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Young Musician Needs More Exposure

 

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Audience Makes Irritating Noises Carefully

 

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Eurovision Outbreak Continues To Spread

 

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Man Thinks University Degree Should Be More Involved

 

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“Life Of Pi” Forces Man To Have Thoughts

 

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Oxford And Cambridge Suffer From Reality

 

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Franz Schubert And Bob Dylan- The Interpreter’s Workshop

 

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The Golden Shower Of Musicology

 

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Another Amazing Dad Joke Story

 

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Free Speech Still An Issue For Some Reason

 

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The Extremist Tail Wagging The Whole Pig

 

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Man Splits Infirmative

 

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Man Shocks Everyone: Stops Task For Police Interview

 

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The Raving

 

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Man Ready To Hate Pope Again This Christmas 

 

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That “Five Monkeys And A Banana” Story Is Rubbish

 

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Man Thinks He Wants To Believe In Independent Thinking

 

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Student Abandons Friend After Hearing Tawdry Gossip

 

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Man Says Nightclub Is Just “Totally Different Now”

 

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Man Uses Facebook To Reveal Incompetence

 

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The One Cheque To Rule Them All

 

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Was Hubert Parry A Good Composer? No. No He Wasn’t.

 

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6 Awesome Youtube Videos Musicians Should Watch

 

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Man In Charge Of Curriculum Says Some Stuff

 

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Rare Footage Of Amazing Pianist Repeatedly Interrupted By Boring Conversations

 

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Boy Tragically Killed By Hubris

 

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Student Has Amazing Breakthrough By Doing What Teacher Says

 

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Serial Killer Quits Day Job To Follow Dream

 

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Handling My Worst Nightmare

 

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Student Pioneers Innovative Research Technique

 

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Lucy: It’s All Sciency and Stuff

 

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6 Spam Comments That Are Actually Genius

 

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Doublon Till and the Telltale Tapping

 

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Stockmarket Takes A Roley Poley Tumble Wumble

 

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Disabled Kid Not An Inspiration

 

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Female Architect Has Brilliant Idea

 

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If One Dad Joke Is Good…

 

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Look At My Tiny Pink Schubert Canary

 

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Transformers: Definitely A Film

 

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Latest Version of GoogleMaps Promises To Be An Experience

 

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Luddites Offer Anti-eBook Theatre Experience

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Tiny Habits

 

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Small Time Celebrity Of Some Kind Reaffirms Existence With Interview

 

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British Government May Repeal M&M Law

 

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Man Listens To New Opera- Doesn’t Like It

 

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Man Who Loves Shakespeare Gets A Little Bored During Play

 

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Service Commemorating the Horrors of War Ruined By Man With Hopeful Spirit

 

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Man Cheats On Girlfriend For A Reason

 

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Man Disgusted By Periods Wants Sex Anyway

 

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Man Narrowly Avoids Thinking About Israel

 

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Young German Student Makes Tasteless Joke About Crimes Against Humanity

 

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Film About Famous Rockstar Ends With Surprising Drug-Addled Death

 

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New CEO of Much Loved Company Confronts Challenges

 

Surprise Pregnancy Turns Out To Have Logical Explanation

 

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Woman Makes Choices In Nightclub

 

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Man Languages Clearly

 

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Neglected Composer Becomes Fascinating Discussion

 

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Young Pianist Sees Rival Perform For First Time- Declares, “It Wasn’t That Good.”

 

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Previously Unknown Poetry by Goethe Discovered in Rural Australia

 

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Pop-Star Admits Drug Use On Talk Show- Gets Arrested

 

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The Cruelty Of Rolf Harris Finally Revealed: “Yes, I Performed My Music All Over The World.”

 

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Man Uses No Other Term But “Multitudinous” To Describe Himself

 

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Sportsman Can’t Wait For After-Party- Assaults Innocent Victim During Game

 

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Man Watches Ted Talk- Feels Better

 

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Unfinished Wollstonecraft Manuscript Discovered In Surrey

 

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Man With Vague Noble Ideals Finds Prejudice Disappointing

Oxford and Cambridge Suffer From Reality

Two of the most important places on Earth, Oxford and Cambridge Universities, have kowtowed to pressure from a hoard of pesky Goblin scamps and will soon be making changes to their overblown syllabi and antiquated management style.

