Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

 Connections Between MTNA 2017 National Conference & Eighteenth-Century Pedagogues

While at the Music Teachers National Association 2017 National Conference in Baltimore, Maryland in March I attended a variety of excellent sessions on everything from musicianship, business trends, and pedagogical strategies to recitals highlighting competition winners. It was impressive to see so many well-prepared and well-thought out presentations. 

Less than four hours into the conference, I started to have Deja-vu moments. Here I sat at a 2017 conference, listening to relevant insights being shared right and left while vividly remembering reading many of these same wise words of advice from great eighteenth-century pedagogues such as C. P. E. Bach, Leopold Mozart, and Daniel G. Türk. The topics broached were based on current scientific data and years of esteemed pedagogical experience, yet I found it ironic how the period musicians knew intuitively that which we continue to study and dissect in our desire to better understand. I’m not trying to disparage the conference presentations, I simply found it intriguing. Let’s turn to salient points from the workshops, followed by advice from the eighteenth century to see the continuity through the years.

***Let the mood and structure drive your learning and playing (Affekt)***

  • During an intermediate level master class led by Diane Hidy and Elissa Milne, students were instructed to learn the mood and structure by first playing the “skeleton” of the piece, playing the rhythmic concept (with less regard to exact notes), and feel the overall direction of the piece before attending to any details.

  • Instruction from Leon Fleisher during the advanced master class included:

  1. The notation tells the story, implying the importance of knowing the story [affekt] behind the composition.
  2. Concentrate on the left hand rhythmic scaffolding.
  3. Find the choices the composer has made to determine your choices regarding what you are going to bring out.  Here, in the Waldstein Sonata, long long short is the unusual structure to highlight.

  • Loise Svard led an insightful session, The Art & Science of Memorizing Music. Her presentation was based on the latest neuroscience as it relates to memorization.  She revealed that neuro paths for memorization begin developing during the initial learning stages. Emphasis was on the need to lay a solid foundation before rehearsing: analysis, structure, affekt, and the correct encoding of score. She emphasized the need to use all learning styles for stronger neuro connections: cells that fire together get wired together which develops reliable outcomes. In her concluding remarks, she summarized that the harder we work (understanding the structure), the more reliable the memory.

Eighteenth-century thoughts on structure and affekt:
  • Haydn speaking to L. Mozart, observing the young Mozart:  Your son has “taste and a profound understanding.”                      ---etching on a wall at Mozarthaus, Vienna, Austria

  • Türk devotes Part Three of Klavierschule and Bach devotes the entire “Performance” section in Versuch to executing the underlying concept.

  • “If everything that has been taught in the last two parts [on execution] is followed in the most meticulous way, it is still not possible to have good execution because the most essential part is missing, namely the expression of the prevailing character without which no listener can be moved to any degree.”[1]

  • “A knowledge of thoroughbass is indispensable to good execution because without this knowledge, the various rules concerning appoggiaturas and ornaments, the required strength or weakness of consonant and dissonant harmonies, and the like cannot be followed.”[2] 

  • “This difference of meters is very well suited to express particular nuances of the passions. Above all, the composer must have a definite impression of the particular passion that he has to portray and then choose a more ponderous or lighter meter depending upon whether the affect in its particular nuance requires one or the other.”[3]

  • To highlight affekt, it is best to go to the unusual or the dissonant, which implies knowing the usual form and expected outcome: “So-called deceptive progressions are also brought out markedly to complement their function.”[4] The typical Classical formula is 2 + 2 + 4, so in looking to the different structure in the Waldstein Sonata, the performer has a clear message from the composer regarding how to proceed.

  • During the Hidy/Milne master class a student was encouraged to follow the slur groupings.
  • Likewise, Fleisher instructed a student to do the same when determining musical direction in a work by Chopin.

Eighteenth-century thoughts on slurs:
  • The slur was the pinnacle of expression in the Classical Style. At one point Beethoven admonished his publisher to copy his markings exactly.  Much direction was provided in notational slurs and their impact on performance. 

  • In L. Mozart’s Violinschule, he provides an example of three measures in triple time with thirty-three different possibilities for accentuation and then proclaims, “Now this changes indisputably the whole style of performance.”[5]

***Rhythmic energy***
  • From Leon Fleisher: 

  1. Rhythmic LH figures in the Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata are covert energy
  2. Follow the LH’s lead
  3. Follow clues the composer gave us to help in determining pulses [referring to beaming in a Chopin sonata]
  4. Make timing choices to highlight color changes

Eighteenth-century thoughts on rhythm:
  • 25% of Bach’s Versuch is devoted to thoroughbass.  For pianists, that means the left hand and the driving rhythmic energy inherent in the style.

  • On page 220 of L. Mozart’s A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing, the concept of rhythmic energy and drive is methodically worked out. WA Mozart’s Piano Fantasy K 397 demonstrates this concept well.

  • On page 334 of Türk’s Klavierschule, he points out that beaming oftentimes denotes phrasing gestures. See Bagatelle in G Minor, Op. 119, No. 1, mm 59-65 by Beethoven for a clear example.

  • Rhythm is musical, not metrical. Time was expected to be used to highlight changes in color and affekt. Beethoven endorsed the metronome to set the tempo. He never intended it to be used for metronomic playing.

How fascinating! Many of the very concepts we continue to delve into and push forward with scientific research to better understand were already explained centuries ago through intuitive, musical understanding. To uncover more eighteenth-century gems, refer to Discoveries from the Fortepiano: A Manual for Beginning and Seasoned Performers (OUP, 2015).  

[1] Daniel Gottlob Türk, Klavierschule (1789, Leipzig and Halle), as translated by Raymond H. Haggh (University of                Nebraska Press, 1982), 337. Permission by the author’s daughter, Barbara Haggh-Huglo.
[2] Ibid., 323.
[3] Johan Philipp Kirnberger, 1982. The Art of Strict Musical Composition, (Berlin: 1771.) Translated by David Beach                    and Jurgen Thym. New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 400.
[4] C. P. E. Bach, Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments (1753.) Translated and edited by William J.                       Mitchell. New York: W. W. Norton, 163.
[5] Leopold Mozart, 1948. A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing, (Augsburg, 1756, 1787.)                             Translated by Editha Knocker. London: Oxford University Press, 123-124.

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