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Thread: Score vs. Performance

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    Senior Member millionrainbows's Avatar
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    Default Score vs. Performance

    What's more important to you, and why? Music can be made without scores, after all. That's the way it started out, as sound.

    Isn't a score just a set of instructions used to control large groups?
    A good performer, on the other hand, is the one who really breathes life into a score, and gives it meaning, power, identity, force, and poetry.

    Are you one of those people who thinks the score is like "the gospel," which should be strictly adhered to in search of an "ideal" Platonic version?

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    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    I can't read music but am not sure that any score is a blueprint in engineering. So performance is what we get - what makes the music fly or remain earthbound. Of course, if the piece in a poor one then no performance can save it.

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    Senior Member SONNET CLV's Avatar
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    Hope you're not trying to score too many points with this post. It sounds like one of those which will invite confrontations!

    I'm still trying to figure out exactly what a piece of music is. Is it the score? Or the performance (the sounded reality) only? Or are both of these "music" but in different senses of the term?

    "Isn't a score just a set of instructions used to control large groups?" No, that's a Constitution. And even that doesn't work all of the time, apparently.

    The score is a set of instructions on how to realize a sound-art-piece. It's kind of like the blueprint for a finished work of architecture. There is art in the blueprint as well as in the final product. The blueprint isn't the final product, but it can create numerous "offspring", just as a score can create many performances/interpretations.

    Interestingly, the score is rather definite (though it may call for aleatory effects) while the performance taken from the score depends upon decisions/changes. The exact same printed score will produce many varied sound performances.

    I don't know where group control comes in here, unless you are an usher at, say, the opening performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring and you need to do something to regain order in the concert hall. Unfortunately, the score provides you no help there.

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    Senior Member amfortas's Avatar
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    I'm trying to see if I can detect any particular bias in the OP.

    Hmmm . . . yeah, OK.
    Alan

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    Senior Member mikeh375's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post
    What's more important to you, and why? Music can be made without scores, after all. That's the way it started out, as sound.

    Isn't a score just a set of instructions used to control large groups?
    A good performer, on the other hand, is the one who really breathes life into a score, and gives it meaning, power, identity, force, and poetry.

    Are you one of those people who thinks the score is like "the gospel," which should be strictly adhered to in search of an "ideal" Platonic version?
    Yes a performer will do that, but let's not forget the actual composer to which all of those verbs and adjectives apply even more so.
    For me the traditional score is a point of departure for a journey, one that has the directions, but not the exact route. Ideally, the performer(s) arrive at the same destination as the composer.
    Last edited by mikeh375; May-24-2020 at 20:42.

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    Quote Originally Posted by millionrainbows View Post

    Are you one of those people who thinks the score is like "the gospel," which should be strictly adhered to in search of an "ideal" Platonic version?
    Don't they both go together? When I hear a classical piece (as opposed to jazz or rock), I come with certain expectations. Classical can be a complex language, sometimes requiring sustained attention and above-average skill, so some degree of familiarity makes the listening experience greater. When a skilled conductor/performer takes the familiar and makes it unique, that is where the art is. When they take the score cavalierly, it doesn't matter how in tune/skillfully played the music is, the performance can fall flat. (For example, my experience in hearing Maximilian Cobra shows how someone can execute Beethoven with an orchestra playing together and in tune, but the tempi are so exaggerated that the experience is diminished).

    Although I have wondered if a string quartet or pianist began playing random notes in the style of Anton Webern and attributed it to Webern, how many would pick up on it.

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    One could say that a score is like a blueprint of a proposed structure....that structure actualized through performance or construction, as the case may be...
    Tho, perhaps the score is more like the script of a play, or theatrical production...it tells us what notes, what pitches are to be performed in time, relative to one another...
    Tho the script is exact, its delivery is very much up to the performer...obviously, the actor does not read the script in a straight monotone delivery, it would be lifeless and deadly...same with the musical score - the composer may present guidelines to the performer - tempo indications: Allegro, Adagio, Andante, etc, etc..and expressive directions as well - maestoso, con brio, dolce, cantabile, feroce, etc....performers will generate their own concepts of these directions put forth by the composer...