Due to budget cuts, both relics will have to cancel several of their most popular classes. On the chopping block are such stalwarts as “Evaluating People: The Oxford Way,” and “Propaganda and Social Engineering: From Those Who Really Know How It’s Done,” and of course, the most vital of all, “The Golden Rule: Never, Ever Sound Wrong, No Matter What.”

Students have taken to Facebook to express their disgust, pumping out hundreds of dazzling last-minute essays peppered with tendentious facts and semi-relevant references that apparently convey an aura of knowledge.

 “Not since General Custer’s inefficient use of cavalry formation has there been such a patent example of mismanagement,” said Percy Peregrine, an Oxford history student. “Where am I going to get my pride and personality from now?”

“Nelson Mandela was once in prison,” said another. “That’s how I feel.”

 We spoke to one of the faceless wraiths from the mysterious society in charge of both institutions, The Darkened Cave, about their recent decisions. “Yes, I do feel for the little ones,” he rasped. “They strive and toil for so long to gain a place here that they’ll do absolutely anything to prove it was all worthwhile, no matter how much reality they need ‘revise’ in order to do it. But reality is there, and it must be suffered.”

Currently, students at an Oxbridge mage-cradle learn vital techniques to help them navigate through life. One very popular class covers all the questions you should ask someone when you first meet them, including which school you went to, which college you went to, and which professors you had when you went to those colleges and schools. It is widely considered to be the backbone of a good Oxbridge education, without which society could not function. “If I didn’t have that introduction to socialism,” said Percy Honeysuckle, reader of music, “I wouldn’t have been indoctrinated with an abstract hierarchy of irrelevant minutiae for me to classify people with. I may as well live in America.”

Percy Clumplestiltskin agreed. “How am I going to know when to tell my anecdotes about the dopey English professor who drank King’s Ginger liqueur out of a suede knapsack and said some vaguely funny things occasionally? I’m going to have to try something else entirely, like relating to people.”

According to the wispy, ominous shadow-fiends who proposed the cuts, it is merely an attempt to accelerate the inevitable. “Eventually,” they hissed, “after a period of twattery typically lasting five years after graduation, our alumni start to realise that merit and value also exist on other parts of the planet, completely independent of Oxbridge magic. This initial shock, totally alien to all they have been brought up to believe, then frees them up to realise it is not really necessary to be right all the time; in fact, it’s quite annoying. We just want to bring this inevitable wisdom forward a few years and teach our students how to be people, rather than dialectically rabid psychotics.”

Percy Snapcrackle, PhD student, was not impressed. “If I can’t win an argument just by saying I went to Oxford then what was the point?”

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Franz Schubert And Bob Dylan- The Interpreter’s Workshop

Further to yesterday’s post, I would like to share a little compilation of videos showing how it is possible to play the same song in very different ways.

One thing I find particularly frustrating about classical music magazines (and the general culture of the recording industry, at least as it has been in the past) is the constant desire to find a “definitive” recording. There is no definitive recording- everybody plays, or should play, things differently, and the more variety is the richer our collective musical experience will be.

This is something Glenn Gould pointed out very well. The advent of recording technology should invite more variety, not less- why record Beethoven’s Emperor concerto the same as everyone else if there are already recordings that out there that do that? Let us enjoy his rather unusual version for what it is, even if we would prefer it to be played more “normally.”

Here is Alfred Brendel playing the Schubert Impromptu, Opus 90 number 3. This is a rather “normal” performance, insofar as the average student is probably aiming to play it something like this.

Here is Vladimir Sofronitsky, a rather more forceful musical personality.

And Erno Dohnanyi, quite bizarre, but fascinating in it’s own right. Schubert’s time signature in this piece is quite unusual, and it’s entirely possible this is what he wanted.

