Should the musician know the composer with whom he will make an album?

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The survey I conducted through social media, which argues that a musician should know the composer well enough to add the right spirit to his works, resulted in 820 people out of 721 saying 'Yes'.

Those who reached out to me among those who expressed the opposite opinion mostly wrote that the musician should add his own interpretation, otherwise every performance would become standard.

So who gives the work its character? Of course the composer. So, the borders drawn for the performer are as close as the eye can see.
Carl Czerny is one of the names who experienced these borders by living.

At the end of 1815, the musician, who took the piano for Beethoven's Opus 16 piece, added his own interpretation during the performance and added ornaments that are not written in the note.

Czerny, who was scolded by Beethoven in public at the end of the concert, received a mild letter from his teacher the next day, but the following sentence of the composer should be noted:

“…The composer wants his piece to be played exactly as it was written. In general, it doesn't matter how well you play."
(Allgemeine Wiener Musik-Zeitung, September 20, 1845)


In order to gain the ability to move within the boundaries drawn by Beethoven, the musician needs to know the period and the story of the piece, and analyze the source of inspiration for the composition.

In other words, there is a gaping difference between a work composed to order and works composed on an event that took place in the composer's life and affected him deeply.

How important is art history and composers for contemporary musicians?

If Czerny can be scolded for not being able to define the boundaries of his teacher well despite being a student, today's performers can get out of this rut ​​as avid readers about the composers they play.

Let us examine whether they are so on two examples.

Pianist and composer Fazıl Say's post on 12 January 2019 on his social media account is a lesson in analyzing the criteria I questioned above.

“How the Deaf Beethoven Composed” The information he shared with the title was liked by more than twenty thousand followers, in other words, Say presented fiction instead of art history to more than twenty thousand people. Excerpts from that post:

Say: Ear disease that starts at the age of 35-36…

The truth: It started at the age of 29. (See 1801 - letter to Dr. Wegeler)

Say: He owed a lot of money to his teacher Haydn.

The truth is: Beethoven didn't take money lessons from Haydn. Archduke Maximilian, Prince of Cologne, paid for all expenses himself, including travel. (See the announcement his teacher Neefe gave to the Berliner Musik-Zeitung in 1793.)

Say: 30-odd homes were kicked out for working with a loud noise

The truth: They had to leave their home in Rheingasse, known as 'Fischer House', where he lived with his family only once, in 1787, due to noise. (See Forbes, Elliot. Thayer's Life of Beethoven II. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1967, p.71)

Let's come to Perahia. In the album Bach: Partitas 2008 & 2,3, which he released in 4 with the Sony label, his interview about the works was also included. Two questions and answers:

Question: You have chosen the 2,3nd, 4rd and XNUMXth Partitas for your album. Any special reason?
Perahia: No, I thought they went well together. […]

Question: These works are Bach's first published compositions. It can be called Opus 1 for him. You have chosen these works.
Perahia: I don't know much about this […]

“The road to hell is easy”

Virgil: Aeneis

Even if you do not know about the history of Western music, after what you have read above, many questions have arisen in your mind.

For what I have told so far, the institution of criticism is conservatories. On the other hand, it is clear that the institution of criticism cannot do its job. Let's read Zekiye Antakyalıoğlu's very appropriate question and comment;

What is the academician's job? Indeed, what distinguishes an academic today from those who claim to be good readers, bloggers, commentators on social media claiming to be multicultural, intelligent and intellectual, art editors of newspapers or amateur reading group members? These people put themselves in the category of readers who read, know, think and interpret a lot, just like academicians. Their commentary on the work they do is never behind the academics. (Passages, May 2019)

Say's album Beethoven – All Piano Sonatas was released in early 2020. Considering the posts he made on social media, the whole of 2019 was the registration process. It took him a year to record all 32 piano sonatas.
Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas are revolutionary for the history of classical music. The fact that the artist dealing with such an in-depth project enters the studio without even having a superficial knowledge of the composer shows that what is produced is not an art but a commercial product.

Let's remember the legendary pianist Dinu Lipatti! Famous commentator Artur Schnabel had to intervene for Beethoven to play the Waldstein sonata. Beethoven needed four years for Piano Concerto 5 and three years for Tchaikovsky. He left nothing to chance in his work. The works and detailed work schedule for the next five years were always ready. (Walter Legge, EMI Classical)

I leave the last word of my article to the French pianist, pedagogue and composer Nadia Boulanger, born in 1887.

He summarizes his student Dinu Lipatti's view of his art as follows:

'… instead of just passing through a difficult passage, his measures would be worked out hundreds of times. While working on an important composition, there was always the fear of not being worthy of the composer…'

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