You are here

Sunday, January 1, 2012

This is a non-article, and I am not a musicologist. In fact the only reason this is in English is because I don’t have Hebrew on my Mac. I don’t intend to be precise; on the contrary, precision is exactly what this article is against. I will tell you that now: these are my personal private ideas, which aren’t necessarily empirical. Now we can all settle down, and begin.
From Bridge and Door, an article by Georg Simmel:
The men who first laid out a road between two places accomplished one of the greatest of feats. By coming and going between the two they may have linked them subjectively in a manner of speaking, but those places were not objectively joined until they had impressed the Road onto the surface of the earth: the will to connection had become the Form of things.
People from a village went by day in order to get to the big city. Or maybe it was people from the big city who came to the village to visit their families? Whatever the reason, it is clear that the personal subjective motives were the reason for people leaving one place in order to go to another. Establishing the road gave the matter its objective form. The subjective will, the personal private story, became the form of things. Imagine the day after the road was being created. New people suddenly used it. People who did not have the will before, found it now thanks to the road. The form creates the will. The form of things can encourage our will or curiosity, but in order to create something that did not exist before one must have a subjective, personal will.  
Mozart’s writing technique was and still is one of world’s greatest mysteries. It is a known fact that Mozart “got” the music from his mind and “dictated” it to the paper. Evidence shows that almost no sketching work was being done during his creative work. I do not intend to imply that the writing method is better or more creative than other ways, such as Brahms’s or Beethoven’s. What is certain is that this way can help us track the essence of the musical intuition or basics.
Beethoven is well known as the hard working composer. He wrote thousands of sketches and composed his pieces rigorously. With this method of writing, there is one thing that is evident for me: During the process of composing, a lot of “outside” influences got into the work. Whether for good or bad, the intuition and pure musicality of Beethoven must have been interfered with by ‘over thinking’, intelligence or musical theory. Since Mozart is the only example we know of a composer who wrote and composed simultaneously, his compositions can be our ‘Petri dish’. I would like to repeat again, this is not a pristine, perfect article. The only thing that interests me is an understanding of the basic ideas or laws of music-making through Mozart’s inner hearing, and since Mozart’s compositions are the less-influenced compositions, they offer the perfect examples.
To me, the most interesting thing of the conductor’s work is the leading quality. Leading is the evidence of musical thinking since this is what makes music to be. Music as art living in time has to lead us; has to lead itself in order to travel in time. The leading quality of a piece is what defines its quality. The more leading layers to a composition, the more complicated our work as conductors.
In order to begin, I would like to take articulation as our first example.
In Mozart’s time, articulation writing was not as developed as later but was also not the same. In fact it was maybe Wagner who first composed considering articulation as part of his composing language. Nevertheless the few articulation indications that we do have can help us track some of Mozart’s ideas. At this point, I should divide articulation into two main groups: written articulation and instrumental articulation. Some of you might already ask what is instrumental articulation, isn’t in orchestration? So the answer is that it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that we understand the deep essence of articulation not only as some printed marks of staccato or an accent. The simplest leading articulation is legato. What is legato? How do we create legato? Why? (This I can’t answer, it just felt right). In his article on the Wagnerian sound, Daniel Barenboim defines his ideas regarding the legato. Legato means that in every moment and every parameter, one note is connected to another. If we have a quarter C that goes to a quarter D, in order to make it sound legato we have to take care that the end of the C and the beginning of the D have the same qualities. The same dynamic might be the simplest one to notice but we can also think about articulation or harmonic intentions as parameters of leading. Now is the place for you to ask, what is the difference between leading and legato? Leading is the name of the family, legato is only one child. Legato is an articulation, leading is supposed to be in each of the musical parameters. The leading quality of a piece can be created in the breaks (for example, Coriolan Overture, where the empty bars create a leading silent from one harmony to another. In a way the breaks are the most articulated moments of these first bars.)  Let’s have a look at the first bars of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet.
But before we do that, please don’t mistake this article as a music theory article. The goal of this article is to help you develop your inner hearing and your work with sound.
Now back to Mozart. The first four bars are rhythmic unisons. In bar 5 (without first violin) the half’s become quarters with breaks. Bar 6 an eight note break with 3 eight notes and in bar 7 enters the clarinet. In bar 8 clarinet leads back to first theme while strings make an accent on the first beat with a dominant chord. Leave the harmony out for a moment and try to feel the rhythmical leading of the first 6 bars. (When reading this article, please work only with the recordings without the written score as we try to deal with sound and not with analysis.)
Half-half, h-h, q-q-q-q, h-h, q-break-q-break, b-eee-b-eee,q-b-b-b…
Can you feel Mozart’s musicality only by these rhythms? Can you see the logic behind it? I don’t want to analyze the musical logic behind it because I believe it is clear. What I would like us to understand is the leading qualities of this rhythmic example. Something in Mozart’s inside hearing told him that two halves that lead to four quarters need to go back to halves again before being divided into smaller units. What does that mean?