Now, to follow through on my reference to Bob Dylan yesterday, here are three versions of his song, Shelter From The Storm.

Here is the relatively standard version:

Here is a rather different version:

And one that is quite unusual, almost experimental:

I contend that there is as much difference in the three pianists performing Schubert as there is in Dylan’s three versions of his own song. Nobody is seeking a “definitive” version. They might be seeking their definitive version at that particular time, and that is all we can hope for. The better they are at delivering their convictions the richer our musical world will be.

Enough with “definitive” recordings!

The Golden Shower of Musicology

As a classical musician I have often had to grimace through many incarnations of the argument that classical music is elitist or dying or, most irritating of all, is now much worse than it used to be back in some perceived golden age from the past. These “ideas” have always annoyed me, because those who argue such things are often more keen to believe their pre-formed notions than understand facts. They are typically regurgitating some nonsense they have heard from a relative, or some tripe they saw being heavily implied on a cheap documentary, or most commonly, some flimsy propaganda they read on Slipped Disc.

Imagine my consternation then when this incorrect and obviously self-serving ideological piffle appeared on the internet propounding yet another version of the “it was all better in the past” myth. Though the article itself was full of incomprehensibly stupid non-thoughts, I soon saw that my own friends and colleagues were frothing at the mouth to endorse it, and did not seem to share my rage that yet again some publicity seeking oaf was spreading lies and gibberish in order to promote themselves; in this case, some type of symposium. 

Some would say that this might be a cue to examine my own position anew; if everybody around me thinks the same thing, perhaps it is me who is wrong? Well, ladies and gentleman, if you want to thoughtlessly copy your opinions from others, you can do that. I, meanwhile, prefer to think.

Let us examine some of Mr Clive Brown’s “ideas” in this article, starting with the title:

We’re playing classical music all wrong – composers wanted us to improvise

Who is this mystical “we”? Does he seriously propose that all musicians today play the same way? Is he qualified to speak on our behalf? Is he included on the list of notable performers who are showing us the noble way forward?

 I am not being twee; this is an important point. As a musicologist Mr Brown has no place telling me how to perform. His job is to do research, make connections and insights, and communicate those findings to the world. It is not his job to decide how I or any other musician should or should not play. If he wants to put forward such a claim he must play it that way himself and influence musicians by the force of his example. It is not enough to propose a theory, particularly if you can’t or don’t demonstrate it yourself.

It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be sufficient  to get you through your examinations, which after all, is what school is all about.
“It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be sufficient
to get you through your examinations, which after all, is what school is all about.”

There are other musicologists working today who do this job very well. I have read almost half of Richard Taruskin’s mammoth Oxford History Of Western Music and I cannot recall a single passage in which he offers an edict on how something should be played. He offers many insights regarding the history of music, offers an erudite and brilliant perspective on many subjects, particularly 20th century and Russian music, and is merciless in his attacks on various sacred cows of musical history and historiography. As such, he is doing a vital service to our art, and he does it without ever telling me how to play.*

Robert Donington offers another great example with his book Baroque Music: Style and Performance: A Handbook which consists almost entirely of primary sources (thus letting the period speak for itself, in its own words, with all of its contradictions). Jean-Jacques Eidildinger did it with his book Chopin, Pianist and Teacher: As Seen by His Pupils  which collates all the information we have on Chopin’s teachings, covering everything he said and wrote himself as well as the subsequent testimony of his pupils, and presents it with as little conjecture as possible. These are both fantastic, useful books, and are of indispensable value for a performer.

That does not make them books of edicts, nor can they be used as an ideological weapon against “the way everybody plays”. Knowing something about period performance practice does not entitle you to make that knowledge a rule.

It is, of course, very useful if you can prove that Chopin himself always trilled from the upper note; however, it is not useful to then claim that “everybody plays it wrong” if they do not trill from the upper note. We will decide how we want to play, thanks. If you are the sort person who listens to Martha Argerich and gets upset about which note she is starting her trills, God help you.

