Expression

Classical Guitar technique: studies, scales, arpeggios, theory
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Rognvald
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Expression

Post by Rognvald » Mon May 13, 2019 1:56 pm

This morning I was thumbing through my 1960 edition of the "Harvard Brief Dictionary of Music." It defines expression as: "that part of music which cannot be indicated by notes . . . by any sign or symbol . . . It includes all the nuances of tempo, dynamics, phrasing, accent, touch . . . " It further adds: "The ideal performer is the one who succeeds in bestowing upon the composition a personal and original expression within the stylistic idiom of the work and in full compliance with the composer's intentions." Is this definition still valid 60 years later? Is it possible to really know the "composer's intentions" and mindset when he wrote the music?" Should we put all period composers into the same box? Is Music staid or is it capable of growth, re-interpretation, and re-invention? Does period music live eternally or is it relegated to the time and conventions when it was written? What do you think? Playing again . . . Rognvald
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

Tonit
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Re: Expression

Post by Tonit » Mon May 13, 2019 3:23 pm

Rognvald wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 1:56 pm
Is Music staid or is it capable of growth, re-interpretation, and re-invention? Does period music live eternally or is it relegated to the time and conventions when it was written? What do you think? Playing again . . . Rognvald
I don't know but I increasingly have a hunch that it is probably the audience that turns it around, while musicians simply try to express themselves based on existing music without any set goal to any resultant re-invention.

Rognvald
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Re: Expression

Post by Rognvald » Mon May 13, 2019 6:11 pm

Tonit wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 3:23 pm
Rognvald wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 1:56 pm
Is Music staid or is it capable of growth, re-interpretation, and re-invention? Does period music live eternally or is it relegated to the time and conventions when it was written? What do you think? Playing again . . . Rognvald
I don't know but I increasingly have a hunch that it is probably the audience that turns it around, while musicians simply try to express themselves based on existing music without any set goal to any resultant re-invention.
Hi, T,
I'm thinking of creative musicians like Ricardo Gallen, Ben Verdery, and Per-Olov Kindgren in their renditions of Bach, for example, versus John Williams or Manuel Barrueco who have taken, in my opinion, a more purist/academic approach to the music. Must we relegate Bach forever to the 18th Century or is he open to a personal/musical interpretation-- especially when Bach used expressive indicators so sparingly in his music? Would Bach have been opposed to a more creative/expressive rendering of his music or would he have been a stodgy defender of the black dots? Of course, we will never know for certain but the hidden treasures of interpretation in Bach are, in my opinion, limitless and beg for an artistic rendering. I often think of what were the first musical sounds made by Man. Were they made to express the conventional attitudes and daily activities of the tribe or were they a musical expression of love, grief, happiness, loss or the loneliness of the human condition? If we choose to play Music . . . it is "Expression" that puts our personal stamp on the music and defines, for all to hear, who we are as both human beings and musicians. Playing again . . . Rognvald
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

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Yisrael van Handel
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Re: Expression

Post by Yisrael van Handel » Mon May 13, 2019 6:37 pm

Rognvald wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 6:11 pm
I'm thinking of creative musicians like Ricardo Gallen, Ben Verdery, and Per-Olov Kindgren in their renditions of Bach, for example, versus John Williams or Manuel Barrueco who have taken, in my opinion, a more purist/academic approach to the music. Must we relegate Bach forever to the 18th Century or is he open to a personal/musical interpretation-- especially when Bach used expressive indicators so sparingly in his music? Would Bach have been opposed to a more creative/expressive rendering of his music or would he have been a stodgy defender of the black dots? Of course, we will never know for certain but the hidden treasures of interpretation in Bach are, in my opinion, limitless and beg for an artistic rendering. I often think of what were the first musical sounds made by Man. Were they made to express the conventional attitudes and daily activities of the tribe or were they a musical expression of love, grief, happiness, loss or the loneliness of the human condition? If we choose to play Music . . . it is "Expression" that puts our personal stamp on the music and defines, for all to hear, who we are as both human beings and musicians. Playing again . . . Rognvald
Rognvald,
I find a contradiction in your statement. The staid interpretation is an invention of the 20th century. There is plenty of written and phonographic proof, that interpretation in the 19th century was anything but staid. The score was simply a blueprint of the basic structure: it was up to the musician to provide the esthetic and emotional impact of the score. This more true, the further back you go in time. I was recently very impressed by a strong proof of this by Prof. Neal Perez Costa of Sydney Conservatory. The Sydney Conservatory is a leader in recovering real historical performance practice (from the oldest recordings in existence, performers who were trained in the 1840s). The research technique is very convincing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K1KiGdia5TY. The problem is not that Bach was staid. The problem is that we are staid. And the problem started in 1887, when Berliner invented the reproducible phonograph. Why that should affect performance practice is not clear to me, but it cannot be coinsidence that literal translation of the score started at the same time as the invention of the phonograph.
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Rognvald
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Re: Expression

