Classical Music Forum banner
1 - 20 of 64 Posts
G

·
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I asked a question in a thread about Sibelius which applies more generally. It was prompted by an interview with Sir Simon Rattle and raises the question about the extent to which conductors' interpretations can ever be plain wrong. Here's the post and the link to the interview (thanks Becca).

Hi Becca

Many thanks for your link to the interview about Sibelius with Rattle.

http://www.talkclassical.com/39674-ss-29-08-15-a-post933551.html#post933551

[Rattle is of the] view that Karajan has no sense of rhythm and that he was playing the violins 'wrong' at the beginning of the 5th (around 2:20 if you find him on Spotify). He also referred to a conductor (Ormandy, I think) who 'added a trumpet' at the end of the 7th. Is this a matter of taste, or just wrong? I've also been comparing various versions of the 4th movement of the 6th, and note that Berglund takes it much more slowly than others; too slow to be an allegro molto?

So, I'd like to listen to the interpretation that gets it 'right' - as close as possible to what Sibelius intended, insofar as we can discern it from whatever he's written on the score.
There are similar arguments about Beethoven and the use, or ignoring of his metronome markings.

Though I'm particularly interested in Sibelius, please feel free to offer insights on any other composer.

Thanks.
 

· Banned
Joined
·
9,050 Posts
Quite simple: the conductor is also an artist. The successful conductor must interpret the music to the listeners' acclaim. Unlike the composer who can whatever write he wishes, the conductor may not have that much freedom because the score is in front of him. Playing a symphony allegro as largo or a concerto andante as presto would risk ridicule. There are conductors who do risk interpretations but I think they won't be in their business long because tickets and recordings won't sell. That's when they get things "wrong". So to answer your question, I think the conductor as an artist can interpret in any wish he wishes, but in practice he does not risk extremities because it will not sell his concerts.
 
G

·
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Quite simple
Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler
(Probably Roger Sessions though often attributed to Einstein)

I don't doubt that conductors have an eye on both sales and publicity, but that doesn't really answer the specific questions I asked - which I've now put in bold to make them clearer.

I'm asking a technical question about the point at which a permissible interpretation strays into being a wrong performance, as exemplified by the Rattle examples.
 
G

·
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I think it's worth noting that Karajan was a great champion of Sibelius when no-one else was playing him and that Sibelius himself was a great fan of Karajan's interpretations of his music. So for Rattle to make a statement like that appears a bit presumptuous.
Only if there is a hierarchy of conductors, which is somewhat off the point.
 
G

·
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Hey MacLeod, while you have phrased this as a practical matter, I think that what you're talking about is actually a philosophical matter. That is, it's going to be tough to get any sensible responses to the question as asked, so all the sensible responses are going to look off-topic.

In a way, your question is about what kind of thing a score is. If a score is a set of precise instructions to be obeyed, then it's easy to conclude that disobedience is wrong. If a score is a set of suggestions to be interpreted, then it's easy to conclude that practically (!) anything an interpreter does is whatever an interpreter does.

It is, of course, not that easy. But that's partly because the terms of your query do not conduce to sensible responses, and the bolding just highlights that fact. As it were.

Here's another question that might clarify what I think is going on here. To what extent can a composer make mistakes in the score? Not copyist mistakes like wrong notes, but bad instructions. Things that don't work musically, so have to be overridden in performance.

(N.B., the words "don't work musically" are not sensible words.)
 

· Registered
Joined
·
10,725 Posts
Quite simple: the conductor is also an artist. The successful conductor must interpret the music to the listeners' acclaim. Unlike the composer who can whatever write he wishes, the conductor may not have that much freedom because the score is in front of him. Playing a symphony allegro as largo or a concerto andante as presto would risk ridicule. There are conductors who do risk interpretations but I think they won't be in their business long because tickets and recordings won't sell. That's when they get things "wrong". So to answer your question, I think the conductor as an artist can interpret in any wish he wishes, but in practice he does not risk extremities because it will not sell his concerts.
I think there's some truth in this, but by focusing on the social and market issues you're masking another issue, IMO a more interesting one in fact.

