University of California - San Diego - Regents' Lecture (1966) - Part 2 of 3

LECTURE I - January 26

From the Rosalyn Tureck Collection,
Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University

[Go to Part 1]

Now another difficulty about ornamentation is — not only do you have all these squiggles but they all have different names according to different countries and different sections of each country. So that if one is called a Pralltriller by Bach, another will call it a triller, another will even call it a mordent. But that isn't right because this is supposed to be a mordant, not that. So that the whole technical language in itself is a study. And in addition, these mean different things in performance depending on whether you are in France, north of Germany, south of Germany, England, or in Italy. So one has to find one's way in this whole morass. Now another that you see is that [draws on the board]. That's a rather late ornament which is really very clear because it means trill. You can see its a trill, and sometimes you get it that way, and sometimes you get that [draws on board] and sometimes you get that [draws on board] and sometimes you get that [draws on board] and then we get into the lovely shapes like that ... And then you have something that looks like that ... and then you have something that looks like that ... and then you have another one that looks like that... Then — now and then quite often you see only a line like that — in between two notes or you will see a sign like this in between two notes or you will see a kind of comma over a note. Well — this by the way has the distinguished name of Doppelschlag and what it really means is a double beat. And for that you have to use your imagination as to its meaning really, because double beat could be lots of things. What it really amounts to is this (plays) that kind of an ornament. In other words what it really means is that you take the note above, you go through the note (the large printed note) and then you take the note below and you return home. Now the point after all, this is a musical notation; this is a language.

Now I am sure there are many people who may want to argue that, and I am willing to do so. At the moment let us just settle for the fact that this is a notation that one can read if you are literate in this kind of notation. And you read it and you understand it and it has a meaning and it has an application and it has a relevance which is not doing too badly for something that looks like that. But added to that, you see, you have the musical score. Now that in itself has no meaning at all — it is just five lines — but if you put this to it, that has enormous meaning ... that ... or here ... or this ... That is not a sharp, by the way. That is the tenor, the alto clef, the C clef — that is a moveable clef. Are there those here who do not know what I an talking about when I speak of clef — because I will be very glad to explain it. I will anyway if you will allow me that. The fact is that, let us say with this clef which is the most familiar — this is known as the G clef — and the meaning of it is originally — what it really is, is this — the shape of that note on this line. That means that we have decided that the second line of this, which is called the staff, is going to be G, and it is going to be a particular G. It is going to be the G above middle C. And from that point on you can begin to read the staff up and down if you know that. This is simply a developed figure meaning the G clef. And that is what clefs are. They simply indicate that the line on which they appear is going to be a particular note and then you read the staff accordingly up and down. So that here with what we call the bass clef, which is really the F clef, the musical note is around what we call the fourth line — we read from the bottom up. The fourth line is going to be F, and that F is the first F below middle C. So with this... Every line on which this appears — I mean this can move — is C. That is why it is called the moveable C clef. And this is called the tenor clef because it happens to be the fourth line up and that has to do with the voice register which later transplanted itself to string instruments. And there are certain instruments where music written for it (them) appears always in the tenor clef and than there are others with the same clef but on the third line and the third line is then C and so it was again with voice and transferred to string instruments, for instance the viola. Most of the music written for the viola appears in this clef and in the cello you get it and they sometimes alternate, so that a cellist usually goes between the bass clef and this one and a viola player between this and the G clef. History of clefs is another story. It is a very big story actually but the point is that this is where we begin as far as notation — musical notation — is concerned. Now this is established as theG clef — this is going to be G.

