Thursday, September 16, 2010

Practical Thoughts

I really love practicing the music that John David and I playing for our October 17th concert. While practicing the Brahms this morning, I observed (once again) that Brahms notated his music rather impractically for the violin, but at the same time he had an impeccable sense of tessitura. He knows exactly how what he writes will sound in the various registers of the instrument, and on the instrument's different strings. His phrase directions and phrase lengths are natural and obvious, if you just pay attention to the musical syntax.

If I find that breaking a long slur, so that there are two or four notes to a bow (rather than 20 or more), some passages end up sounding smoother. Another fiddle player (with a better bow arm then me), might take up the challenge of keeping everything the way it is on the printed page, either for technical reasons, or to dutifully do what "the composer says to do." Since Brahms wasn't a violinist, I believe that his articulations are best approached with the intention of keeping the integrity of the direction and contour of the phrase, and not regarded as a series of orange cones to navigate around. I believe that Brahms wanted his music to be played by flesh and blood people who had individual (and strong) personalities, and perhaps individual approaches to technique. His violin writing was informed by Joachim's technique,and we can see how oddly he held his bow.

The only way I would compare my experience to Brahms' experience as a composer (he is, as far as I'm concerned, the incomparable one) is that I like my music to be played by people with personalities that are different from mine. I certainly like my music to be played by people who have far better technique than I do. Perhaps, in that way, a composer is like a clothing designer, or a hat maker; people who usually design their works to be worn by a variety of people. Clothes look different on different people. They are also worn for different reasons, and in different weather. A well-designed piece of clothing will be durable, practical, versatile, and beautiful.

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