Try a simpler question first, instead of "Can a conductor's 'interpretation' ever be wrong?" ask "Can a pianist's 'interpretation', playing for himself, ever be wrong?" That removes the the social element and reveals the problem of interpretation which is, of course, still there for the conductor.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
10,725 Posts
Hey MacLeod, while you have phrased this as a practical matter, I think that what you're talking about is actually a philosophical matter. That is, it's going to be tough to get any sensible responses to the question as asked, so all the sensible responses are going to look off-topic.

In a way, your question is about what kind of thing a score is. If a score is a set of precise instructions to be obeyed, then it's easy to conclude that disobedience is wrong. If a score is a set of suggestions to be interpreted, then it's easy to conclude that practically (!) anything an interpreter does is whatever an interpreter does.

It is, of course, not that easy. But that's partly because the terms of your query do not conduce to sensible responses, and the bolding just highlights that fact. As it were.

Here's another question that might clarify what I think is going on here. To what extent can a composer make mistakes in the score? Not copyist mistakes like wrong notes, but bad instructions. Things that don't work musically, so have to be overridden in performance.

(N.B., the words "don't work musically" are not sensible words.)
Suppose someone produced a recording of Kranerg with the tape playing at an unusual speed. Would that be a wrong performance?
 
G

·
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Hey MacLeod, while you have phrased this as a practical matter, I think that what you're talking about is actually a philosophical matter. That is, it's going to be tough to get any sensible responses to the question as asked, so all the sensible responses are going to look off-topic.

In a way, your question is about what kind of thing a score is. If a score is a set of precise instructions to be obeyed, then it's easy to conclude that disobedience is wrong. If a score is a set of suggestions to be interpreted, then it's easy to conclude that practically (!) anything an interpreter does is whatever an interpreter does.

It is, of course, not that easy. But that's partly because the terms of your query do not conduce to sensible responses, and the bolding just highlights that fact. As it were.

Here's another question that might clarify what I think is going on here. To what extent can a composer make mistakes in the score? Not copyist mistakes like wrong notes, but bad instructions. Things that don't work musically, so have to be overridden in performance.

(N.B., the words "don't work musically" are not sensible words.)
Perhaps I should start simple (!) Is there a specific speed or range of speeds for allegro molto? If so, is it a mistake to conduct a piece marked (instructed by the composer on the score) allegro molto outside of that speed or range? Does Berglund make a mistake, or is it taste/preference/interpretation if he takes it slower than the correct speed?
 

· Registered
Joined
·
7,018 Posts
I just wonder, Sibelius was constantly overspending (being broke), how much of endorsing a young, up and coming conductor that wanted to play some of his symphonies had a purely ulterior motive based on economical realities? I'm not saying that this any form of truth, but after having read Tawaststjerna's biography, this is not at all inconceivable!

As for the OP, I'm not sure You can say that an interpretation is wrong, but You are entitled to not like any form of interpretation!

/ptr
 
G

·
Discussion Starter · #13 ·
DavidA - tell us more about Sibelius 'being a fan' or 'approving' of Karajan's performances. Where can I read more, and was his approval in some way definitive? If so, is Rattle simply wrong in what he says?

Note that if we head down the road of allowing interpretation to go too far, we bring up the question of whether the conductor knows the music better than the composer.

(If I could understand a score, I might answer some of this for myself - but I don't, so I'm looking for the technicians to help.)
 

· Registered
Joined
·
10,725 Posts
Is there a specific speed or range of speeds for allegro molto?
No.

It's a relative indication. Faster than just allegro, so that gives you a suggestion about how to play the passage marked allegro molto relative to nearby passages with related or opposed markings (allegro tout court, largo . . . )

I would say that if you had a passage allegro molto close to a passage allegro, and someone played the former slower than the latter, then prima facie he'd be playing wrongly. All the work now is in spelling out what's in the prima facie of course! And the close to.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
10,725 Posts
DavidA - tell us more about Sibelius 'being a fan' or 'approving' of Karajan's performances. Where can I read more, and was his approval in some way definitive? If so, is Rattle simply wrong in what he says?

