Posted in Project 3: Exploring Chromaticism

Research point 2.4, Part 2: Comparing 5 Performances of Nocturne Op. 9 No. 3 By Chopin

The second task of this research point is to compare five recorded performances of Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 3 in B major and discuss how different or similar they are while following the score, as well as how they stand in relation to the notation itself through a more analytic process of listening. Personally, after the two-part research that I have carried out in Part 1a and Part 1b, I was also interested to look into the performance ideologies and their relationship with the recordings I have chosen. In terms of the reflection on this task and my experience with the analytic listening, it can be found in my listening log post here.

Firstly, I will start with the recording of the nocturne by Ivan Moravec in 1965, which has been reissued by Nonesuch label in 1991. Since this is an reissue, I was interested to know to which extent the sound has been edited and found that it is “a little less harsh than it used to be … but not so much better that the old releases need replacing.” I also learned that Moravec had a reputation for his attention to the condition of the pianos he would perform on. Though he claimed this to be somewhat exaggerated, he did explain that he would meet with the technician and listen “for any unevenness in sound” and “harsh or weak notes” and “aks for these to be changed gently” in order to “put the local piano in the best condition” before a performance, which in my opinion probablly adds to the brilliancy I found to characterise his recording of Op 9 No 3. Other than the clarity of the instrument, generally, I found Moravec’s rubato to produce the biggest contrast throughout the interpretation, especially comparing to the other recordings, in the fluctuation between the expressive accelerandos and ritenutos. In relation to the score, the scherzando instruction of the primary theme in the allegretto (A section) was very clear in the articulation, while the chromaticism of the coloratura in the right hand seems to float tenderly above the left-hand arpeggios with a great deal of separation and distinction in the expression between the two hands. The expressive individuality of the right-hand melody and the left-hand accompaniment is even further emphasized in the agitato (B section), with the crisp right hand being emphasized in the texture with either pronounced accents in the score, which are paired up with some surprising soft moments, while the stormy left hand seems to muddy the sphere below with the dramatic chromatic rises and falls. The recapitulation of allegretto section makes the contrasts produced by rubato even more extreme, until finally as the finishing notes of the coda seem to fade into nothingness of ppp, Moreveic ends his interpretation with a careful, barely audible touch.

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Posted in Project 3: Exploring Chromaticism

Research point 2.4, Part 1b: Technical and circumstantial factors in the interpretation and actualization of musical score in performance

Continuing on from Part 1a, in which I have examined the changing function of musical notation through history and the dualisms it has created between the composer and performer, the score and performance, the objective and subjective performance, as well as the shifting ideology in music, in this post I will write about the technical factors that influence the interpretation and actualization of musical score, including analysis, instinct, expression, memorization and physicality, while also including some other circumstantial considerations that can affect the process.

To begin, resulting from the dualisms that have surfaced with the shifting function of musical notation, the role of analysis and intuition in regards to performance has spur contrasting outlooks in the present times. On one side of the debate, the doctrinaire thought requires the performers to not only remain subservient to notation, but also make their interpretations subservient to the findings of rigorous analysis, whereby “every analytical finding has an implication for performance” (Berry, 1989: 44). Moreover, there are authors such as Narmour (1988: 319 and 340) who further argue for ‘theoretical and analytical competence’, insisting that ‘many negative consequences’ can arise if ‘formal relations are not properly analyzed by the performer.’ Unlike their crude suggestion that an interpretation can be ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ depending on the analysis carried out by the performer, there is a more practical standpoint that questions the methodological rigidity that is often attached to analysis, as well as its assumption that there is an absolute transparency between conception and action, in which “every aspect of his or her [performer’s] understanding of music finds an outlet in the performance itself.” (Clarke, 2002: 64)

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Posted in Project 3: Exploring Chromaticism

Research point 2.4, Part 1a: The shifting function of musical notation through history – its dualisms and ideology

The first task of this research point is to investigate the complex relationship between musical notation and performance practice, delineating factors which inform and shape the adaptation of notated music into musical interpretation and its actualization in performance. The aim is to write about 500 words on the topic, although as my research ended quite deep into the subject, I ended up diving the task into two parts, both consisting of about 1500 words. Here, in Part 1a, I will discuss the historical factor, which concerns the changing function of musical notation and how it relates to performance practice, while in Part 1b, I will write about more technical factors, which encompass analysis, intuition, memorization and physicality. As for the second task, it will be explored in the separate Part 2 post here.

To begin, music notation emerged from the need to support the oral transfer of musical ideas. While the ancient world developed various phonetic systems in which sounds are represented by letters, numbers and other signs, the modern diastematic notation of classical Western music saw the origins of its graphic symbols in the neumes of the ninth century, when the Church was searching for a more efficient and unified method of musical transference. (I wrote a detailed post about the neumatic notation for Composing 1 unit, which can be found here.) Over the eleven centuries of its development, the Western diastematic notation shifted its initial function as a memory aid to become a uniform representational system that enables detailed dissemination of musical works and their structural elements. (Lawson, 2002: 3) However, the history of this development in relation to performance practice and musical interpretation resulted in several dualisms.

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Posted in Project 3: Exploring Chromaticism

Research point 2.3 – Globalization and Music

This research point is about writing 500 words on globalization with a particular focus on music, while considering some of the key questions and issues on this subject, as proposed by the brief. I have once again went over the word count, writing double of the amount proposed. This was due to the amount of research I did, and in order to provide a historical overview of the topic.

Globalization and Music

In the 1990s, globalization as a term gained widespread usage with many interpretations, often controversial in definition. Loosely and simplistically though, it is agreed that globalization refers to the widening, deepening and speeding up of global interconnectedness, where the increasingly expansive spatial connectivity manifests itself through the growing linkage of human activity across regions and continents. (Held et al., 1999: 14-15) It expresses itself through multiple dimensions, varying in number depending on the scholars describing them. For example, Steger (2003) proposes four dimensions, including economic, cultural, political and ecological, while Friedman (2000) proposes six: politics, culture, technology, finance (and trade), national security and ecology.

In any case, traditionally, globalization is maintained to have started with the Age of Exploration, around 1500. However, there is a current of scholarly thought that believes that although there is an ‘undeniable connection’, the globalization of the Age of Exploration did not just originate from ‘a vacuum’ (Anon, 2010), but is a long-term historical process. As they suggest, while the human globalization has entered an accelerative phase around the time, the earliest, what LaBianca and Scham (2016) term the ‘original globalizing forces’ of the cultural connectivity, were already present in the ancient world. In fact, music, which has always been a mobile artistic field, as Wetzel (2012) points out, a travelling companion to the human movement, such as the tribal migrations, military conquests and campaigns, the spread of world’s religious traditions, expeditions and political conferences, might be a documentation of that.

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