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CLASSICAL  March 2000

CLASSICAL March 2000

Subject:

Re: Repeats

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 5 Mar 2000 23:32:30 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (95 lines)

Dave Lampson replies to me:

>>I'll say it as plainly as I can.  Neither one of us can refer to a
>>composer's intent, since all we have is a score, and the two aren't
>>necessarily identical at every point.
>
>So, if I write an autobiography, and for personal reasons I decide not to
>detail every single aspect of my existence, then you can know nothing about
>me from reading my autobiography.

Oh, I know something about you.  I just don't know your intent.

>I suppose we'll just have to agree to disagree on this point.  I believe
>the score can be a an excellent document of what the composer wanted, and
>therefore we can say a great deal about the composer's intent.  You believe
>differently.

Not all that differently.  I agree that the score can be an excellent
document of what the composer wanted.  I don't, however, see the need to
have recourse to intent at all.

>>What this may have to do with repeats is this: the repeat may not only be
>>musically unnecessary (though of course failing to follow it changes the
>>formal structure of the score), it may even harm the musical structure of
>>the piece.  In other words, I find it very hard to believe that several
>>generations of musicians of greater skill and culture than most of us here
>>were insensitive boors when it came to playing Mozart.
>
>But then the implication is that Mozart was an insensitive boor and
>mindlessly put those repeats in there, his music could only be saved by
>"generations of musicians of greater skill and culture than most of us".
>That rankles, but perhaps that's your intent.  No wait, I can't know
>anything about that because all I have is what you wrote...

The last statement is undoubtedly true.  But this is becoming an "all or
nothing at all" argument.  Why does Mozart have to be an insensitive boor
and mindless because he may have made a less-good choice at a particular
point in the score? Again, this is all suppositional, because, as Jocelyn
has pointed out, it's quite unusual to hear the last movement of the
Jupiter with all the repeats.  I've probably never heard it that way.  And,
rankling or not, it's really up to someone to show whether the performances
of Szell, Walter, and just about everybody else have completely ruined
Mozart's Jupiter Symphony for us.  I can live with someone saying, "Hey,
let's try it the composer's way." However, I would also say that branding
the previous generations of conductors as idiotic boors ("*Everybody* knows
the repeat is sacrosanct") a fairly limiting position.  Perhaps trying to
understand why they didn't take the repeat might reveal something about
that score - its robustness, for example.

>>I expect performers to give me not the composer's intention, but their
>>best effort toward realizing the score, to put the score in the
>best light.
>
>Now perhaps we're making progress.  See, I don't care about any of that.
>I expect performers to communicate as much of what the composer musically
>intended as possible.  This is what "realizing the score" means to me.

Well, since I have no idea how they do that, short of channeling, I don't
agree with that definition of "realizing." What you seem to be saying is
that they should play everything the composer wrote exactly as he wrote it.
Do you allow tempo variances from the metronome marks (if any)? Do you
insist on contemporary tuning? Obviously, you must allow some deviation
from the written score, since the marks are not ever complete.  Perhaps
the composer would allow deviation as well, but his deviation may not be
the performer's deviation and, in any case, how do you tell? If there's a
deviation from the written mark, do you simply consign the performers to
hell or do you try to figure out whether the deviation works as well as
the written mark?

I guess because I work so much with new music, music that's never
been played, I have a more provisional view of the score than most.
I hear music in draft quite a bit.  Does this mean I sanction wholesale
recomposition? Depends.  I love Rimsky's version of Boris, but I also love
the two Mussorgsky versions.  I don't think Rimsky an evil guy, especially
since his version kept the opera before the public until someone had the
courage to pull together something closer to Mussorgsky.  Now that the
original has swept Rimsky's version pretty much off into a corner, I find
myself missing the Rimsky.  Would I be willing to sanction all revision or
recomposition? Of course not.  You judge what's before you.  If you believe
the great composers can never miscalculate or that alternate realizations
are a priori inferior, that's your right.  I just don't find it very
reasonable.  As I say, I can't judge something I haven't heard.  Well,
I can, but I don't feel as if I'm being fair.

>Frankly, there are so many important things the performer brings to the
>music that can never be captured in the score that when I see interpretive
>emphasis on repeats it's a sign to me that the performer is in trouble,
>perhaps failing to see deeper into the interpretation.  As I tell the
>senior designers who work with me, don't keep re-inventing the wheel,
>instead use what's there and apply your talents to creating something that
>doesn't hasn't yet been done.

I agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments.

Steve Schwartz

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