Chopin is a particularly good example because all the research indicates that he viewed rubato as something exclusive to the pianist’s right hand, while the left hand stayed perfectly in time. Absolutely no one plays like this. I doubt anybody but Chopin ever did. And I’m reasonably sure that Chopin himself did occasionally bend the rhythm of the left hand in subtle ways, but wanted his students to be much more rigorous than they were in their lessons. Whether our current double-handed rubato is right or wrong doesn’t matter, it’s the way it is. (And anyway, there are as many styles of rubato as there are pianists, so who cares?) If you believe in Chopin’s way, make a recording that shows how you think it is done. Otherwise, get over it. The great pianists of the world are going to play it the way they want, and if they are really good musicians it will probably be great whether they adhere to Chopin’s own style or not.

Back to Clive:

Classical music has always been the music of the educated classes, but today, despite the much more equal distribution of education in first world society, it is seen by many as stuffy, irrelevant and unappealing

This is so offensively stupid I can hardly contain my rage. Saying that other people see it a certain way does not constitute an argument. It does not represent a truth. It is a useless, pointless, meaningless thing to say. If Clive thinks it is stuffy, he should say so, and not hide behind the views of others. If he thinks it is not really stuffy, he should say so, and help dispel a misconception. Quoting what he perceives to be an established view merely reinforces a worthless bit of gossip.

Current performance conditions do little to help this – tickets to opera theatres and concert halls, where the audience listens in unbroken silence, are generally expensive…

Oh, I’m sorry, the tickets are generally expensive. This, I suppose, counts as evidence that classical music is stuffy. Has Clive ever been to see U2? Coldplay? Andre Rieu? Were his tickets cheap? I doubt it. Hell, a ticket to a TED talk costs thousands of dollars and TED is somehow seen as a trendy, popular thing that everybody loves for some reason. Ticket prices, funnily enough, reflect a business model based on supply and demand, not elitism.

“Generally expensive” obviously refers to concerts at the upper end of the spectrum, as well. When the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, featuring possibly the best opera orchestra on earth and some of the best singers on earth, wants to put on a production of Puccini’s La Boheme, one of the most popular operas ever written, I guess it is quite an astonishing mystery to Clive that the tickets are somewhat expensive. How could this be? Could it be that thousands upon thousands of people want to see it? Could it be that the expensive tickets might actually suggest a thriving audience of people desperately eager to see music they love dearly? Could it be that an expensive ticket is proof of demand rather than stuffiness?

Regardless, there are free concerts all over the place. I have lived in Bunbury, Sydney and London, and there have always been free concerts available to those who look for them, even in Bunbury (a small town in Western Australia).

In London you could happily see a concert every day and never pay for any of them. You might never see the highest performance standards as you would at the Royal Opera house, but you can’t complain there’s an elitist price barrier blocking you from attendance if you only want to see the best the world has to offer. Even then, you probably can see some of the best the world has to offer, for free.  Pop down to St John’s Waterloo and see some of the best young musicians from across the globe perform in the Southbank Sinfonia, for free, every Thursday night. And as you sip on your free glass of wine they provide for you, you can think about how hard it is to see good music without paying for it.

And on the matter of having to be “silent” in concert halls and how this supposedly represses a love of music…I am so, so, so sick of hearing this stupid argument. So you have to be silent at a classical music concert. Do you know where else you have to be silent? Everywhere. If I go to a cinema, I have to be silent. If I see a play, I have to be silent. If I go to a musical, I have to be silent. Hell, when I saw Memphis at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London last year the lady next to me was checking Facebook on her phone after the interval had finished. It took about five seconds before an usher flashed a light in her face and angrily shouted “phones off, phones off!” That sort of Draconian order has never been imposed at a classical concert (and that’s a shame, in my opinion) and yet nobody claims that the music theatre world is elitist. It is efficient, and it wants audiences to listen without disturbing the people around them. Why? Because that is a decent and polite way to behave in a public space.

