What's the Score? Your classical music questions answered
Concert pianist and professor at Trinity College of Music, Karl Lutchmayer answers your classical music queries
Are there definite rules that make music ‘classical’? Mark, Crouch EndThis debate has raged for at least a century – long before Stockhausen appeared on the cover of ‘Sergeant Pepper’ and Deep Purple performed a concerto with the RPO. The following questions may help. If the answer is ‘yes’ to any three, it’s probably classical:1) Does the music go on a journey? Classical music is more about how a musical idea changes or evolves than about the idea itself.2) Does understanding of the music depend on prior knowledge? Classical composers usually expect the listener to know musical conventions and idioms, just as a radio listener is expected to understand grammar and vocabulary.3) Can another musician recreate the essential elements of this music just by reading the composer’s notation, even if he or she has never heard it or had any contact with the composer?4) Does its individuality depend more on the composer than the performer?
What is ‘rubato’?
Johnny, EC1One of a performer’s many responsibilities is to decide on the flow and pacing of music, and while the score gives some information about this, we still have to make subtle changes to the written rhythms and tempos in order to make the music unfold naturally. This is known as ‘rubato’ and comes from the Italian for ‘stolen’, the idea being that time is taken from one note and given to another. In its most discreet form rubato is an essential part of virtually all musical performance, but its use is perhaps most evident in the music of the Romantic era. Whatever the work, the true artist uses it with ‘good taste’ – an idea that changes radically with each generation!
Why are there so few female composers from the past; are there more today? Julie, Wapping, E1In addition to the numerous reasons for male domination in other professions, both past and present, in music it was formerly only the wealthy and the church who educated girls in the reading and writing of music. However, these same sections of society frowned on women becoming performers, and since composers were almost inevitably performers themselves, it was very difficult for women to establish themselves in the field. Today, my personal experience is that the female-to-male ratio among composers is not dissimilar to that of top-flight instrumental soloists; this is certainly so at the institution where I teach, where four out of ten of the composition professors are women.
What is the Classical period and what is its relationship to ‘classical music’?The Classical period refers to the years between about 1750 and 1820 when musicians, including Haydn and Mozart, reacted against the elaborately ornate Baroque aesthetic by developing a clearer, more direct style of music. Primarily based in central Europe, the movement spawned the symphony and sonata, and acquired its name somewhat after its demise due to a supposed similarity with earlier artistic and architectural movements inspired by Classical antiquity. The term ‘classical’ comes from the Latin ‘classicus’, used by the Romans to indicate artistry of the highest order. In music it was first applied to works which continued to be performed after the death of their composers (a rare occurrence before the end of the eighteenth century). By the late nineteenth century, such performances began to outstrip those by living composers and the term ‘classical’ became synonymous with all art music.
How significant and difficult is Beethoven’s Piano Sonata cycle?
Ludwig Van Beethoven: his piano
sonatas remain a pinnacle of the
Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas (1796-1823) were far grander and more impassioned than any music previously written for the instrument. Virtually symphonies for one performer, they emancipated the piano, taking it from being a drawing room instrument and thrusting it into its rightful place as the pre-eminent concert instrument.
Exponentially more complex than any piano works that came before, they frequently demand considerable virtuosity, and today’s interpreters also have to contend with performing them on modern instruments. At the same time, their musical content is so subtle and their spiritual demands so lofty that the cycle is one of the highest pinnacles of the repertoire, which only a handful of pianists have ever been able to master.
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