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CLASSICAL  March 2000

CLASSICAL March 2000

Subject:

Re: Repeats

From:

Jos Janssen <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 8 Mar 2000 12:43:29 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (129 lines)

What is (almost) consistently missing is the argument based on MUSICAL
substance.  Lots of people seem to concentrate on matters like grown
traditions, if they like to be historically informed or not or muse
philosophically on whether they can know anything about anybody by
telling from what he did or did not write.

So let's get back to basics my friends.  A basic musical tool (of all
times) is to REPEAT your musical substance.  Josquin did it in his Mass
"L'Homme Arme" by distributing the famous Medieval Tune over all the place,
and thus ensuring that his audience would recognise it as a landmark.  That
what is recognised is more easily followed in all its transformations,
permutations and combinations.  Stravinsky did it in The Rite of Spring in
an alltogether different manner:  he came up with an invented chord and
used this as a basis for his rythmic extrapolations.  When he played the
draft version to Diaghilev, he was hammering this chord all the time on the
piano.  Diaghilev's eyes went wide and asked "How long will this go on?",
and Stravinsky answered in his grinning sarcastic way "Olll ze time, of
curse".  Messiaen did it in his opera "St.  Francois" as Wagner did it in
the Ring.  In pretty much the same manner they made use of what is called
"Leimotive".  The difference lies in the fact that Messiaen's Leitmotive
are almost completely static.  Even Mr.  Turnage seems to use repetitions.
Now there's a stern maestro for you.

Now we come to that wonderful subject:  the repeat in the classical sonata
form.  Speeking from a musicological point of view, the "repeat" in the
sonata form was born in the classical period, as the sonata form was mainly
developed in the (pre/early-) classical period.  Why it was born seems
perfectly clear to me:  it was the happy outcome of a marriage between the
strive to excel in an as perfectly as possible balanced form and the need
to understand and appreciate the contents of that form.  Now let's take
those two counterpoints by the horn.

Strictly speaking, an 18th century composer who choose to compose in
the sonata form would have to ensure that his themes always are spreaded
through a nice even amount of bars, that the counter-subject would be of
length in relation to the main subject, that its key would be in a key
specified by a relation to the key of the main theme, which would then
perhaps be specified by the "affect" he wished to express (if he would be
old-fashioned), or perhaps, technically speaking, the instruments he would
be using (example:  it is no coincidence that a lot of violin concertos are
in D major).  A list like this can go on.  You can get excellent text-books
on this.  Now, Lenny Bernstein once showed what a strict approach like this
can do:  he recomposed the first movement of Mozart's g minor symphony in
a very neatly balanced form and played this in one of his televised
lectures.  The result was boredom that grabbed one by the throat.
Nonetheless, we call the first movement of the g minor a sonata form.
Conclusion:  it's rather the deviations of the strict form that make it
interesting.  In this context, repeating the exposition would magnify to
the user the exceptions that Mozart makes to the ideal form.  Important?
Naturally.  Also, think of the many brilliant moments between the first
and second time around.  To name but one:  the famous 9th symphony by
Dvorak.  Taking the Repeat will send you back from Major to Minor which
can be (AND must be made) a thrilling effect.  I want to prove that this
is exactly the point:  if you can make the repeat "thrilling" you MUST
do it, otherwise you are FORBIDDEN to do it.  I will personally send the
Recapitulationspolizei on your back if you don't.  Whether you will do the
"repeat" as an exact copy of the "first time around" is up to you, but
you'd better not dare to bore us.

Now let's imagine that we are listening to a first year's student sonata
movement, who has been bullied by his professor that he will be severely
punished if not composing in the strict form.  Or a composer who will only
sell music to his ignorant publisher if he composes to his publisher's dull
academic taste.  In that case, the repeat would probably be one of sheer
boredom.  So let's quickly forget about it.  This reminds me of a concert
I once attended where we were all sitting, neatly packed and perfumed
listening with stern faces to Mozart's German Dances, complete with all
boring repeats.  We should probably have been waltzing and polkaing to
enjoy ourselves.  Then, the repeats would have added to the amusement and
thus made sense.

What can we learn from a score? Of course, one might loose oneself in
discussions on what the composer "meant" and if yes/no it is to be found
back in the score.  Again, strictly speaking a score is nothing more or
less than a reproduction.  Made in most of the cases by somebody else
than the composer, who was/is more or less in contact with the composer,
not necessarily made in the same time and cultural environment.  Anybody
claiming that he knows what the composer meant, will have to back that up
with knowledge from outside the scores, because in practice most of the
scores were made and printed without direct influence of the composer.
Knowledge from outside the score is a hazardous job.  Through hard study
of sources (and not only musical) of the personal, musical, historical,
cultural context one might venture to make a remark on what one suspects
as being the composer's intend.  On the other hand, the score is the most
direct source to the interpretation, so you better have a good look at it
before going on.  Now, if a repeat sign is omitted, what does that mean? If
it's there in the score, and the maestro chooses to omit the repeat, I will
ask myself:  why does he do it.  If he satisfies me with his reasons it's
allright and we call it "an interpretation", otherwise he's a charlatan
and we call it a "distortion".  If it's not in the score, the argument is
exactly the same.  I would just say that it's the biggest fun in making and
listening to music that it can be viewed at in different angles, sometimes
be interpreted and sometimes even be moulded into something rather
unexpected.  So this is definitely not threatening.  In this aspect there
is only one other art that I know of which can be similary shaped without
being destroyed:  drama.  Am I saying one can do anything with a piece? No.
I am saying that one is obliged to do something interesting or leave it
alone.  Looking closely to that last statement, it is obvious that what
is "interesting" is also a matter of the listener and not solely of the
musician.  A musician has to make music that is interesting to himself of
course, but he will be featured on the Classical Net only if he is also
interesting to listeners.  One might say that the HIP movement (God, how
I dread this expression) is "interesting" lots of people today as it
appeals to musical and non-musical notions that they feel involved with.
Of course the hardest shouters in that movement are probably those with the
least nuances in their opinions (and therefore the least interesting).  On
the other hand, there are people who (sometimes more out of a feeling "in
the belly" than out of an articulated one) oppose the "whole HIP bunch" as
being snobbish, concieted and whatever.  They will have to show by MUSICAL
arguments that there are values in their NON-HIP approach.  Both approaches
have in the past let to formidable musical accomplishments (at least to me)
and I object to the purists on both sides.

Actually, what precipitated this post is the following:  Last night I
was browsing through some catalogues because Donald's great survey of the
h-minor Mass has set the spark alive in me to do the same for the Matthew
Passion.  Astonishing!  In the EMI catalogue, I found only "NON-HIP"
versions (G?nnenwein, F?rster, Furtw?ngler), in the Deutsche Grammophon
there is the (typical German?) division between Archiv and the main yellow
label (Gardiner et al versus Karajan and Richter), where Harmonia Mundi is
strictly on the HIP side (it's main exponent being Herreweghe).  Does this
only say something about the record companies market strategies? Can EMI be
said to be so foolish as to completely ignore the HIP market? I suspect
not.  I'd rather think there are some people in the driving chair at EMI
who are "interested" a lot in what they're doing.  What fun to have so many
approaches to the same thing!  For me, the argument ends there.

regards, Jos
[log in to unmask]

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