Where is it that these mythical audiences exist that are allowed to make noise? Jazz clubs? Right, because everybody wants to be compelled to offer bland, tepid applause after every damn solo. That’s the very definition of a thrilling concert experience, I suppose. This sort of feigned freedom hardly even constitutes not being silent; it is just a slightly more clap-friendly code of enforced audience etiquette. And anyway, opera audiences readily clap after arias, so again the supposed silence of classical music is really not a thing.

Apart from a mosh pit (which is a rather different animal altogether) the only context I can imagine in which audiences are even remotely allowed to express themselves is at a stand up comedy gig, and that is under the implicit assumption that the comedian will mock you mercilessly for it. Why? Because audiences are supposed to be silent. Stop telling me that this is somehow related to classical music. (Also, something tells me it is not the noise-making freedom of a mosh pit which appeals to Clive Brown, professor of applied musicology at the University of Leeds.)

Pre-20th century musicians approached performance much more like popular musicians still do. For them, it was more fluid, more personal – composers expected them to understand the hidden messages behind the notes. Even in the great music of the late 19th century such as that of Brahms, options in performance were hinted at rather than prescribed. The notation was merely a starting point – a great performer was expected to go beyond it.

Where to begin. I’m not sure if these comments are bad generalisations or successful inanities.

Firstly, all performers are expected to understand what’s “behind the notes.” What type of concert is Mr Brown going to where the performers do not do that? Bad ones? Primary school gala concerts? A Midi-keyboard showcase? Even a sentimental shlock film like Mr Holland’s Opus is based entirely around the idea that we musicians need to play what’s behind the notes. Every lesson I have ever had has been about what’s behind the notes. All the musicians I love to listen to are able to play in a deeply personal way, offering their own interpretation of what is behind the notes. If you play everything boringly and correctly you might gave a career but people won’t be that interested in your performances; you are supposed to play “what’s behind the notes.” Just what is Clive Brown referring to? I have no idea where this amorphous mass of bland, pedantic performers that so disappoints him is supposed to exist. (Take Lang Lang, for example. Say what you will about his histrionic style, he is the most popular pianist alive at the moment and you certainly can’t say he doesn’t go “beyond the score.”)

In an attempt to somehow support his bilious notion Clive then tries to invoke popular musicians of today, as if they are emblems of people who go “beyond the score”. Newsflash, Clive: most pop musicians don’t write scores, and they certainly don’t refer to them in performance. I was in a rock band myself in my undergraduate years and we never once wrote any music down. We rehearsed, workshopped, recorded, and changed things whenever we liked, but all the music was in our memories. Most bands working today are the same: whatever they write is little more than a cheat sheet to jog their own memories. Comparing 19th-century performance practice to 21st-century popular music is either fatuous or moronic.

If his comparison is supposed to refer to a freer approach to music that only pop musicians exhibit, that too fails. I have seen the band Muse perform live several times and each time I was blown away by their musical precision, tight ensemble and immaculately perfect performances. They were far more unflinchingly accurate than many classical concerts I have seen (mostly due to the average brass section. Sorry guys, if you don’t want to split notes you probably shouldn’t drink during the interval.) Matt Bellamy, the lead singer, guitarist and pianist of Muse, has quite the reputation for unrelenting perfectionism: if you are his sound technician and something goes wrong in a concert, you are unlikely to have a job at the end of the night. To say that popular music is somehow more free of technical demands than classical music is bizarre.

(For an example of the sort of precision and tightness I’m talking about, take a look at this video in which Brian May looks at the original mix tapes for Bohemian Rhapsody. The entire foundation track was done live (2:00-7:30 in the video) and Freddie Mercury did not have a click track in his ear to guide him. Yet he played with extreme accuracy, perfect rhythm, and with the “score” all in his head.)

