Satoshi Akima wrote:
>Although the tendency for composers to write in ever more and more
>detailed instructions to performers began in the late nineteenth century,
>the practice of textual literalism is a peculiarly twentieth century one...
>There is a grave problem with applying this sort of musical literalism
>to music of the more distant past in that this sort of dogma had been
>previously quite unheard of. One therefore risks playing music of former
>centuries as though it were Stravinsky, much as Mahler performed Bach as
>though it he were a late nineteenth century composer. Indeed this sort
>of puritanical musical literalism was so foreign to the likes of Bach and
>Mozart that they freely improvised their own additions to the score in the
>form of decorations as they played.
A valid point, but something which I believe is not so germane to the
It's pretty well known that music written in the "distant past" is very
skeletal compared to the way it was written in say, the 19th century and
later. The use of "improvisational" embellishments, or even additions to
the instrumentation of a pre-Baroque score, for example, is something which
is widely countenanced in music from these earlier times. But it does take
some "scholarship" (there's that despised word again in the world of by-
the-seat-of-one's-pants musical interpretation) to make informed decisions
on how it might be appropriately done, even if musician might desire to do
something totally different.
>In any case why not take this literalism to even greater extremes? Why not
>insist that elements such as vibrato, or rubato should not be permitted
>unless they are so notated in the score. One might then argue that to do
>otherwise is tantamount to playing Bach on a synthesiser.
A sort of reductio in absurdam type of argument?--though not the first time
it's appeared in this thread:-)
>Clearly then everyone must permit some degree of interpretative freedom,
>the question is how much is too much.
Well, this sort of question of balance is the crux of the whole of music-
making, isn't it? But admittedly, in the discussions I sense that people's
desire to stake out positions may lead to this larger point being
>Now, all one simply has to do is listen to older mono recordings to
>realise that in the past greater musical freedom was the norm unlike
>today, and this undoubtedly held true for many of the composers of the
>past. One commonly hears purists react with horror when someone misses
>out an exposition repeat from a Brahms symphony - never mind that Brahms
>himself did much the same when he conducted his own music!
I'll let Jocelyn snag you on the documentation question for that one...:-)