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Some thoughts from composer ALISTAIR HINTON


Can 'thoughts' truly be deemed 'provocative' if shot through with unmitigated common sense, as are Patric Standford's latest?

The sheer physical and mental stamina and control required of a Brünnhilde or a Klytemnestra, of a quartet in Schönberg 1 or Beethoven Op 130, of a pianist in the Busoni or third Rakhmaninov concerto, is such that the slightest interference of any kind in the business of performance presentation may threaten to throw that performance off balance; there can therefore be scant room for 'emoting' during such a performance. Furthermore, since performance is for the benefit of the listener, the emotional responses of the beholders are precisely what are sought; Mr Standford is therefore right to identify the greatest performers as those capable of inciting such responses by calmly reproducing on stage what they have learnt and built in the practice and rehearsal studio.

Rakhmaninov went even further on this, apparently believing that what he played to an audience was only a regurgitation of what he had practised, as if offering them a mere recording -- yet would anyone doubt the sheer power of Rakhmaninov in pianistic flight? Michelangeli and Ogdon were also remarkably undemonstrative pianists, yet their command over audiences could be immense. Wilfrid Mellers and Kaikhosru Sorabji have, independently, written similarly of Busoni in this respect.

Mr Standford's illustration of the composer in this context is even more telling; giving way to emotion while actually wrestling with a score would not merely be unhelpful to its preparation but also futile -- and rather silly -- since in most cases no-one would even observe it.

There remains, unfortunately -- and, perhaps, inevitably -- a surfeit of woolly-minded writing and talk about emotions and their expression -- perhaps nowhere more prevalently (or sickeningly) than in the performing arts. Emotions are -- or give rise to -- chemical changes in the brain and, while our proper scientific understanding of the neurology of such things remains in its comparative infancy, we would do well to guard our remarks about them and confine them to what is both known and proven. That said, there is no doubt that great performances of great works of art are capable of expanding the listener's emotional horizons -- provided that nothing gets in the way of their being allowed to do so.

Copyright © 20 May 2003 Alistair Hinton, UK



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