Note that if we head down the road of allowing interpretation to go too far, we bring up the question of whether the conductor knows the music better than the composer.

(If I could understand a score, I might answer some of this for myself - but I don't, so I'm looking for the technicians to help.)
"Dear Friend,
As you know, I have always been a great admirer of Mr. v. Karajan, and his magnificent recording of my works has given me the keenest satisfaction.... his great artistic line and the inner beauty of the interpretation have deeply impressed me. I beg you to present my grateful greetings to him.
With all best wishes, Very sincerely yours,
Jean Sibelius"
(letter to EMI producer Walter Legge, 15 September 1954)
 

· Banned
Joined
·
9,050 Posts
(Probably Roger Sessions though often attributed to Einstein)

I don't doubt that conductors have an eye on both sales and publicity, but that doesn't really answer the specific questions I asked - which I've now put in bold to make them clearer.

I'm asking a technical question about the point at which a permissible interpretation strays into being a wrong performance, as exemplified by the Rattle examples.
Happened numerous times throughout history. I can give you many technical examples, not following metronome markings, using different instruments/voices and transposing for these, re-writing sections, deleting sections to shorten the score (common with opera), ignoring repeats, using vibrato when there is meant to be none, tuning instruments to a much higher / lower pitch etc. all affect how the work sounds to our ears. Are these wrong? Many "great" conductors have done these to great acclaim as far as the audiences were concerned, mostly likely the majority did not even notice. Listen to several "great" recordings of Beethoven' fifth symphony final movement, many of the older recordings didn't bother with the repeats thus loosing the climax of the heroic finale.

This is one reason why I generally prefer to listen to historically informed performance practice groups when it comes to earlier music say before mid-Romantic.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
16,666 Posts
"Dear Friend,
As you know, I have always been a great admirer of Mr. v. Karajan, and his magnificent recording of my works has given me the keenest satisfaction.... his great artistic line and the inner beauty of the interpretation have deeply impressed me. I beg you to present my grateful greetings to him.
With all best wishes, Very sincerely yours,
Jean Sibelius"
(letter to EMI producer Walter Legge, 15 September 1954)
Eight months later another letter arrived in Legge's postbox:

Dear friend
You have perhaps wondered why I have not written to you before and thanked you for the excellent recordings of my fourth and fifth symphony. I have now heard them many times and can only say that I am happy. Karajan is a great master. His interpretation is superb, technically and musically.
With kindest regards and all good wishes,
Yours always sincerely,
Jean Sibelius.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
10,725 Posts
Eight months later another letter arrived in Legge's postbox:

Dear friend
You have perhaps wondered why I have not written to you before and thanked you for the excellent recordings of my fourth and fifth symphony. I have now heard them many times and can only say that I am happy. Karajan is a great master. His interpretation is superb, technically and musically.
With kindest regards and all good wishes,
Yours always sincerely,
Jean Sibelius.
Just to be clear for anyone who's lurking, we are NOT talking about Karajan's BPO recordings.
 
G

·
Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Suppose someone produced a recording of Kranerg with the tape playing at an unusual speed. Would that be a wrong performance?
Yes. And not only that, but suppose someone misspelled Kraanerg.;)

Perhaps I should start simple (!) Is there a specific speed or range of speeds for allegro molto? If so, is it a mistake to conduct a piece marked (instructed by the composer on the score) allegro molto outside of that speed or range? Does Berglund make a mistake, or is it taste/preference/interpretation if he takes it slower than the correct speed?
There's always more going on in a performance of music than the instructions on a piece of paper. That's why I said it was a philosophical matter, not a practical one. But simplifying keeps in firmly in the area of practicality.

And yes, there is a range for "allegro molto," but it's probably not something one could write down, and even if it were, that would still disregard all the other things going on in a performance, like (to keep things simple) the relative speeds of all the surrounding sections as well as Berlund's sense of how important contrast is for this particular bit you're identifying as "incorrect."

The question about the composer is still out-standing. Is it possible for Sibelius to have made an "incorrect" tempo indication, which a conductor would then have to "correct," and how would one determine that? And, generally, is it possible for composers to be "wrong" about their own work?
 
1 - 20 of 64 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.
Top