Washington University Lectures 1963/64

Lecture 2 (Oct 4) — Part 2/3

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

Part 1 | Part 3

[Editor's note: There appear to have been difficulties with the recording of this lecture, and as a result several omissions are indicated with elipses.]

Now the thing is, the first thing that happens when you come to a harpsichord for the first time — you hear the the noise — just like that — the same pitch — an awful noise. And you hear only noise because your ears are not tuned to the fragile sounds of a harpsichord or clavichord. Remember the ears of the 18th century had not heard orchestras, had not heard Wagner, had not heard brass sections ... Strauss, had not heard symphonic strings played. So that the entire physiological orientation ... You cannot hear the quality of the harpsichord at that first hearing. It is necessary to listen carefully in a small room for least a half dozen sessions before you can really hear more and more naturally, in the end quite automatically. ... So here is another silly side, a ludicrous side of the picture of listening to the harpsichord played only in a concert hall. (change of reel)

SECOND HOUR

... You can find these things for yourself. Now for instance the phrasing of the subject in the C-sharp major Fugue on the piano is this (plays) Nothing is staccato — even 16th notes are legato (plays) these are 8ths (plays) are staccato (plays) these are 16ths are legato, and these are 8th (plays) are staccato. Now (plays) the reason ... is a harmonic one. In other words when I make my decision about the phrasing of any motive, I take into consideration the melodic aspect of the motive, the harmonic aspect and the rhythmic aspect. Now this is the first step or steps in making any sense out of any motive, but they are only the first steps. When you are planning a bit of architecture your form must be put together to make sense ... just that kind of form. It is very true for music. And in order to build your performance and to find your way, you must ... you must know how to choose ... what is occurring and why these various motives are moving along simultaneously.

But remember in a previous hour I talked about the situation. Now in any work of keyboard music, I explained, the situation is changing all the time ... It changing because of the newly created relationships of the motives to each other. Now the essence of the concept, the essence of ... thought is this — you have constant motives — motives that are not changed. You have basic terms for the motives — subject, counter-subject, etc. Now these motives are not changed. When the greatest change which occurs in such motives as subject or counter-subject is inversion or ... Now lets see what that is. Yes. Well. That is not a change in the motive. The motive remains exactly the same ... It is either slower or its faster or its upside down. In other words the situation of the motive itself is different. But this is a very simple situation compared with the — with what happens when the motive finds itself in relationship to other motives — which it does ... You take a fugue like the B-flat major of Book I ... very clearly these are ... Now what makes that ... difference of situation, differences of relationships that are created when motives are placed in different positions in relation to one another.

Now in planning your phrasing ... As I said I start first with the three basic elements of music — melody, harmony and rhythm. Analyze each piece for the motive and discover a great deal about the motive in respect to these three elements. Then through that you find the nature of the motive itself which will then give you the clue to the possibilities of phrasing in that motive. Now before you actually begin in the performance of a work, you must investigate every other concept of the motive and you must investigate how each constant motive is in relation to each other one throughout the entire work. And besides if there is free counterpoint — and there mostly is ... you must investigate how they are in relation to the free counterpoint and vice versa; and how the free counterpoint influences the situation of the motive whenever it appears in that way. After you have done all that study, analysis, searching, understanding the nature of every constant motive, the nature of free counterpoint, the relationship of each constant motive to the other in all their different situations throughout the entire work plus the influence of the free counterpoint upon all of these motives, then you can begin your phrasing and not till then. So that not till then will you know what phrasing you are going to decide upon — or at least the subject. Now that's ...

So. One of my greatest secrets is this that I have just been talking about. I consider every motive according to all its aspects and then I find the phrasing ... form and character ... the structure in every sense ... And in order to do that I have found I have to create a technique of playing this instrument in order to handle this instrument. That is why my playing the piano is different. There is a character in Bach that one must learn how to play ... It isn't the piano that is important — it's the performance ... background of harmonies with the psychological ... structures. And he is as far away from the concert department, the structures department and the generally ... performance departments ...There is no — absolutely no need there at all and therefore the piano has not been adequate, not because it isn't capable, but because it isn't needed. ... for this in performance ... The result is that every constant motive has a different base because as Bach himself wrote each motive, he has written a very different one. They are extreme ... and Bach's writings are extremely rational and if you would be true to each motive the way he writes, you must also be rational.

