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......so says Benjamin Grosvenor in a recent interview. He also quoted Jorge Bolet: "Whereas the composer lives with a score for however long it takes him to write it, the performer lives with the score for his whole life."

In case there's anyone here who hasn't heard his playing, Grosvenor is hardly the epitome of an interventionist performer. (BTW, his latest recording of the Chopin concertos won Gramophone's Concerto Award 2020).

So, how much do you take the score (including metronome markings, and even timings) as gospel?


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The music gives me a kind of feeling. I try to bring that out as clear as possible. If I do that, usually all the markings fall in place. If a marking doesn't, I try to make it fit. But if it is really bad then I will change it.

Changes may be done to everything, notes, pedal marks, dynamics, etc.

But some changes I take lighter than others. For instance if it looks like just an error (eg a missing accidental that was there in another repetition) iit's easier than if it involves adding or removing explicitly marked pedal.

>the performer lives with the score for his whole life

I don't agree, you can (1) dump the piece (2) change the piece


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Here is the interview, if anyone's interested:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000q393


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I haven't listened to the interview but Grosvenor's statement is not clear in terms of how many changes he might make. He is certainly not known for continually just doing what he wants whether or not the score indicates it or playing in an eccentric fashion. So it could mean he follows as much 99% of the markings(not meaning the notes and rhythm which he would generally follow close to 100%).

I think many amateurs probably ignore a lot of the composer's markings...not so much intentionally but out of carelessness. I think most contemporary pianists and even pianists playing as far back as around 1950 mostly follow the score to a degree that one would have to be following the score carefully to notice when they didn't.

The degree to which a professional or amateur follows the score may also depend on how detailed the composer's markings are. I think composers like Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, Ravel, and others were quite detailed so that even professionals may not bother or feel the necessity to follow every marking.

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I dont know what Grosvenor meant precisely. I think that nowadays, players are much more respectful of the score than ever. To some extent it even leads to a certain uniformity of style, in particular for composers of the classical and 19th century period. To some extent, the composers when playing their pieces were sometimes less faithfull to their markings (those that have been recorded).

I think the markings should be followed as long as it is aligned with the interpretative vision of the player, but the consistency is more important than following 100% of all indications. For amateurs it is more complicated, as it depends on the musical maturity of the player. I think that generally it is better to follow the general interpretative guidelines until o'e has aquired enough knowledge and maturity to make well thought through decisions.

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A précis of what Grosvenor meant is that one should first treat the composer's indications with respect, but then follow one's own convictions even if they don't align with what the composer wrote, citing as an example Rach ignoring his own markings when performing his own music.

And not just Rach. For example, in our own time, Thomas Adès made an arrangement of the juicy parts of one of his operas for two pianos. When a piano duo wanted to perform it, they discovered that a complicated section of it was close to impossible to play as written, and asked Adès about it. He simply told them not to worry about it and just re-arrange/rewrite the music as they saw fit.

Incidentally, Adès himself is a virtuoso pianist, and he can play anything he writes for the piano (and his scores are very detailed, as anyone who's played his music knows):

Here he is playing that piece:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnFsogg2ZFY


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A score takes knowledge and experience to read. There's any amount of crap a publisher/editor can add. Best advice is to adhere to the composer's intention.

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Originally Posted by chopin_r_us
A score takes knowledge and experience to read. There's any amount of crap a publisher/editor can add. Best advice is to adhere to the composer's intention.


You can't know the "composer's intention". Even if the composer says something about it, he may just be trying to sell his work.


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I respect the Bible, but don't treat it as a score laugh laugh

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Originally Posted by wouter79
You can't know the "composer's intention". Even if the composer says something about it, he may just be trying to sell his work.
You're constantly using your judgement. That's where the 'knowledge and experience' comes into it.

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Rachmaninoff quote:

“I am told that some teachers lay a great deal of stress upon the necessity for the pupil learning the source of the composer’s inspiration. This is interesting, of course, and may help to stimulate a dull imagination. However, I am convinced that it would be far better for the student to depend more upon his real musical understanding.”