Post by Rognvald » Mon May 13, 2019 7:24 pm

" The problem is not that Bach was staid. The problem is that we are staid. " Yisrael Von Handel

Hi, Yisrael,
I was hoping someone would say this and I agree completely. I thought this WAS explicit in my remarks. And, perhaps my tongue in cheek remark was misinterpreted when I said "Would Bach have been opposed to a more creative/expressive rendering of his music or would he have been a stodgy defender of the black dots? Of course, we will never know for certain but the hidden treasures of interpretation in Bach are, in my opinion, limitless and beg for an artistic rendering." My entire goal as a musician from elementary school to my "golden years" has been to preach the importance of a unique voice-"expression" as is the title of this discussion. We send our children to conservatories to study one of the great human Arts and they return to the world as pre-programmed, unthinking robots who define music as a gymnastic exercise in technique. I have attended countless concerts across the country and usually leave disappointed by these pyro-technic automatons who either perform highly technical pieces clearly beyond their level which they faithfully butcher or some atonal gobbledygook that is supposed to showcase their creative talents. They, of course, fail miserably on both counts. So, thanks for your great response. Hopefully, we will have others who share their own vision of the REASON we play and the importance of Expression in Music. Playing again . . . Rognvald
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

Tonit
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Re: Expression

Post by Tonit » Mon May 13, 2019 7:34 pm

Hi Rognvald,
Rognvald wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 6:11 pm
Must we relegate Bach forever to the 18th Century or is he open to a personal/musical interpretation-- especially when Bach used expressive indicators so sparingly in his music?

If we choose to play Music . . . it is "Expression" that puts our personal stamp on the music and defines, for all to hear, who we are as both human beings and musicians. Playing again . . . Rognvald
For me it's not setting my own directional vector, but is more of natural response to the music presented. It's partly rendition but before that there must be interpretation or construction of the music, whether written or performed.

So I would say, it is surely "Expression" but also "Impression" that constitutes our musical being. We all listen to our favorite tunes or songs again and again, and not so often but sometimes we start to hear some different musical messages that we haven't been able to identify before. Then we have certainly a different response to the music from before being reflected on our performances.

Or, some other times we encounter a kind of music that eloquently tells us what we have wanted to say but haven't been able to, so that the music impresses us more for us to more precisely render or "Express" our anwer to the music.

So and so, I suppose music has alreaday taken place in our mind before it gets out via our performance, or "Expression", and even if the performers may hit a few wrong notes, oftentimes the music successfully gets the message across as a whole because we could interpolate the mising notes by ourselves.

We may not have to conform ourselves to a mold, but at the same time we should not struggle to get out of our mold that makes you feel just right.

I mean, our "Expressed" music is desirably our honest selves no matter what they say. That's the kind of music of quality and worth appreciating for me.

That's how I brainstorm around keyword "Expression".

ronjazz
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Re: Expression

Post by ronjazz » Mon May 13, 2019 7:40 pm

Unfortunately, on our instrument, "expression" was set by Segovia, and it all too often included ritards and rubato where technical difficulties existed, rather than as expressive devices. The recent posting on youtube of Segovia's 1954 Paris videos really show us that even at his height, he managed to break the musical line by being too careful or insecure with his technique. There are musical places where expression of rubato or rhythmic fluidity really is expressive; Segovia did not always choose those spots. Williams didn't possess the same fear of difficult passages as Segovia, it would appear, and some have decided that he is, because of his technical mastery, too academic or purist in his approach. Some may regard him as "staid", in spite of the remarkable energy and forward motion he brings to Renaissance and Baroque repertoire. I would posit that advances in technique allow us to hear the music more as any composer intended, rather than through a prism of struggle.
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Rognvald
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Re: Expression

Post by Rognvald » Mon May 13, 2019 10:04 pm

Some very interesting thoughts here. Tonit says: "So I would say, it is surely "Expression" but also "Impression" that constitutes our musical being. We all listen to our favorite tunes or songs again and again, and not so often but sometimes we start to hear some different musical messages that we haven't been able to identify before. Then we have certainly a different response to the music from before being reflected on our performances.

