Who is speaking--the composer or the player

October 23, 2006 at 12:09 AM · With all of the talk about what's the most correct or informed way to play something I think wwe've lost sight of why people bother to go to concerts instead of simply staying home and listening to canned music. It to hear live music plaking and actually have the experience of being with someone in the midst of making music. I think it's extraordinarily arrogant for anyone of us to presume to know what was in the head of Bach as he wrote the Sonatas and Partitas. At its level best notation is a crude instrument to tell someone else what is being heard in the mind of the composer and even then the ability of the composer to express him/herself factors into the compositorial process. So I submit that much of what we do gives the listener an experience of ourselves and our musicianship at worst at best we might even be able to give the listener an experience of who we are--not just the notes we play. That is what performance is about not just about on the operatic stage but also in pure music. Who we are and what we bring to the discussion is much clearer in our notes than in our words about the process.

Replies (100)

October 23, 2006 at 12:20 AM · You're right, it is arrogant to think that we know *exactly* what was in Bach's head when he wrote it. But that's not the point. The point is being well-informed enough about styles of performance at different periods in history to play things in at least SOMEWHAT the style of the times. You wouldn't play Brahms the same way you'd play Shostakovich, would you?

October 23, 2006 at 12:50 AM · Maura - your response to Jay raises and interesting question from my ignorance. I have played a limited amount of Brahms in orchestra and no Shostakovich. I have not played any Brahms chamber music. I do not have a really good knowledge of either (I have little exposure to Shostakovich and do not particularly care for most of the Brahms I know). Aside from looking at what is on the printed page, I assume that what you are saying is that you would normally play Brahms "Romantically" and Shostakovich using some other techniques (which I cannot even guess at). So, if you were given a piece by each, what would you add to what is on the printed page?

October 23, 2006 at 12:50 AM · Personally, I prefer canned.

Sadly, digital tech seems to have lost some of the warmth of a good analog recording, but even so it eliminates heavy ticket expense, driving/parking hassles, annoying coughs and cell phone ringtones, airborne disease vectors, the need to clothe oneself, and the perfume(s) of the crowd.

On the other hand, it permits instant replay, the ability to play along with the orchestra, and the advantages of caffeine and junk food immediately at hand.

October 23, 2006 at 01:33 AM · Greetings,

Tom, are you rfeerring only to chamber music , Brahms and Shostakovitch?

I think one of the primary questions when doing chamber music is to make explicit what each individual belives the composer is trying to say in a specific passage espcially interms of character. It is really eye opening to ask players to put into words what they think a particlar phras eis about. It often turns out that one or mor eplayer sin agroup have a different mental conception and it is form this initial idea that the tehcnique follows. In my opinon th eleast productive way is to play through soemthing and then satrt discussing technical specifics without some kind of overall aim. It is very common.

The differenc ebetween that and orchestra is huge. Individual players have to bend their idea sto the will of a condiucters even it is conflict.

These jkinds of ideas have to be informed, I think, by knowledge of the composer and conmtemporary thining /art/ lterature whatever. Even geography and language. I suspect one important way of understanding a composers music (whateve rthat means) is to explore the folk music of the country of origin. For example, I feel I have a reasonable feeling for the Minuet and Trio of the Mozart G minor symphony. After years of playing it nicely as written as though in a courtly dance and being vaguaely disattisfied I explored its roots and influence and had a purely personal feeling that this was Mozart in one of his more bucolic, drunken peasant farmer moods which may even stretch back to spanish folk dances. Iprefer to pplay and hear it perfomed asthough informed by that image. How that is described onjectively I don`t know.



October 23, 2006 at 01:37 AM · The idea that we could ever know what was in Bach's head is foolish and arrogant, of course, but none of us have been making that claim, so I'm not sure what you intend by criticizing it.

Besides, where does this idea come from that historical investigations of style and performance practice somehow get in the way of personalized performance? Just listen to Andrew Manze. He's like a gypsy fiddler! Who cares that he tunes to A=415 and plays notes inegales and the rest? For my money, he's the prime example of a highly individual musician whose scholarship has HELPED him get right at the heart of the music he plays, and his performances are incredibly invigorating and beautiful for ANY audience, whether of non-musicians who aren't even aware that debates about performance practice exist or of professional violinists.

As a conductor once said to an orchestra I was in, "the only person in the audience who came to hear YOU is your mother. The rest are here for Mozart, or Smetana, or whoever." He was trying to get us to get over our nerves by calming our egos, but I think it's relevant here, too.

October 23, 2006 at 02:14 AM · As a matter of fact Maura I do play Brahms and Shostakovich the same way. I am close enough to the sound pictures these people had around them that I personally hear little difference in the kind of sound required to bring those pieces to life. And if I don't, consider that the violinists I grew up listening to did have a close grasp of what Brahms was hearing in musical performance. Consider that oistrakh was born a scant 8 years after Brahms' death, and that the Shostakovich concerto was written for Oistrakh. Yes, I think I've got a very good idea of the sound of those works and I think that the performance tradition for both is well exhibited by the players of a generation ago whose work was fortunately captured in fine recorded sound. therefore, I need not turn myself into a pretzel to worry about the kind of bow to use or bow distribution.

As for the comment made by another member that the only person who came here to hear you is your mother the rest have come for Mozart.... I think that nothing could be further from the truth. people go to performance to expereience relationship with the performer else there would be no difference between players of the same technical assurance and ability. YOU are the only thing which makes the performance different from that done by another. That is exactly what people want whether they realize it or not. Mozart and Smetana do not exist on the page until you breath life into those notes and make them sound. The page shows a map but not a destination. The destination is the culmination of the work that the performer does. My score of Don Carlo is not Don Carlo--it's a map and a skeletal one at that! The music does not exist absent the performer--that may seem a trite distinction but it is an enormous one.

October 23, 2006 at 02:29 AM · Sorry, Jay, but I think you're arguing with a nonexistent contingent of people who devalue performers. You can do that on a composers forum. Here among violinists, the opposite tendency exists!

Your point about music not existing absent the performer is precisely correct, and highlights why it is important to know what performers of the composers would likely have done with the music, as those practices may have influenced the way the music was written.

(about Brahms and Shostakovich, I think you're forgetting that it was barely before Brahms's death that violinists began to vibrate continuously.)

October 23, 2006 at 02:25 AM · "So what is it that makes someone want to go to a live performance?"

Good question, I thought.

Anyone care to address it?

October 23, 2006 at 02:40 AM · We go to see the performer. If a youth orchestra was playing the same thing, you might skip it. Live vs recorded, live is just a more interesting experience I think.

