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This has been mulling around in my head and I thought I'd pose this question to the forum.

What is the obligation of the performer to conform to the composer's "intentions" for a work? For a performer, how much liberty with a piece is too much? Or, at what point does one cross the line between interpreting a piece and changing it?
My prof. and I had a talk about this in my lesson this week and he said something like, "I paid for it, I can do what ever I want with it."
Opinions?
 

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This has been mulling around in my head and I thought I'd pose this question to the forum.

What is the obligation of the performer to conform to the composer's "intentions" for a work? For a performer, how much liberty with a piece is too much? Or, at what point does one cross the line between interpreting a piece and changing it?
My prof. and I had a talk about this in my lesson this week and he said something like, "I paid for it, I can do what ever I want with it."
Opinions?
My opinion is that is a quite disturbing outlook. If we don't respect the score, then what do we have? Some colleagues and I were just discussing this with respect to a recording of Berio's IXb that completely disregarded much of the composer's quite detailed instructions, most notably sempre senza vibrato. If the performer can't respect a clear instruction in a work that is highly organized on multiple levels, then they have no business performing the piece, in my view. There are expressive parameters that very with each piece, but there are parameters nonetheless.

The same is true with jazz, as it too relies on formal shapes and structures for coherence.

A point of view that considers only what the performer 'feels' and not what the composer intended is merely an extension of the worst self-indulgent tendencies in society.
 

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My prof. and I had a talk about this in my lesson this week and he said something like, "I paid for it, I can do what ever I want with it."
Opinions?
That's a pretty glib answer and a bit arrogant. Using that rationale, you could then play the Ibert with Guardala lazer mpc at mm=90 and feel justified. Or play it as is with the "proper" equipment, but with inappropriate articulations.

IMO your first familiarity with a composition would be to replicate exactly what the composer intended, to the best of the information you have. That means not just looking at the music, but studying about the composer, him/herself as well as the genre if you're not intimate with it. Regardless of the art form, my inclination is always to immerse yourself in something you might intend to take liberties with (or depart from) later on, so you know what you are departing from.

Now, having said that, and I meant what I wrote, if one has a good sense of musicianship and understanding of what they are doing, I have little problem when they take liberties.

As a composer, I have had some very interesting and satisfying reactions to various interpretations of things I've written. If it's abstract music, when excellent musicians put their insight into what I've written, many times it does not come out exactly as I envisioned it when I wrote it, but it's very interesting nevertheless. I find this exciting.

p.s. (Jim and I were writing at the same time, it seems.) IMO in the case of some composers who are very specific with their directions, there is no excuse whatsoever to ignore them.
 

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This has been mulling around in my head and I thought I'd pose this question to the forum.

What is the obligation of the performer to conform to the composer's "intentions" for a work? For a performer, how much liberty with a piece is too much? Or, at what point does one cross the line between interpreting a piece and changing it?
My prof. and I had a talk about this in my lesson this week and he said something like, "I paid for it, I can do what ever I want with it."
Opinions?
My opinion is that is a quite disturbing outlook. If we don't respect the score, then what do we have? Some colleagues and I were just discussing this with respect to a recording of Berio's IXb that completely disregarded much of the composer's quite detailed instructions, most notably sempre senza vibrato. If the performer can't respect a clear instruction in a work that is highly organized on multiple levels, then they have no business performing the piece, in my view. There are expressive parameters that very with each piece, but there are parameters nonetheless.

The same is true with jazz, as it too relies on formal shapes and structures for coherence.

A point of view that considers only what the performer 'feels' and not what the composer intended is merely an extension of the worst self-indulgent tendencies in society.
Right on.

Composers know what they're going for. It's our job as performers to bring that message to life through our performance.
 

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I know several composers that went to synths just so performers wouldn't F*** up their pieces.
 

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When you offer one of your compositions to the world, you should hope for people interpreting it, modifying it and getting inspiration from it. A composition is brought to life by the musician(s) who play(s) it. Expecting every last detailed instructions or intentions to be fully respected or even understood would be denying human nature.
 

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Having worked with several composers on both newly written works and also works performed several times by other performers I've found that composers vary in their expectations. Some do want the performer to rely on their instincts and musicality while others are very specific at Prof. Drake said about the Berio Sequenza.

