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Thread: Tempo, sonority, vocality in 9th century music

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    Default Tempo, sonority, vocality in 9th century music

    I’ve been listening to music from St Gallen manuscripts, tropes and sequences some of which have been attributed to a poet called Notker.

    Fortunately there are three recordings I’m aware of - Morent, Vellard and Joppich.

    It’s striking how different the approaches to performances are - not only different speeds and rubato but also different ways of forming sounds with the voice. Also different levels of something I’m just going to gloss for the moment as “expressiveness.“

    I just want to ask a basic question, when people are singing this sort of thing, how do they decide something like tempo? Or volume?
    Last edited by Mandryka; Jun-12-2019 at 17:17.

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    Junior Member anahit's Avatar
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    Since that this music belongs the very far past (musically), I think that they usually need to "interpret" it or "guess", I would stress the word "guess".
    I know also many conductors who listen to numerous recordings prior their own interpretation and try to make some inventions in order to be more personal.

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    Quote Originally Posted by anahit View Post
    Since that this music belongs the very far past (musically), I think that they usually need to "interpret" it or "guess", I would stress the word "guess".
    I know also many conductors who listen to numerous recordings prior their own interpretation and try to make some inventions in order to be more personal.
    I've always suspected that if we heard the music of those times as actually performed, we wouldn't even recognize it!


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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post

    It’s striking how different the approaches to performances are - not only different speeds and rubato but also different ways of forming sounds with the voice. Also different levels of something I’m just going to gloss for the moment as “expressiveness.“

    I just want to ask a basic question, when people are singing this sort of thing, how do they decide something like tempo? Or volume?
    Well, these are qualities, which also vary with performances of music from other centuries even up to our days. Concerning performance of 9th century music I would expect rhythm and pitch (absolute as well as relative) to vary just as much or even more, because the neumes didn't indicate these qualities precisely.

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    Yes but when these people sing, how do they make their decisions about these things? I remember when I made the initial post being especially struck by the way the vocality was so different, the way of making the sounds. I just want to get a handle on the sort of thought processes singers go through when they're deciding how to sing.

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    https://youtu.be/eRXeBQWP0Tg



    https://youtu.be/hhWxP95IyU4



    https://youtu.be/Y9BxCHGF3Mk




    I just want to ask a basic question, when people are singing this sort of thing, how do they decide something like tempo? Or volume?

    It's probably a combination of lots of elements, environments, and human factors determined by the "beings" that are singing it, and their backgrounds, creativity, cultural influences, and proclivities. I'm sure that it is also based on the experience and decisions of the choirmaster. I'd hate to think that it was strictly 'proscribed' according to some overly academic performance norms or rules.

    Since this form of singing is essentially a form of worship and "prayer," I would also assume that the overall spiritual awareness and development of the group would be a major factor.

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    And this is the sort of thing that Joppich does, who I find the most moving


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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    And this is the sort of thing that Joppich does, who I find the most moving.
    Yes, it is quite effective. For me, it "sets a mood," so these guys are singing as a single, shared identity. They are on the same wavelength, so to speak. The Doors were able to create this sort of mood as well, and I think that comes from being very close, like on the 'same team.' Also, I don't think this ability to create a mood comes from technical expertise, per se; The Doors were not virtuosi.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Sep-11-2019 at 23:48.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Yes but when these people sing, how do they make their decisions about these things?
    Usually there is an artistic leader that decides that.
    If it is a group without conductor than it is perhaps one of the performers who leads the group, if there is a conductor available, than he/she decides.
    Usually, the leader has to make a kind of research before starting rehearsals, if music is unknown, so that he/she understands what happens in music, what type of intonation is needed, phrasing etc.
    And also each choir is focused on performing a certain music. You will not see Moscow Cathedral Singers to perform american gospel music, nor vice versa.

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    How on earth is the leader to know what the musical possibilities are unless he lets the musicians try things out together? Especially in chant, where each singer’s experience in oral traditions may well be invaluable for making the score into meaningful music.

    Even in later music - an ensemble singing Machaut or Dufay has to decide on balance and tuning and on embellishment, and I just don’t see how they can do this unless they try out things together.

    Having said that, someone I know sings for Peter Philips’s ensemble The Tallis Scholars, and I get the impression that he works very much as you describe. It’s much later music of course, Renaissance music.

    If I remember right, one set of essays when discusses an experimental approach is the stuff that Rogers Covey Crump wrote on intonation for the three Conductus CDs he made for Hyperion.
    Last edited by Mandryka; Sep-12-2019 at 06:34.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    How on earth is the leader to know what the musical possibilities are unless he lets the musicians try things out together?
    sorry, but a good leader/conductor should have a very good imagination in his/her own head. it is not needed to be tested first. rehearsals start with a clear idea how it should sound.

    of course, if something seems to be awkward, than it is changed.
    but a great leader has clear and unique ideas, makes good concerts and is demanded.
    bad leaders have no ideas, lead amateur ensembles and concerts are not so demanded.
    very easy.
    Last edited by anahit; Sep-12-2019 at 11:20.

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    Honestly the model of authoritative visionary leader, like Toscanini leading NBC or something, is daft when you have an ensemble of a handful of musicians many of whom are at the top of their field in terms of research etc.

    I am absolutely sure that, for example, neither Marcel Peres nor Paul Hillier nor Dominique Vellard nor Mary Berry nor Anne Marie Deschamps worked like that.

    Of course where you have a bunch of boys singing from the liber usualis it’s a different matter!
    Last edited by Mandryka; Sep-12-2019 at 11:40.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    Honestly the model of authoritative visionary leader, like Toscanini leading NBC or something, is daft when you have an ensemble of a handful of musicians many of whom are at the top of their field in terms of research etc.

    I am absolutely sure that, for example, neither Marcel Peres nor Paul Hillier nor Dominique Vellard nor Mary Berry nor Anne Marie Deschamps worked like that.

    Of course where you have a bunch of boys singing from the liber usualis it’s a different matter!
    Well, a collective midset with no hierarchy or leader is more in keeping with the way things were done back in medieval times, where authorship was not recognized, and little was written down. Egos were checked at the door.
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Sep-12-2019 at 14:13.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mandryka View Post
    I am absolutely sure that, for example, neither Marcel Peres nor Paul Hillier nor Dominique Vellard nor Mary Berry nor Anne Marie Deschamps worked like that.
    of course, toscanini is an extreme example of "dictatorship" that couldn't be compared even with karajan. but as "millionrainbows" said, there is no collective mind today in professional ensembles.

    do you really believe that salonen and gergiev come to rehearsals wondering what consensus about music could be?
    instead they do come with an exact idea how it should sound and it is their private idea or imagination. and of course, because they have a great mind, experience and imagination they can project music before it is played. they don't need to hear it before, even with premieres.
    Last edited by anahit; Sep-13-2019 at 05:56.
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    Quote Originally Posted by anahit View Post

    do you really believe that salonen and gergiev come to rehearsals wondering what consensus about music could be?
    instead they do come with an exact idea how it should sound and it is their private idea or imagination. and of course, because they have a great mind, experience and imagination they can project music before it is played. they don't need to hear it before, even with premieres.
    This is of course true of symphonic music, but here it is about Medieval music, where the borderline between some individuals making music together and a larger group with a more or less formal leader is more flowing, e.g. Orlando consort and the Hilliard Ensemble. I am sure, that neither the members of the Orlando consort nor Paul Hillier turn up for sessions with a 100% clear idea of how the music should sound. They have to try some options. This is about intonation, musica ficta, rhythm et.c.

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