October 23, 2006 at 02:05 AM · i think music interpretation and presentation is very much like some other pursuits such as learning a new language, learning to paint...

if i am not a native speaker of spanish and set out to learn spanish, chances are that i will try to seek out a qualified spanish teacher who will teach the most conservative and time tested material and pronounciation.

if i were to learn to paint, i need to learn basic techniques and basic painting styles.

however, one day, when i feel comfortable enough, i may coin some new terms in spanish, or try a new form of abstract painting.

don't music education and presentation go through the same process?

a five year old plays mozart HER way. after exclaiming oh-how-cute we drag her in front of the Mozart Council where the elders point a finger at her little button nose and declare: THAT IS NOT MOZART!,,,for that 10 lashes. soon enough, all the little ducklings all line up on the same page.

if such practice is to be believed to be common, which i don't see why not, it is not inconceivable that really, the way mozart is supposed to be played is indeed passed down generation after generation, all the way back from the mozart days.

then we can safely assume that the Bach Institute also stringently and successfully applied the same do-it-our-teacher's-way-or-else approach for centuries.

so why do we see variations?

because we are individuals. we fake it until we make it and when we make it, the world is our oyster and the true color comes through. heck with mozart and bach the other people's way, i have seen the light and this is my take. take it or leave it. Heifeitz plays fast because, because he can.

now, here is the catch. timing is of the essence so get it right.

before you make it and if you try to be free like a bird, they will blast you down with a canon. there is no choice, we must kill the birdflu.

but, if you have made it and you remember to show your true feelings, all my, you just take mozart or bach to a new level! a superstar comes to the rescue!


October 23, 2006 at 03:03 AM · Look, all I'm saying is I personally think that one's performance of a certain piece of music should be at least SOMEWHAT informed by a knowledge of the musical style and culture of the time in which it was written. I'm not a period-performance partisan. I just try to be a well-informed interpreter of music. (emphasis on "try"!) I'm not one of those snobby critics who (as Al put it) would listen to some kid playing a great Mozart and say "Hmph! THAT'S not how they played it in June of 1739!" or whatever, or blast people who play Bach on a modern instrument, because that's just annoying.

Brahms and Shostakovich played the same way? Well, what about Beethoven and Bartok? Mozart and Hindemith? Bach and Wieniawski? I'm sorry, but I happen to think that playing all music with the same attitude, same style, tone colors etc, no matter how beautiful that one style may be, is not good musicianship.

October 23, 2006 at 03:13 AM · BTW, Jay, you point out that Oistrakh was born only 8 years after Brahms' death. Very true. But consider, the Brahms concerto was written in 1878, the Shostakovich concerto in 1948. How much things changed in those 70 years!!!! It was like 2 different worlds!!

October 23, 2006 at 03:19 AM · Maura--


Very true--but Oistrakh'smusical world was informed by people who were indeed alive in the years since 1878 who were alive with Brahms when he heard performances of his work. Ostensibly someof that sensibility has to have the imprimatur of being contemporary.

As to playing everything the same of course not but by the same token my technic of making sound is still a constant--I may choose different sounds for different people but I will still vibrate and not play straighht tones because some scholar says I should--especially if his aestetic is thoroughly outside an aesthec of sound that I understand. I don't love different for its own sake nor do I embrace the abrasive because i can. I want to see and hear that the aesthetic choice that I make is allowing me(just me mind you) to make a more meaningful statement of the music on my terms--because those are the only terms I have to work with. My musical choices have to be something that I think is a valid musical statement--scholarship notwithstanding.

October 23, 2006 at 03:35 AM · I usually don't listen to "scholars" either--I listen to the composer, I learn about the composer's life and times, I study his country's folk music (a bit of an obsession with me actually), I read about what was going on in history then....so I have a complete understanding of the piece in its context. So it's not so much changing my technique for its own sake (though I DO use slightly different techniques for [insert two contrasting composers here], to get different palette of sounds), it's more of a "musicality" thing and my attitude to approaching the piece.

The best general example I can think of right now is "Funerailles, Octobre 1849", by Ferenc Liszt. (yes, it's a piano piece, and I'm not a pianist, but hear me out.) Without an understanding of the historical context, a performer or listener would take it to be just any old gloomy, angst-filled funeral march. But then you learn about the crushing by the Hapsburgs of the Hungarian War for Independence in October, 1849. The passion of the freedom fighters! The disaster of the Surrender at Világos! The reign of terror, the execution of revolutionaries, the general tragedy of the whole thing! Liszt is crying for his country in that piece! when a listener learns that, the piece is raised several levels of magnitude in significance, and when a performer learns that, he/she will probably play a more convincing, compelling interpretation.

I stand by my conviction that we as musicians have a responsibility to learn about the historical context of the works we perform.

October 23, 2006 at 04:15 AM · Why do people go to live performances? Because you get so much more than a CD recording - you get the mistakes. YOu get to see the soloist treading on a high wire that is a thin as dental floss, and when they come out the other side it is a great expreience. That it why people go to live performances.

As for recordings, and stylistic performance. There was a while ago that it was very popular to play the Bach S&P with heaps of vibrato, what is referred to these days as a Russian tradition. There are players now who are doing it with little vibrato, no bow pressure in an apparent "Baroque" tradition (I've heard it referred to as the English style). There's a whole gamut of performers inbetween. Each recording is unique in it's own style, and each performers interpretation. Why do we have so many recordings? Because there is no right answer as to how it should be performed. Each performer will have different feelings for each movement - one might absolutely despise the Gavotte from the third partita, another might adore it. One might feel a deep sense of forboding in the G minor siciliano, while yet another might see it more as a signpost of hope. Neither one is incorrect, because music is personal - it touches the soul. Recordings can only provide us with so much - it takes live performance to take it to the next level, where the audience can start to connect with the performers ideas, when you start to see their facial and body expressions and see what effect it has on the music.

I know, if I had a choice of a $40 ticket to see a soloist perform the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, or pay $20 for a CD of someone playing it, I'd much rather pay the $40 and go see it live.

October 23, 2006 at 09:11 AM · You know, when I started reading this thread I really thought that Maura's first reply was going to stop it dead in its tracks.

To address an earlier question, there are many things that you might choose to do in Shostakovich that you wouldn't do in Brahms, though of course it depends on the passages in question. It's partly a matter of style ("19th-century Romantic vs 20th-century Russian Expressionist") and partly just that the two composers generally have different things to say. Shostakovich's music sometimes gets very bleak, calling for a pale, vibratoless sound (check out the late string quartets), or sometimes its character is very aggressive or sarcastic, demanding a harsher, grittier sound; for Brahms you probably wouldn't want to use those parts of the tonal palette. Also there are different tendencies regarding rhythmic character, although that really depends on individual passages.

I like live performances; new things happen sometimes and I tend to listen to live music differently than a recording. However, something that has always struck me as a little bizarre is when you go to a new music concert and there's an electronic piece on the program -- they dim the lights, pop a CD into the stereo, and press "play", and I just can't help feeling a little cheated when they do that.

