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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000471.txt from 2010/11

From: "Keith Bowen" <>
Subj: Re: [kl] Hall's "Exposed by the Mask"; scansion, metre, performance
Date: Sat, 27 Nov 2010 13:56:56 -0500

Thanks, Tony. That post's a keeper, to be read and re-read.


-----Original Message-----
From: Tony Pay []
Sent: 27 November 2010 17:16
To: The Klarinet Mailing List
Subject: [kl] Hall's "Exposed by the Mask"; scansion, metre, performance

Though the idea of not 'messing about' with texts is something that comes
into the discussion in Peter Hall's "Exposed by the Mask", that was not
primarily what I was appreciating in it.

Hall is concerned with how actors 'speak' Shakespeare's verse; this has
resonances with me because I am concerned with how performers 'speak'
classical music. I have become more and more aware of that concern in my
own performance, and I see how it needs support in the musical world in
general -- as does Hall see how his concerns need support in the world of

It's why I'm dismissive of interpretative editions of the Mozart concerto,
because they are forced to use the language of crescendo and diminuendo in
order to produce any sort of editorial emendation, and that language is
wholly inappropriate to the style, which relies on the modulation of
underlying, unwritten norms. It's also why I'm dismissive of Keith Koons's
article comparing various editions, the sole effect of which is to lend
undeserved credibility to those editions, and why Etheridge's descriptive
book about how various 'legendary' players have performed the piece is
irrelevant to any serious musician.

The background to Shakespeare's verse is the structure of iambic pentameter.
The background to Mozart's music is the structure of the bar and the
structure of the phrase, and their interaction.

Hall says:

"Shakespeare inherited the iambic pentameter as something naturally English
and, by emulation and imitation, he was clearly appropriating Marlowe's
mighty line, lyrical and bombastic by turn. But he transformed it, made out
of it something infinitely flexible and infinitely varied. Yet the form
which stands in contrast to this freedom is always there. That is its NORM
[my capitals]:

De-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM de-DUM.

"...By the time Shakespeare is in his maturity -- the time of the great
tragedies and even more, by the late plays -- he has a freedom in verse
which is perfectly miraculous. Leontes' twisted passion and paranoia is
accurately expressed by his clotted, irregular rhythms and mis-accents. But
these irregularities only make emotional sense and can only affect and
audience if the actor knows the underlying regularity beneath them...he must
not give up forcing the line to scan: that tension is an expression of his

"...It is always a shock to remember that Shakespeare's verse is his leanest
and quickest means of communication. His verse does not represent
"poetics". It is not poetry; for him it is the equivalent of ordinary
speech. Artificiality is expressed by the prose -- it is always more
formal, antithetical and ornate...[prose] is never natural speech: it is
artificial. Natural speech is portrayed by the verse -- economical, fleet,
often using the simplest of words so that the images when they occur may by
contrast burn more brightly."

This relationship of the expressive to the Normal is precisely what I
maintain is the source of the power of Mozart's music when it is

Bar hierarchy and phrase structure are things we need to understand in our
playing, just as an actor needs to understand the scansion. That's because
they aren't there at all unless we decide to have them there. And both of
them, bar hierarchy and phrase structure, are about how things BEGIN.

So here's how that works out in music: how much we decide to represent bar
and phrase can be an important vehicle both of expressive and of what I've
called Normal playing. And if in Normal playing the bars are merely being
'noticed' by the player as the music ticks along in an everyday way, then
different characters are still available as a result of how precisely the
'noticing' is done.

Even everyday days aren't all alike.

It's important to realise that a stylistic structure is ALWAYS PRESENT
somehow, even if it isn't being expressed. The structure of the barline,
which gives an importance of some sort to the first beat of a bar, sometimes
defers to a phrase and therefore isn't on that occasion expressed; and very
often, even if it IS being expressed, it needs to be only slightly in
evidence -- sometimes hardly at all. Nevertheless, there is a big
difference between playing in which barline structure is implicit, and
playing in which barline structure is IGNORED.

That contrasts with the fact that there are other musical structures that we
don't need to show so much, because they are there in the music already.
One that applies to a single line is TESSITURA (how the line moves between
higher and lower notes); one that applies more generally is HARMONY.

A common romantic attitude to tessitura is to say, along with Casals, that
as a melody rises in pitch, it should get louder; and as it descends in
pitch, it should get quieter. Players of romantic tendency can easily think
that this holds in classical music too.

But in classical music it's usually quite wrong. For example, as a scale
rises through a bar, it Normally lightens at the end to allow the beginning
of the next bar to be shown. And in fact, classical composers quite often
write high notes towards the ends of bars to ensure that they are heard in
what is stylistically a weak metrical position, and towards the ends of
phrases to ensure that they are heard in what is stylistically a weak
rhythmic position. Playing these high notes louder, and especially
crescendoing to them, interferes with the metre and/or the rhythm.

With regard to the other structure, harmony: a player who harbours romantic
tendencies will commonly make an instinctive movement towards harmonic
tension. This often generates an unwanted local crescendo, contra the
style. If a player particularly wishes to underline a harmony, it's usually
best to do so following the model of an appoggiatura, rather than the model
of a crescendo. You could say that the difference between the two ways of
playing music, romantic and classical, is that the romantic way is always
LOOKING FOR points of harmonic tension; whereas the classical way COMES
UPON, SHOWS and then if necessary RESOLVES points of harmonic tension. This
is of course what appoggiaturas do.

Avoiding doing too much with tessitura and harmony leaves affect or emotion
to be shown by the modulation of beginnings and by phrase-shapes -- as in

Hall says, after analysing some passages of Shakespeare's verse, "This text
discipline, combined with a sense of the spoken word and an understanding of
the acted word, is something that is always needed as part of the reading of

I would say that the discipline of being aware of bar-structure and
phrase-structure is always needed as part of the reading of Mozart and other
classical composers.


Tony Pay
79 Southmoor Rd
Oxford OX2 6RE
tel/fax +44 1865 553339
mobile +44 7790 532980

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