And again the usual keyboard ... playing on the harpsichord and even the organ. ... and the harpsichordists, because there are more of them around ... to the instrument and to the music ... because this concept about the music is inside and its in the structure that it exists. And if that concept doesn't exist and the basic concept is the same as the harmonic ... it doesn't matter whether it is harpsichord or keyboard because you are not getting into the structures of Bach. The underlying concept of Bach is related to the fact that you cannot possibly produce the power or resolution. Now the fact that you are pre-supposing the right kind of a piece of furniture is not enough. I am more purist than the purists. If you are going to play Bach, you must understand what Bach is. If you are going to play the harpsichord you must understand the harpsichord, what it is in its whole nature, and play it that way. And if you are playing Bach on that instrument, you must have both. It is not enough to get it on the harpsichord ... hands ... registrations ... to be an admirable player. That is nothing. That is just sheer surface. The important thing is to get at the heart of the structures. Then suit what you do as a performer to the great composer of that music. Then you begin to realize, to get near the realization of the intention of the composer.

You hear so much about the intention of the composer ... in a visual way either heard in Carnegie Hall in concert or a chamber orchestra or some very serious work, concertos ... or if everyone came with a sort of prayerful attitude as if this were very important, etc. and he announces from the stage ... and he says to the audience, now this presents a tremendous problem to us. There is no record in any sources as to how this was actually played in Bach's time. Therefore if we are going to realize the intention of the composer, we must follow the score and play it exactly as it is written ... I have heard a composer of very, very good standing and of at least national and also international reputation say he thought it ought to be done that way because it was written that way on the score.

So. Alright ... in extremes or superficiality of these ideas of being true to the intention of the composer. Most of the time I find that it is visual. If you play, as you all know we have stressed, play what is composed, written on the score — Bach, Beethoven, Chopin — play his notes, don't play ... Of course this is very important. But again — it's simply, you know, you can't ... notes ... but when you really ... notation was such that ... in performance. Now ornamentation is a kind of notation. It is not something outside of notation. It is a kind of notation. And it is just as important kind of notation as the notes you see on the score ... and again all ornamentation should be considered part of the score.

In the first book — I discuss ornamentation in all three books — I start from the very beginning. "Book I, page 7. The term 'ornamentation' gives the impression, to the modern mind particularly, of something extraneous and dispensable. In the music of Bach and his predecessors this is quite wrong. The first point to learn about ornamentation is that for this music it is indispensable, and the second that it is as much a part of the musical structure as the printed notes." "The following are a few fundamental facts about ornamentation which a musician must know before it is possible to consider general rules, or the performance of any particular ornament." ... so involved in ornamentation. ... to try to learn the rules.

Well the body of rules is so overwhelming and differs from one nation to another: not only one nation but one section of a nation to another — north and south of Germany, for instance. ... differences — the terms for the same ornament will differ with composers. Then again the symbols for different ornaments will be the same. So that there is a bewildering array of symbols and rules, many of them contradictory. So that the first entry of the subject will be ... indeed. But the first appearance ... before knowing what ornamentation is. So I list what ornamentation is. First I say "Ornamentation is indispensable" 2. "It is as much a part of the musical structure as the printed notes." 3. "It is a shorthand notation of musical figures." Now, in the word "figures" lies a great deal of meaning." Ornamentation is not just an appoggiatura kind of thing on a single note, or a single trill, which is simply a single item. Ornamentation is matter of feeling. When we begin to think of any ornament — all ornaments — as figures, we immediately begin to get the sense of what ornamentation really is, and its place. It is immediately correlated into the structure; it is immediately correlated into the melodic line or into ... Then, you understand, it must be considered in the basic harmony ...