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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.

Ray

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So this phrase like the one Stephen uses, "imperfect medium of musical notation", keeps coming up. Let's think about that. I understand it, but is it true? 

Based on what comes before and after any particular note, as well as the note itself, we know many exact things.

We know what frequency, volume , articulation, and instrument is to be used. All uniquely specified. And while sheet can be looked at and understood, that is not it's goal. Take Shakespeare. His plays are certainly widely read, of course, but were meant to be performed. There are no stage directions, no set designs, no music cues. Nothing. Nothing but words on a page. No clues on how to deliver the dialogue. Nothing but words on a page. Yet these works have been performed for hundreds of years, and will so continue. 

It seems to me that, in contrast, notation is superior to the written word, as far as it's ability to convey our emotions. What I mean is, if I write a sentence, the starting point for the reader is a string of words that might have different meanings depending on how it is read. And, if I write a musical phrase, the starting point for the player is a string notes that might have different meanings depending on how it is played. Now if I mark up the phrase with a few instructions, that cuts down dramatically on the number of interpretations. 

I wonder what Shakespeare would think about some of the ways his work has been performed? In the end, the written word and the note on a page are only part of the story. Both were developed to be a record of something that already existed, or was about to. I don't think they were meant to be the event themselves. 

However, to the extant that notation might not quite do the job of conveying the the composers' intent, I agree. But my question is, does it really need to? If we are writing good music, won't it take care of itself? What does it say about our faith in ourselves if we feel we have to mark every note? Might we be spending too much time on one tree and forgetting that the forest, as a whole, is the goal. 

Of course, we need to mark things. But in the end, when does it get in the way. Yes, there is the composers' intent. And then there is what really happens. Sometimes the same, sometimes not. This also, is what makes music, music.

I quite agree Bob. Notation uses far more symbols than written word to specify in detail the author's intentions as clearly as possible, but that is not the end, only the beginning. The goal is to communicate one's feelings and thoughts to other intelligent beings sharing the same habitable world, as far as my experience allows me to be sure, that is. And that communication is only achieved through performance (preferably live, to me). The results may be slightly different to one's stated intentions in the score, but as I said in the beginning, that is one of the best parts of the deal, and also makes music, music.

I very much applaud your parallel with Shakespearean theatre. Theatre, as music, is another performing art and it will be so in the normal sense of the word. Poetry also begun the same way but it got more diversified and specialized in its historical course.

As far as literary arts go, (especially metered poetry), the rhythmic and melodic extensions of a verse (different to any individual, or even very similar depending on many cultural factors), are almost there very clear and calling us to give life to them by sounding them.

I also believe that we are on secure ground with detailed musical notation in the tonal language of music where our knowledge of the cultural conventions is in everyday use and there can be very little doubt as to what a notated sheet of music is asking us to do with it.

The following is a very famous piece by Isaak Albeniz, (probably the most famous he ever wrote, ownning to the guitar transcription of it) from his suite for piano "Iberia".

I choose an alternative from very many available on you tube for guitar.

I choose it as an example by a composer who immediately preferred the guitar version once he had heard the first transcription of it. The original is in Gm, the guitar version in Em. I find both performances exciting (the music speaks very well through both), but in no way I would prefer the piano version which is trying to capture the guitar spirit in the first place (in Albeniz's intentions).

What is your opinion?