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    What Heck148 said is correct. And to add to it: the score is "the gospel". It's the performer's obligation to respect the composer's work as far as is possible. They should not re-orchestrate, re-harmonize, make cuts. But when it comes to things like tempo, that's where some musical sense and intelligence comes in. I don't care at all what the HIP crowd thinks, those Beethoven tempo markings just cannot be right. Following a score in a slave-like manner is antimusical and I think most composers would agree. Musical notation is far from perfect and a "strictly adhered to" isn't possible. That's why different recordings are so different even using the same music. Even the so-called purist conductor's recordings sound different.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    The relative importance of score versus performance to the final effect of a work depends on the nature of the music and the performing traditions that apply to it. The score is a set of instructions, but those may be either very general or specific down to subtle details. Bach just gave us the notes. Mahler gave us detailed instructions for phrasing and dynamics. No generalizations apply to music as a whole.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Mahler gave us detailed instructions for phrasing and dynamics.
    Yeah, Mahler doesn't leave anyone guessing.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    I think it's interesting that even composers don't necessarily have an ideal perfomance in mind. Sibelius complimented performances of his music as different as those of Karajan, Beecham and Ormandy. Copland, in a recording of his own rehearsal of Appalachian Spring, says amusedly to the violins after they play an unwritten but commonly used glissando, "I don't know where that came from," but his recording keeps the effect. Composers are generally performers on some instrument, so they're perfectly familiar with the role of interpretation, and most are probably happy when performers care enough to bring some individuality to performances of their music.

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    Senior Member pianozach's Avatar
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    The score is a map with several sets of simultaneous instructions for many players to create a cohesive product.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Most are probably happy when performers care enough to bring some individuality to performances of their music.
    I think most are happy if anyone performs their music at all.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Manxfeeder View Post
    Yeah, Mahler doesn't leave anyone guessing.
    And yet there are so many questions and different approaches. Four easy examples:

    1) The 3rd symphony, 4th movement. That infamous English horn part was played one way for so long, then along comes some idiot who thought it should be played glissando. Clearly wrong. Mahler knew a glissando and he indicated it clearly when he wanted it. But now the part has become ugly as more and more conductors and players play it gliss. rather than "drawn up".
    2) The opening of the 7th. Some versions (Solti, Barenboim eg) play measured notes in the strings. Others play a real tremolo, including Klemperer who was there at the first performance. But check the score: could Solti be right?
    3) Symphony 1, 3rd movement. Now there is conjecture that Mahler didn't want a single solo bass, no, he wanted the whole section. This confusion thanks to the Gustav Mahler Gesellschaft.
    4) Symphony 6. Besides the unending and pointless arguments about Andante-Scherzo or Scherzo-Andante, the tempo at the vey opening is all over the place, from the very quick to the agonizingly slow.

    Even dynamics really aren't that clear. He orchestrated in a way that tried to bring out the important material so that some idiot conductor couldn't mess up, but they still do.

    Nope, Mahler, despite the numerous comments in the scores, still leaves us guessing.

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    Seems to me the composer is charged (and knows he is charged) with creating a sound event, and the score presents instructions for others who aren't him/her to create it. There is often a lot of baggage involving contemporaneous performing practice/tradition that the composer takes into account when he's notating his concept, and sometimes our misapplication or lack of knowledge of these assumed practices cause performances to go off the rails, but we can't always know that. The composer does the best job he can, and then throws up his hands.

    I read music badly, but know the principles of notation and can follow a score sort-of if I know the music well and am listening, or know it well enough to play it in my head. The advantage I've found is that sometimes the score makes things I am hearing (or think I am hearing) make sense, and sometimes I actually see things that I'm not hearing, or am mishearing.

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