I know that other instruments that have a much longer history--piano, violin, cello, flute, etc. whose great works like the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, Poulenc Flute Sonata, Beethoven Piano Sonatas, etc. tend to perform the pieces tempos and phrasing that is not too radically different. At least this is true when we're talking about the "great" performers like Itztak Perlman on violin, Jean Pierre Rampal on Flute and Richard Goode on piano. They've taken the composer's indications (even the "dead" ones!) and pulled something special out of the music, but not "recreated" it.

I believe in respecting the composer's intention, unless I know for a fact they want me to do my own "creating" when performing the piece either from talking with them directly or from indications in the score. Remember, we NEED composers to write for us and respect their creative ideas!

Dale Wolford
 

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This has been mulling around in my head and I thought I'd pose this question to the forum.

What is the obligation of the performer to conform to the composer's "intentions" for a work? For a performer, how much liberty with a piece is too much? Or, at what point does one cross the line between interpreting a piece and changing it?
My prof. and I had a talk about this in my lesson this week and he said something like, "I paid for it, I can do what ever I want with it."
Opinions?
My opinion is that is a quite disturbing outlook. If we don't respect the score, then what do we have? Some colleagues and I were just discussing this with respect to a recording of Berio's IXb that completely disregarded much of the composer's quite detailed instructions, most notably sempre senza vibrato. If the performer can't respect a clear instruction in a work that is highly organized on multiple levels, then they have no business performing the piece, in my view. There are expressive parameters that very with each piece, but there are parameters nonetheless.

The same is true with jazz, as it too relies on formal shapes and structures for coherence.

A point of view that considers only what the performer 'feels' and not what the composer intended is merely an extension of the worst self-indulgent tendencies in society.
Agreed.

I'm going to throw something else in on this...I think it really depends on the composer as to how close you stay to his/her "intentions". If you're playing a piece by John Cage, for example, I think it matters less (since you're playing music that is aleatoric anyway) than if you're playing Boulez (where the structure of the music is paramount.)

And another thing on this subject...I have a CD of West Side Story with Jose Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa as Tony and Maria. It's not very good stylistically, but Bernstein himself is conducting it. He cast it himself because he wanted it to be accepted as opera. But it just doesn't sound right, and the movie version is usually accepted as being more definitive. So at what point do we disregard "what the composer wants" and play to a mythical "spirit of the piece"?

I'm just throwing these things out there because I'm curious about everyone's philosophy...
 

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My opinion is that is a quite disturbing outlook. If we don't respect the score, then what do we have? Some colleagues and I were just discussing this with respect to a recording of Berio's IXb that completely disregarded much of the composer's quite detailed instructions, most notably sempre senza vibrato
I had a discussion once with Arno Bornkamp on the lessons he had with Berio on Sequenza IXb, Berio told Arno that he had written senza vib because he hated bad vibrato. He told Arno however that he liked his vibrato and if he wished he could use it. However, as he is probably the only man around with that approvale I think we should stick with senza.
 

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I have sometimes been pleasantly surprised by interpretations of my music which have been different to what I envisaged (why didn't I think of that?) but more often it is a case of "Why can't they do it the way I said?".

I think the bottom line is that if you look at different idioms/styles, you find that they have different parameters for the amount and nature of "performer input". For example, the original scores of much baroque music contain little if anything in the way of dynamic or articulation markings. Decisions about these are left to the performer, but it is assumed that the performer is educated about the manner in which these things are done in that particular style of music. This involves learning a performance tradition, either by conscious study or immersion.

As you progress forward through the "classical" tradition through the classical and romantic periods and then into the first part of the 20th century (I'm generalising here, there will be exceptions) composers take increasingly more control over the minutae of musical performances. That doesn't mean that there is no scope for interpretation, it's just that the parameters for it are narrower.

Then, in the 20th century we have a number of traditions that are again giving the performer much more liberal scope for interpretation.

SHORT ANSWER:

It's about the style. Play in accordance with it.
 

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This has been mulling around in my head and I thought I'd pose this question to the forum.