Now will you — With the notation of ornamentation we call the note which appears on the staff the main note. So this would be ... if this were that ... If we saw something like that ... This is the main note and this is the ornament. What Bach would have called a Pralltriller. And just to give you an idea of the reality of this that you are seeing on the board, this is how it would sound (plays) four notes starting on what we say — as we say, the note above — we just say the note above. What we mean is the note above the main note, and on the beat. Now these are three tremendously fundamental ideas about ornament up till 1750. We could say between very roughly the 15th to the 18th century. That is one of the most fundamental rules of ornamentation. Now these few that I have already put on the board, each are different — each are treated differently and the rhythm of a — not only of a work but the design in which it finds itself alters the way you play that. It also dictates the notes you use. For instance, when I talked about having a knowledge of Gregorian modes — one of the great mistakes that contemporary performers make is using the half-tone, whereas Bach thought much more in terms of the whole tone. And this is a sort of relic from the old harmonic thinking and from the Gregorian modes. Now this is not to say that he did not think in terms of half-tones because he was working in the scales that we know about today — just the major and minor scales. But it is more likely in a C major (plays) a piece in C major that one makes an ornament if you find — let us say E will be the main note (plays) and you find this Pralltriller above the E, one would play (plays) that's not a good example because it has to be a half-tone. Let me do the inverted one — this one. The line in the center means that this is inverted. In other words here you play (plays) the first note is the note above the note that is printed on the staff. It never appears on the staff at all. You start with the note above the one that's printed and you play four notes, that, the main note, that, the main note, on the beat. Now here you start on the main note, and you play the note below it and return to the main note — so if it were in C major it would have to be this (plays) not (plays). Now for a musician there is a world of significance in these two sounds (plays). Every musician knows immediately. This is romantic (plays) This is very forbidden and (plays) this is baroque. Actually it is earlier, too; it is renaissance and it's even medieval.

I am just touching on certain problems to give you an idea of what is involved when you talk about Bach, when you listen to Bach, when you perform Bach, when you study Bach, as a musicologist and what one must begin to learn about. Therefore what one needs is this combination of the history, the structure and the equipment as a musical artist. And if you've got those three then, I think you can begin to do something with Bach. If you are fitted in only one direction, or another, or another, you can't deal with this music.

Now there are those performers — this is another school of thought I hadn't mentioned — who say we are musicians, we have intuition — we have taste — you can't learn about music from books — you are a musician or you are not. And this applies especially to poor Bach and this applies especially to ornamentation — this kind of point of view. And I can tell you that most of the people you have heard play Bach follow this point of view — that is the performing performers. Now the musicological ones, who usually play Bach on the harpsichord or clavichord or both, approach it as a study of history, there is a book by a vary good musicologist, Frederick Dorian, and you can read the book and I am sure you'll benefit by it — it is called The History of Music in Performance and the title to the opening chapter is this "Performance: Applied Musicology." So you see the two sides. One says that music, obviously the music as well as the performance because you can't divide them, is the application of musicological information; and the other side the performing side, says "well, we are performers, we are artists, we are musicians, we have good taste, we have great talent, we have intuition, we use this and books can't tell us what to do." So I will hope to show you something about the actual structure of Bach's music which will, I hope, give you an insight as to first, generally how music is composed. Because it is a very highly organised art despite the fact that it is a very kind of intangible art. And I will also hope to show you how deep a language it is, how real a language it is. And I am going to give you one more little illustration and then we shall call a break for about 10 minutes.

I have had tremendous talks with various philosophers on this subject who will not allow music to be called a language, of course. And this whole idea you know — musicians can be sentimental and sort of impulsive and they talk about the truth which you find in music. This is so hopelessly old-fashioned today and so hopelessly forbidden that you know most people won't have anything to do with that kind of a notion. But let us see what this really involves. Such a thing as a concept; we also talk about concepts. This is not supposed to be the thing to do either. "Concepts don't exist in music; they can only be expressed in words." This, of course is one school of thinking. Now let us try something here. How do we get across any simple idea through a word. Well, I'll take a terribly simple word like "red" which after all we must know the alphabet in order to read it and then we have to put those letters together and then we all have decided that those three letters, one succeeding the other in that particular order, means this particular color — red. So it's r – e – d. Now that's a word and it is meaningful. Now music is not supposed to have any such system or possibility of communication. Well for the musician — We will put together our syllables which are also based on the same kind — a, b, c, d, e, f, g and we stop there except that the Germans always go one better and they have an h. We end with G — but Germany has H which is B natural.