Bob,
What you say is entirely valid so far as it goes and on a general level. My comment is intended to reflect on the undefinable aspect (in musical notation) of subtle nuance in music, and such nuances in performance can make enormous differences to the overall effect of a piece. Phrasing is a case in point....we can take infinite care to ensure our intentions are known through the use of phrase markings but, and it's a big but, how much silent space is produced by the performer between each phrase and how much subtle stress is placed on the first note of each phrase is dependant on the inherent 'musicianship' of the performer. We have all heard alternative performances of the same piece where they can all be considered 'correct' but which differ enormously in the overall effect on the listener....one might leave us stone cold whereas another will have us in raptures. It has often been said that a very important aspect of music is the use of silence.....long, short, minuscule, all of them will help to add tension of differing strength. Rhythm is known to have an effect that is in direct relation to the underlying tempo of the listener's heartbeat which itself is governed by the heart's sinus node which generally causes it to beat between 60 and 100 bpm. Each individual performer and listener will react to the rhythm of a piece relative to their own heartbeat....tension and, arguably, emotions are aroused either positively or negatively due to a relative suspension or anticipation of an expected beat....that is, relative to the tempo dictated by the composer and relative to one's own heartbeat. This reply could be the commencement of a long and potentially turgid thesis so I will stop here. I hope the points I have made are sufficient to indicate what I see as the complexity of musical interpretation and how very sophisticated small nuances can lead to extraordinary differences in how a composer's work is interpreted.
Bob Porter said:

So this phrase like the one Stephen uses, "imperfect medium of musical notation", keeps coming up. Let's think about that. I understand it, but is it true? 

Based on what comes before and after any particular note, as well as the note itself, we know many exact things.

We know what frequency, volume , articulation, and instrument is to be used. All uniquely specified. And while sheet can be looked at and understood, that is not it's goal. Take Shakespeare. His plays are certainly widely read, of course, but were meant to be performed. There are no stage directions, no set designs, no music cues. Nothing. Nothing but words on a page. No clues on how to deliver the dialogue. Nothing but words on a page. Yet these works have been performed for hundreds of years, and will so continue. 

It seems to me that, in contrast, notation is superior to the written word, as far as it's ability to convey our emotions. What I mean is, if I write a sentence, the starting point for the reader is a string of words that might have different meanings depending on how it is read. And, if I write a musical phrase, the starting point for the player is a string notes that might have different meanings depending on how it is played. Now if I mark up the phrase with a few instructions, that cuts down dramatically on the number of interpretations. 

I wonder what Shakespeare would think about some of the ways his work has been performed? In the end, the written word and the note on a page are only part of the story. Both were developed to be a record of something that already existed, or was about to. I don't think they were meant to be the event themselves. 

However, to the extant that notation might not quite do the job of conveying the the composers' intent, I agree. But my question is, does it really need to? If we are writing good music, won't it take care of itself? What does it say about our faith in ourselves if we feel we have to mark every note? Might we be spending too much time on one tree and forgetting that the forest, as a whole, is the goal. 

Of course, we need to mark things. But in the end, when does it get in the way. Yes, there is the composers' intent. And then there is what really happens. Sometimes the same, sometimes not. This also, is what makes music, music.

What if, then, it is not the notation that is imperfect? But rather the performance.

So the score, perfect or not, is the blueprint. Can the performance, in search of perfection, fail? We've all heard it.

Can the performance, even ignoring certain markings in the score, succeed? We've all heard that, too.

In the history of things, the performance came first. Then notation as a way to have a record of, and make a performance repeatable. Then notation became a way to create a new performance. 

So which is the master, and which is the slave? Is the composer the slave of the limitations of notation? Is the performance the slave of the composers' intent? And just what is the composers' intent. I see all the markings on the page. Sometimes so many that they get in the way. I can't see the notes for the markings. Sure, they are there for a reason. 

I think that the performance needs to try to follow the intent, but also sometimes the intent needs to get out of the way of the performance.

Do they have to be at odds, at all?

.

Is it not the case that most of the composers we know of through the centuries are or were performers?

I agree very much to that Ray, usually brilliant performers too, with some very notable exceptions of course, which as in all things strengthen the rule. (Berlioz comes readily to mind).

Rather an unnecessary question I think - it's a known fact. I have never read or heard of a 'successful' composer who didn't start life as a performer of some sort.

Ray said:
Is it not the case that most of the composers we know of through the centuries are or were performers?

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