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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000786.txt from 1999/09

From: Tony@-----.uk (Tony Pay)
Subj: [kl] Features, styles and the Copland concerto
Date: Fri, 24 Sep 1999 05:20:52 -0400

On Wed, 22 Sep 1999 22:36:43 -0400, webler@-----.net said:

> On the recording by Benny Goodman that section was played straight and
> short. The Bass was being plucked very hard. I was surprised to hear
> it played this way since Benny was the "King of Swing". Copland was
> the conductor, so maybe he had some influence.

To fully solve this problem -- if it is a problem (I never understood
why it should be a problem) -- it's helpful to realise that 'swing' is
an element of a style. It is not a foreground feature.

I have to explain what I mean by 'element of a style' and 'foreground
feature', and why they are different. Since I'm a classical player,
I'll do it with reference mainly to classical music, and particularly to
music of the classical period. But it applies to jazz too.

The various elements of a particular style are those things that
predominate (or at least occur frequently) in a performance or piece
that is of that style. They are there 'normally'. They are also
*treated* normally by the players -- in other words, the players don't
make a big deal of them.

But in most music, there are other events that are more particular, more
unusual. These are 'foreground features', and they achieve their
particularity by *contrast* with what is normal.

Both things are needed.

There is a 'normal' way of playing classical music, for example. This
normal way of playing constitutes one part of the 'classical' style. It
is essentially simple, though difficult to describe.

The rhythmic style includes three elements: firstly the metrical
element, which deals with the hierarchy of the bar, including the
emphasis of the barline; secondly the phrasing element, which deals with
the 'speaking' (and thus beginning emphasis) of the phrases, overriding
the metrical component when the two conflict; and thirdly the harmonic
element.

These elements interact 'normally' to produce the rhythmic patterns of
the style.

The other aspect of the music that we need is achieved, here, by
temporarily exaggerating one or more elements of the style so that the
music that embodies them stands out as a foreground feature. And there
are also other events -- like 'messa di voce', sostenuto and cumulative
crescendo -- that may single out particular notes or phrases for
attention.

The problem of performing a classical piece is thus largely one of
achieving

(1) the balance between the stylistic elements that create what is
'normal' (harder for us than for players of the time, naturally,
because we have less playing contact with the style)

(2) a meaningful and expressive balance between foreground features and
this normal background.

The beauty and economy of the whole system as exemplified in the music
of Haydn, Mozart and their contemporaries rests on the fact that all the
individual lines are then heard, yet blend into an expressive whole.

When the later classical composers, like Beethoven and Brahms, found
that they wanted to have control over the nature and degree of the
foreground features, and to make them more eventful, thus upping the
'quirk quotient', they started to write in things like dynamics,
accents, crescendi and diminuendi to a much greater degree. But the
underlying style remained the same.

All this isn't really as complicated as it sounds, and you can quickly
catch on if you are musical, play the instrument well and have a chance
to play classical music with expert performers. This is true even
though we have inbuilt 'normal' structures (like trying to make phrases
'go somewhere' locally) that are more appropriate to later music.

And if you're sensitive, you can quickly catch on to how written out
jazz works too. (Learning to improvise is a different story, of
course.) In fact the classical style and the jazz style have many
structures in common. 'Swing', an element of style in some jazz,
doesn't really belong in the classical style, but it is prefigured to
some extent in the 'inegal' of earlier music.

Now, why am I saying all this?

It's because I want to go on to make clear that what is an element of
one style, and is part of normal playing in that style, often stands out
as a foreground feature in another style.

For example, there was a time when vibrato was more of a foreground
feature in string playing. Joachim counselled that vibrato was to be
used for 'special' notes. Kreisler was the first virtuoso to make
vibrato an integral part of his playing style, vibrating even in
passagework. Nowadays (unfortunately, in my view) incessant vibrato is
an element of commonly accepted violin style.

In the other direction, portamento (sliding between notes) was an
element of string playing style in the early years of this century.
Nowadays it is used as a foreground feature; and when it is *played*
like a foreground feature, it can make (for example) the music of Mahler
sound very strange. To work well in that context, it needs to be done
*as a part of the style*, ie, normally, automatically.