Perhaps Clive is thinking more along the lines of Bob Dylan, who expects his band to know every song he ever wrote from memory and be ready to play any of them at an time. Dylan will just announce the song he wants from the stage, along with the key and style he wants it to be performed in, without prior warning. He can do this because he has always played them differently himself (as evidenced in his many bootleg tapes) and also because his level of fame attracts the best musicians it is possible to have, so such a musical feat is possible. This is a truly amazing performance practice but, crucially, it is also extremely rare. It is as rare a talent in the pop world as the improvisational genius of Gabriela Montero is in the classical world. Pining for a trend that has only ever existed in a handful of extremely talented people is a waste of time and brain power. It is almost as stupid as believing there was a golden age where all pianists played like Vladimir de Pachmann simply because recordings of Pachmann are unique.

But classical performance has lost much of the improvisatory element that was an essential part of its original character. This has resulted in a stiffly formal distortion of what the greatest composers and performers of the past expected.

 Again, what concerts is he attending? This does not apply to literally any of the concerts I have seen in my life. Sure, sometimes people play unmusically. The problem in that case is not stiffy formal distortion, but unmusicality. There are saints and sinners in every field, and good and bad musicians all over the world. Maybe they are unmusical because they care too much about the score- who cares? If this argument has any truth it only applies to musicians who are mediocre or worse, and if Clive wants to direct his symposium at them then he should use the headline “bad musicians are playing it all wrong.” That, I agree with.

Tempo was often expected to be more flexible. Rhythms could be bent in a manner we still hear in jazz and other types of popular music. Notes weren’t always be taken cleanly, but often approached with various kinds of slides and tonal inflections. Vibrato was an ornamental effect rather than a continuous and regular oscillation of the sound. Parts that are notated vertically together in the score, were frequently expected not to be together in performance. In keyboard playing, chords that appear to be vertically together were mostly performed with various degrees of spreading.

All those things still happen today. Spreading piano chords might be more rare but it still happens, as does dislocating bass notes from the chord, bending rhythms and changing tempos. All the best performers still do these things, just not as much as they used to. Clive’s implication seems to be that the less of these things you do the worse your performance is, which is an embarrassingly false assumption. Putting more mannerisms into your performance does not by definition make it good. Perhaps it is a better performance, perhaps it isn’t- you find out by playing, not theorising.

And, as I said before, this isn’t up to musicologists anyway. Here is a performance by a real musician, Neal Peres da Costa, who did similar research into 19th-century performance practice and put his money where his mouth is:

I happen to quite like that performance. I’m very, very glad it exists. It’s fascinating, beautiful and interesting. And, crucially, I don’t want to play like that. I certainly don’t want to play on that piano, because I don’t like the sound. I don’t care if Brahms played like that- I don’t want to. Shoot me.

I will happily start my classical trills on the upper note, I will happily arpeggiate figured bass chords on the beat rather than before it, and I will happily employ a terraced approach to dynamics in a Poulenc song. I will be grateful that research has been done to tell me about these things, and I will not really mind if others play very convincingly even without doing such things. But I will not arpeggiate every chord in a Brahms sonata. I don’t want to. Telling me it’s “right” is a waste of time and comes with a hierarchy of value judgments that are at worst wrong or at best impractical.

There is no future where this style of performance is going to become standard; even if it did it would immediately engender a reactionary movement, for orthodoxy of any kind breeds challengers. What works beautifully in very skilled hands easily becomes mannered and ugly in the hands of imitators. Do it yourself if you think it’s right, and I will listen with great pleasure. Who knows, maybe I will change my mind in a few years. (In any case, Neal’s accompanying book is a much better example of good research and sensible, well-informed pronouncements than Brown’s absurd article.)

These are just a few of the ways that musicians built on the raw notation in order to turn a merely correct performance into a fine one, making concerts much more exciting and vibrant events.

More atrocious, misdirected value judgements. Does arpeggiating chords immediately make a performance better? What if you do it badly? What if you are unmusical and have no style? Is your clumsy attempt to capture a performance practicefrom another century going to be “exciting” by default? This is an invitiation to rationalise terrible playing and is particularly problematic if it allows you to ignore or generalise about the many amazing musicians performing in the most incredible way today.