Alright, So we have C – E – G. There are also three letters. R – E – D. They are just different letters. Now for the musician, these are equally significant singly as these letters are in what we call language and hardly bother to call it verbal language or aural language or written language — that's C – E – G. Now for the musician this spells something terribly clear, terribly significant and very fundamental. We couldn't do without it. That spells something as important as a word — this is a word. Now this is not only a word but there are all possibilities of imagery when you see that word. First of all, all sorts of associations are possible. Everyone in this room may think of something quite different in seeing the word "red." In association you also think of different shades of red and different connections with red. Now it is exactly the same with this. We don't call it a word; we call it a triad which really means simply three tones, but that has the same significance us a word because it is a fundamental idea. But it also can appear in many different situations and have different associations in different ears and different situations and totally different qualities of color. And they are absolutely equivalent in organising your material. I'll leave you with that for 10 minutes.

SECOND HOUR

I shall play a prelude and fugue for you — the first Prelude and Fugue in Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier. It is in C major. I shall play it first and then talk about it. (Plays) I have selected this one to begin with because I want to build for you some clarity in seeing how what may appear to be a simple or a very complex work — how that is really put together. Now I am going to talk about the Prelude because fugue is something that I want to spend more time on than a few minutes. In this first book there are a good number of preludes that are built on a certain basic design — we might even, as musicians, even say concept — and that is on the arpeggio idea. Now then arpeggio — I am sure you have all heard that term — it simply means (mostly to us) it means a broken chord (plays). This is a chord (plays). Anything of more than two notes is — in simple terms, popular terms — a chord. When it is what we call broken (plays) that is called arpeggio. Now one of the great mysteries in ornamentation is the type of score you come upon where you have nothing but a group of chords — just chords — and that means this (plays) and they look like this... Well, as I wrote here, they will look like this. And now you'll have another chord ... then you'll have another chord ... and so forth and so on.

For instance, there is a famous fantasy, or sometimes called a Prelude and Fugue — not from the collection of the '48 — one of the miscellaneous group of Preludes and Fugues where the Prelude is simply one line long and it is nothing but a series of chords. Now what are you going to do with that. To the musician who is trained in the 19th and general 20th century way, the only way he can read that is to play the chords and they are usually in long-valued notes so it is not very interesting.

Now we have — an outstanding example occurs to the Chromatic Fantasy of the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, and this is one of the scandals of music. In the 19th century — toward the end of the 19th century all the great pianists, and also other musicians, began to transcribe Bach. And Busoni was the greatest of them who was a very great pianist and a very great musical mind and recently is beginning to be recognised as a great composer with advanced ideas truly very advanced ideas, not at all in the 19th century idiom, but something very far into the 20th century, and he was, of course, a very active transcriber as most of you know. I think of a story where someone was introduced to Madame Busoni and the person said "Ah, Madame Bach-Busoni." I actually know Madame Busoni in New York and this actually has happened to her. It is a story that is told but the fact is that it has happened.

Now the point is, the transcription — I should say the edition — of the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue which is most played and known all over the world is one by von Bülow. And this is simply an edition which means, this is the piece and von Bülow suggested interpretation marks and so forth and so on. Now there is a section in the Chromatic Fantasy which is just chords — I hope that is not von Bülow's ghost — Bach has written only chords, these chords (plays). Now that's not a bad series of chords in any language or at any time, but that is all he has written — they are half-notes — long-valued notes and that is all that is there. Well it was already known, although scholarship was not yet very profound, but it was spreading and some things were getting to be known. It was known that this — it didn't mean that you were to play them straight. It meant arpeggio. Actually I should say that Bach himself wrote the word arpeggio in front of this series of chords so when you see the score — let's make believe that this is the series of chords and Bach — you do see a little, in small print, a little word like that — a word in the music score. Now that's quite rare, so obviously that means to break it. However they didn't know how the arpeggio was made. Until 19th century musicians, arpeggio meant one thing — up and down in one or just up — never down by itself — either up or up and down. In other words you could do this (plays) or you could do (plays).

[Part 3 coming soon!]