What is the obligation of the performer to conform to the composer's "intentions" for a work? For a performer, how much liberty with a piece is too much? Or, at what point does one cross the line between interpreting a piece and changing it?
My prof. and I had a talk about this in my lesson this week and he said something like, "I paid for it, I can do what ever I want with it."
Opinions?
I tend to agree with your professor. Although, I'm sure he wouldn't have meant that he could do WHATEVER he wanted with it. He was just trying to make a point.

If I were a composer, I'd be flattered by others interpretations of my pieces. Interpretation doesn't include "change". Anyway, I think you'd know as a player when and if you crossed the line.
 

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+1 for Drakesaxprof and Gary's posts. I would only add that you have to make this evaluation for each composer or piece you work on. In the case of Berio, you should pretty much play the ink. In other cases, you have to use your common sense. Sometimes, composers just don't know what they're doing (SOMETIMES). Good composers will trust a performer's musicianship.
 

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I keep an F sopranino in my arsenal for every time I'm asked to play Bolero since that is what Ravel specifically wrote for.
Perfect is the enemy of good.

If a composer writes for an instrument that practically does not exist (your F 'nino example, or C bass, for example), either he can grit his teeth and let it get played on another instrument, or he can have the horns built. Where do you think Wagner tubas came from?

As a performer, the proper instrument should be left to your discretion (within reason). If a piece is in Bb, don't tell me to play it on an A clarinet because it's "sweeter sounding". I can see a point in complaining if I played it on eefer or C clarinet, they don't sound the same as a Bb/A, but a properly built Bb/A pair should sound nearly indistinguishable except for where the break lies. Similarly, if F 'ninos aren't available, and someone makes do with a normal Eb 'nino, that's just the breaks.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
The way I've been looking at it:
The performer's goal is to make the most musical performance possible. If a performer finds that the ink is getting in the way of this, why not change it? Regarding the Berio example, does the performers use of vibrato make their interpretation "not valid?" When I consider this, I ask myself one question: "Does it work?" The only way to answer this is to look at it from the audiences perspective. An audience member is not following along with a score as you are performing, they're just along for the ride. So if you change something, and it works, and the audience likes it, what's the problem?
 

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The way I've been looking at it:
The performer's goal is to make the most musical performance possible. If a performer finds that the ink is getting in the way of this, why not change it? Regarding the Berio example, does the performers use of vibrato make their interpretation "not valid?" When I consider this, I ask myself one question: "Does it work?" The only way to answer this is to look at it from the audiences perspective. An audience member is not following along with a score as you are performing, they're just along for the ride. So if you change something, and it works, and the audience likes it, what's the problem?
It depends.

Different composers make different demands on performers - some give latitude, some do not.

Performers, in the main, perform pieces of music that they were not clever enough to think up themselves. They should give respect to those who are (or were) that clever.
 

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The way I've been looking at it:
The performer's goal is to make the most musical performance possible. If a performer finds that the ink is getting in the way of this, why not change it?
I find that unacceptably arrogant. I have been composing for decades and studied really hard and it is wrong for a performer to come along and decide he can ignore what I have spent weeks writing. Especially as the performer may know nothing about composition. If you don't like the composer's music, find another composer or write your own! Maybe if the performer knows my music really well and decides that changing something would give a better interpretation of my ideas, that is different, but that is the exception, not the norm. The performer would have to know what my ideas were anyway.

Regarding the professor who said "I paid for it, I can do what ever I want with it" that is wrong. He has paid for the paper or pdf score, the composition is the composer's and cannot be sold under the copyright laws in just about every country. If you are looking for a career in classical music I would ignore that particular dictum from your professor.

I agree with drakesaxprof, I am tired of "this is how I feel" being a justification in society.
 

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I'm a little old school.
The composer wrote the music the way THEY wanted it to be performed.
I do my utmost to respect every guide given in the piece. ie dynamics, articulation, tempo, phrasing....
I'm sure that the composer was aware that there would be differences in how the piece would be interpreted depending on the player. Everyone will add a few personal, subtle embellishments.
The music is not from my mind, heart, or soul. It's from theirs, and deserves to be respected and played as closly to the composers original intent as possible.
 
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