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CLASSICAL  November 2006

CLASSICAL November 2006

Subject:

Re: Music as Language

From:

Karl Miller <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 17 Nov 2006 06:08:35 -0800

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text/plain

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Dave Wolf <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>I am reminded of a bit of pop-music trivia: When George & Ira Gershwin
>were working on "Someone to Watch Over Me," the original concept was
>up-tempo.  So the next time you hear a recording of Ella singing that
>soulful, tender ballad, think how it would sound at triple the speed,
>with a Louis Armstrong/Dixie swing.  Whether it's a cultural (learned)
>way of hearing or intrinsic, it's quite astounding to see how little it
>takes to change our view of the "meaning" of a given piece of music.

Is not changing the tempo changing the music?

Similarly, is a character variation of a tune the same thing as the tune.
The thought that crosses my mind is the interrupted intermezzo in Bartok's
Concerto for Orchestra...with that interruption being a group of character
variations on Shostakovich's adaptation of Lehar, as found in the first
movement of the 7th symphony.  Within the Shostakovich setting, the tune
starts out sounding innocent and through the metamorphosis brought about
mostly by the nature of the orchestration, it becomes ominous and maniacal.
In one of the iterations in Bartok's Concerto it becomes a carnival
scene...a variation which reminds me, oddly enough, of some of the music
of Kodaly...his Hary Janos suite in particular.

In short, for me, the sucession of pitches alone, does not music make.
While it might define the essence of the "idea" it does not, for me,
necessarily embody the expressive content.

Writing this I am reminded of another favorite example of the
transformation of an "idea." A favorite work of mine, the Prokofieff
Second Piano Concerto begins with a simple phrase of a few notes,
played rather quietly.  One tends to think of that phrase as just an
introduction...but then, when you get to the development section, a long
fiendishly difficult piano cadenza, the theme plays a significant part
and then in the abbreviated recapitulation that little utterance of the
opening is triumphantly articulated in the full orchestra in augmentation,
reinforced in the brass...this little plunk plunk...plunk plunk of the
opening becomes sound which I equate to the opening of the heavens...for
me, one of the great moments in Western art music.

Much of this thinking makes me ask of myself questions about "meaning"
of individual pitches and pitches in relationship to other pitches,
without notions of tempo, dynamics, harmony, instrumentation, tessitura,
etc.  Does a quarter note C moving to a quarter note D mean only a quarter
note C moving to a quarter note D?  I am reminded, of Schoenberg's
thinking that the "idea" was the essence and that a "good" idea would
have "good" meaning within the context of any tempo, dynamics, etc.
However, that is not to say that its "meaning" would always be the same.

Forgive me for going on...but...

Last night I saw Tilson Thomas' program on Le Sacre.  While I have a
video of a realization of the original choreography, it has been many
years since I have viewed it.  When I was reminded of the scenario I
found the use of images of the choreography in the program to distract
from my appreciation of the music.  It was as though the associations
with the scenario limited the range of "meaning" I should find in the
music.  While I thought Tilson Thomas did a superb job, I wasn't quite
sure what his "job" was.  I found him brilliant in his illustrations of
the music and in pointing out relationships between the sections, but
in the end, it all seemed rather futile, for, in the final analysis, at
least for me, as the music has to speak for itself, and for me, much of
the success of that work is due to its ability to have meaning beyond
the implications of the choreography.

Does this make sense?

Karl (still looking at the notion of "meaning" in music)

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