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Thread: strict timing on pieces?

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    Senior Member Phil loves classical's Avatar
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    Default strict timing on pieces?

    I hear a lot of interptretations that change the timing of certain pieces. For example, Debussy's Clair de Lune has much longer sustains and shorter faster sections as written, but is not played that way (from what I gather). The rhythms as written already seems improvisational, and there is a story a pianist asked Debussy if he should play the piece freely, and Debussy looked at the floor thinking that was the last time the pianist will be on it. So it seems he was quite adamant on the timing, but why do interpretations I hear differ from the writing, pretty noticably too?
    "Forgive me, Majesty. I'm a vulgar man. But I assure you, my music is not.“ Mozart

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    Senior Member tdc's Avatar
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    I have not heard that story before. Timing is one of the most important ways interpreters can add expressivity to a piece, I think a performer should retain some sense of freedom in this area - within reason and with respect to the over all style of the work. As far as the Debussy piece you mentioned there is a large section with the instruction 'tempo rubato', so this would explain a lot of the different approaches to timing you've noticed.

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    ...............
    Last edited by Mandryka; Sep-19-2017 at 21:34.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Phil loves classical View Post
    I hear a lot of interptretations that change the timing of certain pieces.
    Generally, the more underdetermined an aspect of the music is, the more freely musicians use their discretion. So, for example, relative pitch is quite well specified, but how strong an accent should be, like elapsed time, isn't.

    This is just a conventional thing, it's one of the rules of the classical music form of life. It really doesn't matter if Debussy "looked at the floor" - he's just the composer, and the convention has arisen over time that the musician is the final arbiter in such matters. Debussy must have known this when he wrote the music down so he can hardly complain, just as Schubert knew it when he wrote molto moderato in D 960.

    A more interesting example is with John Cage's Piano Études, where the relative timing of each etude is specified (they must all last as long as each other) - as far as I know only Sabine Liebner has taken this seriously. So you see, the composer really has no authority about timing in the western classical music tradition.

    A similar story for Beethoven in the Hammerklavier, the musicians really don't give a fig for his tempo indications, when it comes to speed they have the right to do what the feel like. As Beethoven knew.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Sep-19-2017 at 22:16.

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    I'd advise any interpreter to try using the timing marked in the score first. If they can find a way to make it make sense and sound good to them at or near that tempo, stick to it! If playing it that way sparks another idea that sounds better and does not make hash out of the score, then try that.

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    Strict timing is for accompanists. Solo performance is all about "interpretation" - which means, variations in timing and dynamics (and a few other matters such as texture and attack).

    Frequently, even for a given performer playing a given piece, these will vary from one performance to the next.

    A major criterion of "great music" - IMO - is that it can be performed various ways to suit the mood of the moment, and stir the emotions of the listeners every time.
    Last edited by martonic; Feb-17-2018 at 06:52.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Generally, the more underdetermined an aspect of the music is, the more freely musicians use their discretion. So, for example, relative pitch is quite well specified, but how strong an accent should be, like elapsed time, isn't.

    This is just a conventional thing, it's one of the rules of the classical music form of life. It really doesn't matter if Debussy "looked at the floor" - he's just the composer, and the convention has arisen over time that the musician is the final arbiter in such matters. Debussy must have known this when he wrote the music down so he can hardly complain, just as Schubert knew it when he wrote molto moderato in D 960.

    A more interesting example is with John Cage's Piano Études, where the relative timing of each etude is specified (they must all last as long as each other) - as far as I know only Sabine Liebner has taken this seriously. So you see, the composer really has no authority about timing in the western classical music tradition.

    A similar story for Beethoven in the Hammerklavier, the musicians really don't give a fig for his tempo indications, when it comes to speed they have the right to do what the feel like. As Beethoven knew.
    It's new to me. thanks for explaination

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