Already in the 1930s, voices were raised against this growing prioritisation of the literal meaning of the notation. In 1933 a reviewer in The Musical Times criticised rhythmic rigidity in a performance of Brahms’s Violin Sonata op. 78…

I’m just going to stop right there. Is he seriously trying to make a point about the way we perform in 2015 by quoting a concert review from 1933? Is that even an argument? Who is swayed by this nonsense? I missed the memo that said you can quote a concert review written the year Hitler became chancellor if you want to suggest that Bryn Terfel doesn’t sing Wagner with enough freedom.

Why did I mention Terfel, you ask? Well, who exactly is Clive referring to when he declares that precious “few” performers are truly “responding to the messages” in his approved way? Who is he to decide who these performers are? His article implies that virtually all of us are failing, and I will have to presume that he includes even famous artists like Terfel unless he is happy to point out which musicians he has deemed to be acceptable. Maybe it’s just me, but generalisations as stupid as this make me want to tear my hair out.

So it is hardly surprising that many genuinely musical people are now deterred from engaging with classical music by a perception that it is formal, rigid, and lacking in emotional vitality.

Again, restating a perception is not an argument. It is basically worse than not thinking: “Well, the collective wisdom that I have absorbed without question says this thing, so I shall allow myself to be beholden to these worthless misconceptions and stupidities instead of arguing for it or against it.”

His article is not a worthy contribution to the debate. Telling other musicians how to play does not constitute an argument, either; it represents a cheap attempt to offload responsibility.

If classical music is to regain its cultural significance, musicians must engage with it more courageously, learning once more to read between the lines of the score. Only then will they recapture the full measure of freshness, beauty and excitement that composers expected their notation to convey to skillful performers and, through them, to the listener.

And here is the main problem with Clive’s ideas. In the end, he really just wants to be believe in a golden age where classical music was culturally significant and everybody played with freshness and poetic vitality. Any self respecting person who is about to cross the threshold into this sort of intellectual wish fulfillment should take a moment of pause and ask a few questions. What cultural significance exactly did classical music once have that it no longer has? How do we know it was more culturally significant in the past? Clive is fond of referring to pop musicians today but is happy to ignore the pop musicians of the past who surely represented the majority of musical performances throughout history, certainly throughout the centuries prior to the invention of music notation. Were there really hordes beating down the doors of the concert halls desperate to see the latest Beethoven piano sonata? Was the gaunt appearance of Paganini of any real importance outside of musical circles? Was it ever even important inside musical circles, or was it primarily useful as a way of selling tickets? Is it possible that we remember and recycle the popular narratives of Western music history more at our own peril than in the service of truth?

Not only is his assumption questionable but it also works against his whole point. He states that classical music has always been the domain of the educated classes and then complains it has now lost its cultural sugnificance. At the very least he needs to qualify his definition of cultural significance by limiting it to the educated classes, which is rather less significant than it is, dare I say, stuffy and elitist. He is not hankering after an era where classical music was more significant, he is attempting to recapture a time when its elitist presumptions were dominant and unchallenged by other musical forms. If he is truly upset by the idea that classical music is seen as stuffy, irrelevant and unappealing, perhaps he shouldn’t reverently invoke a time when it’s stuffy unappealingness was exactly what made it the culturally significant focus of an aristocratic elite that he so desperately wants to revitalise.

What we have here is not just an isolated article by a flawed thinker.  His article is actually incredible in the way it distils and crystallises many of the bad arguments I have heard against classical music over the years, and I just don’t want to hear them anymore. They represent a glorious type of unthought- things that seem true, as if that’s enough. It really, really isn’t enough.

I certainly don’t want to be told that all performers play things incorrectly by someone who is not a justly renowned performer themselves, and even then, I will take a performer’s views with a grain of salt because every musician is going to play differently and what works for one might not work for another.

I hope that by offering this critique I at least make people pause before they offer another meaningless platitude to the world like “performers these days just don’t play like people used to in the past.”

Please- spare me such “thoughts.”

 

* If you know of a passage in which Taruskin does exhort players to perform according to certain strictures, please let me know and I will discuss them here. I am happy to be proved wrong on this point.

