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Musical Space

Updated: Apr 25

Just as an architect develops the capacity to view a building in his mind, musicians can develop the capacity to view the form of a musical work. Since music happens in time, one must hold the perception of what went on before and of what follows. One must keep a sense of direction and understand and reflect through the rendition the function of the particular note, chord or element within the phrase, or between the smaller units and the whole. Then we understand and reflect the musical structure, and the architecture of the work will be perceived.

Great performers develop the capacity to hold the form together, guiding the listener as in a tour through a building, emphasizing the salient features and not the unimportant details. I remember a funny phrase from my years as a student in Cuba: “ocho discos”, (eight lp’s). This phrase referred to performances in which every note was given exaggerated importance. The result: contrived renditions that never took off. With some overly “musical” performers, a short Haydn sonata would feel like a long symphony, a simple recital like a Wagner opera. Yet with other truly strong performers, the Liszt Sonata held together so well that it seemed to go by in two minutes.

The details must make sense in terms of the proportions. Chopin made emphasis in studying phrases as building blocks, so that the works would hold together, and one would eliminate unnecessary and misplaced ritardandos, etc. Adorno also emphasized the use of a basic tempo, and not giving way to unnecessary deviations. Keeping in mind the dimension of the piece is essential. An agogic or dynamic event is not the same in a piano miniature by Schumann as in a Bruckner Symphony. We must keep the sense of proportion within the particular dimensions of the work at hand! So, as in Renaissance paintings, important elements will be seen in the foreground, and less important figures will recede into the musical background.

In the renditions of intellectual musicians such as Arrau or Landowska, the Dionysian and Apollonian tendencies are balanced. In working to achieve a similar state of equilibrium between these two forces, the performer ought to separate herself temporarily from the actual realization of the music in sound, by concentrating on the intellectual understanding of the musical essence and structure through studying the score away from the medium (be it an instrument or the voice). Then the two aspects: the ideal and its realization in sound- should be fused together. Conducting the piece away from the medium, for example, while hearing it in one’s mind, activates the musical imagination. That imprints in us the ideal of the music possible and will produce later a higher level of performance. We will then make musical space visible. The important aspects will stand out in perspective and, because the imprint of the musical work is so much stronger in us, the piece will be perceived by the audience in a clearer way.

© Daniel Daroca, Musical Director ~ The Opera Atelier

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