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Nothing currently makes my blood boil more than hearing a sentence like: "It sounded beautiful. But that's not how you play Mozart."

It sounds beautiful? Thank you. Period. That's all that matters, ever. Be it Bach with pedal, Mozart with slightly louder fortes, Beethoven with a bit more rubato.

Even the more abstract ideas like "The struggle in Beethoven", "the carelessness and lightness of Mozart" etc. are constructs, and these composers themselves wanted, most of all, their works to be played with passion and in an interesting manner... not in the manner that they themselves might have played it in.

And god only knows what Bach would've wanted to do on a modern piano. All I know is that if Bach would be resurrected today and attend a masterclass where the teacher scolds the students for using "too much pedal", despite the result not sounding bad, Bach would promptly end himself once again.

It is ridiculous, horrible and unacceptable to do this with music. With art.

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Haha - can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought the same thing. In recent years however, I’ve become stricter with myself re historical performance practice. I was always taught how to play each style of music “correctly” - but it was never explained to me why/how this improves the quality of the performance. Now that I understand those benefits I follow ”the rules” more closely.

Don’t get me wrong - I actually really appreciate when a performer takes a piece of music and plays it in a new and updated way. As you said, it may not be historically accurate but if sounds good/interesting, why not! We do it with every other art form, why not classical music. But I think it’s important to understand and be able to apply “the rules” before you go breaking them - so I get where these teachers are coming from smile

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I think it's part of what makes classical music so dead. Classical musicians treat pieces of music like sculptures or paintings - unchanging, eternal, perfect pieces of art that were conceived once in the composers mind and have to be faithfully reproduced by the performer. But music is not like that. Music is a living art. Music can be, music should be, created anew everytime. Non-classical musical traditions approach performance in a completely different manner, where a piece of music is more of a template on which you can add and vary as much as you like. I think that's partly what makes these traditions more alive compared to classical music.

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I'm not sure where you guys are coming from. In my perception, the ways in which classical music should be performed are forever being reconsidered, revised, and reinvented. Just listen to recordings of, say, 30 years ago, and be amazed at the enormous differences with modern recordings. If anything, there are more different approaches nowadays than there have ever been.

Edit: Case in point: listen to this Beethoven 5th conducted by Teodor Currentzis.


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Originally Posted by CianistAndPomposer
Nothing currently makes my blood boil more than hearing a sentence like: "It sounded beautiful. But that's not how you play Mozart."

It sounds beautiful? Thank you. Period. That's all that matters, ever. Be it Bach with pedal, Mozart with slightly louder fortes, Beethoven with a bit more rubato.

Even the more abstract ideas like "The struggle in Beethoven", "the carelessness and lightness of Mozart" etc. are constructs, and these composers themselves wanted, most of all, their works to be played with passion and in an interesting manner... not in the manner that they themselves might have played it in.

And god only knows what Bach would've wanted to do on a modern piano. All I know is that if Bach would be resurrected today and attend a masterclass where the teacher scolds the students for using "too much pedal", despite the result not sounding bad, Bach would promptly end himself once again.

It is ridiculous, horrible and unacceptable to do this with music. With art.

Well I think it is an interesting and frequent issue when playing old music for which we have only written testimonies that we have to interpret within our modern point of view. So I would both agree and disagree with you. And certainly I think that any strict dogmatic point of view is never a good thing, that be in music or in any other area.

No interpretation has to be fully historically compliant, and to a large extent, none of the modern piano interpretation of Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven really are, just because we are using a modern piano which anyway sounds very different than the model the composer used. Certainly for Bach who composed for instruments far removed from a modern piano, any modern version is a form of "arrangement".

That said, there are stylistic patterns which are characteristic of each period. You can play Mozart like Chopin if you like and the result can be quite good, but on the other hand it is fair to say that it is not faithfull to the classical style. I personally believe pedal is necessary when playing Bach, but too much does not yield good results either. I believe each piece has an inner structure that puts some limits as to what one can do.

The main issue and which makes the topic difficult is the question of balance. How far can one go before it becomes so removed from the original intention that it is not anymore what the composer intended. For example would you play Chopin on an harpsichord ? see below, I guess it is ok but not great compared with the piano version. Would you sing Monteverdi like Puccini ?

So though I believe there is a lattitude as to what one can do, there are also limits. Often times I see amateurs taking positions without understanding what is at stake and with little musical judgement.

I remember the old versions of Bach I used to listen to, like the mass in B minor by Jochum and Klemperer. Those are inherited from the late 19th century tradition with a heavy orchestra and choir. They certainly have a certain power but they are also quite heavy and the newer versions, like the Kuijken version, are definitely working much better and conveying a much more intense sense of passion.







