Klarinet Archive - Posting 000553.txt from 2002/09

From: Tony@-----.uk (Tony Pay)
Subj: [kl] Composer/Performer or Notation/Performance?
Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2002 11:18:41 -0400

On Tue, 24 Sep 2002 23:41:33 -0700 (PDT), w9wright@-----.net said:

> Various people on the list have explained to me frequently (during the
> last couple of years) that a musician can obey what's printed and still
> play the music in their own unique way ("make it their own").
> The argument, I suppose, is where to draw the boundary --- namely,
> whether the musician's goal is only to 'shade' the composer's intent
> and thereby add a personal flavor (similar to adding just a pinch more
> spice to a stew) or whether the musician's goal to really follow their
> own spirit without reservation.

Perhaps this picture of yours is an opportunity to explain in another
way what people have been saying to you.

When you use the 'analytical knife' to divide the world up -- Greek ana-
(throughout) -leusis (loosen, break up) -- and then discuss the
relationships between the parts you've created, you sometimes obtain a
useful insight, and sometimes you don't, depending on where you've made
the cut. Notice that the cut isn't actually *there* -- it's created by
the act of analysis.

Your metaphor wields the analytical knife in order to divide the
performance into two aspects: 'the composer's intent' and 'your personal
flavour'. So it looks like there are two people involved, who might or
might not be on an equal footing in the matter.

I contend that this division isn't a natural one for most 'written down'
compositions (though it might be for a collaboration between composer
and performer). The 'cut' doesn't fall over a useful or naturally
occurring separation in the reality of the situation. In fact, it's a
division that causes more confusion than it dispels. You're left with
three questions: how do you determine the composer's intent; how do you
determine the nature of your personal flavour; and how do you relate the

A more natural stroke of the analytical knife divides 'the notation'
from 'the performance'.

Then, the first part of your enquiry is: what is the meaning of the
notation? Determining that might involve a knowledge of period
conventions, of the composer's other music, what he said about music,
and so on. Having found out what you can about what the signs he wrote
on the page meant, you then want to know the general character of the
relationship between 'the notation' and the performance.

As you know, my answer to that is that the performance deals with the
notation as though it were a snapshot of something alive.
(Interestingly, Stravinsky said of these pieces that they were
'snapshots of improvisations'.) Then, the question is, how does the
notation want to be alive?

That brings you, the music and your performance together in a deeper way
than just saying that at the time, you happened to be holding a clarinet
whilst standing in front of a copy of a piece that the audience expected
you to play.

Otherwise, spitting on the floor would count as a performance of the

Notice that this way of looking at the situation includes the notion
that, in some contexts, extramusical actions might be part of a piece.
I once played a performance of an ensemble piece by Kagel during which
it came to me that I should burst into tears on stage and stop playing.
When I did so, covering my face with my hands, I felt a consoling arm
round my shoulders for a moment.

At the end, my colleagues told me that it was Kagel, who had got down
from the rostrum himself.

By the way, a wonderful book including a discussion of many of these
questions is 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' by Robert
Pirsig. You can find the entire text online at:


_________ Tony Pay
|ony:-) 79 Southmoor Rd Tony@-----.uk
| |ay Oxford OX2 6RE http://classicalplus.gmn.com/artists
tel/fax 01865 553339

..... Modem, said the gardener when he'd finished the lawns..


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