Casals and the art of the interpretation by david blum: review

Garry Morales Urbina Book Report 13 April 2012 Casals and the Art of the Interpretation — David Blum David Blum (Los Angeles CA, 1935) wrote this book to show how a great master as Casals thought about the materialization of emotions to express what music needs to. Moreover, he provides fundamental concepts which Casals sometimes called “ law of music” or “ laws of nature” — concepts which he considered to be essential elements of meaningful interpretation and applicable to all forms of musical expressions. (Blum, 10) Then the purpose of this book is not biographic but how he applied these concepts in music. Hence, Blum took notes from rehearsals and master classes, in private discussions with him and at chamber music rehearsals at his home. The First Principle “ Technique, wonderful sound…all of this is sometimes astonishing but it is not enough” Casals said, during a rehearsal of Wagner’s “ Siegfried Idyll”, “ Every note must sing. ” He would often begin a rehearsal by working in detail; a quarter of an hour could be devoted to two or three phrases. “ Every note has to have a different sonority. ” In this process he always encouraged musicians to take risks to be expressive. Finding the design “ Remember that all music, in general, is a succession of rainbows” Expressive inflection as an indispensable element in musical performance, and the introduction of expressive markings into musical scores, are historically tow different matters. “ Variety, ” Casals would say, “ is a great word — in music as in everything; variety is a law of nature. Good music has never monotony. (…) We must give to a melody its natural life. When the simple things and natural rules that are forgotten are put in the music — then the music comes out! ” These “ natural rules” were born of logic based upon intuition, the elemental forces around and within us. Our thoughts, fantasies, emotions, and dreams flow in waves, expanding to varying points of culmination before subsiding. “ Nature never stays at one level, there is a constant vibration” (Blum cited Casals, 19). For this, each note is therefore like a link in a chain. Dynamic variety is perhaps the most immediate and elemental way in which the performer may give to a melody its natural life. Some Casals’ suggestions If the design goes up we must give a little more tone; if it goes down, a less tone. Generally, a long note will mean crescendo or diminuendo An immediate repetition should provide contrast; a change of colour The range of piano extends all the way to forte and vice verse. One has to follow the line of music Casals explained that where an appoggiatura is built into the melodic line, the note of resolution must maintain its natural connection to the appoggiatura even if not joined to it in a legato slur. The relatedness of the two notes is most often overlooked when the appoggiatura takes the form of suspension and the note of resolution leads on to a new phrase segment. If the suspension falls off in too drastic a diminuendo the sense of continuity may easily be broken. Diction for Instrumentalist “ Diminuendo is the life of music” Although a diminuendo suggests a decrease in volume there was no decrease intensity; the music has never been set forth with more rugged grandeur. However, certain diminuendo which might seem exaggerated to the instrumentalist may not necessarily sound exaggerated to the listener. A prime function of the diminuendo is indeed to bring the attention of the ear of the little notes. It is very important that every note to be heard distinctly. “ The first note of an ornament must receive an accent; otherwise it is lost. ” (Casals cited by Blum, 60) Perceiving Time Relationships “ Fantasy as much as you like — but with order” “ The art of interpretation is not to play what is written. ” (Casals cited by Blum, 69) Since earliest time, songs and dances have arisen freely and spontaneously, conveying messages of the human spirit which cannot otherwise be expressed. “ When music is written down, it dies. ” (Casals cited by Blum, 69) The printed score is like a landscape painted on a cardboard façade; they invite the interpreter to discover the world of experience of which they are the mere semblance. When the re-creative spirit of the performer leads us through one of the painted doors, we suddenly find ourselves entering a three-dimensional realm. The forms take on depth. We perceive the movement of light and shadow. The vitality of a musical performance is depending upon the spontaneous feeling for rhythm communicating by the interpreter. Throughout history, musicians have observed that dotted rhythms, in particular, are poorly served by notation. Leopold Mozart, tells us of certain passages “ where the dot is to be held rather longer… if the performance is not to sound too sleepy.“ As Bruno Walters said, “ The measurability of musical rhythm, are therefore the accurateness of its notation, is only approximate. The pattern two eight notes and a quarter or two sixteenth notes and an eight note is another figure which, Casals, believed, often needs to be freed from bondage to the printed page. The two shorter notes, he observed, usually belong together in a slightly quicker grouping than the score indicates. Beethoven’s pupil Czerny tells us that the composer played this rhythmic patter, in such manner that the two sixteenth notes where condensed into a more rapid unique of time. If rhythm tends to elude precise definition, tempo rubato is a veritable fugitive. Casals considered it to be an inherent factor in music of all periods. He practiced in this respect was at variance with the altitude prevalent during the first part of this century, exemplified by Grove Dictionary which until its third edition, published when Casals was fifty, advised that rubato “ is allowable in the works of all the modern “ romantic” masters, from Weber downwards…in the case of the older masters, It is entirely unconditionally inadmissible. ” Musicology eventually caught up with Casals. Insights For String Players “ Intonation is a question of conscience” The notes of a composition do not exist in isolation; the movement of harmonic progressions, melodic contours and expressive colorations provides each interval with a specific sense of belonging and — or direction. A trill should express the atmosphere of its musical setting. “ In a slow movement the trills must not be too rapid. ” (Casals cited by Blum, 123) As with other long notes, a long trill should not remain on one dynamic level. “ In general, we must make a crescendo or a diminuendo. ” The beginning of a trill will usually receive an accent. So often vibrato will be taught as a skill in itself with attention given to its technical basis rather than to its interpretative relevance. Casals asked his students to remember when playing sonatas, that the piano is an instrument without vibrato. In passages where the string player has an accompanying voice, he must be sparing in his use of vibrato. Casals and Bach “ Bach is forever — and nobody, nobody will reach the greatness and the profoundness and the diversity of Bach”