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http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/arts/music/musicians-grapple-with-beethoven.html?ref=music

A fascinating article with diverse viewpoints. Which do you agree/disagree with?

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Hmmm... I'm very suspicious of this claim (players need to suffer), as well as this direct correspondence between music and life...

There is a correspondence sure... but I think it's much less than what's being described in the article. (ie: the notion that the player needs to go through a similar life experience to the composer to be able to play the music well).

There is a scene in "Immortal Beloved" where Beethoven described music as transmitting the composer's thoughts directly to the listener... He's describing something about a piece which describes a lover not being able to reach a rendez-vous. And the music conveying directly these thoughts to the listener. I thought this scene was really pushing it.

Any time music is given a direct translation (ie: this piece represents the struggle between ego and id... etc), I'm very suspicious.

There's also a kind of trivialization of a human being's life going on here... our lives are each unique, and I have very strong doubts one of us can truly understand the other... To say to a person: "You haven't gone through enough suffering to really understand this." is demeaning. The glorification of Beethoven's "life" is strange... he created fantastic music... but that does not mean his life had more "emotional depth" than anyone else's...

Just my opinion.

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I think it was mentioned (by you?) that to play a piece, the desire to play it is enough if you're not going to perform it. In the same line of thought, if you can engage an audience (keep them awake) with a piece, then you're ready to perform it.

The thing that annoys me about that article is how vague everyone is. With quotes like, "[Beethoven] has a bigger message about humanity" "There is something about the subtext of his music" "There is something about the music which is philosophical."

OK, great, but what is Beethoven's "bigger message to humanity?" If you think you can hear that, great, but explain what you hear. What is the subtext? I can talk about the majestic unfathomable mystery too, but that's a fancy way for me to say I don't understand.

And in fact I agree that Beethoven's music is sometimes philosophical, but it's not "something" it's an actual real philosophy. If all you can say is "something" you're better off admitting you don't understand.


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I thought this quote was really interesting though:
Originally Posted by Hamelin
Mr. Hamelin recalled canceling a live radio broadcast of the Liszt B Minor Sonata because of the “crushing weight of possible scrutinizing comparisons,” a pressure he now navigates by approaching a work as if no one in the audience has ever heard it — even when working on something as familiar as Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata.

That's a good way to handle stress.


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Originally Posted by pianolearnerstride
[...]
There is a correspondence sure... but I think it's much less than what's being described in the article. (ie: the notion that the player needs to go through a similar life experience to the composer to be able to play the music well).

[...]


OT : Reminds me of a few lines from a monologue by Joyce Grenfell :

Sweet Young Thing : Do you think that, to write about ... well, the sort of things you write about, one has to have experienced them?
Famous Author : I believe so, yes.
Sweet Young Thing : Oh, well, I guess I shall never write about anything, then. You see, I live in the country, and nothing ever happens in the country!

Cheers!


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I should add though, imagine you have a piece that represents the pain of a broken heart. If you've never had that pain yourself, then I think it will be hard to communicate the meaning of the piece.

I can give another example of this. Once I went to hear the Messiah performed by a group that was non-religious. While I was listening, it seemed the singers didn't quite understand the words, "darkness shall cover the earth" and "oh thou that tellest good tidings to zion." To me it seemed they were thinking in terms of notes and crescendos and decrescendos, rather than meaning.

Then I became certain of it when they got to "there were shepherds, abiding in the fields..." "And suddenly, there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host." They had no trouble understanding these pictoral images, and knew how to communicate the imagery with their singing. And it was much more enjoyable and engaging to listen to.

Another example here, it is hard to hear this and not think that Bernadette Peters understands what the lyrics mean by being alive, and also what it means to not feel alive.



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I like the Gerchikov quote, "These works require a lot of experience and maturity. But the only way to acquire the maturity and experience is by playing them."


