Advertising and Web Hosting on Woodwind.Org!

Klarinet Archive - Posting 000379.txt from 2002/02

From: Daniel Leeson <>
Subj: [kl] Spontaneity and other ephemera!
Date: Wed, 20 Feb 2002 12:26:52 -0500

Well, one cannot say that I did not wait patiently for some kind of a
response from Tony, though he has added some thoughtful points about the
matter of performer spontaneity. We were having a discussion (or at
least I thought we were) about the performer's view vs. the
musicologist's view of how one does certain things. There were a couple
of specifics but the bottom line is that we stalled before some central
questions were addressed. So let me see if I can let the clutch out and
restart this thing.

This subject represents some kind of a cultural clash, not between our
English brothers and the Americans, but between the performer and the
scholar (which is not to say that either party is incapable of doing the
work of the other). We are not the first ones to have this discussion,
either. For years there has been an abrasive situation with respect to
performers and musicologists, one that has, underneath all the niceties
of cultured and civilized people, created the following perspectives.

The performing musician is of the opinion that he is in a much better
position to decide on certain performance aspects of music. He or she
is on the front line daily, rehearsal times are limited, the amount of
spontaneity engendered by discussion is restricted by rehearsal time
limitations, the customers are not necessarily happy when a great deal
of deviation from the traditional approach occurs, and there is a quota
on the number of holy wars permissible in any concert season. So when
an issue arises about how to play this or that in a precise way, the
performer, with really a set of valid reasons, takes the pragmatic
approach. "I like it this way," or equally frequently, "It sounds
better this way."

[A moment's deviation, please. I first heard that expression when
rehearsing a performance of the c minor wind serenade with the Lincoln
Center chamber players sometime around 1965. At that very moment, I was
editing the work for the New Mozart edition so I thought I knew what
Mozart wrote. I may not have known what he meant, but I sure as hell
knew what he wrote. In the first movement there is an alberti bass
second clarinet part (which is what I was playing) and despite the B&H
edition's directions to slur the passage, I tongued it because that is
what Mozart wrote in the manuscript. The contractor (who was a
brilliant first bassoonist and who had been playing that work at the
time that my level of musicial sophistication included the Lustspiel
overture for band) stopped us cold and said to me, "Please slur that
passage." I should have shut up. Instead I responded, "but I am only
playing what the manuscript requests," to which responded, "No, it
sounds better my way." I should have killed him right then and there,
but I said, "OK," and off we went. Now back to the main thread.]

The musicologist, on the other hand, is often a neurotic who doesn't
play enough and who, if s/he could really do it, would rather be on the
firing line playing Mahler all day, than sitting back trying to figure
out what this or that squiggle means from that period of music.
However, one benefit of not being on the firing line is that one has a
great deal of time to really research a subject, to contemplate the
issues deeply, and to arrive at a conclusion without the pressure of
time caused by the imminence of a performance scheduled that evening in
between two other performances on the other side of town.

The performing musician thinks of the musicologist as a person in an
ivory tower (sometimes badly stated as "an ivory sewer"), far removed
from reality, and probably not equipped musically or intellectually to
make it in the performing world.

The musicologist thinks of the performing musician as having a set of
mechanical skills but no depth. The word used most often is "a putz."
Playing a piece 30 times does not give one any knowledge other than how
the tunes go, so don't think you know all about this piece simply
because you have played it a lot of times. On occasion, the more you
play a work, the less you really know about how to play it properly.

To some degree, both have right on their side. But the most stressful
of all performance/musicologic issues arise when the musicologist says,
"Here is hard evidence on how to do it," while the performer says,
"That's not convincing and I don't like it that way."

On one hand, the musicologist is thought of saying things such as, "To
play that section properly, one must be dressed in monks clothes with
burlap undergarments, be seated no closer than 2.7 feet from the nearest
instrumentalist, use a pitch of A@-----.3
degrees Celsius, and breathe through the nose. "

The performer says, "All repeats first time through. No repeats on the
Da Capo. Play all grace notes on the beat, mordents from the lower
note, and let's kick some ass."

Ah, the world of the theoretic meets the world of the practical.

That is the general environment that Tony and I were discussing. Make
no mistake. I think of Tony as a very thoughtful and compromising
musician. He really thinks. He is willing to change his mind given
some evidence. And he uses serious logic in trying to find answers to
complex questions. He is, despite his shift in occupation, a
mathematician as am I. I like Tony as a person and think of him as a
friend. I also enjoyed playing with him when he conducted the San Diego
Symphony and I was invited to play. We had a hell of a time and I
cooked a "choucroute au champagne" which we both ate with gusto.