Or, some other times we encounter a kind of music that eloquently tells us what we have wanted to say but haven't been able to, so that the music impresses us more for us to more precisely render or "Express" our anwer to the music." This certainly is one of the prime ways to develop a musical personality: listening. And, for serious musicians, it can provide a pathway to growth. But, I hope I have not underplayed the importance of technique since it is the roadway needed for truly expressive playing. RonJazz mentions "Unfortunately, on our instrument, "expression" was set by Segovia, and it all too often included ritards and rubato where technical difficulties existed, rather than as expressive devices." This is quite a bold statement and I'm going revisit those 1954 Paris videos. However, despite the technical mastery of Williams, I have always found his playing cold and academic. Perhaps it is because I came to Classical Music through the back door: Funk, R&B, and later, Jazz where one's sound was instrumental in finding work in Music. But, if I wanted to listen to Bach, I would choose Ricardo Gallen or Ben Verdery who have both technical mastery and a unique voice. I want music that moves me . . . otherwise, it's just background noise. Thanks for the interesting responses . . . Playing again . . . Rognvald
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

Juan del Bosque
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Re: Expression

Post by Juan del Bosque » Tue May 14, 2019 2:10 am

Sometimes I think the artist actually making the music, or performing it if you will, isn't given due credit by the critics. In the hands of a great artist the compositions of even great composers can be material. Golden material, but material all the same. Sarah Brightman's vocal rendition of Recuerdos de la Alhambra took that piece to heights I hadn't dreamed of before.

Tonit
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Re: Expression

Post by Tonit » Tue May 14, 2019 2:42 am

Hi Juan del Bosque,
Juan del Bosque wrote:
Tue May 14, 2019 2:10 am
Sometimes I think the artist actually making the music, or performing it if you will, isn't given due credit by the critics. In the hands of a great artist the compositions of even great composers can be material. Golden material, but material all the same. Sarah Brightman's vocal rendition of Recuerdos de la Alhambra took that piece to heights I hadn't dreamed of before.
...And some other times it's the other way round: writers have been less accredited.

Either way, hopefully anyone who created or contributed to the creation must take due pride in the creation, once it's done, it's there. And the creations are equally of value for themselves, just like every newborn is for every parent.

Everyone there deserves a medal of the same rank, hopefully.

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Yisrael van Handel
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Re: Expression

Post by Yisrael van Handel » Wed May 15, 2019 6:40 am

Rognvald wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 7:24 pm
Hi, Yisrael,
My entire goal as a musician from elementary school to my "golden years" has been to preach the importance of a unique voice-"expression" as is the title of this discussion.
Rognvald, I am with you completely. But I would like to add that it makes sense to be aware of the historical gestures and tools of interpretation from the times of the composer. The University of Sydney (Australia) and other research institutions are doing a wonderful job taking the oldest recordings in existence (often recorded by master musicians trained 50 years earlier, frequently by the composers of the music themselves). This gives us a window into interpretation of the 1840s. This is not guess work from written descriptions; these are actual performances from musicians trained in performance practice of the time of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Rossini, and Chopin. Especially interesting is how much it deviates from the written descriptions of performance practice of those days; and the specific techniques they used. From the Baroque period, we have a vast literature of performance practice written by Baroque composers and teachers. It makes sense for today's musicians wishing to interpret more freely, but in a style that would have been familiar to the composer, to study these practices. For guitarists, the use of portamento, arpeggios with bass note first and delay of melody note (a natural for the guitar), the use of (faster) vibrato as an ornament (rather than as a playing style), and filling in scale notes and chord notes, are examples of techniques that the composer would have expected the performer to apply as needed. There is infinite room here for applying personal style. My point is that the opportunities are even greater after understanding what the norm was in the period the music was written.
Yisrael van Handel
Modi'in Ilit, Israel

