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Thinking about improvisation led to cadenzas; care to discuss?

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Posted on March 16, 2017 at 08:45:39
kitch29
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Found this article in The Atlantic which I found interesting.


 

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Improv scares me, posted on March 16, 2017 at 09:34:55
jdaniel@jps.net
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I can't do it at all.

I read somewhere that composers up to Debussy expected their music to be subject to improvisation. That shocked me. I think it was in Harold Schoenberg's "Great Pianists" book.

Great read for novice and veteran.

 

RE: Improv scares me, posted on March 16, 2017 at 10:16:58
rbolaw
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I'll have to look that one up. Harold Schonberg was a longtime friend of my father's and I got to meet and talk music with him. My copy of The Great Composers has a nice inscription from him to me: "from a thumper to a tootler" (he was an amateur pianist). He had an encyclopedic knowledge and near-photographic memory when it came to music history, and he was a great writer and all-around brilliant guy to boot.
But he was not a great or even a very good musician. He was a great journalist. He became famous for his coverage of the Bobby Fischer - Boris Spassky world championship chess match, though he was no chess champion either. The comment about Debussy seems odd, as Debussy was supposedly a fanatic about players following his score as closely as possible, once famously shouting during a rehearsal he was conducting of his own music: "No improvisation! I don't need it."

 

RE: Improv scares me, posted on March 16, 2017 at 10:53:58
PAR
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" The comment about Debussy seems odd, as Debussy was supposedly a fanatic about players following his score as closely as possible".

I think that the comment may have meant up to (but not including) Debussy.

Some of the evidence for historic practices is fascinating. I remember reading a novel ( probably E.F Benson or Dorothy L. Sayers) a couple of years ago. One of the characters enquires of another " Have you adopted that new fashion for not applauding after movements?". The Benson novel was written, set in and published during the 1920s and the Sayers the 1930s. So this implies that this restraint in audience reaction may be as recent an occurence as after the first World War. In many cases I personally find the practice very artificial.

However all this is stepping into the waters of HIP so best keep schtum :-)

 

OK, that makes more sense., posted on March 16, 2017 at 11:31:07
rbolaw
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Funny, Debussy reportedly was not a good conductor, and Ravel, who apparently also felt players should play exactly what was written without any embellishment and famously commented, "performers are slaves", also reportedly was not a good conductor.

 

RE: OK, but what about performing Cadenzas? Chris?, posted on March 16, 2017 at 13:25:33
kitch29
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Do soloists fool around with the Cadenzas written for the works?

Have any soloists written their own?

Heard any good Cadenza Jokes lately?


 

In days of yore, I've posted my own feelings about cadenzas and improvisation here, posted on March 16, 2017 at 14:47:43
Chris from Lafayette
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And, BTW, that Atlantic article was not bad as kind of a quick overview of the history of cadenzas. I do however have a different view of the reason why Beethoven published cadenzas for his first four piano concertos later in his life. And that is that composers, by and large, began to trust performers LESS AND LESS (at least in certain aspects of performance!) as music history proceeded from the beginning of the nineteenth century through to the end of the twentieth century. Thus you have composers like Bartok, who were so afraid that the performers would deviate from his indicated markings that he not only provided metronome speeds but also total timings for the entire piece - just to make sure the players didn't go astray!

So, getting back to cadenzas, yes, Mozart no doubt rolled his own on the spot. And in some cases, we have examples of the cadenzas for Mozart's concertos from the next generation of musicians (like Beethoven's for the D-minor Concerto, as the Atlantic author mentions). I also remember, early on in my studies, being delighted to find that on my recording of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22, with Jose Iturbi playing and conducting the Paris Conservatory Orchestra (one of those Angel recordings with the wooden spine), the cadenzas used were by Hummel - who was the composer of a little Rondo I was studying at the time!

What I'm less impressed by is this kind of exaggerated reverence for improvisation in classical music these days - such as what Robert Levin supposedly does. If the improvisation results in a good cadenza, comparable in quality to those published by the composers themselves, then fine - I'm all for it. But what I think is really happening is the folks like Levin have a general plan in mind for their cadenzas and make little improvisatory tweaks to it at each performance. To me, this would not be the same as improvising a cadenza anew at each performance. In fact, it might be interesting to follow someone like Levin around on a tour, where he's playing the same concerto in different locales, and find out just how much difference there is in the cadenzas he plays on successive nights. My bet is that there wouldn't be that much - but of course that's only speculation FWIW.

