Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Dramatic Delay or Excessive Phrasing

I tend to like my Bach "dry".

One of my pet peeves is what I refer to as "Dramatic Delay". This is where the musician holds a note longer than is specified in the score to somehow build tension, drama, or something in the music. Based on my years of piano, I think it stems from music teachers encouraging their students to "interpret" or "feel" the music. In some musical settings (like when listening to music I don't care for anyway), I really don't mind. But when you start messing with Bach, you're messing with counterpoint (explicit or implied) and so you are making a mess of one voice while trying to emphasize the other. IMHO, Bach (and most pre-romantic era music) should be played with strict timing and no undo emphasis on one voice over another. Bach is great, in part, because every voice is interesting. So, I find it highly ironic that while a musician thinks they are doing Bach a favor by getting all dramatic with one phrase, they have inadvertently maligned the other voice or (typically) voices.

Here are some examples. Right now I only have midi recordings to give an example of a recording with strict timing, but I'll get more as I get time. [I'm sure the musicians who provide the dramatic delay examples are fine musicians, despite this perceived flaw]:

Prelude to the 1st Cello Suite
Goldberg Variations (Variation 4)
Not saying Joshua Bell isn't awesome; the photo just fit the message.
The "Dramatic Delay" is right up there with the "Musician's Swoon", where the musician (typically a first chair or soloist) feels compelled to sway, shake, contort as they play--no, feel--no, become--the music. My music teachers encouraged this and no, I never gave in, at least in a detectable way. I'm not saying that some bodily and even facial movements are not appropriate, but I really think Bach would have pulled his saber on his first chair student if they acted the way some musicians do.

For those I've offended, I sincerely apologize.  I realize I'm in the minority on these two points.  I acknowledge that you are likely way more proficient in music than I am.  Also, if you are making money with your instrument (or teaching your instrument), you should probably keep doing whatever you are doing!  Just know that some of us prefer a little more reserve in manner and interpretation.

1 comment:

MZP said...

it's anachronistic. romanticising baroque music. drives me nuts, too. a true musician would consider the time in which the music was written, and would be able to feel it just fine, as written.

i hate the swooning thing. limited amounts of it are understandable, but i've seen some performers who are downright distracting. it definitely draws undue attention to the person, taking away from the beauty of the music.