Rognvald
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Re: Expression

Post by Rognvald » Wed May 15, 2019 2:34 pm

Yisrael van Handel wrote:
Wed May 15, 2019 6:40 am
Rognvald wrote:
Mon May 13, 2019 7:24 pm
Hi, Yisrael,
My entire goal as a musician from elementary school to my "golden years" has been to preach the importance of a unique voice-"expression" as is the title of this discussion.
Rognvald, I am with you completely. But I would like to add that it makes sense to be aware of the historical gestures and tools of interpretation from the times of the composer. The University of Sydney (Australia) and other research institutions are doing a wonderful job taking the oldest recordings in existence (often recorded by master musicians trained 50 years earlier, frequently by the composers of the music themselves). This gives us a window into interpretation of the 1840s. This is not guess work from written descriptions; these are actual performances from musicians trained in performance practice of the time of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Rossini, and Chopin. Especially interesting is how much it deviates from the written descriptions of performance practice of those days; and the specific techniques they used. From the Baroque period, we have a vast literature of performance practice written by Baroque composers and teachers. It makes sense for today's musicians wishing to interpret more freely, but in a style that would have been familiar to the composer, to study these practices. For guitarists, the use of portamento, arpeggios with bass note first and delay of melody note (a natural for the guitar), the use of (faster) vibrato as an ornament (rather than as a playing style), and filling in scale notes and chord notes, are examples of techniques that the composer would have expected the performer to apply as needed. There is infinite room here for applying personal style. My point is that the opportunities are even greater after understanding what the norm was in the period the music was written.

Very well said, Yisrael and we should not only be conversant with the period and style but keep it in mind so that we do not wander so far oft the path that it becomes something of a different nature completely. When we hear Rubenstein and Wilhelm Kempff play Beethoven, we always know we are listening to the master composer but in a creative, personal way that separates their performances from the bushel basket artists who although technically faithful to the score are devoid of any musical personality. Thanks for the thoughtful response. Playing again . . . Rognvald
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

Rognvald
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Re: Expression

Post by Rognvald » Wed May 22, 2019 1:19 pm

"Unfortunately, on our instrument, "expression" was set by Segovia, and it all too often included ritards and rubato where technical difficulties existed, rather than as expressive devices. The recent posting on youtube of Segovia's 1954 Paris videos really show us that even at his height, he managed to break the musical line by being too careful or insecure with his technique." RonJazz


Hi, Ron,
I watched the Paris video after your post. Could you provide just a couple of examples of this from the video? I'd like to rewatch it with the examples in mind. Thanks. Playing again . . . Rognvald
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

BenjaminZ
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Re: Expression

Post by BenjaminZ » Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:33 am

There's some excellent work in this area in the literary criticism field, particularly Rolland Barthes and Michel Foucault. Roughly speaking the meaning of a work is contingent on the impressions of the reader, rather than the intentions of the writer; a text's finality doesn't exist in its origins, or its creator, but in its destination or audience.

Whether you think this can be applied to a score and its interpretation is another matter. It's a discussion that has been raging for a while, and will continue to rage on!

Rognvald
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Re: Expression

Post by Rognvald » Sun Jun 09, 2019 2:01 pm

BenjaminZ wrote:
Sat Jun 08, 2019 1:33 am
There's some excellent work in this area in the literary criticism field, particularly Rolland Barthes and Michel Foucault. Roughly speaking the meaning of a work is contingent on the impressions of the reader, rather than the intentions of the writer; a text's finality doesn't exist in its origins, or its creator, but in its destination or audience.

Whether you think this can be applied to a score and its interpretation is another matter. It's a discussion that has been raging for a while, and will continue to rage on!


Yes, Ben,
Excellent parallel. And, concomitant with that understanding is that a work of Art can be appreciated on both a literal reading as well as the subliminal, psychological layerings of the piece. A few months ago I reread the novel "Nausea" by Jean-Paul Sartre-- an existentialist masterpiece. The protagonist--the writer Roquentin, perceives life in a multi-layered consciousness juxtaposing a literal face-value perception of the world around him with one of deep psychological import. This is not, in my opinion, any different from listening to or performing music. We can play the black dots on the page or we can attempt to understand the vision/statement of the composer. How can one possibly assume that listening to Chopin, Schumann or Beethoven by a musical neophyte even remotely scratches the surface of the artist's vision? How, also, could a literal reading of a piece by an elementary level musician even remotely perceive the depth of the written notes? Yet it is the "impressions" of the reader/listener that, for many, define the work of Art. This is why, in my opinion, there is such a real paucity of quality literature and music being written today--the happy ignorance of the masses. Playing again . . . Rognvald
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra

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