under Curiosities, Dance, Humor, Performance practice, Renaissance

Beethoven does the details

The increasing range of Beethoven’s performance indications paralleled the growing depth of expression in his music. While his predecessors had been content with four basic tempos—adagio, andante, allegro, and presto—he began to add qualifiers, indications of gradual tempo change, and descriptive words and phrases in German.

Still unsatisfied, he began to rely on metronome markings, although he stressed that they only provide a point of departure for a performance in which “feeling also has its beat, which cannot wholly be conveyed by a number”.

He started to favor graphic treatments of crescendo and diminuendo, ensuring dynamic shapes that would not necessarily be intuited by the performer. He used sforzando in structural as well as expressive ways, and expanded volume markings beyond the range from pp to ff.

His pedaling indications usually reinforce harmonic contexts, though sometimes they cause harmonic areas to overlap; this might explain why some of Beethoven’s contemporaries complained that his pedaling resulted in a confused sound. His articulation markings often reinforce motivic structure and development.

All of these performance indications are most fully understood in the context of the particular instrument he was using at the time.

This according to “Interpreting Beethoven’s markings: A preliminary survey of the piano sonatas” by Tallis Barker (The music review LV/3 [August 1994] pp. 169–182). Below, Sviatoslav Richter demonstrates his approach to Beethoven’s performance indications.

Related articles: Beethoven in Bibliolore

 

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Filed under Classic era, Performance practice