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Music for players vs music for listeners

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 Hugh
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While reading a section on the development of chamber music in the mid 1700s in Alfred Einstein's Mozart I was struck by a passage where he wrote: "[chamber music in Haydn's Op 9 string quartets] has become true chamber music ... it needs no listeners, only players, and this determines its style. .... All music of the past may be divided into such as existed for players and singers alone and such as was intended to be listened to. ... How barbarous our concert-life has become is shown principally in the fact that we no longer feel such distinctions."
 
Perhaps this is somewhat controversial, but it has resonated with me, for example in my experiences with Mozart piano sonatas. While I have listened to recordings fairly often the music has generally wafted over me, and although I have occasionally pricked up my ears and said to myself that bit's nice, I can't say that I've often found them really interesting. But recently, I've been trying to apply my grade 5 skills to playing through the B flat major sonata K570 having read that it is supposed to be relatively "easy", and this has made me realise how endlessly inventive Mozart is, how he hardly ever repeats a phrase without varying it, how he is continuously modulating, how gorgeous is the chromaticism near the end, and above all what fun it must be to play properly. Now, when I listen to a recording I can hear all these things. Perhaps not in Glenn Gould's recording which is too fast, but under Mitsuko Uchida's fingers it comes alive.
 

   
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(@dinah)
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Posted by: @hugh

But recently, I've been trying to apply my grade 5 skills to playing through the B flat major sonata K570 having read that it is supposed to be relatively "easy", and this has made me realise how endlessly inventive Mozart is, how he hardly ever repeats a phrase without varying it, how he is continuously modulating, how gorgeous is the chromaticism near the end, and above all what fun it must be to play properly.

Wow! The perks of being able to play an instrument! That's an enlightening analysis. Thank you 🙏.

Not being an instrument player myself, I always wondered (especially in the case of large orchestral works) if each individual musician can enjoy the piece as a whole whilst on stage (not necessarily the way we, the audience, do, but still... ), or are they each focused on their respective parts; and if from their actual physical position relative to other players/ sections their perception of the music might be a little different than ours as an audience experiencing both the ensemble and the composition as an organic whole?

 

Posted by: @hugh

How barbarous our concert-life has become is shown principally in the fact that we no longer feel such distinctions."

Mmm 🤔

A bit strong choice of word, barbarous, but I can see his point!


   
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 Hugh
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Posted by: @dinah

I always wondered (especially in the case of large orchestral works) if each individual musician can enjoy the piece as a whole whilst on stage (not necessarily the way we, the audience, do, but still... ), or are they each focused on their respective parts; and if from their actual physical position relative to other players/ sections their perception of the music might be a little different than ours as an audience experiencing both the ensemble and the composition as an organic whole?

Yes, I too wonder. When you watch "music for listeners" being played the performers do sometimes look very un-engaged. I imagine that their perception can be very different. I know that sitting directly in front of the brass can damage their hearing. 


   
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 Jen
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Posted by: @hugh

When you watch "music for listeners" being played the performers do sometimes look very un-engaged.

This reminds me of a conductor of a chamber choir I sang in many years ago who instructed us “not to enjoy the music too much”.  

We were possibly rehearsing something like Purcell’s exquisite anthem Hear my Prayer (yes, I’ve mentioned this anthem before 😊), one voice to a part. The dissonances between voices are such a pleasure to sing, the temptation is to lean into them, to really milk them.  And that may be bliss for the choir… but it sounds terrible to the audience.

So it may be that musicians appear restrained, almost unengaged, because they are aware that sometimes the music is for the pleasure of the audience, and not for themselves?


   
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