Excerpt From: James Francis Cooke. “Great Pianists on Piano Playing: Godowsky, Hofmann, Lhevinne, Paderewski and 24 Other Legendary Performers (Dover Books on Music).”

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More by Rachmaninoff—from the same source as the quote above:

“While, of course, the student must play the notes, and all of the notes, in the manner and in the time in which the composer intended that they should be played, his efforts should by no means stop with notes. Every individual note in a composition is important, but there is something quite as important as the notes, and that is the soul. After all, the vital spark is the soul. The soul is the source of that higher expression in music which cannot be represented in dynamic marks. The soul feels the need for the crescendos and diminuendos intuitively. The mere matter of the duration of a pause upon a note depends upon its significance, and the soul of the artist dictates to him just how long such a pause should be held. If the student resorts to mechanical rules and depends upon them absolutely, his playing will be soulless.”

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Great question, Bennevis. Always appreciate your thoughtful posts. I'm pretty much an "amateur", but this is my answer: I think of the score like I think of the actual Bible; I pick and choose what I like from day to day. I'm a cafeteria Christian and a cafeteria musician.

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Originally Posted by iamandrew3
I think of the score like I think of the actual Bible; I pick and choose what I like from day to day. I'm a cafeteria Christian and a cafeteria musician.
This deeply pains me

Both from a spiritual and musical point of view

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Religious convictions aside, scores (and the Bible for that matter, and all ancient texts) require some level of interpretation. What does forte mean? What does legato mean? What does staccato mean? What does rubato mean? Yeah of course I know what they 'mean', and anybody can look it up in a music dictionary or google search these terms, but that's not the issue. There are some broad-brush issues like a legato in Mozart is not the same as a legato in Chopin, and that is in no small part due to the type of instrument used. Then there are other issues. One quite often finds in Liszt the indication 'a piacere' over a cadenza. As you wish, but then he'll give a cadenza anyway and most people play the written cadenzas these days but it was not always the case. That opens the door to other improvisational issues of course. We know that Chopin sent different versions of the same work to his different publishers, and both Chopin and Liszt wrote variants in students copies of their compositions. Then there's Mozart - do we take literally the measure-long notes in the slow movement of the A-major piano concerto or do we use it as a skeleton on which to build? What about when doing repeats in movements? Do we ornament or play the same thing twice or what?

Improvisation was such a wide-spread practice that Beethoven asked his students not to do it with his works. What about Bach who gives us in the English Suite No.2 a Sarabande with the embellishments for the repeat? Do we think that those embellishments are the only valid option for a performance? I tend to think not although if I was to present it in a concert with an alternative, I'd probably be shouted off the platform by anyone who 'knew' the piece, or at least sternly questioned because we tend to find there's always an evangelical in the audience who likes to be the gatekeeper of absolute truth when it comes to stylistic choices in core repertoire. Please note I use the term evangelical and absolute truth in a satirical way here and I am not casting negative aspersions over people of faith (I'm an Anglican for those who are curious).

Horowitz came to Rachmaninoff with a hybrid version of the second sonata, and Rachmaninoff made frequent revisions to his own works. The more you study music, and the further down the rabbit hole you go, the more you find out that there are very few authentic versions of a score. Look, for instance, at the complete mess that exists in Schumann. You'd think that Clara Schumann would be the most authoritative editor of her husband's music, but even she produced two editions that don't always agree with each other, and in her edition she changed quite a few things even as far as note readings are concerned in order to make her husband's music more palatable to the public (or even make more sense to her). Clara Schumann didn't give notice of the changes she made and if you go to an Urtext edition of Schumann, such as the Henle edition which used both Clara's edition and Schumann's original manuscripts where possible, we find some major discrepancies.

