“Music of all arts seems to be the most remote from the ordinary concerns of and preoccupations of people…yet it is considered among the really important manifestations of Western Culture and possibly the one manifestation in which our western contribution has been unique”. When I read this quote from Roger Sessions, I could not agree more. Sometimes people around me feel studying music is unnecessary, and everyone should contribute to building taller skyscrapers or faster rocket ships. However, I don’t think people realize how much music is in their lives and around them. I challenge them to go a day without hearing music of some sort, and they’ll realize how important it is in our culture. Sessions states that the listener has only been around for 350 years, when before it was only in the background. I disagree with this statement, since listening to music doesn’t have to be for analytical purposes. Even though it exists in movies and elevators as background music, audiences still acknowledge that it’s there, while not listening intensely for chord changes and progressions. Even when we listen analytically, everyone’s same perception of the same music may not be the same. The article talks about a variety of factors that are different, like where the upbeats and downbeats are and rhythmic sense. Sessions states that we don’t get our rhythmic sense from breathing alone, but from our movement as well. Furthermore, it suggests we judge tempo by basic metrical pulsations and the speed at which at which we do our ordinary tasks like walking and speaking. Therefore, if somebody plays repertoire faster than what is written all the time, according to the article they walk and talk fast all the time as well. I think this is true to an extent. Someone’s personality can definitely be shown through their playing and choice of repertoire. Mahler might not have written all those famous funeral marches if death wasn’t a big part of his childhood. The article then goes into Beethoven, and how his deafness affected his personality, which in turn affects the music he wrote. The article states Beethoven’s deafness only increased his composition and creative ability, since he could hear music internally anyway.
This is similar to the idea of when somebody loses a sense; the other senses get stronger to make up for it. Beethoven’s sonatas and the sonata form as a whole were once compared to an arch in architecture, with the exposition and recap being the two legs, and the development being the top of the arch. However, on further review Sessions realizes that they can’t be comparable, since music takes up time and is more fluid, while architecture takes up space and is static. The fact that music is fluid is why no two performances of the same piece are the same, while a piece of architecture will always occupy the same space. So many variables affect a performance, such as dynamics, fermatas, and how much rubato and accelerando is used. Therefore, a performance is something that can never be mechanically reproduced even in our advancing world. I always wondered why my piano teacher would sometimes insist that I get a certain edition of a piece, even though the notes are just about the same in each edition. I found out some editors would insert their own dynamic markings and phrases, making the score apocryphal. The article questions why early composers like Bach never wrote in phrasing or dynamics. Was it because he rehearsed with the performers so much that it was unnecessary, or were the musicians back then so musical they didn’t need to be told what they should do? Personally, I think even if Bach wrote in dynamics, you still can’t play triple forte on a harpsichord. Before I understood and studied the Baroque period, I may play a Bach Prelude and Fugue like a Rachmaninoff Prelude, since they both had prelude in the title. One of the techniques I used to play around with is playing a crescendo where a decrescendo is marked just to hear what it sounds like. This helped me in determining how a phrase should feel. I was surprised when the article mentioned doing this is as wrong as playing a wrong note, although I’d never do that in a performance. Sessions also questions how much should you stick to what the composer asks, and how much of your own input should you use. This is one of those questions that stick out in a variety of situations. My hip hop dance choreographer always says to add your own style to the dance, but how much deviation is allowed from the standard routine? I think Roger Sessions describes this well with the quote “Without fidelity a performance is false, without conviction it is lifeless; in other words, it is hardly music”. Although you certainly can’t go wrong in a performance doing everything the composer asks of you in the score, it’s easy to see if you don’t believe it yourself. This is where my crescendo at a decrescendo helps, since it helps to convince myself why it should be there.
I’ve also learned through the years the more you play a piece, or the more you practice a dance routine, the more comfortable you are with adding your own style to it. Your body gets tired of playing or doing the same thing, and will naturally find new places to go, which can only be discovered through repetition. When you listen to yourself play a piece after many times, you’ll be able to hear inside lines and small hidden melodies, which is an important skill for a listener. I think many questions that Sessions presents in the article can be answered through experience, or at least a better understanding of it. This is why I respect older teachers much more, due to their experience. What made many composers famous, like Stravinksy or Debussy is they broke the rules for composition, which is somewhat contradictory. Debussy’s music is mostly atmospherical, and considered his work an act of rebellion against the strict rules for tonality. However, now that modern composers have broken the “gravity” of music, where do we go from here? One must have rules in order to break them, and often times I feel like modern music is similar to splattering paint randomly on a canvas. You either call it art or you don’t. I’m eager to see where classical music will go in my lifetime; like if there will be another musical era. That will be up to the performer, listener, and composer.