"Imagine it in all its primatic colorings, its counterpart in our souls - our souls that are great pianos whose strings, of honey and of steel, the divisions of the rainbow set twanging, loosing on the air great novels of adventure!" - William Carlos Williams
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Many years ago I worked as an Art Critic. I remember one day slogging through a review of a contemporary artist's show. I had little sympathy for the show, the artist seemed to be flogging a political message rather than offering anything visually inspiring. It suddenly occured to me as I made mention of a "delicate balance of the dominant forms against negative space' ... that I was essentially bull .....sh ...ing. How on earth was I supposed to put into words something essentially visual?

I never read .... or wrote ... another review without being intensely aware of this odd dichotomy.

Since music is difficult to critique with words ... perhaps more so than art ... one is confined to remarks about technique and differences in interpretation. So music critics fall back on "psychological blather". And "suffering" becomes a convenient barometer. And something which cannot be quantified. Pain is pain and is felt by all sentient human beings in their lifetimes.

I did an experiment many years ago in Bombay. I sat in a large government run gallery for several days. Since it was air-conditioned and was by law, open to everyone ... it became a haven from the searing heat during the noon hours. The poorest laborers would come in to take a few moments of cool comfort. They tried to be as inconspicuous as possible and would often walk around the gallery pausing at the paintings and sculptures. I decided to "interview" several of them. I speak Hindi and so was able to communicate and gain their trust. After a while they would relax and I would ask them to choose which paintings or sculptures they liked the best.

The results of that impromptu experiment changed my entire approach to art ... and awakened me to something quite wonderful. It is that true beauty is a constant. It is recognized outside of culture or education. Oddly enough, at a certain level, it doesn't require education or familiarity with the medium. It just IS.

I know that because of all these laborers I interviewed .... almost ALL of them zeroed in on the finest of the exhibits. The consistency of their choices was stunning.

Music is beauty. A beautiful performance is exactly that. And it has nothing to do with age ... or the quantum of pain ... it is a combination of technical perfection and artistry and something which transcends everything ... I would call it "soul".


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Yes, I agree totally - you haven't lived until you've died.

Therefore, if you aren't a reincarnation, you have no right to be performing any music of any significance - everything from Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli and Gibbons's The Silver Swan to Beethoven's Für Elise and his Grosse Fuge to Stravinsky's Circus Polka.

Wait until you're re-incarnated. And if you're an atheist, don't even dare think of touching Bach's Matthäus-Passion, let alone Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.


"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."
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I think the single most relevant line in the article was this one: “...there was a feeling that there were the seniors in the back row and they were grousing about how superficially the kids were playing the pieces — a get-off-my-lawn kind of attitude.”

I look at this circumstance with a marketer's eye. And the cold, hard fact is that the genre's pillars are not publishing anything new, so there are hundreds of interpretations of their works. Most people will latch on to a performance/style in their younger years, rather than their later years (defined as "when introduced to the music" and not "age", but usually they coincide if not directly correlate). So, a young pianist will have a very hard time breaking into this overplayed arena. Their only chance is among those who want to hear "live" performance, and at that, you'd still have to wait for the older pianists to retire.. then the elder listeners have to find younger performers to listen to, and that may lead them to a "freshly matured" (whatever that means) performer.

I do, however, think that some people see things in the music faster than others, and may be able to play differently (bring out more of the music) at a younger age, but I don't think this has anything to do with the actual process of "maturity".


Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.
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Originally Posted by bennevis
Yes, I agree totally - you haven't lived until you've died.

Therefore, if you aren't a reincarnation, you have no right to be performing any music of any significance - everything from Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli and Gibbons's The Silver Swan to Beethoven's Für Elise and his Grosse Fuge to Stravinsky's Circus Polka.

Wait until you're re-incarnated. And if you're an atheist, don't even dare think of touching Bach's Matthäus-Passion, let alone Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.

Thankyou for totally agreeing with me, but absolutely none of that is what I said.....


To quote myself from up above:
Originally Posted by A genius
In the same line of thought, if you can engage an audience (keep them awake) with a piece, then you're ready to perform it.