October 23, 2006 at 11:19 AM · if we read the original question, it deals with 2 entities, namely, the player and the composer. each player is different and each composer is different. thus, a player playing all different composer the SAME is essentially unrealistic and not part of the equation here.

the basic premise here is how much personal feeling or touch or interpretation can or should a player add to the piece? in other words, how much can you get away with for being yourself? as trite as it may sound, i think it really depends on your experience, statue, and timing.

you have to manage to do the "right" thing at the right time. what is "right"? the ability or having the luck to know what the audience/critic wants when you are on stage:)

good day!

October 23, 2006 at 04:34 PM · I think most people listen to music (live or canned) for enjoyment or entertainment or both.

Re: interpretation: There is nothing stopping a player from playing Paganini or Wienawksi on a baroque violin, for example. It might be fun but will the audience accept it and pay enough cash for it? I do think that some composers are control freaks. Some are not. But ultimately, once a piece is written, it takes on a life of its own. I once heard a recording of the 3rd movement of the Mendelssohn E minor violin concerto against a rock beat background. As long as enough people are willing to sustain the life of such performances, they will continue to live.

October 23, 2006 at 05:56 PM · Jay,

I think it is mind-bogglingly arrogant to assume that what's going in YOUR head is more important that what was going on in Bach's. That's all I have to say.


P.S. Scratsch that. That's not all I have to say. Since you derive so much pride from playing everything using the same sound production and "technique" (no idea what you mean by that, although I am sure you still hold the violin in your left, and bow in your right), do you really believe Brahms and Shostakovich employ the same emotional/expressive palette? And since they don't (I hope you've appreciated the rhetorical question), wouldn't you think that would require a bit of flexibility from the performer?

Just wondering.

October 23, 2006 at 06:01 PM · Oh, and that "aesthetic of sound". Never fails to puzzle me. So once you find particular sound you can call "yours", does it happily end your personal development?


October 23, 2006 at 06:01 PM · IG

To quote Landowska, Mr Bach is no longer here he is in his grave. I don't know what he heard or intended I can only figure it out based on my own musicianship and what I've been taught. His music doesn't belong to him anymore it belongs to us. Therefore, I will treat it as such. You may do as you wish.


October 23, 2006 at 06:05 PM · IG

As to the sound I call my own--it changes daily--so do I. I assume you do the same.


October 23, 2006 at 06:14 PM · Jay,

That didn't stop Landowska from playing the harpsichord at least unlike most of her contemporaries that played Bach on Steinways. Double standard?

As to the sound, "my" sound varies according to the music I play, yes. It has little to do with weather conditions, if that's what you were implying.


October 23, 2006 at 06:14 PM · Violin playing is a re-creative art. We have the actual notes, the notations, biographies, what we know about the composer, the historical information about the era and about performance characteristics. We try to use our scholarship to reflect that and the what we know (or can guess) about the composer's intention.

Of course we will filter that through our own knowledge, talent, and aesthetic judgment, and we'll combine all of these factors in rendering a performance. We do the best we can to understand and re-create the composer's "vision" of what the composer "meant" and what the music is intended to communicate. Can we know what that is for 100% sure in the case of someone (like Bach) who died in 1750? Of course not. But we do the best we can.

Is our own personality and performance aesthetic going to be a factor? Of course. But that's part of the "art" in a performing art - making those decisions and keeping that balance.

That's my two cents worth.


October 23, 2006 at 06:53 PM · IG--

Of the sound changes based on what you play BUT that is always the case. What is the point is that the sound changes within your own palette. Any singer can tell you that. I have the same voice but it sounds different in Wagner than in Verdi and that's because of the composer's genius not mine.

Even Szeryng whom you find so amusing sounds different in Bach than in Brahms.

As to Landowska's harpsichord--Pleyel. It represents something quite different from a piano but it is not a harpsichord in anyone's estimation of what a harpsichord is. It is a 19th/20th century fantasia on the idea of a harpsichord. She made great music despite it.

But you're still far afield from the original question--why should we go see you in performance if we have canned music--what do you bring to the equation?

October 23, 2006 at 06:53 PM · Jay - in fairness to Landowska (a relative of mine), she also made the following reply to Rosalyn Tureck when Tureck criticized her for playing Bach on the harpsichord: "That's fine dear. You play Bach your way, and I will play Bach his way." Surely that retort stands as the rallying cry of the period instrument/authentic performance crowd. However, she had a little more sense than some of them, as reflected in your statement. Ultimately, I think it is important to at least take some account of the period in which a work is written and the practices of that period and just see what it produces. It may be meaningful to you or it may not. In that sense, Ilya's attempt to do this with Bach is important and valuable. Or, as my teacher told me when I was learning the various parts of the Partitas: "Remember, these are dance movements."

October 23, 2006 at 07:16 PM · Jay,

A good singer will use his palette to different extent according to the music he(she) sings and will never employ the same range for Mozart as for Verdi. Some singers will only stick to one of the two. Any GOOD singer will tell you that.

You see things in all the different shades of black and white. Not my vision exactly. I am referring namely to your last statement. You are not particularly consistent either, saying just recently that you play things the same, later stating that your voice sounds different in different things. I am all for recognizability of performer's individual voice by the way, and I am sorry that has escaped your understanding...

Incidentally, I don't know how much you change daily as a human being, but from my modest experience watching people over somewhat lengthy periods of time, they don't seem to be changing very much...


October 23, 2006 at 07:13 PM · Another thing:

At Landowska's time the art of harpsichord making/repair was at its infancy. And you know it.


October 23, 2006 at 06:38 PM · It has always struck me that Bach not only inspires such a wide range of interpretations of his music, but also that people have such strong convictions about those interpretations. I can't imagine people getting as worked up over a discussion of performance practice of Vivaldi or Hindemith as for JSB. :^) A sign of real greatness, perhaps?

Certainly, it's more important to follow your musical instincts than to read musicology journals, but it's useful to remember that our instincts don't arise in a vacuum. I remember being taught as a kid to always use terraced dynamics in Baroque music, which when you think about it is pretty silly for stringed instruments, but it sounded "right" if you were used to hearing Baroque music that way.

For me, the point of being "historically informed" or whatever you want to call it is that it *widens* your perspective on what kinds of interpretation can be convincing.

October 23, 2006 at 07:32 PM · You satill didn't answer the question that I principally raised--why should people attend you in performance when they have you already to hand on a CD.

As for the other--we are both really saying the same things and trying to make each other wrong--it's boring.