I also like to hear unusual cadenzas, especially by other famous composers - I really like my Panenka/Smetacek recording of the Beethoven Third Concerto (on Supraphon) which features cadenzas by Smetana (!), and I read that there's a Rubinstein recordings of the Beethoven Fourth in which he used cadenzas by Saint-Saens. More recently, I gave kudos to Lisa [Batiashvili] for using cadenzas by Busoni, instead of the more familiar ones by Joachim or Kreisler, in her recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto.

OTOH, I'm no fan of Britten's cadenza for the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 22 (written for Richter - as noted in the Atlantic article), and I completely despise the Schnittke cadenza used in the Kremer recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto. And as for Gould's cadenza for the Beethoven First Concerto, it's just too filled with "What a clever boy I am!" sentiment for its own good!

One other interesting thing about the three cadenzas that Beethoven left for the first movement of his First Concerto is that there's a short one (used by Gilels and some others - but not too many!), the longer one (which almost everybody plays), and a third one, also long (which practically nobody plays, although I think Arrau used it in his recording with Haitink IIRC). This third cadenza is a big grand cadenza (like the second) but to me, it has always had one flaw: in the middle of it, there's a VERY unconvincing key change to the section which treats the closing theme. I'm sure this is why so few people play it. And yet. . . if one were to make one simple chromatic alteration followed by a new, additional seventh chord (underneath the trill), one could get into the new key in a MUCH more convincing fashion. I'd love to hear someone play this cadenza and have the courage to "improve" what Beethoven left us here! ;-)

 

RE: OK, but what about performing Cadenzas? Chris?, posted on March 16, 2017 at 14:59:47
pbarach
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Yes, many soloists do write their own cadenzas. Robert Levin improvises them when he plays Mozart concertos.

Hillary Hahn wrote her own cadenzas for Mozart 3:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywA_BsFvYxY

There is a place for an improvised cadenza in Rzewski's own "The People United Will Never Be Defeated," and every recording and performance I've heard includes one (Hamelin, both Rzewski recordings, Levit).


Now for some outrageous ones:
This youtube video of Gilles Apap's cadenza for the third movement of Mozart's Violin Concerto #3 has been sent around a lot:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmjGDBWZZFw

Another Mozart cadenza by Apap, along with Rudy Lakatos and a full Gypsey ensemble, including cymbalon:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LJeCZQSpXvM

Rzewski improvised a cadenza for the Hammerklavier Sonata where Beethoven didn't ask for one (and IMO none was needed):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGyX5W9a_IE



 

More examples, posted on March 16, 2017 at 15:17:15
rbolaw
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In his recording of the Beethoven and Mendelssohn concertos, Joshua Bell plays his own cadenzas for the Beethoven (not uncommon for a violinist to do, as Beethoven didn't write his own) and the Mendelssohn (quite uncommon, as Mendelssohn did write his own). These are very much not improvised, but are very good, imo.

Ironically, when Beethoven transcribed his violin concerto for piano and orchestra at the behest of his publisher, he did write cadenzas for it. I am not a fan of the piano transcription or the cadenzas, both of which may well have been done mainly if not entirely for the money.

 

So, a Cadenza walks into a Bar, and orders a Shirley Temple with, posted on March 16, 2017 at 16:32:40
oldmkvi
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a piacere.

You had to be there...

 

mainly if not entirely for the money., posted on March 16, 2017 at 16:37:23
oldmkvi
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One of the few options for doing so for poor old Ludwig.
Don't suppose he played a lot of casuals.

 

Applause, posted on March 16, 2017 at 20:08:15
Newey
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" Have you adopted that new fashion for not applauding after movements?".

You have nothing to worry about. As the current generation of classical music listeners dies off, that practice will disappear just as surely as did the woolly mammoth, the sabre tooth cat, or classical listeners themselves.

I have access to a number of different concert venues in the greater Chicago metropolitan area ["greater metropolitan area" denotes the city and its suburbs (or do you say surburbs?)]. Some of them are halls on college campuses. Of those, Northwestern University and The University of Chicago have major college orchestras and interesting halls. Someday I'll be posting my survey of hall acoustics, featuring the resplendently acoustically rich Mandel Hall on the UC campus.

In any case, whether you attend Orchestra Hall, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, or one of the community orchestras, or especially any of the university halls. you'll hear wild, enthusiastic applause - all the time.

Why? Why??????

Cause - that's what you do when attending any sort of pop/rock concert [so-called*].

