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Is it really true? Composers' intentions are more important than the resulting performance!

I think not but then I've spent most of my life as a performer.

Does music survive as something in ones' head or is it external sound sources being received and processed by ear to brain that excites, entertains or simply fascinates us when listening?

I'm not posting this as a subject for argument but rather just to read how others answer such questions.

We are who we are and it is unlikely any internet forum discussion is going to dramatically change our view.


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Thanks for posting this Ray.

I think that musical thoughts are conceived in a composer's mind and their sound equivalents are notated by symbols of any short (our own notation, piano rolls, tabs, alphabet letters or other pre-agreed graphical representations of those sounds, or entirely other systems, not used anymore, or unknown to us). All of these are not sound. It is mainly the performer that gives them sound, i.e. life to be.

So, I believe that once a composer is prepared to let his musical thoughts be known to the public, he must also be prepared that these thoughts are going to be slightly changed (hopefully to the better if the performers involved are honest and their aim is to realize as best as possible those symbols according to composer's intentions and instructions).

It does not happen always like this in real life because (mostly) we don’t have three factors in the equation i.e. creator, medium and general public, but a fourth also (at most times parasitic) which is called a merchant.

Additionally, a composer must know from the start that a notation is only an approximation and that every live performance is going to be different. That to me is one of the most attractive and magical features of the whole deal, which recorded (caned) music can never give me, however great its recorded (caned)  performance might have been.

Music is not a fixed thing like a photograph or painting, it is variable in the best cases and travels along in time together with human consciousness.

I agree with Socrates almost completely.

The dots are the conduit from one to another, composer to performer. A performer in classical music say, will then try to impart the music to the audience as they feel it (which comes from a deep familiarity) and if the composer has done his job well, his voice will be there too. To answer Ray, my opinion is that the performance is the decisive factor because of the impact that the acoustical physics combined with the emotional interpretation of the performer has in overwhelming the listeners' senses.

Ultimately though I feel the recorded work is the only way something can survive in a world where even cats can be seen playing the piano. Performance is too difficult to obtain for concert music and so most have to resort to this method in order to communicate. Of course how you go about such a thing could start another thread..oh wait a minute...

Thank you both for your thoughts and opinions.
Socrates, we know about merchants but I'd rather we stick to the relationship between composer and performer here.
Over the years I've read some composers complain bitterly about conductor/music director input. Is that really a thing?

Well, if I was Albinoni, I would listen to both versions certainly (to be fair), then I would have to think twice, but in the end I would probably call out Karajan on a duel. (just an opinion, there's no telling what turns on any of us).

Well, wearing my mastering/finalising hat I would have to first take both recordings which of course aren't of the best resolution and attempt to balance them so I didn't get swayed by the human ear's tendency to favour even slightly higher listening level as being better. This is the world we live in where so few have control over their listening environment.

So I would tend not to place too much opinion on youtube offerings. 

It was not only about loudness Ray, or youtube offerings. It has to do (for my ears and my brain at least) more with the presence or absence of correct or sickly sentimentality and thereby with distorting composer's intentions + taking the piece out of its historical and sentimental context or not, and the orchestral powers employed if appropriate or not for this particular composition by this particular Venetian Baroque composer. I don’t think the 2nd video is all that great either, just marginally better in giving me a clearer idea about what Albinoni felt, thought, notated.

And you tube is just the only source available to me for such comparisons.

PS (so, you see, sometimes you cannot avoid totally merchants, they can come in all forms, like in this instance in the form of a conductor of Karajan's calibre-mainly a 19th century one, even in threads like yours) :-)

I didn't yet get to the conductors intentions on first hearing. I'll do that later.

Anyway, my question was more to do with performances during a composers lifetime where they can have a view on how someone else handles their work. If they are in their grave there isn't much left to decide although I enjoyed reading of Salvador Dali's moustache still being intact when dug up the other day :)

I have always maintained that once a score is out there, all bets are off.

I would say it depends on the listener. It's the old "if a tree falls in the forest" question. Music exists in the ear [mind] of the listener. A performance is any production of sound that entertains the ear. I listened to the Karajan performance, it was emotionally effective, though not necessarily to my taste. I enjoyed the second one as probably being closer to what the composer intended but the music was clearer. But the fact remains both are perfectly valid as performances.

My music has been performed by people who took a very different approach to my own conception of the work. At first I found it very disconcerting, more recently I'm simply grateful when anyone makes the effort to learn the music and perform it (hopefully well). I've also endured performances by university (of Iowa) students hired to play for a new music festival who overestimated their sight reading abilities and underestimated the difficulty of my music. I only hope their public crash and burn was a learning experience they hope to never repeat.

Steve, you're a lucky man. Most composers never get such an opportunity but, having listened to more than a few student performances on YouTube I agree with the last sentiment. Sometimes encouragement is just not enough. I never learned to sight read but I spent many years developing the dubious skill of guessing what comes next in pop songs for cabaret singers. Loved the challenge. Everything played by ear. Sad chip on my shoulder because I really do wish I had learned to sight read at an early age.
Ray, sight reading made no bloody difference in my case. I could read but the buggers who sometimes got up to sing from the audience in the clubs changed key every two bars ( as in music ). It probably explains why I like to write music that does not adhere to a key. Schoenberg was undoubtedly a resident keyboard player in a very boozy working mans club in Vienna.
I feel for your under- rehearsed performances Steve, it must've been excruciating for you. A similar thing happened to a friend of mine in London, hardly any rehearsal and a serious flaw in the players estimation of their ensemble skills followed by serious squirming from my friend and me. (I was following his score).
I had a performance of my adagio for strings of which I was no part of other than being in the audience. The conductor did it his way and I was very happy to hear it in a different way. The music lives on in interpretation otherwise every performance would be the same and stagnation would follow...long live interpretation and performance.

@Mike: on occasion, I serve as piano accompanist for a church group.  And yeah, people sing in all sorts of keys (except the right one :-D).  Fortunately, I learnt piano by ear, and so when they start on the wrong key I just hit a few notes for reference, deduce the key they're singing in, and play in that key instead.  Since I already know most of the songs by ear, I can just play it in the target key rather than transpose on sight, which is way beyond me. (I can't sightread to save my life... not learning how to sightread is one of my greatest regrets.) And sometimes the people find a particular song too high as-written, so I'm asked to transpose it down a semitone or two, which is extremely hard if you're sight-reading, but relatively trivial if your conception of music is fluid in key. :-P

Since I have relative pitch, the way I learned music is rather fluid... I can tell intervals apart, but have no fixed reference pitch, so my musical ideas tend to be relative to some fluid, abstract key that can be realized as any key you choose.  Maybe that explains why I like fugues... the same subject can appear in any key or mode. :-D

Anyway, back on topic, when I was young and foolish I wanted to control every aspect of performance, specify volume down to 3 decimal places in dB, and notate every last gesture of the performer down to every muscle movement (so to speak). I was disappointed at how inaccurate music notation can be.  But these days, I find myself deliberately underspecifying things in my score so that it will be open to interpretation.  I've been wanting to post my sonata fantasia in G minor for a while, but haven't figured out a way to transfer the midi from my electronic keyboard to my computer... but it's an example of a piece that leaves a lot open to interpretation, esp. w.r.t. the tempo of the various sections. Even I myself play it differently almost every time, depending on my mood. Each playing style seems to bring out a different aspect of the music, and sometimes I even surprise myself at the result.  So yes, long live interpretation and performance indeed!

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