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HPSCHD-L  July 2003

HPSCHD-L July 2003

Subject:

Re: The Interpretation of Spanish Music

From:

Sheli Nan <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Harpsichords and Related Topics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 21 Jul 2003 02:39:34 EDT

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (101 lines)

There must be a challenge to the manner in which Scarlatti and Spanish music 
in general is taught and performed here in the USA. The presiding and in my 
view dated manner in which Spanish music is visualized, taught and heard, is of 
a metronomic quality lacking in aesthetics and humanness. This comes from an 
old world closed view of the Spanish Court. The antiquated view of the court 
was that it was not as cultured as the rest of Europe and that it was a closed 
environment that had few if any contacts with the outside. This unfortunate 
representation allowed for an interpretation of the music that was limited in 
scope. I will never forget playing for Igor Kipnis in a master class. Igor was 
one of my mentors and I loved him dearly. Nevertheless, he strongly criticized 
me for retarding at the end of an 8 bar segment. He insisted that I continue my 
vigorous playing without a pause at all. I instinctively felt that this was 
incorrect. I was also told by Laurette Goldberg, my mentor and dearest friend 
and colleague, that ornaments were never started on the upper auxillliary in 
Scarlatti. This came from the study by Kirkpatrick which at that time was the 
definitive word on Scarlatti. This may be dated now. I certainly felt this to be 
an incorrect and decidedly narrow minded take on the use of ornaments in 
Spanish music.
When I went to Spain and performed in the year 2000 at the inaugural event of 
the International Festival of Spanish Keyboard Music, I played for a number 
of Spanish Maestros from the conservatory and the like. I spoke about my 
concerns and about the way I had been taught. They basically laughed at me. "How 
utterly absurd,' they said. Of course one must play with basic humanity - breath 
- and musical dynamics. The score, like all scores, is only a blueprint 
allowing the music to come alive through the performer. I felt vindicated in my 
desire to perform the music another way and yet I felt also the need to 
historically support my ideas.
Let's take a look at the Aristocracy in the 18th century. There was never a 
political occasion where music was absent. The Spanish court held sway in 
Naples, where Scarlatti was born in 1685. Naples came under Spanish rule in 1442 
and Spain held the city for most of the next 250 years.  Musicians constantly 
were brought from court to court, or traveled from court to court, learning one' 
another's styles and sharing ideas. King Charles ll of Spain named a French 
duke, Philip of Anjou, as heir to the Spanish throne. Charles had no children 
of his own and when he died in 1700 Philip of Anjou became King Philip V of 
Spain. Philip was a grandson of France's King Louis XlV and became the first in a 
series of Spanish rulers from the French Bourbon family. Strong ties 
developed between Spain and France because the rulers of both countries were 
Bourbons.  As one could easily say that French music is the hardest, as Arthur Haas, 
says, "…because you do not play what is on the written page..." so too Spanish 
music can fall under that rubric.
Farinelli was born in 1705 in Andria, Italy. He traveled widely appearing in 
operas with most of the principal composers of the day. He sang in London, and 
then went to the Court in Madrid finally retiring in 1769. He even had 
occasion to meet the young Mozart.  Luigi Boccherini, the Italian composer and 
cellist born in 1743, in Lucca, Italy, went to Rome and then on to Paris, 
publishing his first works and then he traveled to Madrid, Spain in 1769 and was 
appointed composer and chamber musician at the Spanish court. He then moved to 
Berlin at the invitation of King William ll of Prussia, as his chamber composer. So 
here is a perfect example of the movement of the musicians of the day. No one 
was ignorant of the current interpretations and styles that were prevalent in 
musical literature at this time all over Europe. There were crosscurrents of 
musical knowledge and if you take into account, once more, that Scarlatti 
wrote many of his pieces at a much later date in his life, that is all the more 
reason to conjecture that he was aware of the different methods of 
interpretation and that perhaps these ideas are not written in for the very same reason 
that the French ideas were not written in. It was understood by artists of the 
time.
Now take into account that theoretically Farinelli wrote down the Scarlatti 
pieces and that Czerny eventually got a hold of them. Do we really trust that 
Czerny did not elaborate, reorganize, and generally "clean up" the scores 
before the music was once again passed on? I do not postulate that he did this with 
any hostility. I believe he might have thought he was making it easier for 
everyone.
So now we get to the crux of the matter and to the points that Bradley Lehman 
brought up. I believe that we can discuss Soler in this same context. First 
let us address the idea of speed. There is a great impulse to throw oneself 
into the stream of notes cascading down a scale or arpeggio. There is a physical 
delight in pushing the energy to untold speed and danger. Does that make it 
right? First we need to distinguish between how we feel and what others listen 
to. This is crucial!!!! Just because we are getting a rush, it does not mean 
the audience is. As a matter of fact, frequently the faster a piece of Spanish 
music is played the more uncomfortable the audience can be. Because the 
audience wants to participate. When the performer gives in to and is unable to 
modulate his speed, the audience is left out as the performer indulges himself. So, 
if we accept this for a moment, what happens next? The piece must be evaluated 
as a dance. In the case of the pieces that Louisa Morales performed in 
Vermillion, the dance aspect of the pieces dictated the speed at which they were 
played. I have heard her perform them more quickly…although not at breakneck 
speed. Secondly, so often a piece will reflect the different timbre of the many 
different instruments ( and the sounds of the street etc.) that were performed 
in Spain at the time the piece was written. In order to bring this out, a 
slower speed is a tastier option. Thirdly, the character of the piece, the drama, 
the personality, must be accessed with the understanding that the piece can 
actually change midstream as can the tempo. 
What Lehman describes works if it is not done as an indulgent and 
disrespectful approach to the piece. This of course depends on if one is playing for 
oneself or playing for others. For example, Lehman states that at times the Soler 
Fandango is "…saucy, burlesque…with a mental image of a dancer going wild…" 
That would call for any number of dynamic choices and yet always within the 
realm of respect to the composer.
These topical issues are of great concern to me and I deal with them on a 
daily basis. I hope this has been illuminating to all of you.
Sheli Nan
Sheli Nan is the published composer of a number of works both for solo 
harpsichord and for ensemble. Her pieces can be viewed and heard at www.shelinan.com 
under the "scores" section. Her work is published by PRB Productions of 
Albany ,Ca. Among her many scores is apiece entitled, "! Fandango Ardiente!". She 
was the first harpsichordist ever invited to Spain to perform and she has just 
been invited by the Cuban government to perform at El Teatro Nacional En La 
Habana, Cuba. 

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