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Originally Posted by TheHappyPianoMuse
Many years ago I worked as an Art Critic. I remember one day slogging through a review of a contemporary artist's show. I had little sympathy for the show, the artist seemed to be flogging a political message rather than offering anything visually inspiring. It suddenly occured to me as I made mention of a "delicate balance of the dominant forms against negative space' ... that I was essentially bull .....sh ...ing. How on earth was I supposed to put into words something essentially visual?

I never read .... or wrote ... another review without being intensely aware of this odd dichotomy.

Since music is difficult to critique with words ... perhaps more so than art ... one is confined to remarks about technique and differences in interpretation. So music critics fall back on "psychological blather". And "suffering" becomes a convenient barometer. And something which cannot be quantified. Pain is pain and is felt by all sentient human beings in their lifetimes.

I did an experiment many years ago in Bombay. I sat in a large government run gallery for several days. Since it was air-conditioned and was by law, open to everyone ... it became a haven from the searing heat during the noon hours. The poorest laborers would come in to take a few moments of cool comfort. They tried to be as inconspicuous as possible and would often walk around the gallery pausing at the paintings and sculptures. I decided to "interview" several of them. I speak Hindi and so was able to communicate and gain their trust. After a while they would relax and I would ask them to choose which paintings or sculptures they liked the best.

The results of that impromptu experiment changed my entire approach to art ... and awakened me to something quite wonderful. It is that true beauty is a constant. It is recognized outside of culture or education. Oddly enough, at a certain level, it doesn't require education or familiarity with the medium. It just IS.

I know that because of all these laborers I interviewed .... almost ALL of them zeroed in on the finest of the exhibits. The consistency of their choices was stunning.

Music is beauty. A beautiful performance is exactly that. And it has nothing to do with age ... or the quantum of pain ... it is a combination of technical perfection and artistry and something which transcends everything ... I would call it "soul".

Interesting post


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Gawd, now that I've suffered, I've give XXXXXX to play the 109 as well as I did when I was a callow 18.


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I agreed with those who said that there is a big difference between music you really connect with and music you don't really connect with. I especially liked how Denk put it, finding a sense of "wonder" in the music. Even with composers we love, there are always pieces we relate to more than others. If we aren't very engaged with a piece it's hard to encourage someone else to be engaged while listening to it.


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Vivien Schweitzer is an intelligent critic, however, this article is not a review but a brief, easy-going musing on the notion that an artist should 'suffer' before making profound statements.

Alas, this has little or nothing at all to do with how the artistic mind operates.

Musicians, like all people of the 18th and 19th centuries, suffered horrible physical hardships, far more than we do today, and the death rate, especially for children, was appalling. But did that suffering make them artistically great? I think not. They had plenty of contemporaries who suffered as much or far worse who were not great at all.

While still in their late teens and early twenties and well before the worst of what life had in store for them was revealed, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, were composing music of astonishing breadth of vision and emotional depth. They were composing their musical vision, not their dental issues, and the two are not related. Perhaps no musician in history suffered more maladies than Paganini, but his music is relatively trivial in comparison to the above mentioned composers (no disrespect intended).

Beethoven was born profound and stayed profound throughout his life. Liberace was born kitchy and stayed kitchy throughout his life. An artist may evolve, of course, but the primary markers of emotional depth are laid down very, very early.

Referring to science - there was nothing in Albert Einstein's background to account for his 1905 Annus Mirabilis papers, most of it conceived before he was 25 years old. It was one of the greatest tour de force demonstrations of genius in all history, and physical and emotional suffering had nothing to do with it. The artistic mind is not so divorced from the scientific mind as some might presume - artistic concepts are not dependent on passing sentiments.

When this subject is raised occasionally by students I advise them not be concerned about the morbid virtues of suffering - it is not something to be sought out like a martyr in search of a crucifix - do not worry; Fate will deliver suffering to you with a vengeance if you just live long enough.