What Landowska did succeed in demonstrating is that some da** good music making can be made using an absolutely inconceivable instrument that could as easily shown up on the starship Enterprise for all of its resemblance to a harpsichord. But she did great music making on it regardless. WHich is my point that I think Szeryng and Grumiaux succeeded in doing great music making even given their own performance practice. This is not a religious argument with either orthodox or reform points of view--there are many more shades than simply Black, White, or Grey. There is room for what you do and there is also room for Szeryng and Grumiaux. None of you have a monopoly on the truth--there are simply a lot of different pieces of what's true which you all embody. But regardless of whether or not you use a Baroque bow or not people will come away from a live performance of any of you with something different from each of you and it is that personal and interpersonal experience thaT i ORIGINALLY ADDRESSED and which you haven't yet talked about.

great music making is not a simple matter of following a bunch of rules it is also what the individual musician/performer brings to the table. There is no set of rules for making great music that a mediocre musician can follow to make great music. great music-making is as much a function of the performer as it is anything else. Ricci and Shumsky both handle the technical problems of the Ysaye Ballade equally well so far as I am concerned but the performances are so different because of the individuals involved and neither of them for all of their technical ability can make as much music out of it as does Oistrakh. There is no set of rules they can follow that will make them into great music makers in this music. A set of rules does not suffice and that is the most important point I can make.

October 23, 2006 at 08:02 PM · Jay,

I already answered your question many times on this and previous thread. As to Schumsky and Ricci, you've made a fine example of two historically-aware performances, both steeped deeply in tradition, yet very different. This tradition and awareness, however was lost at one time for Baroque (entirely), Classical (mostly) and some of the Romantic. For me the performances that totally ignore the style (and to me Szeryng's and Grumiaux's recordings are a case in point) do not represent valid accounts.


October 23, 2006 at 08:02 PM · I'm just gonna throw in my two cents and hde in the corner... I go to concerts because I believe tat CDs are essentially snapshots of the artist at one particular moment in time. Using that argument, I also try and get multiple recordings of artists that I listen to, to see how they've changed through time. If you listen to the young Heifetz recordings when he was 17 or 18, they are quite different than when he was 60, or so. But hearing someone live has a certain amount emotional involvement. You're excited because you get to see the soloist, the soloist is excited/nervous because they are performing for many. It is tough, or almost impossible to replicate that sort of adrenaline in a studio. But, these are just the unorganized musings of a very sleep deprived college student...

October 23, 2006 at 08:12 PM · Ilya--

We have to agree to disagree--I feel like I am having an argument with myself from 35 years ago. That does not mean that you will someday agree with me but it also doesn't mean that you might not.

October 23, 2006 at 08:48 PM · Jay,

Funny, I was just going to say that I felt similarly - except it would be like me having an argument with myself from 15 years ago...


October 23, 2006 at 08:42 PM · Wow you guys even argue with yourselves :P

October 23, 2006 at 10:49 PM · These days, some colleges record lectures for students to download. Despite this, students still go to the lectures. Why? Because interaction is only possible in a live setting. Of course, the extent to which such interactions take place in concerts depend heavily on the type of music being performed and the venue. Jazz is a very good example of what a recording cannot give you.

October 23, 2006 at 11:21 PM · i think the player being honest to him/herself vs the player thinking he/she is honest to the composer is discussion on one level.

cd vs live performance is a different topic and a very interesting one.

why do we bother to go out to eat in a restaurant when we are capable of fixing every meal of our lives at home?

because we need variety, excitement, stimulus...we need a fun place to park our money.

with cd, we can always go back and listen to it a thousand times if we wish, but the live performance is just that one time. like recalling bits of an interesting conversation of the past, we do not remember everything about the concert except those precious moments and quirky details...the company, the ambiance, the visual and auditory stimulations on our senses that only a live sound production can deliver.

we want to see the artist sweat and deliver the best in one take. we look for performance beyond expectation. and we want to be the very part of it.

October 24, 2006 at 12:04 AM · Hey Jay you have my vote.

October 24, 2006 at 01:05 AM · Seeing a concert is like going to a circus. Listening to a CD is like looking at a painting. Never mind, both are bad analogies.

October 24, 2006 at 01:24 AM · Greetings,

you mean trained monkeys doing somethign for peanuts? Excellent analogy I would have thought.



October 24, 2006 at 02:46 AM · Hi,

I have to say that I agree with Ilya on this one. Having done a number of performance practice projects, including some with 19th century music, "Knowing the Score" to quote Malcolm Bilson is quite important. Plus, the great composers had in mind something that made much sense when they wrote what they wrote. They were the greatest artists of their time. To dismiss that is puzzling to me, especially since we know so much now, and are still finding some out every day.


October 24, 2006 at 06:19 AM · First to address live performances... I think most if not all people who become musicians believe there is little better we can do with our time than gather and make music. Humans are social animals because we all have common bonds. Art comes from life's experiences (common and uncommon) and we use art to better experience life. We do it for the experience.

Can a great performance of Bach be given on a modern instrument with a modern bow and synthetic strings? Absolutely.

But if any sort of baroque set up will increase our understanding of Bach's music, why not try it and be open to it? It's certainly something I would like further understanding of. Nobody here PRESUMED to know what was going on in Bach's mind. But they investigate it because to them it is worth investigating to better understand the art.

I'm sure some absurd remark would be made like, well do you need to research many species of birds to pinpoint which one to imitate in Vivaldi's music or do you need to overdose on opium to further understand Symphonie Fantastique...well that's judgment, so use your judgment and if you think it's might better sastify your understanding of the music, then do it.

Maybe Ilya could be considered as a scholar of music (making). Some of us appreciate classic music played without regard to historical context, just like some of us are fine with reading classic literature translated to modern english. Those passionate about literature will study latin and greek because they are not satisfied with the translation and they want the real classic as the writer intended it. Those passionate about music will also want the real thing, as the composer may have intended it.

But maybe both of you can agree they are classics because their messages survived hundreds or thousands of years, through changing times and languages. Different messages and different interpretations are found throughout time, and this is what makes it classic art. The myth of Sisyphus survived thousands of years as a greek myth. But maybe Camus' interpretation of the myth thousands of years later found a deeper meaning than was originally intended. Now there is the classic myth with its time and place in history, and a landmark interpretation with its time and place in history.

October 24, 2006 at 08:57 AM · The original question about live performance vs CD.

Well, it is just not the same, is it?

If you (= a person) really think so, then yes, a live performance is definitely wasted on you.

Someone mentioned that is it is a youth orchestra you might prefer CD but would go if it is a "professional one".

Yesterday I was waiting in the conservatory to pick up my son and the youth orchestra were practising upstairs. I had been listening to music on digital radio just before (& I have very very good speakers) but even the brief clip and the sound filtered via a few doors and stairs was so much more "uplifting"; I don't know how to put it better than that it gave me goosebumps.