First, the most evident thing is that rhythm must have its own musical leading. It doesn’t mean that it always has; it means that you must always look for it and make it sound. (Don’t forget that we question this piece agreeing that Mozart had the purest way of writing.) Mozart tells us another very important thing. (The accent in bar 8 is the clue.)
After the process I just described to you, Mozart felt the need to put an accent on the 8th bar (the bar that leads back to the main theme). This accent helps us determine another quality of the leading. Rhythm is not alone!
I will explain. His musicality made him add another musical parameter, an accent, in order to express better his rhythm leading. This accent looks back seven bars. It is not there by chance; it is there because it was needed by Mozart’s musicality. When judging some articulation indications, such as an accent, we always have to look for the reason in the past. I know it sounds a bit too spiritual, but yes, articulation can have a past, like all other musical parameters. Since music is a time-art we must understand that from the moment the music starts a world of time-terms is being opened. The music is an acoustic translation of the time. (What make me even more curious are indications on the first note of a piece, indicating that the past is not evident to us…) How does the accent help us to understand the leading?
I think now we can already define an interesting aspect of the leading. It is the road. It is what connects two parameters. The leading must exist between the harmony and the articulation, the articulation and the dynamic, the dynamic and the form, etc.
If you look again at the first 8 bars of the piece, we can see how things got to a point where an accent was needed. Now we can add the harmony. Without going into detailed analysis, I would describe the first 8 bars:
Tonic, sub-dominant, suB-dOmiNant, soft tonic, sub-dominant, small-dominant, tonic, doMMMINANT…
Now we should try to put the two elements together: Rhythm and Harmony. Is it clearer why he needed the accent? The accent is there for a few evident reasons. The first is to emphasize the dominant chord, the second is to phrase the eighth bar as the leading bar to the theme. The third and the last that I will give you (but you are free to think of others of your own), is a development of the rhythm. Articulation as a development of rhythmic and harmonic fragments is one aspect of the leading. Musical parameters always communicate one with another. As the composition language developed and became more complex, the communication levels became more hidden. Leading? Yes, parameters and communication layers are on the paper. Leading is what we eventually hear. Understanding the leading qualities is what makes things sound different. Yes, life is complicated.
We should never take things written in the score for granted. Things are there because the composer wanted them to be there. Brahms in one of his letters talks about his second symphony. He writes that on the first movement on bar 33, he thought of putting horns but eventually he changed it to trombones because he thinks those describe better his dark or depressed personality. This is an outstanding example! We must never take a symphony as something written in a book. We must always remember that everything written in the score is there because the composer wanted it to be there. It sounds simple, but when you learn the score in this way, things appear much more complicated. Another small thing we have already understood is that articulation can be a result of a musical intuition (based on rhythmic and harmonic environments?) or as a development of the music’s “past”.
At this point I would like to emphasize: Leading is not something written in the score. It is my way to take a musical parameter and translate it into sound. Try to look again at Mozart’s first 8 bars and see whether you are able to make it sound in different ways. Try to see if the leading qualities of the rhythm help you understand better what bowings you would have asked the musicians to use. Try to hear in which dynamic should the clarinet enter on bar 8 (I don’t mean the written dynamic, I mean the real acoustic sound). This is a small and narrow example, I am sure you could now go and examine also bar number 9 and many other parameters. If you are interested in horizontal leading, go Bach. Vertical leading? Maybe R. Strauss. Orchestration leading – Schoenberg… 
Comment: Acoustic context is a very crucial thing. We all know that a pianissimo can be translated in many different ways. A forte is louder then the pianissimo, but how? Or how much? One must have in his imagination the dynamic context in each moment of the piece. We must recognize the dynamic as a vivid and developing parameter as much as the harmony or the form. The acoustic dynamic is different from the written one. The acoustic one has a past, has a future, must consider the form and must be considered by us as an instrument of leading.
I hope you are ready because now we are getting to the most complex and interesting musical parameter. The beat. Pulse? Common denominator? Rhythmical context? How does the leading appear in the beat? How do we make a beat sound?
Comment: I don’t care for metronome indications. The absolute number does not matter. What matters is that the relations between the parts will remain. For example, if the composer asks for quarter=134 and a few bars after there is an indication quartet=70, for me it means that it should be a bit faster then half tempo.
In Verdi’s Requiem there is a very interesting beat indication. The Requiem and the Dies Irae have the same metronome indication. (You can read about the symbolism and significance of Verdi’s Requiem in my other non-article: “Libera me, or maybe not?”) It means that when you start conducting the piece you must have in mind your tempo idea of the Dies Irea, then you can give the beat to the orchestra. Leading is evident. This way, without even getting into one detail you have already established a very fundamental thing: by having the same beat you lead one movement to another. Verdi makes sure that the leading qualities of these two movements (regarding the tempo) are “secured”. He created a road.