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Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
I think it's part of what makes classical music so dead. Classical musicians treat pieces of music like sculptures or paintings - unchanging, eternal, perfect pieces of art that were conceived once in the composers mind and have to be faithfully reproduced by the performer.
I must respectfully disagree with the above statement.

Sculptures, paintings, plays and music were conceived (at least once if not many times given the number of evident changes to a painting, manuscript or score) as a result of the artist's life experience in a given era. The references in those works speak of the contemporaneous morals, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, language and style. With a bit of knowledge of those topics in historical context we can experience a level of appreciation of the art that is in addition to the artistic impact it has on us as we interpret a painting or a play or a piece of music with our own personal and unique contemporaneous life experience.

We, the viewer or listener of art bring it to life. The painter or composer of a play or of a piece of music produces only half the experience.

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I think it would wonderful to hear a performer today read the opening of the english epic poem Beowulf to an audience without having studied the history or lexicon or the script symbology. I am sure they would bring a 'fresh' modern interpretation to a dead work.


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Originally Posted by CianistAndPomposer
Nothing currently makes my blood boil more than hearing a sentence like: "It sounded beautiful. But that's not how you play Mozart."

It sounds beautiful? Thank you. Period. That's all that matters, ever. Be it Bach with pedal, Mozart with slightly louder fortes, Beethoven with a bit more rubato.

I am all with you. The existing scores are for us to play around with as we please. The one place though, in which this remark is valid, is the piano school. In school, it is good to learn the proper technique and other rules of how to play Mozart. Outside of school, everybody is totally free.


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Originally Posted by prout
Originally Posted by Qazsedcft
I think it's part of what makes classical music so dead. Classical musicians treat pieces of music like sculptures or paintings - unchanging, eternal, perfect pieces of art that were conceived once in the composers mind and have to be faithfully reproduced by the performer.
I must respectfully disagree with the above statement.

Sculptures, paintings, plays and music were conceived (at least once if not many times given the number of evident changes to a painting, manuscript or score) as a result of the artist's life experience in a given era. The references in those works speak of the contemporaneous morals, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, language and style. With a bit of knowledge of those topics in historical context we can experience a level of appreciation of the art that is in addition to the artistic impact it has on us as we interpret a painting or a play or a piece of music with our own personal and unique contemporaneous life experience.

We, the viewer or listener of art bring it to life. The painter or composer of a play or of a piece of music produces only half the experience.
Exactly. There are thousands of good ways of interpreting any musical masterpiece that still follow the "rules" for playing classical music.

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Originally Posted by Animisha
Originally Posted by CianistAndPomposer
Nothing currently makes my blood boil more than hearing a sentence like: "It sounded beautiful. But that's not how you play Mozart."

It sounds beautiful? Thank you. Period. That's all that matters, ever. Be it Bach with pedal, Mozart with slightly louder fortes, Beethoven with a bit more rubato.

I am all with you. The existing scores are for us to play around with as we please. The one place though, in which this remark is valid, is the piano school. In school, it is good to learn the proper technique and other rules of how to play Mozart. Outside of school, everybody is totally free.
Of course, in one's own home one is free to do whatever one wants including turning the score upside down and playing it. But that does not mean what one is doing is reasonable, good, valid, intelligent, shows any understanding of music, or is respectful of the greatest composers who ever lived. Those composers mostly wrote very specific instructions for a reason. Those instructions in the score were not meant just as suggestions.

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Yes. Respect is what it's about. Bach et al.'s minds are something so beyond our comprehension as to command utter awe and wonder. Do what you like but bear that in mind.


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Berlioz, in his 'Symphonie Fantastique', essentially marked every note in the score, and, in some cases, wrote long instructions telling performers how to play their instrument to Belioz's satisfaction. I wrote about this years ago here on PW with examples from his score. If we were to ignore the composer's desires on how the music is to be played, why should we concern ourselves with even playing the written notes, let alone the stylistic conventions of the time?

The logical result of ignoring performance practice is to ignore all composers, ancient and modern, and only listen to and only play your own unwritten noodling at the piano.

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Originally Posted by CianistAndPomposer
Nothing currently makes my blood boil more than hearing a sentence like: "It sounded beautiful. But that's not how you play Mozart."

It sounds beautiful? Thank you. Period. That's all that matters, ever. Be it Bach with pedal, Mozart with slightly louder fortes, Beethoven with a bit more rubato.
Classical music is meant to be played according to the composers instructions in the score. One only has to listen to the countless recordings of the same piece by many different great pianists to realize that following the score still leaves room for an endless number of interpretations.

I think using pedal in Bach, Mozart with slightly louder fortes, and Beethoven with a bit more rubato all fall within a range of acceptable interpretation while still following the score. But far too many pianists, mostly amateurs IMO, think that any interpretation is valid, logical, shows musical understanding, etc. even if that interpretation is really just doing whatever they feel like. To me that's an example of lack of musical understanding and poor musicianship.