As for the composer, I would go with Ilya, Buri and others on those lines. Of course you are not claiming to know what was in the composers head, but I really hope that any performer is putting some personal understanding & interpretation into what he's playing. Exactly what needs to be studied or done to be able to do that will depend on each performer.

October 25, 2006 at 03:52 PM · Hi,

I think that many are missing Ilya's point. Assuming one is a fine player, looking at what the composer wrote with the equipment of the time gives you an insight that you cannot get with most modern equipment. Things are clearer. Issues like we face today, something like balance in works with piano do not exist. There is no balance to discuss. Also, many of the indications that composers wrote work and imply a musical intent that when not considered in the right cirumstances change what they sought. They knew what they were doing. In doing a project of 19th century music around with works around people in the Joachim circle, I found myself once I had a period setup and with a period instrument (Graff piano), being explained what the markings actually meant/implied, changing all my changes back to the original markings of the composer and getting better results.

Now, is it possible to give a convincing performance of Bach on modern equipment? Yes. Will it be a good performance? Maybe. In the end, when one changes something in the score for convenience or because of the equipment used, one can change the character implied in the music.

Years ago, I wouldn't have understood Ilya. A year ago either. Now, I see his point. I think that changes can only be made as long as the character in the music is not altered.

A person's sound will remain his own. But, it is also affected by the intents of the composer, what score means/meant and the equipment too. In the end one should try to convey an emotion or character that is in the music through one's own voice will maintaining what's there. Joy is joy. It sounds different through each person. But it nonetheless remains joy.

I hope this makes sense somehow...


October 25, 2006 at 05:28 PM · Christian--

I have to respond to your assertion about Bach on the piano--I have only one name to throw at you--Glenn Gould. I think he understood counterpoint pretty well and made a very convincing argument for the piano.


October 25, 2006 at 05:37 PM · CV wrote:

"Assuming one is a fine player, looking at what the composer wrote with the equipment of the time gives you an insight that you cannot get with most modern equipment."

This is certainly true. But the other side of the coin is this: Through knowing the equipment that a composer had access to and the practices at that time, one might notice certain compromises in the composition might not have been necessary with modern equipment. I think you said this implicitly. For example, I've always wondered how Beethoven would have written the parts for the brass instruments in some of his symphonies if he could write them for the modern ones.

In short, I agree that having knowledge about period practices can't be a bad thing. (Actually, it is not clear that anybody here disagrees.) But it is quite a different thing, once having acquired the knowledge, to insist that one performs in a way that conforms to period practices.

October 25, 2006 at 05:48 PM · Christian - much of what you (and Ilya) say I understand and agree with to some extent. Yes, it is important to understand a piece within the confines of its period and how it would have been performed (to the extent that those things can be divined). However, as Jay points out, other aspects of the piece, e.g., its counterpoint, are timeless. But, ultimately, IMHO (and I may just be an uncultured clod), listening to Rachel Podger or Ilya perform solo Bach may not move me as much as a romantic interpretation a la Szeryng or Grumiaux, even though the Podger/Ilya interpretations may more accurately present the pieces. That is the problem. I cannot help my emotional reaction to the music even though intellectually I can appreciate that Podger/Ilya may do a more historically accurate job of presenting and interpretating the pieces.

October 25, 2006 at 06:26 PM · I used to hate period performance. It grew on me. :)

October 25, 2006 at 07:09 PM · ...like a fungus, maura? sorry, i couldn't resist that one.

back to the original question: what benefit does live performance have over recording?

for me, it's harmonic sympathy. in a decent hall with a great violinist, there is a certain richness to the harmonic overtones that i don't find on digital recordings. live music just sounds richer to me and vibrates differently than recorded music.

i also find that live performance is more responsive just like kevin said above. onstage performers respond to the audience, to their accompanists, to many different things. on those nights when everything comes together, it can be remarkable how much more lively a live performance is than a recording of the same piece by the same performer. i even prefer listening to live recordings to studio recordings for a similar reason. with some performers you can really hear not just their interpretation, but subtle ways they respond to audience prompting. this of course is much more apparent in jazz than in classical, but it still happens in classical music.

finally, there are bragging rights. if a performance turns out to be legendary, years later i can always say 'i was there when they performed.' i remember when dmitri sitkovetsky performed the shosty 1 with the toronto symphony in 1989. it was by far one of the best performances live or recorded i have ever heard! amazing playing...i'm not sure if he recorded that piece but his live version of it back then was something truly special.

October 25, 2006 at 07:11 PM · Maura - supposing it doesn't?

October 25, 2006 at 07:24 PM · I go to concerts (from time to time) for the sense of occasion: the experience of witnessing the music being made NOW.

I like the business of getting the tickets, going to the venue, being in the same room as a whole load of other people who also want to be there. I like the sense of sharing the experience both with the others in the audience and with the performer.

I like the post mortem: I like the fact that I can look in my diary and say I was at that concert on that day. I like finding old souvenir tickets.

Listening to a cd at home gives me none of that, though I can choose a better wine to drink while listening.


October 26, 2006 at 03:41 AM · Jay, I think you misunderstood Christian. His point, which I agree with, was not that a good performance is not possible on a modern instrument, but that knowledge of performance equipment reveals much about the music that can't always be grasped right away by playing it on the modern instrument.

October 26, 2006 at 02:08 PM · Hi,

Jude - thank you. You said what I wanted to say in a much better way than I was going to do.

Kevin - issues that we find in Beethoven are complex. After devoting much thought to issues like this, my conclusion is that it is better to concentrate on what he wrote than what he might have.

The issue of medium: it is not really the use of the medium, but changing the meaning of the score because one fails to understand the affects in score because of lack of knowledge.

The Shostakovitch/Brahms example was interesting in some ways. We know the violinist for whom Shostakovitch wrote his concerto, and there is time to be devoted to that since we can hear the performance. With Brahms we also know, and can hear (though past his prime) the violinist he had in mind, and we have enough information to understand the rest. And yet, that is ignored. WHY?


October 26, 2006 at 02:29 PM · Dear Christian--

I would respond that there comes a time at which the original instrument argument breaks down. We do not adhere to original tuning--A varied by a lot from city to city until Adelina Patti decided that she like singing at Covent Garden and went to the oboist to find out what his A was--thus A 440. But HvK like A 445 and even higher. In Italy Tebaldi was fighting along with others for A 432. Obviously this colors what we hear also because the actual sense of key can be changed. Moreover does anyone want to argue for Original instrument Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler. What about Schoenberg, or Krenek or Bartok. For the last I'd much rather hear an orchestra that sounded like BSO under Koussy than what I am currently subjected to--but that's not gonna happen. Why not? When does the argument become too silly to continue--original instrument Cage???