 

UPDATE, Jan 20: One of my readers has already pointed out that Taruskin’s book Text and Act has quite a few examples of an injunction to performers on how they should play. I have bought a copy and will happily post/discuss his comments here. (God bless the Kindle.)

Another Amazing Dad Joke Story

The Principal called two students into his office: Animation and Disbelief. “You’re both suspended,” he said.

Disbelief was skeptical.

Luckily there was a man standing on the principal who could explain. “I chose to suspend you,” he said. “I must stand on principle.”

The Principal remained seated. “I can’t stand sitting down.”

Animation was moved to speak. “I’ve been framed!” He could hardly stay still. “It’s just because I’m coloured, isn’t it?”

“Don’t get in such a state,” said the principal. “We’re not framing you- we are just holding up your trousers.”

Disbelief wanted proof. “We have to suspend you, Disbelief,” said the Principal. “We won’t be able to keep this up if we don’t.”

Another student, Sentence, walked into the office. “Don’t blame them, sir, blame me! I should be suspended instead.”

“My goodness,” said the standing man. “If another kid comes in we’ll have a fourth to suspend!”

“We need to resolve as quickly as possibly,” said the Principal. “The tension is unbearable.”

“The wheels are in motion,” said Animation. “This suspension is tiring me.”

Sentence took issue with the suspension. “Clauseless!” He said.

“That isn’t enough, Sentence,” said the Principle.

Animation was busy miming a battle. It was a little passive aggressive.

Sentence tried to hide behind a burqa of irony, but it was too thick. Nobody understood.

“I’m on a never-ending quest for exponential growth,” he said.

The Principal tried to calm down the situation. “It’s important that we take simple steps, onward and upward. We don’t want this to escalate any further.”

Just then, Situation actually walked in. “What a comedy!”

“Now we have a fourth! That’s just perfect,” cried the Principal.

Situation was upset. “What are you going to do about the boy that used to be a creta?” The Principal was quick to reply. “What, you mean the ex-creta? We’re expelling him.”

Disbelief used Sentence to criticise Situation for having started the whole affair.

“But if we suspended Situation,” said the Principal,

Free Speech Still An Issue For Some Reason

John Man, latte-drinking reprobate and garrulous bumpkin, has caused an outcry in democratic Western countries by publishing an intolerably disgusting, irredeemable book of depravity and unquestionably immoral filth.

The book is called “Ian Brady: The Misunderstood Genius”, and details his views on a range of issues, ranging from how great Ayn Rand is to why it shouldn’t matter if people of inferior races are slaves. Understandably, it has caused an incredible outcry from everyone, because it’s just a litany of disgusting ideas written poorly by an obdurate, failed lunatic.

“Not since Mein Kampf have I been so offended,” said Bob Guy. “Like Hitler, Man is an absolutely awful writer whose prose is enough to make any self-respecting person sick to the stomach. Long, turgid sentences of poorly constructed rhetoric and an appalling misuse of grammar. He should absolutely not be published.”

Man was happy that a furious debate played out on social and other media calling for his books to be banned. “Not only is it great publicity,” he said, “but people are still so distracted by the concept of free speech that my books do not have a chance to be mercilessly discredited by anybody reading them.”

We spoke to Starbuck, legendary Viper Pilot from the Battlestar Galactica. “It takes a while for values to become entrenched,” she said. “For example, no one in our universe ever cared that women were in the military- it was just assumed and accepted, a status quo that dispensed with any need for comment. It allowed us to get on with our lives and face up to the real challenges plaguing our existence: robotic genocidal terrorists able to take human form.”

Various writers have dismissed these comments, claiming that no one can even be sure if Starbuck even existed, especially after the third season. “In the real world we have to guard against pernicious ideas,” said Commentator Fred. “The best way of preventing a repugnant idea from influencing your thoughts is to ensure that your thoughts are directly opposed to it.”

Man dreads the possibility that free speech might eventually become so accepted that nobody questions it under any circumstances. “If that were to happen, how would I get anybody who disagrees with me to notice what I say?”