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Originally Posted by Jonathan Baker
When this subject is raised occasionally by students I advise them not be concerned about the morbid virtues of suffering - it is not something to be sought out like a martyr in search of a crucifix - do not worry; Fate will deliver suffering to you with a vengeance if you just live long enough.

When this subject is brought up by students you should punch them in the face and get it over with quickly. I'm sure they would thank you. smirk


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Originally Posted by Jonathan Baker

Musicians, like all people of the 18th and 19th centuries, suffered horrible physical hardships, far more than we do today, and the death rate, especially for children, was appalling. But did that suffering make them artistically great? I think not. They had plenty of contemporaries who suffered as much or far worse who were not great at all.

While still in their late teens and early twenties and well before the worst of what life had in store for them was revealed, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, were composing music of astonishing breadth of vision and emotional depth. They were composing their musical vision, not their dental issues, and the two are not related.

Let's not forget the example of Mendelssohn, who was born into riches and had an idyllic childhood, yet composed his Octet at 16 - a masterpiece in its genre which is still unequalled to this day. He was simply born great (and had the best education) - life experiences had nothing to do with his ability to paint colors and express profound emotions in his compositions.

Whenever I hear people criticize a young pianist for daring to perform Beethoven's Op.111, with ignorant generalities like "How can this girl understand late Beethoven? She hasn't even lived!", I remind them of Mendelssohn. And of Schubert, who practically invented the Lied with his Gretchen am Spinnrade, composed when he was 17 - when he was still a happy teenager.


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I think it requires more connection with the music and understanding of general life pain/joy etc. I once went to a concert of a professor who clearly was more interested in serial music and other such 20th century music that was more about math than sound. He played the appassionata as his "token" classical piece. It was AWfUL. Technically proficient but absolutely no feeling.

What I took from that was if you don't feel it, don't play it... The entire audience noticed it. I've never heard that sonata played so perfectly yet so flat it's as though none of the dynamics or notes mattered...

Experience is important but it doesn't have to be the same kind of suffering Beethoven experienced. You just have to pick a memory, focus in, and pretend that is what THIS performance is about. It's the same way if you are singing about love, if you have never been in a relationship then you focus in on the feeling you had when you watched a romantic movie or read a book and combine it with any tender feeling you have felt.


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The utopian side of me wishes to believe that when a teacher assigns a piece that demands a "mature" interpretive outlook, it is with the understanding that the student will have this piece for the rest of their life. Mastering the piece for a recital that's a few months to a year down the road is - in most cases - not a goal. Again, this is utopian......

I enjoyed reading the article. IMO, the challenge for any keyboard artist is to both "play their age" and be as convincing as they can with what they have - and not be duped into pretending that they're more (or less) polished, wizened, and mature than they really are. I enjoy HJ Lim's Beethoven recordings for that reason. And I hope that she records the sonatas again in about 15 years.

On the other side of the coin: The most surreal recital I've ever experienced was one in which a pair of students from a well known conservatory performed selections from Wintereisse. I kid you not, my first impulse was to wish that I had one of those super-soakers handy...... crazy

(As Bug Bunny would say, "Ain't I a stinker?")

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Originally Posted by Angela62213
I think it requires more connection with the music and understanding of general life pain/joy etc. I once went to a concert of a professor who clearly was more interested in serial music and other such 20th century music that was more about math than sound. He played the appassionata as his "token" classical piece. It was AWfUL. Technically proficient but absolutely no feeling.

What I took from that was if you don't feel it, don't play it... The entire audience noticed it. I've never heard that sonata played so perfectly yet so flat it's as though none of the dynamics or notes mattered...

Experience is important but it doesn't have to be the same kind of suffering Beethoven experienced. You just have to pick a memory, focus in, and pretend that is what THIS performance is about. It's the same way if you are singing about love, if you have never been in a relationship then you focus in on the feeling you had when you watched a romantic movie or read a book and combine it with any tender feeling you have felt.

Here is some impetuous Beethoven for you . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xI4qFLfVmR8

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