I think Ben Grosvenor is right, as was Bole. We can't take these things so seriously. Yes, it's important for academic research that we know some of the things that have gone on, but then I'll watch a lecture, read an academic paper, or talk to a professor about these issues. When I'm buying a CD, or going to a concert, I hope to be moved, entertained, and have some communication from the performer to me, even if that means the performer deviates from the score a bit!

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Originally Posted by Joseph Fleetwood
I think Ben Grosvenor is right, as was Bole.

or rather.... Bolet! Autocorrect....

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Originally Posted by Joseph Fleetwood
Religious convictions aside, scores (and the Bible for that matter, and all ancient texts) require some level of interpretation. What does forte mean? What does legato mean? What does staccato mean? What does rubato mean? Yeah of course I know what they 'mean', and anybody can look it up in a music dictionary or google search these terms, but that's not the issue. There are some broad-brush issues like a legato in Mozart is not the same as a legato in Chopin, and that is in no small part due to the type of instrument used. Then there are other issues. One quite often finds in Liszt the indication 'a piacere' over a cadenza. As you wish, but then he'll give a cadenza anyway and most people play the written cadenzas these days but it was not always the case. That opens the door to other improvisational issues of course. We know that Chopin sent different versions of the same work to his different publishers, and both Chopin and Liszt wrote variants in students copies of their compositions. Then there's Mozart - do we take literally the measure-long notes in the slow movement of the A-major piano concerto or do we use it as a skeleton on which to build? What about when doing repeats in movements? Do we ornament or play the same thing twice or what?

Improvisation was such a wide-spread practice that Beethoven asked his students not to do it with his works. What about Bach who gives us in the English Suite No.2 a Sarabande with the embellishments for the repeat? Do we think that those embellishments are the only valid option for a performance? I tend to think not although if I was to present it in a concert with an alternative, I'd probably be shouted off the platform by anyone who 'knew' the piece, or at least sternly questioned because we tend to find there's always an evangelical in the audience who likes to be the gatekeeper of absolute truth when it comes to stylistic choices in core repertoire. Please note I use the term evangelical and absolute truth in a satirical way here and I am not casting negative aspersions over people of faith (I'm an Anglican for those who are curious).

Horowitz came to Rachmaninoff with a hybrid version of the second sonata, and Rachmaninoff made frequent revisions to his own works. The more you study music, and the further down the rabbit hole you go, the more you find out that there are very few authentic versions of a score. Look, for instance, at the complete mess that exists in Schumann. You'd think that Clara Schumann would be the most authoritative editor of her husband's music, but even she produced two editions that don't always agree with each other, and in her edition she changed quite a few things even as far as note readings are concerned in order to make her husband's music more palatable to the public (or even make more sense to her). Clara Schumann didn't give notice of the changes she made and if you go to an Urtext edition of Schumann, such as the Henle edition which used both Clara's edition and Schumann's original manuscripts where possible, we find some major discrepancies.

I think Ben Grosvenor is right, as was Bole. We can't take these things so seriously. Yes, it's important for academic research that we know some of the things that have gone on, but then I'll watch a lecture, read an academic paper, or talk to a professor about these issues. When I'm buying a CD, or going to a concert, I hope to be moved, entertained, and have some communication from the performer to me, even if that means the performer deviates from the score a bit!
Wonderful post, Joseph!! (another Anglican here - ha ha).

I'd forgotten about those discrepancies in the Clara Schuman editions. At least she gave it her best shot. Gives us the option to pick and choose.


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Without many specific examples from Grosvernor we really have little idea what he meant. The only thing we know is that he doesn't feel obliged to follow everything. How much leeway he thinks is reasonable is completely unclear. I think most pianists, including Grosvernor, follow most of the markings and only a few(Katsaris is one I can think of) are much freer with the score.

Are there pianists you feel are either extremely free or extremely unfree with the score? It might be interesting to see where posters feel some pianists belong in the "free" category?

I believe Brendel was know to be a stickler for following the score, at least in Beethoven.

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Have you ever listened to Rachmaninoff play Chopin Funeral March? I've always thought music art had an advantage because it isn't static. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TbIBqTBM4Q

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