The leading of the beat is what makes in this case the rhythm of the two movements. This is by no means a technical detail. The beat is for you to choose, than you must follow it. Maybe it is only me, but I find this really exciting. Putting my agitation aside, one thing is clear: the beat plays a fundamental leading role in the form-sound of a piece. This is not new to you, I am sure giving the beat is maybe the first thing a conductor must learn, but doesn’t it make your beat decision much more serious? Leave Verdi for a moment and try to understand the second step of this example.
Our beat or our choosing process has a crucial influence on the sound of the piece’s form. By recognizing the leading of a beat you can help the piece form itself when it arrives at the listeners’ ears.
Comment: a sonata form will always be a sonata form. You can play it slow or fast; it will remain a sonata form. The leading of the form, the sound of it, the communication between the elements of the form – all that is up to your ability to lead the beat along with other parameters. Leading is a very personal thing. Each one of us will lead things differently or will recognize the best leading beat in a different way. Thank god.
Back to the beat. I guess you already understood from my last comment or from your own considerations that the beat can be changed. But I think before we go into changing the beat, we should first define it.
The Philosopher: A pulse? Yes. Is it the music’s pulse? Without it the music dies but the opposite doesn’t really work. Does it sound if you only beat your hands? No. So a beat can exist without the music. Does it have a meaning without the music? Does it exist in the score? Or maybe it becomes the pulse only when we need to realize the score, only when we need to make it sound?
The Psychologist: A common denominator. The beat is what unites all the elements in the score. All notes are created equal? No. The beat is actually the only thing that all the elements in the score have in common. (The Philosopher: That and the composer, naturally.) Think about it. In order to make the music sound and in order to make it communicate with the listener, the score must have a common denominator. Without a beat, could a syncope exists? Our musical proportion comes from the beat. In the realization of the score, the beat emphasizes the more important elements over the lesser ones.
The Sociologist: A rhythmical context? The beat’s most direct reflection is in the rhythm. If we try to create a scale of what comes first, we have beat-rhythm as our base, and on that we can build the rest, which are dynamic, articulation, harmony, etc. Through the beat, we can understand the context of the musical ideas. Understanding the context is very important before choosing the beat. (The Philosopher: 1. The second sentence is a lie. 2. The first sentence is true.) 
Now that we more closely understand the qualities hidden in the beat, we can now talk about the leading. As in Verdi’s example, the common beat of both movements is the cause of the unity. The common beat makes Verdi’s form audible. This is one of the leading’s qualities: to unite elements. Go back to Barenboim’s definition of legato and see that it works the same also for the beat. If we want one beat to lead to the other, one should always look for the relations. By saying ‘relations’, I don’t mean that we must always have a mathematical relation. Leading one beat to another can be with the help of the dynamics, harmony or any other musical parameter. The leading works on the same time in all musical parameters; one communicates with the other. (We must remember: the leading exists only in the realization of the score, only when the score sounds; it does not exist in the score.) I hope the practical implications of this article are becoming more evident to you. Leading-thinking is something that can change your whole conception of music making and score reading. Must everything be led? Can’t the music lead itself? By leading, aren’t we hurting the music’s objectivity? Does the music exist without our realization? Is there a possibility of over-leading? How do we know that we aren’t harming the score? There are many questions arising from this article, as the subject is enormous, as is the number of musicians it relates to.
To conclude this subject for now, I think we should go back to Mozart. If we again try to take a careful look at the Clarinet Quintet example, we may see some different layers. Mozart practically led one musical parameter into the other. Do you see how the dynamic communicates with the harmony? How the articulation leads the rhythm? Mozart’s musicality reveals to us the importance of the leading. Tracking a composer’s musicality is the key. The more composers you touch, the wider the leading definition will become. You must think of the leading as your instrument for communication – communication with the listener and the composer.
Montale and the Sambuchi (a flower) – free translation from the book “Montale e la volpe” by M.L. Spaziani
Montale and Spaziani were having a walk in the nature. Suddenly she noticed a row of Sambuchi, a flower she has loved very much because “a guardarlo con attenzione vi si puo’ scorgere uno stellato notturno, con piccolissimi boccia raggiera, un incanto” she mumbled to herself the poet’s words. Montale seeing her in ecstasy in front of the flowers said, “What a beautiful flower,” and then asked her which flower is that. Spaziani was shocked by the fact that Montale did not recognize in nature the same flower he described in his poem. “You know, poems are being done with words.” he justified himself.
The fact that in order to describe something an artist does not have to see it or touch it is beautiful. (Do we really need to see our love in order to dream about her?) The poet plays with words; the words create the image. Leading can exist in many different levels of our creativity. What is crucial is our will to lead our ideas, to lead the score to the listener and to allow things to be led by themselves. We have to create the road and give it its name and location in time. The fact that two notes are sitting one next to each other does not yet create a mutual destiny, a mutual goal - a sound.