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Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: Old Man] #1963804
09/24/12 04:56 PM
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Haha, I'm with you, Old Man!

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Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: Old Man] #1963826
09/24/12 05:38 PM
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If a very high level technique was necessary to play musically, then no one could use "musical" to describe someone with musical understanding but less than ideal technique.

I think one can judge a person's musicality quite well even if they're technique is lacking. This is not the same as saying someone lacking in technique will be able to perfectly express all their musical ideas. Nor is it the same thing as saying that if someone's technical level is tremendously below what's needed for a particular piece, one will be able to judge their musicality.

I think Cortot is a good example of all this. Most seem to agree that he had very good technique, but due to lack of practice or the smaller emphasis on note perfect playing during his lifetime his recordings can show some technical weaknesses. But most praise his musicality very highly.

If course, if a beginner is attempting to play the Liszt Sonata, one probably wouldn't be able to judge their musicality.


Last edited by pianoloverus; 09/24/12 05:46 PM.
Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: Old Man] #1963841
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If the statement

"If a person is musical, then he is technically deficient."

was true, then the statement

"If a person is not technically deficient, then he is not musical"
would also have to be true.

I don't think either statement is true.


Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: Old Man] #1963849
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Originally Posted by Old Man
Wouldn't I love to be able to play the Chopin etudes, only to sweat bullets over "Der Dichter Spricht" because I must make it "musical". I'd give away all my earthly possessions to be plagued with such a problem.


The Chopin Etudes require great musicality in addition to superb technique to really sound good. Many of them (if not all) arguably present more musical difficulties than Schumann's "Der Dichter Spricht". A purely mechanical interpretation playing all of the notes correctly at a fast tempo will not result in a satisfying performance of the Chopin etudes. A key aspect that makes Chopin's etudes so amazing is that Mr. Chopin was able to produce great music out of a form that had previously focused almost purely on building technique. This is particularly evident when one compares Chopin's etudes to those of Carl Czerny, for example.

Of course, there are also many great works by Schumann (e.g. Fantasie, Carnaval, piano concerto, etc.) which require both great technique and a good musical sense to play well.

Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: Old Man] #1963878
09/24/12 06:44 PM
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I agree with the thoughts presented by the original poster. Many of us tend to fixate on the coldness of technically perfect artistry (Pollini et al.) while longing for just a tad more imperfection which is often perceived as musicality.

It's more than just rubato that we want, although we are acutely aware of imperfections in tempi.

Somehow emotions are heightened by imperfections. A little bit is necessary for the most satisfying performances while too many make for an abject failure.

It's a fine line.

I pity and admire those pianists who have found a happy medium. They are putting in long hours, for sure--a lot more than what I can put in.

Last edited by dsch; 09/24/12 06:45 PM.
Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: dsch] #1963891
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Originally Posted by dsch
I agree with the thoughts presented by the original poster. Many of us tend to fixate on the coldness of technically perfect artistry (Pollini et al.) while longing for just a tad more imperfection which is often perceived as musicality.
I don't think technical perfection implies coldness. Most, or at least the big majority of the great pianists were technically perfect or close to it and not all of them were I'd call cold.

I do think that technical perfection combined with an apparent effortlessness can, for me, sometimes give the impression of coldness.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 09/24/12 07:06 PM.
Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: pianoloverus] #1963894
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
....I think Cortot is a good example of all this. Most seem to agree that he had very good technique, but due to lack of practice or the smaller emphasis on note perfect playing during his lifetime his recordings can show some technical weaknesses....

I'm glad to see you saying that (it's what I think), but my impression has been that it's a pretty widespread (mistaken) belief that his technique wasn't very good.

Quote
If the statement
"If a person is musical, then he is technically deficient."
was true, then the statement
"If a person is not technically deficient, then he is not musical"
would also have to be true....
I don't think either statement is true.

Cool -- the contrapositive!! smile

I don't think I've come across anyone giving such an example since high school.

Apparently it's such a rare term (oddly) that my Firefox spell-check doesn't even recognize it!

Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: Old Man] #1963909
09/24/12 07:51 PM
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Going back to the original post, sounds to me like Horowitz was being ironic. Simple as that.

Tomasino

Last edited by tomasino; 09/24/12 07:59 PM.

"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10

Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: pianoloverus] #1963942
09/24/12 09:24 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I don't think technical perfection implies coldness. Most, or at least the big majority of the great pianists were technically perfect or close to it and not all of them were I'd call cold.

I do think that technical perfection combined with an apparent effortlessness can, for me, sometimes give the impression of coldness.

I couldn't agree more.

A perfect example being Mr. Horowitz himself. My favorite pianist of all time. Yet, some critics (including my parents) termed him a mere technical wizard, a machine. I never understood that, even as a teenager. His music making spoke to me more profoundly than anyone else's. Not that his contemporaries were any less "great", but personally, I found his playing to be as near perfect as we mortals can aspire to, both technically and musically.

Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: Otis S] #1963959
09/24/12 10:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Otis S
Originally Posted by Old Man
Wouldn't I love to be able to play the Chopin etudes, only to sweat bullets over "Der Dichter Spricht" because I must make it "musical". I'd give away all my earthly possessions to be plagued with such a problem.