But when the sun sets, Tony is first and foremost a performing musician
(a very good thing to be, by the way), and he prefers instinct above
most other approaches to musical problem solving.

We were talking about the elimination of a measure in the Gran Partitta,
and it is a very good practical case to use to illustrate these issues.
(By the way, for those who object to my spelling of "Gran Partitta, get
used to and don't make fun of it!) Colin Lawson (a splendid player, a
competent and thoughtful musicologist, an excellent and prolific writer,
and a good researcher has concluded that he does not want to do the
section under discussion the way I think Mozart intended it to be done.
Well there is nothing wrong with that. I was not voted as supreme deity
on this matter, and he has every right to reject any suggestions I make.

But there is a caveat involved and he is not following the rules. He
needs to have at least one valid objective reason for rejecting the
suggestion. It should be factual, not subjective, and it may not
include any variations of the phrase, "Your arguments are not
convincing" unless strong objective evidence is given in defense of that
assertion. Unfortunately, when there are objective arguments against a
musicological suggestion, the easiest thing to do is to say, "Your
arguments are not convincing." But that dog no longer hunts!

Alternatively, if he can give clear evidence that the rationale for my
decision is flawed in a precise technical way, that is 1000 times better
than the unconvincing "not convincing" argument. For example, if I
were to say that "Mozart never did that thing, so you shouldn't either,"
he could then demonstrate that there is a place where Mozart did that
very thing. I would go down the tubes and that's cool. I should for
being so stupid.

After almost 10 years of work, I came up with a series of technical
reasons why measure 111 of the Gran Partitta's 5th movement should not
be played despite 200 years of playing the work with that measure
included. I published a paper on the subject entitled "The Gran
Partitta's Mystery Measure" in the 1991 Mozart Jahrbuch. Colin read
the paper. I know he did because he made a contribution to a published
book in which made reference to the matter and it appeared to me,
reading between the lines, that he found the arguments solid. But I
must have been wrong because, in performance, he rejects the approach.
And the reasons? I'm stepping off the cliff because I'm trying to
figure out what they are from Tony's comments but I think that he simply
is in disagreement with what I insist is a technically irrefutable

That's OK. I wouldn't accept such a suggestion casually either. But
what are his specific technical objections. (Remember, no "not
convincings." Only objective assessments.) Tony in discussing the
matter offered the view that the inclusion of the measure doesn't ruin a
performance of it, to which I agree. It was played that way
(incorrectly) for two centuries, so no one can argue that its continued
inclusion would ruin a performance. But what kind of a bankrupt
argument is that? That something is technically incorrect but does not
destroy a performance is no reason to keep it. For that remark alone,
the next time he is a guest at my house, I won't feed him, or else I'll
serve him an American version of bangers and mash, which will kill or
maim any serious English stomach!

And so the clash of the performing musician (which is very much what I
think I am, or was) and the musicologist (which is very much what I
think I was, and am) continues, without resolution, without substantive
discussion, without conclusion.

Oh, I'll win this one. It may take another 25 years of people getting
used to it, but there is no doubt that Colin will some day greet me in
heaven with an apology. Tony will be there, too, but he will still
mumble something about spontaneity and the right of the performing
musician, at which point I will break his plastic reed, something that
will require him to go to Lampassas, Texas for another. Now that is

And Mozart will come out of the heavenly bowling alley where he is
writing another trio while playing ninepins and say, "You guys,"
(speaking to Lawson and Pay), "are a bunch of gaulimaulis. Leeson was
absolutely right in his interpretation of what I wrote, and while you
had a right to reject it, you had no right to do so without a
responsible reason why you were rejecting it. All you guys did was to
huff and puff about the immortal rights of the performer and the
necessity for spontaneity, as if those alone were sufficient to reject
hard facts. Both of you should be required to play tenor sax in a rap
back-up group for all eternity."

And then Mozart and I will go off for a beer while he speaks to me about
a new quintet for basset horn and string quartet that he is writing for
me alone, and Pay and Lawson will turn blue with envy. As I depart, I
give both men the finger! Spontaneity my ass. Now that's an argument
that is unconvincing.
** Dan Leeson **
** **


     Copyright © Woodwind.Org, Inc. All Rights Reserved    Privacy Policy    Contact