October 26, 2006 at 02:11 PM · I think after all this discussion, it's pretty clear that live performances offer a different experience than canned performances. That's why people go to concerts and own CDs of the same work. Now, if virtual reality is developed to the point where one can have almost the same experience in one's home as in a concert hall (with 3D visuals and sounds), then perhaps live performances won't be so much more different.

The discussion on the Paganini #20 thread got me thinking regarding respecting the composer's original intentions and period practices and equipment: If one has to have such respect to have a proper interpretation of a work, then it is an insult to transcribe a work for other instruments. There is nothing farther from the composer's original intentions than "distorting" a work in order to play it on an instrument the composer didn't intend for. Take the Chopin C# minor nocturne played by many at the Indy Violin competition for example. It was a work written for the piano by a poet of the piano. But Milstein turned it into a violin piece. Much of the pianistic charm and melancholy is lost in the transcription but replaced with the passionate singing voice of the violin. The question is: Is the end product good music? There is a reason why not every single Chopin nocturne has been transcribed--sometimes it just doesn't work. The number of transcriptions that work very well on the violin is huge. (e.g. Thais, all those Kreisler transcriptions, Humoresque, Salut d'amour etc.) Sometimes, the transcriptions are better known than the original compositions.

To me, the goal of a performance is this: to make good music that delights the audience.

I do find Podger's Bach very interesting. But I cannot listen to it more than once a month while I can listen to Szeryng's or Grumiaux's more than once a week. To me, Podger's fugues just don't sound very satisfying.

October 26, 2006 at 02:48 PM · Hi,

Jay and Kevin - I think that you are misunderstanding me. I am not saying that stuff necessarily needs to be played on period instruments. I am finding though that whatever the medium used, the original spirit should be known and maitained. Does that make more sense?


October 26, 2006 at 02:55 PM · Hi Christian,

What you said makes sense as long as you define what you mean by "original spirit." To my ears, Podger's fugues did NOT convey the original spirit as well as Grumiaux's. But that might just be a bias on my part as a big fan of the pipe organ.

October 26, 2006 at 04:55 PM · maybe the real question shouldn't be 'how would the composer hear the music?' but 'how can we best interpret the music today?'

the bach example is pretty controversial to say the least. let me try reframing it to another composer mentioned above: brahms.

anyone who's heard ysaye, joachim, or kreisler recordings would admit that the older players used portamento to excess. the brahms was written for joachim who was known for his noisy portamenti, yet many 'historically aware' performances of today eschew loud portamento shifting. why? because these days listeners find that sort of thing to be CHEESY. we live in a leaner, faster, more logically driven world than brahms did because the advent of computer technology has changed the way we think. perhaps we should allow our interpretations to reflect such changes in human progress rather than insisting we always create 'correct' interpretations of our music by the book.'

October 26, 2006 at 07:57 PM · D_Wright,

Manze uses portamento in Bach and Tartini, and I for one don't find it cheesy at all. The best thing about players like Joachim and Ysaye was their bowarm though, and much of that was lost in the midst of groupies' flashing their tits at Heifetz's Scherzo-Tarantella.

Incidentally, I was at a classical radio station in Quito today talking about s&p primarily, and they used some sound bytes of none other than Szeryng. I have to say it was cruel and unusual for me to be exposed to that, and I at this point would ask for a loud and obnoxious round of applause for people that find that kind of interpretation enlightening. I adore their stamina.

As regards the "concerts against recordings" topic, there is a beauty to both. At one point I've renounced concerts altogether - that was the moment I invested into a mean sound system, and for a while that worked perfectly well, however lately I've been warming up to a good concert experience, perhaps because I've realized that being a master of the double standard (at least in your professional field) was not my cup of tea?


October 26, 2006 at 09:14 PM · Do you find Itzhak Perlman's S&P equally invalid? And Milstein's Bach? Just wondering....

October 26, 2006 at 10:12 PM · Ilya,

"...groupies flashing their tits at Heifetz's Scherzo-Tarantella"??

Wow, it'll be a while before I'll be able to play that piece with a straight face again! :) lol

Weird that they used Szeryng sound clips while interviewing you. You'd think that if they were interviewing YOU, that means they'd be interested in how YOU play the pieces?

Actually, I listened to some Szeryng Bach the other day, having not heard any for a while, and I was quite disappointed. A couple years ago I loved that recording, but the impression I got on my most recent listening was that he sounded kind of indifferent and detached. And the anachronistic playing style got on my nerves, which it didn't used to do. Paradigm shift, I guess (though I must admit, I still love Milstein, especially the Chaconne.)

I am curious though--why did you almost swear off going to concerts?! :)

October 26, 2006 at 11:17 PM · Maura,

asthmatic members of the audience, cell phones, bad musicians. In that order.


October 27, 2006 at 12:46 AM · "we should allow our interpretations to reflect such changes in human progress rather than insisting we always create 'correct' interpretations of our music by the book"

Maybe we should allow ourselves to treat a score the way a movie director treats a screenplay; like the way Auer chopped off a section of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto.

October 27, 2006 at 06:45 AM · yes. where is Auer now and where is that section that he chopped off?


October 27, 2006 at 02:06 PM · The section is still missing in one of Kogan's recordings--I remember a bunch of us sitting around listening to it one time at Encore, and all of a sudden he "skipped" a big section. We all just looked at each other, smiled smugly, and said: "Hmmph! Auer!"

October 27, 2006 at 02:29 PM · Ilya is going to say, "Where is Kogan now?"

October 27, 2006 at 08:10 PM · ilya, kevin, i'll respond to your posts tomorrow. no time right now -

October 27, 2006 at 09:21 PM · Kevin,

I was implying that most of today's violinists don't use the cut. Admittedly the cut is offensive.

A propos the script analogy...Most great directors write their own scripts or collaborate with the writers as the script is being written, thereby being part of creative process. Besides the distance from the written page of the music to performance is incomparably nearer than that of the written page of the script to a full-blown movie which incorporates camera work (50% of the movie IMO), photography, music etc. etc.


October 27, 2006 at 09:26 PM · Actually I'll tell you where Kogan is. He is in Moscow. I got really drunk with him couple of years ago.


October 27, 2006 at 10:05 PM · Hi folks,

By the way, I absolutely adore Kogan CD of the Tchaikovsky VC (EMI) with Silvestri (IMO - one of the very very best). Even if he did the Auer cuts & moving melodic lines an octave above, the Tchaikovsky VC sounds very much better than Heifetz & Oistrakh - he is technically very secure, passionate and very "Russian" in his wonderful version. That is my 20 cents worth of Kogan.

October 28, 2006 at 02:28 AM · IG wrote:

"I was implying that most of today's violinists don't use the cut. Admittedly the cut is offensive."