The Chopin Etudes require great musicality in addition to superb technique to really sound good. Many of them (if not all) arguably present more musical difficulties than Schumann's "Der Dichter Spricht". A purely mechanical interpretation playing all of the notes correctly at a fast tempo will not result in a satisfying performance of the Chopin etudes. A key aspect that makes Chopin's etudes so amazing is that Mr. Chopin was able to produce great music out of a form that had previously focused almost purely on building technique. This is particularly evident when one compares Chopin's etudes to those of Carl Czerny, for example.

Of course, there are also many great works by Schumann (e.g. Fantasie, Carnaval, piano concerto, etc.) which require both great technique and a good musical sense to play well.

Well, actually I was musing out loud, expressing my envy for those of you who have the luxury of even considering things like interpretation, while I'm still stuck on how where to place my posterior on the bench. grin

But I agree with you about the Chopin etudes. They are musical masterpieces unto themselves, and not mere studies, or exercises. And I thought that long before I ever discovered what the word "etude" meant.

I might cut poor Czerny a wee bit of slack, however. Compared to Hanon, he's Beethoven. laugh

Last edited by Old Man; 09/24/12 10:13 PM.
Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: Old Man] #1963979
09/24/12 11:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Old Man

I might cut poor Czerny a wee bit of slack, however. Compared to Hanon, he's Beethoven. laugh


Comparing most of the Czerny studies with Chopin's is unfair, I think. AFAIK, for the most part, Czerny wasn't attempting to write genuine concert music in his studies, but was just making doing technical work a little more pleasant. Plus, he had severe insomnia, and he used writing studies as a productive way to pass sleepless hours. It occurs to me that he might even have used them to help make him get sleepy, which would help account for the sometimes mindless effect they seem to have. At any rate, his actual concert music is a whole different animal, and can be quite interesting to hear. Speaking of which, Horowitz played a variation set of Czerny's that's a lot of fun.

Better comparisons might be to various more musically ambitious etudes from Clemeti, Cramer, Hummel, and Moscheles (Chopin learned a lot from about the writing concert etudes from some of those guys, I think).

And Hanon wasn't trying to write etudes - they are just finger exercises.

Re: Is the word 'musical' really code for 'technically lacking'? [Re: Old Man] #1963983
09/24/12 11:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Old Man
I finally had the pleasure of reading Harold C. Schonberg's "Horowitz: His Life and Music" while on vacation. Early in the book Schonberg quotes Horowitz regarding Alfred Cortot's playing.

Quote
His Chopin and Schumann were for me the best. His Schumann was fantastic. He had good taste and a good but not great technique, though he lost his technique in the last years of his life. He played a lot on the radio. I remember hearing him in many things. Once I visited Rachmaninoff in Switzerland at his house. When I walked in he was laughing so loud his false teeth were coming out. I asked him what was so funny.

"I have just been listening on the radio to Cortot playing all the Chopin etudes."

"That was so good?" I asked.

"Wonderful. But, you know, the most difficult of the etudes were the ones he played most 'musical.'"

Schonberg himself then goes on to elaborate on Rachmaninoff's use of the word "musical".
Quote
The word "musical" applied by virtuoso pianists to other pianists is often a code word meaning good musician, not so good fingers or, in baseball lingo, good field, no hit. Rachmaninoff was so amused because Cortot covered up his technical deficiencies by playing slowly in the hard passages. Critics and connoisseurs, taken in, automatically hailed the slow passages as "musical." So the more Cortot slowed up, the more everybody would say "How musical!" (When Horowitz told the story a sour look came over his face. "Today," he said, "that has become the thing. Everybody plays slow, pianists, singers, everybody, and that shows how musical they are. It is crazy, I tell you.")

So what think you? Were Rach and Horowitz being a bit smug, given their own prodigious technical abilities? Are you able to determine whether a pianist is playing a difficult passage slowly because he must, or because he's made a musical choice? Does it even matter to you? Do you agree with VH's comment (made many years ago) that everybody's playing slow? If you do, do you think this trend continues today?

I would find comments on any of the above most interesting. But, as always, feel free to digress. smile



VH and Rach were people and not saints, so maybe they were being snarky about things. Who among us hasn't given out a back handed "compliment" every now and then?

Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: wr] #1964005
09/25/12 12:24 AM
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Originally Posted by wr


Better comparisons might be to various more musically ambitious etudes from Clemeti, Cramer, Hummel, and Moscheles (Chopin learned a lot from about the writing concert etudes from some of those guys, I think).


What are specific examples of these musically ambitious etudes which predated Chopin's op. 10 etudes?

Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: Otis S] #1964021
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Originally Posted by Otis S
Originally Posted by wr


Better comparisons might be to various more musically ambitious etudes from Clemeti, Cramer, Hummel, and Moscheles (Chopin learned a lot from about the writing concert etudes from some of those guys, I think).


What are specific examples of these musically ambitious etudes which predated Chopin's op. 10 etudes?