The audience applauds when the rock "musicians" walk out on stage. So, audiences start applauding the very split second - and I sure mean split second - an orchestra member saunters out on stage.

You can just feel the audience's bafflement as the rest of the orchestra players slowly shuffle out, with no particular urgency, not bowing or even acknowledging the audience and its applause.

They were expecting what they're used to any rock "concert" [whether it's Barbara Streisand, Keith Urban, Snoop Dog, or The Hell Metal Drifters] - the band comes out, more or less all at once.

Somewhere toward the 20th and the 50th player of the orchestra walking out on stage, the audience gives up, stops applauding, and lets the musicians tune up. They have no idea they're supposed to applaud when the first violinist comes out, nor even when the conductor comes out.

Of course, at the end of every movement of a multi-movement work, they applaud wildly, although, if it's something like the Mahler 3rd, by the time they reach the end of the 5th movement, or Saturn in The Planets, they've finally figured out that they're not in Kansas anymore there at that boring classical "thing".

Inter-movement applause is particularly jarring after a movement that ends tragically or irresolutely, with the resolution still far off. Examples abound, such as the Bruckner 9th, the Tchaikovsky 6th, the Death & The Maiden quartet, and on and on. Here you are, immersed and carried away by the composer's musical discourse, only to be whipsawed out of the spell by the pack of nose-pierced, tattooed, utterly musically uneducated Millennials clapping like braying chimps in jungle [or, for that matter, middle-aged cowntry heros].

It makes no sense to applaud a piece until it's completed. I once attended a Schubert song recital. Obviously, lot's of songs on the program. The audience of geniuses broke into applause after each damn song. Finally, the soprano stopped the recital and sternly instructed the audience to hold their applause until the end. She was much kinder than I would've been.

* Pop/rock performances are definately performances, but more like performance art than actual concerts of music. Theater plays as great role as the so-called music. In the case of today's EDM, where everything's pre-recorded and it's all lip-synced, the "music" hardly matters at all. The most important elements are dancing, more-or-less sexually explicit gyrations, the stage set, and the costumes, or lack thereof.

Edit - forgot to attach the Mandel Hall foto.
Severius! Supremus Invictus

 

Only if Sonny Rollins fits in... N/T, posted on March 16, 2017 at 21:15:13
musetap
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aa
"Once this was all Black Plasma and Imagination"-Michael McClure



 

Old Jazz Aphorism: What Ever Happened to Sonny Rollins?, posted on March 16, 2017 at 21:24:51
Newey
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I believe it was active in the very early 60's. Do you know the answer given?

It came from the era when jazz was still popular. Until the rise of rock and roll, people in African-American areas of cities would endlessly discuss jazz musicians with knowledge, as they today discuss cRappers.
Severius! Supremus Invictus

 

Hey, Good One! Hear about the guy who walks into a bar w/ 12 inch Pianist?, posted on March 17, 2017 at 08:58:46
oldmkvi
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Me either.
Didn't know any Cadenzas, AFIK.

 

What's the big deal? Nothing unusual. I bet many "classical" soloists have credenzas. nt, posted on March 17, 2017 at 10:19:16
Rick W
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nt

 

And there's room for that 12 inch, posted on March 17, 2017 at 12:16:31
oldmkvi
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whatever...

 

You blame the millenials, but there's also enough blame to go around to the geezers too, posted on March 17, 2017 at 12:54:31
Chris from Lafayette
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I've been to concerts where you can see the buses from the retirement homes all neatly parked in the lot. And unfortunately, dementia is already setting in with some of the attendees from these locations.

OTOH, as I've posted before, applause in the middle of a movement is HIP! There's a contemporaneous account of a performance of Haydn's Creation, and at the point where the sun comes out, the audience broke out into applause even as the music continued. Apparently, Haydn wasn't too worried about it, beause he is said at that moment to have pointed up to heaven (whence came his inspiration!).

I interviewed Aldo Ciccolini one time, and he was more lined up with your way of thinking. He felt that applause after a performance always broke the musical spell he'd been working so hard to create or evoke. He claimed he would be happier if there was complete silence after his performances. He also claimed that serving music was like being a monk in a monastery, and if one were totally dedicated to serving music, one should not get married!

 

Jumping up and screaming Bravissimo after the 4th movt of Tchaikovsky's 6th may follow protocol but to me such, posted on March 17, 2017 at 14:03:47
jdaniel@jps.net
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a response seems a bit odd.

Maybe I'm lucky but I've never witnessed such ignorance on a scale as grand as you describe.

