Archive for teachers

Let’s all listen to Schoenberg …

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

I enjoy a lot of Schoenberg’s music, in the broadest sense of “enjoy”. It’s not really music to relax or wind down to, it can be so intensely personal and subjective, especially the works of the free atonal period, exhibiting a plethora of intense emotions which tend towards the dark side. I don’t expect any more than a minority of classical music listeners will ever want to listen to it on a regular basis, but I think it is unique and meaningful music (if very much a product of a particular time and place) and does have an importance for that reason.

Certainly all art is very much a product of its time and place – the question is whether it still has anything to say to people here and now? That sort of sensibility that comes through in Schoenberg – rootlessness, alienation, inhabiting a certain precipice within “high culture” and the social world it inhabits, etc., certainly speaks to me, but I don’t find it wholly surprising if many others don’t find it relevant to them.

Schoenberg’s life beyond the concert-hall – his listing by the Third Reich as “degenerate”, his escape to the United States, his life as an émigré, his teaching there, his prominent position as a Jewish refugee – brought his name to a greater prominence than many of his contemporaries. His name became a byword for a kind of purposed complexity and intellectual rigour in music … to a wider public who’d never heard a note of it, but had heard of Arnold Schoenberg.

And they fervently believed that this Schoenberg man represented the very summation of everything they wouldn’t like in music, and should be avoided like the plague.

Russians

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Think of the Askenazys, Mravinskys, Petrenkos, Kondrashins, Luganskys, Gergievs of this world.

Do you think they find a hidden voice in Russian classical music that no other musician can hear?

Many experts would dismiss any suggestion that nationality has any relevance whatever when it comes to performing music but then you think of all those Russian musicians and orchestras and you have to think again. There is no question in my view that the Russians seem to have a direct line to the composer’s soul (especially apparent in Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich) that no other nationality seems to possess.

At the same time, I also wonder if the St Petersburg band and other Russian outfits get fed up with playing their compatriots’ music when on tour. Wouldn’t they like to let rip with a little Mahler, or Strauss, or Elgar, occasionally?

If you talk to Russian musicians there is a real sense of respect when they tell you that “I studied with X who was the favourite student of Oistrakh” and this kind of thing. One often gets the impression of how seriously they regarded the handing down of the flame in terms of teaching – obviously with a strong emphasis on Russian music – and this did impart a tradition in performing their native composers.

Alhough in earlier times, the results of this lineage could be surprising. From the early professionalisation of music-making with the founding of the St Petersburg Conservatory in 1862, and that in Moscow three years later, Russian instrumental pedagogy was for several decades heavily staffed by foreigners (especially in St Petersburg, somewhat less so in Moscow). One of these was the Jewish-Hungarian, Leopold Auer, himself a student of Joseph Joachim. Now Auer, whilst heavily influenced by Joachim’s teaching, modified the so-called “Joachim grip”, with the arm very close to the body, somewhat locked in (which was taught quite extensively in the Berlin Musikhochschule, which Joachim founded). Both Auer and Joachim inveighed vociferously against the use of continuous vibrato. Yet three of Auer’s most important students – Mischa Elman, Efram Zimbalist and Jascha Heifetz – played a very significant role in establishing this practice towards its becoming the norm in the 1920s and 1930s. Within two generations of teachers we have gone from Joachim to Heifetz – a pretty major transformation in my opinion. Auer has been characterised as the most important teacher of the violin in Russia prior to the Soviet era (I know more about Russian pedagogy between 1862 and 1917 than afterwards, but certainly various people have suggested there was a very significant shift after the later date with the new types of politicisation of musical life), yet his own style of playing and teaching seems very far from those that developed at a later date.

Similarly the Polish Theodor Leschetizky, a student of Czerny and a teacher at St Petersburg from the very opening of the Conservatory (then later in Vienna), could teach Ossip Gabrilowitsch, Mark Hambourg, Ignacy Paderewski and Artur Schnabel – all extremely different players.

Now I do believe one can talk of schools of playing, especially centered around particular teaching institutions (certain ways of playing have been predominantly taught in London, Paris, Vienna, St Petersburg, Moscow, New York, etc.) and also the aesthetic norms and demands of various localised musical scenes (certain types of player or styles of playing tend to be favoured depending upon who is awarding prizes, running concert series, radio stations, etc.). And the same for composition. But I’m not so convinced about how much the lineage counts with the best players, many of whom often move in a quite different direction to their teachers.

Are you tone deaf?

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2010 by Robin Gosnall

So does “tone deafness” exist? And why do some people prefer crap music despite their intelligence and education?

When I was about 10 we all had to audition for the school choir. I was one of the very few who wanted to join – most of the other boys deliberately ruined their chances of being selected. Unfortunately, the music teacher said to me: “It’s funny how some people (meaning me) just cannot follow a tune!” and that was that.

Since then I’ve been in various singing ensembles (being a tenor it’s easy to be accepted) but never for long as I find week after week of “note bashing” rather boring. I’ve even had solos in musicals. I don’t know whether tone deafness exists but I think anyone, unless he has a medical condition, can make an acceptable sound with a little effort and encouragement.

As for taste in music, I am never impressed by anyone over the age of 30 whose musical horizons are limited solely to pop music. Then again, some people prefer tinned salmon to any other variety, what passes for chocolate in this country to the real stuff, and mass-produced lager to real ale. I suppose there’s no harm in having what you fancy rather than pretending to like something you don’t just because you think you ought to, just as long as you are open minded enough to give things a fair chance.

However, we could be more restrictive (or is it extensive) about tone deafness. What about those incapable of splitting a chord they hear into the different notes being played? More difficult, what about those incapable of hearing the first harmonics of a given fundamental? This goes far beyond education. It is here indeed a matter of intelligence. Not of course a matter of level or amount of intelligence but indeed a matter of form of intelligence, i.e. analytical v. synthetic, sensitive v. discursive.

Even more difficult – what about a musician incapable of hearing, hence not playing in accordance with, not the music he is playing, but the music the public is listening to when he plays. I would personally call this tone deafness … for a professional musician of course.

Education can help in many ways but there are probably some gifts which you either have or don’t have, such as perfect (or absolute) pitch (although some would argue that this can be acquired).

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