1. That most of TODAY's violinists don't use the cut doesn't mean FUTURE violinists won't or shouldn't. I am actually proposing that future violinists should consider doing a similar thing or something even more drastic as a direction for new interpretations. As a start, I think violinists should once again write their own cadenzas even for works that already had them written out by the composer.

2. To whom is the cut offensive? The composer has been dead for quite a while now. So my guess is that if people play the Auer version now (in concerts or on recordings), they might get chastised by the critics and/or their colleagues, particularly those scholars who think they know Tchaikovsky better than Auer did.

Back to the original question of the thread. If violinists start taking some liberties with the score, then live performances are going to be more interesting, exciting, and perhaps controversial than canned ones. But I don't think this will happen any time soon.

October 28, 2006 at 01:37 PM · Hi,

Kevin - I think rather this. If most players started doing what is in the music and the music implies in its original form with the conventions of the time, we would get far seemingly newer and refreshing perspectives than a lot of what is done.


P.S. I don't remember ever reading that Tchaikovsky sanctioned Auer's revisions.

October 28, 2006 at 06:03 PM · Casey Stengel, the great manager of the New York Yankees in their glory days of the 1950's, once said this, "Great hitting always beats great pitching....and vice-versa."

To paraphrase: "A great violinist's performance will always overshadow the composer's intentions...and vice-versa."

:) Sandy

October 29, 2006 at 09:54 PM · ilya, an interviewer playing szeryng during your interview was disrespectful. why wouldn't he just play your own version?

as far as szeryng's interpretation, remember he recorded his bach s&p before the period instrument movement caught on with performers. in szeryng's day, the performer stamped his style on the music. nowadays players strive to be pure channels. think of it as back then/SZERYNG's bach vs. today/ilya's BACH.

szeryng did the best he could but he was unaware of historic convention. give him a chance for his own level of development while recognizing that today we can do better.

October 29, 2006 at 11:16 PM · "in Szeryng's day, the performer stamped his style on the music. Nowadays players strive to be pure channels."

Not really, there are plenty of violinists these days putting their own personal stamps on the music they play. (Listen to Vengerov for heaven's sake...talk about a personal style.) The point of the studies in "period style" for baroque stuff isn't so performers can completely subjugate themselves to the Authentic Voice of the Composer speaking from beyond the grave--then everybody would sound the same, no matter how great it sounded, it would get boring after a while. :) The period-performance stuff is just about putting music in its proper context to better approach what the composer intended, but still leaving plenty of room for personal interpretation. Not everyone who played Bach in 19th-century style sounded the same as each other, did they? :)

October 29, 2006 at 11:36 PM · D_Wright,

Fair enough, but my question is: why should these interpretations be circulating now? OK, a litle radical - after all I just ignored the whole demand-supply thing, but really: what's the point?


October 30, 2006 at 01:25 AM · Incidentally, I've just run head-on into a decent analogy of those stylistic "guidelines" I've been referring to (I think it's about time I copyright this). Imagine an opening of an haute-cuisine restaurant in Alsace somewhere...After a couple of days it turns out that the steaks in this restaurant are cooked-through, unless requested otherwise. How much do you think this haute-cuisine restaurant will be in business?..I guess my point is that you could have a variety of sauces and marinades you can create to go with the meat, but the way to cook stays the same...

How profound, I am about to wet my pants


October 30, 2006 at 02:10 AM · This is quite a breakthrough for you Ilya... now you only wet your pants when your synapses have fired and you've strung together a metaphor or simile.

As for the violin, I think we have one of the worst instruments for performance. Teaching of the violin has gotten in the way of music. Orders of learning Concertos, standardized, rubber stamped bow technique etc. "Definitive recordings" has got to be the stupidest, most lazy and depressing idea I've ever heard. I stopped using that term a while ago and want to rip out my cortex everytime someone says it.

It's funny how good singers are at singing for the music. We violinists seem to want to play the violin well, and we choose something like the Brahms concerto to showcase what we've done for 55 hours a day. Lucky Brahms, he gets to show how special I am. F**k the music.

October 30, 2006 at 02:10 AM · I think there is a point to consider here when discussing Bach's music. Bach often transcribed his works for other instruments. I tend to feel that Bach's music is, to a certain degree and depending on the work, non-instrument-specific. So it is quite possible to approach his music based almost entirely on whatever principles that exist for performing baroque music (using Christian's words, the "original spirit" of the day) rather than the principles for playing a particular instrument. Using this approach, playing Bach on the modern violin will sound different from playing on period instruments.

October 30, 2006 at 03:20 AM · Nice analogy Ilya, but now you've made me hungry...

October 30, 2006 at 03:47 AM · Go have that horse filet mignon


October 30, 2006 at 03:57 AM · Who do you think I am, Attila the Hun? I'll stick to paprikás-csirke and (beef) goulash, thanks. :)

October 30, 2006 at 12:28 PM · Maura,

Actually, horse is quite good - much leaner and healthier than beef. Try it some day...


October 30, 2006 at 02:13 PM · Ilya - these interpretations should be circulating now for the same reason your interpretations should still be circulating 30 years from now. Even though you do not think so, they provide insight to violinists about the music. It also may be true that while your interpretation may provide superior insight, some people, even recognizing this, may nonetheless prefer to listen to the other interpretations.

October 30, 2006 at 03:23 PM · Christian,

Every time I walk by Horse in the super market I get this terrible feeling. I guess I'm very fussy but I could never even come close to putting that in my mouth, even if it did taste like leaner beef.

October 30, 2006 at 05:15 PM · I don't eat meat, but I do love to play Bach. And I love to hear Bach played in all sorts of different ways. One of the reasons that Bach is a great composer is the fact that his music holds up under all sorts of musical circumstances. We can't underestimate what we learn from scholarship and historically-informed performance practice, but we also can't dismiss interpretations people like Szeryng (I guess I should just say Szeryng's interpretations because there are no "people like Szeryng"), Joachim, Casals, or Busch because what they do is usually sound in itself. Imagine what either of the Mendelssohns would have sounded like playing Bach's Preludes and Fugues?

Also, as something to practice, who on this list doesn't immediately try out something technical that s/he has learned on solo Bach? Bach certainly has put up with a bunch of abuse and distortion in my house, but sometimes, for the moment, even silly ideas can work with Bach. He is the way we measure ourselves against ourselves. He always challenges us musically and intellectually.


October 30, 2006 at 05:27 PM · Elaine - well put.

October 30, 2006 at 05:22 PM · Ilya's analogy doesn't really apply here because there are two things that can be considered basic when it comes to interpretation. As I mentioned above, one can approach Bach's music STARTING from the generic point of view of the Baroque era or from the instrument-specific point of view. A better analogy would be pizza-making. Al forno antico? Or in the modern electric or gas oven? One can make good-tasting pizzas either way. But they will taste different. Can one call it wrong to make pizzas in an electric oven? Should people stop making pizzas in an electric oven?