The problem of style is a large one for modern composers. In general,
they can't rely on their performers having any particular 'normal' way
of playing that corresponds to the richness of the classical style.
Mostly they used the battery of markings at their disposal --
the hairpins, dynamics, dots, dashes, wedges and so on that were
available to Beethoven -- in order to make their stylistic intentions
explicit.

But when stylistic elements are specified by these markings, the
markings cannot then be used to indicate foreground features.
Everything is collapsed into one level.

In my view, this has been an important loss. The foreground/background
structure is necessarily weakened, and many performers who don't
understand the value of that structure become players who play
'interestingly' all the time. They are, unfortunately, nonetheless --
in fact, *therefore* -- very boring, even if they could be said to be
following all the composer's instructions.

How about Copland?

I would say that Copland shows himself, in his markings, to be aware
of this danger. In "Appalachian Spring", he sets a folk tune called
"The gift to be simple", and he often writes instructions like 'plainly'
and 'simply'. And 'simple', for Copland, is pretty much what 'simple'
is for Mozart, I would say. He is an essentially classical composer,
with high regard for clarity of line and texture.

How about the Clarinet concerto?

In writing this piece for Goodman, Copland wanted to use Goodman's
already highly sophisticated clarinet playing style in some way. And
the very clever way that he did that was to use a particular sort of
basic material and gradually transform and develop it within his own
compositional style in a way that *generated the fundamental elements of
Goodman's style*. So at the end of the process the music belonged
simultaneously to both worlds.

This process: 'new material; development; reclamation yet celebration of
jazz style' occurs several times in the course of the Concerto. It is
overlaid by other developmental techniques, but you can trace the
essential blueprint.

But notice: *control of the foreground features* is still always
Copland's! In this way, he avoids being taken over by the jazz idiom.

How about the passage in question? (Let's call it 'passage Q'.)

This passage is a very clear example of the process I have been
describing. So it starts with material that lives within Copland's
style, but that will generate some elements of Goodman's style when
developed.

But within Copland's style, *'swing' is not a stylistic element*. So
quite apart from the questionability of suddenly not playing what the
composer has written, if in passage Q we suddenly apply it, *the 'swing'
takes on the status of a foreground feature*. And the 'taste' of this
sudden, unprepared jazz feature is a very strong one. In my view, a
performer who applies it in this way hasn't understood Copland's
technique. I would go so far as to say that to do so is to risk
destroying the unity of the Concerto.

If on the other hand you play passage Q as written, you can see the jazz
inflections creep into the music gradually and incrementally. The
passage starts with two one-bar phrases, truncated into two half-bar
phrases, further curtailed into a surprise jazz-like downbeat
anticipation. This anticipation is maintained in the next phrases, (as
it must be if in the end it is to be a stylistic element); the initial
heavy bass punctuations double speed and turn into a walking bass; the
arpeggios are filled in in the clarinet part; grace notes are added, and
we get into uptempo gear and use the upper register.

Then suddenly, we're back at the beginning, including the slow offbeat
bass syncopations. And as a joke, finally, the clarinet swings the
arpeggio without the bass noticing -- (s)he wakes up with the final
sforzando!

Another reason for playing what's written is that the beginning of the
passage is thematic over a longer range. If you swing it, you lose the
rhythmic aspect of the relationship with this instance of it and its
other occurrences later in the piece.

Goodman was the 'King of Swing'; but as well as that, he was no fool.
He was well aware of different styles, and how the stylistic norms of
his own music were different from the stylistic norms of other music --
as is shown by his courageous act of taking lessons to improve his
playing of that other music. (That he was perhaps less successful in
this other music than he was in his own can hardly be held against him,
given his superlative talent in his own field.)

I would say that it's not at all surprising that Goodman understood that
the beginning of that passage wasn't to be swung. I think that swinging
it in a way demeans Goodman's intelligence, not to mention Copland's.
(I don't mean that too seriously, but I have yet to hear it made to work
by *anybody*, swung.)

And don't be intimidated by news that some people 'teach it that way'.
I bet they don't, in fact. They're probably just trying to get their
students to think for themselves, but have to give them *something* to
start with.

But you do what you want;-)

Tony
--
_________ Tony Pay
|ony:-) 79 Southmoor Rd Tony@-----.uk
| |ay Oxford OX2 6RE GMN family artist: www.gmn.com
tel/fax 01865 553339

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