April 7, 2011

Whose art is it anyway?

Take a piece like Villa Lobos's Prelude #3, and compare several recordings of it to the score if you have it. There is a sort of "traditional" interpretation of this piece, in which performances tend to follow a similar (to each other) contour of dynamics and rubato, to the point where the rhythms you will hear no longer really resemble what the composer notated.

There's a similar sort of tradition with Sor's famous B minor study, Opus 35 #22. My copy of "Complete Sor Studies" has the tempo marked Allegretto. Every 19th century copy I've seen of the piece says Allegretto... Yet there seems to be a contest amongst performers to be give the slowest performance of it.

That study clearly works well when played slowly. Sor could have written "Andante" and no one would have thought differently of it. But he didn't. So does everyone who plays it slowly do it because they spent time with the piece and decided slow was best? Or was it because that's what they were used to? Maybe Segovia's edition has a slower tempo marking.

Prelude #3 works just fine when played with that particular pattern of rubato. But I was actually surprised when I read through it the first time, that some of the written rhythms were so different from what I was used to hearing and I can't help but think that if HVL would have written them differently if that was what he really wanted. We should at least consider that. Somehow I doubt that everyone that plays it that way studied the score, and chose to play it exactly that way because of the contents of the score.

We can get so accustomed to hearing a certain type of interpretation of a piece that when played strictly as written it sounds amazingly wrong. Don't be afraid to play something differently from how it's written, if that's what moves you, but consider whether you're making your own artistic choices or letting someone else do it for you.

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