October 30, 2006 at 06:22 PM · Hi,

Elaine - well put. It's funny, but to me, and my ears, Joachim's Bach (especially the G minor) Adagio sounds closer to performance practice than anything in between. Freedom within a strict pulse (therefore true rubato), simplicity, a grand structure, restraint in the use of portamenti, etc..

And Kevin, to respond to something earlier that you mentioned. I think that awareness of performance practice and conventions in phrasing, articulation, vibrato, rubato, agogic accents can reveal much about the structure of the music, its characters, even phrase markings and bowings. It really conveys something different. That is what I mean by original spirit. I found that personally easier to convey recently, even in 19th century music using heavy plain gut strings than with a modern setup. I think that this is what Ilya may be refering to by the use of the baroque bow in Bach. It doesn't mean that other interpretations are invalid, just that sometimes the means can give you insight into the character and world of sound that is different and closer to what the composer had in mind.


November 2, 2006 at 02:32 AM · It looks like Christian and I are saying the same thing, only I am being a little more passionate about it:)


Your analogy in fact does not apply, as pizza al forno antico could taste the same as the one made in electric oven. If anything. that's a decent analogy of period-instrument practice, but not performance practice...


November 2, 2006 at 03:32 AM · Ilya,

Traditional pizza ovens permit cooking at much higher temperatures than any commercial electric oven -- you really can't make an excellent traditional thin-crust pizza in a home kitchen.

By the way, I really enjoyed your Bach CD.

November 2, 2006 at 03:28 AM · "If anything. that's a decent analogy of period-instrument practice, but not performance practice..."

My analogy applies even in this case. Performance practice = cooking method. BTW, if you think al forno antico pizza can taste the same as electric oven pizza, then I think we have different sensitivities to pizza taste.

November 2, 2006 at 04:11 AM · I like the food analogies. A musical composition is the recipe and the violinist is the chef. Every cook puts a little of himself into the recipe and the end result is cuisine, haut or otherwise. If the music tastes good people will come back for more.

November 2, 2006 at 05:22 AM · Whene'er I take my pipe and stuff it

And smoke to pass the time away

My thoughts, as I sit there and puff it,

Dwell on a picture sad and grey:

It teaches me that very like

Am I myself unto my pipe.

Like me this pipe, so fragrant burning,

Is made of naught but earthen clay;

To earth I too shall be returning,

And cannot halt my slow decay.

My well used pipe, now cracked and broken,

Of mortal life is but a token.

No stain, the pipe's hue yet doth darken;

It remains white. Thus do I know

That when to death's call I must harken

My body, too, all pale will grow.

To black beneath the sod 'twill turn,

Likewise the pipe, if oft it burn.

Or when the pipe is fairly glowing,

Behold then instantaneously,

The smoke off into thin air going,

'Til naught but ash is left to see.

Man's fame likewise away will burn

And unto dust his body turn.

How oft it happens when one's smoking,

The tamper's missing from it's shelf,

And one goes with one's finger poking

Into the bowl and burns oneself.

If in the pipe such pain doth dwell

How hot must be the pains of Hell!

Thus o'er my pipe in contemplation

Of such things - I can constantly

Indulge in fruitful meditation,

And so, puffing contentedly,

On land, at sea, at home, abroad,

I smoke my pipe and worship God.

Johann Sebastian Bach - 1725 (1685-1750)

November 2, 2006 at 05:41 AM · The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.

-- Johann Sebastian Bach

November 2, 2006 at 12:48 PM · The aim and final end of all violin playing should be none other than the glory of Heifetz and the refreshment of the rosin.

:) Sandy

November 2, 2006 at 06:34 PM · ilya, i honestly don't know why past performances are preferred over modern ones in classical music. maybe it's because we as classical fans love to live in some idealized past.

as far as i'm concenred, szeryng and grumiaux did a lot right, a lot wrong, but you know what, so will we. scholarship and playing conventions change over time, it's a natural occurrence and in the future our standards will also change.

even within the period instrumental movement, the change is apparent. compare the older recordings of baroque violinists such as monica huggett, uto ughi, jaap schroder, etc. with the newer styles of andrew manze or giuliano carmignola and you'll realize the baroque violinists of the 00s has adopted a more extroverted, more virtuosic, more technically sophisticated, more effusive, and more daring (even swashbuckling) playing style than was common in the 70s and 80s when period instrumental performance was in its infancy. yesterday's careful reduced-dynamic playing and brisk tempi have given way to almost grunge-like loud/soft exclamations and seemingly haphazard catch-rubato. the result is that period instrumental baroque music has gone from sounding like a series of academic/cerebral harmonic etudes (i'm trying not to call it elevator music, but you know what i mean) to become a breathtaking and engrossing style all its own.

my point is that it doesn't make sense to judge old school players for what they didn't know based on today's standards. just chalk it up to szeryng and grumiaux's academic blindness. honestly, they did an admirable, even exceptional job with the knowledge they had at the time, especially when compared with the likes of heifetz who blood-sacrificed the S&P on the altar of his ego! and today, i'm sure that the period instrumentalists and scholars are still finding new discoveries that make them rethink their own preconceived ideas and presuppositions in early music performance.

November 2, 2006 at 08:08 PM · D Wright,

the word painting in your remark about Heifetz's Bach is exquisite. Bravo.

November 2, 2006 at 08:21 PM · Poor old Jascha; he always gets slammed for his Bach. But Heifetz was meticulous in his preparation and entirely faithful (within his aesthetic world) to the score. I've always thought that it was less his "ego" and need to show off that drove the man than his artistic vision of how the music should sound. If that vision is not in keeping with current knowledge and preferences, that does not make his Bach any the less a valid musical performance. Don't forget, Heifetz comes out of the era when there had been a hundred year tradition of taking all kinds of liberties with the music. By comparison to his era, Heifetz was a meticulous classisist. And, lest we forget, there are lots of people today who are thrilled by his Bach. It's funny, but we all say that Bach can be played a thousand different ways and transcribed for a thousand different instruments and instrumental combinations. Yet when it comes to Heifetz, we apply the most rigid musical guidelines, as if he is not entitled to the same leeway we give to everyone else. So maybe he plays Bach like he plays Tchaikovsky - so what. We have no trouble hearing Hubermann and Enescu and Menuhin and Joachim and Elman and Sarasate in their historical context. Why can't we listen to and appreciate Heifetz the same way?


November 2, 2006 at 09:16 PM · Well, but when the common parlance is that Heifetz is "The King of Violinists", a thousand times greater and a million steps above ALL the rest, I guess it makes sense that we would hold him to an absurdly high standard...

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