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Originally Posted by Animisha
I am all with you. The existing scores are for us to play around with as we please.
My comment is based on what I heard in a master class long ago. The pupil was an accomplished conservatory student who didn't follow some significant marking in a Chopin piece. The teacher said "Imagine you were taking a lesson from Chopin and he wrote f in your copy of his piece. Would you follow his instructions?"

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All I gotta say on this subject is my pet peeve is when classical musicians take some piece of revered classical music and apply a swing beat (and don't do much else) and call that jazz. A certain flute player springs to mind. Beyond fingernails on blackboard to my ears, it's just cringe inducing, equal to redoing heavy metal as easy listening (or vice versa).

Fortunately, no one is forcing me to listen to anything I don't wanna, lol.

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Vanessa made an excellent point for every artist to heed: learn the rules before you start breaking them, or there's nothing impressive about what you're doing.

Beyond that though... much of the "dead" by-the-book approaches are because we - as performers - have forgotten exactly how much freedom musicians of the past had when playing music, and how much improvisation informed their art. Francois Couperin expected the performer to play his embellishments the way he wrote them, but he expected a rhythmic freedom that would shock modern players: in his books of Harpsichord music, he very rarely writes "play these notes evenly" because the norm was to play them differently than written! A toccata from Frescobaldi or Froberger has so much creative freedom from the printed paper that it's mind-boggling to those of us who are too slavish to the score. Mozart, Bach, Beethoven - great improvisers able to play in many styles. Look at the great pianists of the last centuries - even from just written accounts, they vastly differed in their approaches to the so-called "dead" score.

I have a fondness for historical approaches to playing music - I adore the Fortepiano, the harpsichord, clavichord, etc. and spend way too much time researching historical performance practices. But out of this study has come a great creative freedom in how I approach the music of these great Masters. As Vanessa said: the foundation had to be built first, and I am still learning decades later and will probably never cease. Would they care how I play their music? It depends on when they catch me - it's different every time: I'm against robotic approaches with fake emotions and calculated moods. But even then, they're dead - they did their part and we can only do ours to try to keep their great works alive as long as it brings us pleasure while we're doing so. If we lose our enjoyment by becoming slaves to the word, we're no better than religious extremists and I'm not interested in that.

Of course, this is difficult at first - it takes practice and the will to do so. But what a great freedom.

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Mattardo, thank you for your precise and thoughtful contribution to this discussion. I entirely agree with you about creative freedom. This was the single most important lesson I learned in University when studying harpsichord and organ. The joy and exuberance that comes when performing early works with the freedom demanded of the music is why I continue to improvise when performing baroque rep sixty years later, and also with the works of Chopin and Brahms for example.

Ignorance of performance practice is what has given rise to the shackled approach to classical music that pervaded, and still pervades modern performance practice to some extent.

Bach and his successors expected and executed huge creative freedom in the interpretation of their score guidelines. Classical jazz is as close as we seem to want to get to Baroque performance practice. Imagine a typical critics review of a Chopin performance where the performer improvises a few extra notes or measures at the end of a piece, a la Cortôt.

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I applaud everything said by Mattardo and prout. But I would remind everyone that the deep freeze of classical music is due to high fidelity electronic reproduction, starting in the 1930's. Couperin or Bach's advice was directed at fellow professional musicians from guilds or established performing families. All of them pretended to be capable of embellishments or variations. Chopin or Liszt tutored (among others) young ladies of high birth that would spread their music in their milieus, and that required more standardisation, but every live performance would be obviously different.

The day Kempff or Horowitz became best sellers on Deutsche Gramaphon et al. everybody in the world could listen repetitively to the same performance, and both comparisons and imitations became infinitely easier. Critic Consensus and/or Vox Populi choices emerged, and all the aspiring pianists in conservatories worldwide would turn on the canonical version on their hifi before even looking at the score. Gould created a gold standard for the Goldberg's that Bach would never recognise: at last Jean Rondeau put it to rest recently with his harpsichord.

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The ”freeze” or whatever one want to call it is not due to HiFi or any other external cause but simply to the fact that it is historical music, a music of past generations, a legacy of a culture and social life that is long gone. At the time it was a live music. In fact by 1770, no one wanted to play nor listen to old baroque music. People wanted new and different one just like in 1830, classical style was fading away and romantic style was sweeping the continent. At the time that music was the core of what the society wanted to listen to.

Nowadays, Classical music is like old objects in a museum, they are frozen for ever. Between 1800 and 1828, it has been estimated that 44 thousands pieces were composed (probably underestimated) in Europe. We listen today to only a small % of that, the few selected top ones. But the majority were just average or less than average quality. But it was what people wanted to listen to. Today the live music of our days is pop, jazz, rock, ......


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I think the 'social life' angle is too often neglected. We're talking cultured people here not brats who practice!


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