Oh, say, for example, the suites within Clementi's Gradus - some of which would work quite well as concert pieces. Or many of Moscheles' op. 70 (some of which seem fairly clearly to have been inspiration for Chopin).

Also, what I said was that they were musically ambitious relative to most of Czerny's, which has a slightly different meaning than simply saying they were musically ambitious.


Last edited by wr; 09/25/12 07:32 AM.
Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: RonaldSteinway] #1964095
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I mentioned "strain" as I believe, for late Beethoven certainly, a perfectly executed (technically and musically) performance may miss what Beethoven is actually trying to communicate. String players know that the "reaching for the impossible" seems to be built into the late quartets. Beethoven, at the end, seems to be trying to reach beyond what human beings can achieve, let alone his instruments.

So, no-one can reduce their ability at will and all professionals will strive to play as musically as possible. I just wonder if, in late Beethoven, a pianist who could play these works easily might gain something by playing them when not fully under the hands, after a gap. In other words, leave something to be striven after.

I don't expect many to agree, but this is my perspective on late Beethoven.

Re: Is the word 'musical' really code for 'technically lacking'? [Re: Old Man] #1964097
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I've lost count of the number of times I've heard great pianists and teachers say that musicianship and technique are inseparable. Which isn't to say that some people may be great technicians but have little of musical substance to say. But what is not in doubt is that if you don't have the technique, any amount of musicianship counts for nothing, because you don't have the equipment to convey what the composer asks, and what you want to bring to the music.

Personally, I'd far rather hear a rampaging virtuoso bashing his way through virtuosic transcriptions, playing louder & faster than anyone, than someone playing at the limit of his technique with uneven passagework, slowing down at difficult passages (masquerading as 'agogic hesitations'...), plenty of small mishaps etc, which make me feel very uneasy, waiting for him to fall flat on his face. At least, with the former, I can just sit back and revel in the pyrotechnics, just as I sat back and watched the Olympians performing amazing feats of speed and power recently grin.

But all great pianists - including Cortot - has (or had) great technique, commensurate with the repertoire they perform. Someone who doesn't have great octave technique wouldn't be playing Liszt or Rachmaninoff, but could be a world-beater in the Viennese classics, for example, if they chose the works wisely. (I've heard well-known pianists who struggled - or even cheated - in Schubert's Wanderer Fantasie in the notorious octave section near the end of the first 'movement'...).

Saying that a pianist plays with 'great musicality' or that he has 'good musicianship' without mentioning his technique, however, is often damning with faint praise....


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Is the word 'musical' really code for 'technically lacking'? [Re: Old Man] #1964118
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"Musical," as applied to classical pianists, is a nearly vacuous word. Maybe its usage was different in the past, but currently it doesn't seem to mean much. (The neo-noun "musicality" always makes me cringe a little). The most banal playing will be called musical if the pianist has learned to arch and taper his phrases, to apply predictable and "tasteful" rubato, to balance the melody and accompaniment, to avoid extremes of tempo and mood, etc.

And yes, "musical" is sometimes offered as faint praise, when more specific and flattering adjectives aren't readily available.

Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: Mark_C] #1964120
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Originally Posted by Mark_C
Originally Posted by pianoloverus


If the statement
"If a person is musical, then he is technically deficient."
was true, then the statement
"If a person is not technically deficient, then he is not musical"
would also have to be true....
I don't think either statement is true.

Cool -- the contrapositive!! smile

I don't think I've come across anyone giving such an example since high school.

Apparently it's such a rare term (oddly) that my Firefox spell-check doesn't even recognize it!

Please, guys, I'm getting flashbacks. I spent my high school years in a seminary, and the rector was our geometry teacher, and he was a very scary person. And I'd completely forgotten words like inverse, converse, contrapositive. Please, no more!

Re: Is the word "musical" really code for "technically inept"? [Re: Old Man] #1964163
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If being musical is the exact opposite of having great technique, I must be a musical genius! LOL. Actually, I think the combination of technical wizardry and musical sensitivity is what we look for in a great pianist. We all have our own sense of how this appears which is why some adore Pollini and I do not. I love Horowitz, warts and all, because most of the time he has both. Rubinstein had a noble, polished sound, but not quite there until his later years when it blossomed. Why is it 80 year old pianists shine even though their fingers start to betray them? Musicality. In the younger set, I think Perhia is the perfect combination but for some reason he gets less attention than many others. Argerich, in her later years, also has it all. In her youth, fire, but not as much sensitivity. And so on, and so on. Of course, no one agrees about any of this. We all have our favorites and with good reason, as there is no right way to hear the music. Even Chopin played most of his pieces differently depending on his mood, I am told. Which version is right?

Re: Is the word 'musical' really code for 'technically lacking'? [Re: bennevis] #1964166
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Originally Posted by bennevis
I've lost count of the number of times I've heard great pianists and teachers say that musicianship and technique are inseparable.
I think they meant both are needed but not "inseparable" as one can't exist without the other.

Great technique certainly doesn't imply great musicianship. And great musicianship can exist without great technique(although if one was playing a piece way beyond one's technique then one's musicianship might get lost in the technical struggle). But both are needed for a great performance.

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