 

RE: But if the Genie really is a little deaf, can he hear a piacere? nt, posted on March 17, 2017 at 16:06:25
kitch29
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Mingus used to admonish the audience not to applaud until the end of the piece. , posted on March 17, 2017 at 16:53:03
Rick W
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Some of his tunes/charts were pretty long (10-30 minutes), with multiple long solos and he didn't want the usual jazz audience habit of applauding after each solo to interrupt the music.

Not being of Mingus' stature, I've never asked an audience to refrain from applauding any time they get the urge :-)

 

Yes, way too much glorification of the past, posted on March 17, 2017 at 19:15:59
jdaniel@jps.net
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As I mentioned last year: While attending a Dutoit/Suisse Romande concert at UC Davis, (Rachmaninov, Stravinsky and Ravel), I was shocked to see a gaggle of extremely old professors leave after the Rachmaninov.

 

Jazz Applause, posted on March 17, 2017 at 19:18:26
Newey
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At every jazz performance, you're supposed to clap after each solo. That's been the case at all of the jazz performances I've attended [many over my life].

Of course, the average pop rock listener doesn't know that either. It's another moment of chagrin when the first solo of the evening finishes, and only a handful of people applaud.

Rockers look around in total confusion. After a while, they figure out what's going on - but then, a bit after that, they stop. It's way too much clapping for them. Usually, there's no simple rock drum beat - whap THUMP whap THUMP whap THUMP - so nothing for the, uh, inebriated members of the audience to clap to during the music.

So, the average person claps too much at classical concerts, and too little at jazz performances. Life is so hard.

Forever,
Severius! Supremus Invictus

 

Really Old But Experienced Listeners, posted on March 17, 2017 at 19:31:37
Newey
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There are people who are geriatrics, who've been listening to classical music their entire lives, sometimes play some instrument and read music, and have many interesting stories about great musicians of the past.

They also know what they like and what they don't like. I've had some interesting encounters with such persons at concert halls.

Most recently, there was a guy who sat in front of me at a CSO concert. On the bill was the Beethoven Piano Con #3 [first part of the program]. followed by Mahler's Blumnine movement. After intenmission, the big piece was the Schoenberg orchestration of the Brahms Pian Quartet. While I was thrilled to hear the Beethoven, hearing the latter 2 pieces - in concert - was the big treat for me. Especially the Schoenberg - since the orchestration was the point there - and recordings just arent' an in-the-flesh performance.

The guy in front of me listened with rapt interest during the Beethoven, and then bolted right at intermission. And, these were no cheap seats.

Another older lady told me that Ravel was way too noisy. She avoided him.

Still another older lady tolerated the Bruckner 9th - which means she sat thru it without leaving. Afterwards, all she said was "So much brass! I've never seen so much brass in my life!". She didn't like the music.
Severius! Supremus Invictus

 

RE: But if the Genie really is a little deaf, can he hear a piacere? nt, posted on March 17, 2017 at 21:18:15
oldmkvi
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It means at your pleasure, many cadenzas marked that way.
AKA Ad-Lib, freely, play it the way you want it.

 

Indeed - And ---- Indeed??? Mitropoulos, posted on March 17, 2017 at 23:28:08
Newey
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"the buses from the retirement homes all neatly parked in the lot".

Yes. Mindless clapping isn't limited to youth [although they have the most insoucient attitude towards it].That's what I meant by middle-aged cowntry heros - middle aged and older folk who's daily, normal music tastes are mostly pop-rock, cowntry, etc.

But, nevermind that. You're info nugget about Ciccolini is valuable. Interestingly, Dmitri Mitropoulos believed the same thing - and lived that way. Apparently, he hed a simple, dirt poor, monastic lifestyle. No big house. Just a simple hotel room. All so that he could devote himself entirely to music.

Such devotion is so inspiring and thought provoking - and is the sharpest contrast to the lifestyle of pretty much every single pop rocker. Cf the sprawling estate of late, sainted genius of rock - Prince Rogers Nelson.

Always,
Severius! Supremus Invictus

 

RE: Indeed - And ---- Indeed??? Mitropoulos, posted on March 18, 2017 at 06:19:15
rbolaw
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Yes, quite a contrast with Karajan, much less the "pop rockers" to whom you refer. And when Mitropoulos was unceremoniously shoved aside at the NY Philharmonic to make way for the younger and more glamorous Leonard Bernstein, suddenly a superstar thanks to his smash hit Broadway musical West Side Story, he was graceful and dignified about it.

 

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