<< -- 3 -- Gordon Rumson FIRE AND BRIMSTONE?
It seems then that to prettify Rubinstein's music, to play it to plainly, even
antiseptically (perhaps a flaw of recording requirements) is to do a disservice to
Rubinstein's music. I am not suggesting banging, I am not suggesting the free playing
of wrong notes. I am suggesting the employment of perfectly logical expressive devices
with the intent of raising the emotional level to the uttermost.
For example, Fabio Grasso has a tendency to end phrases with a dying fall; a
slight ritard and decrescendo. I do not think that all of these are marked in the
scores. I rather believe it is an attempt at expressivity and that 'aristocratic
nonchalance' he mentioned in the notes. This 'expressive device is fine and will
earn one marks as musical in exams and competitions, but it also defuses the emotional
tension. Why are accelerations not allowed? They would certainly drive the music
forward -- perhaps almost out of control ...
Well, the answer lies in part with the limitations of expressive devices placed
upon modern pianists by education and the critical environment. Pianists can do a
few things such as a ritard to a high note, or a crescendo to a sudden soft (a
device notated often in Beethoven's music and also used extensively by Vladimir
Horowitz), but they are not allowed to do other things, such as accelerate through
sections of greater harmonic tension, or pedal through chords in order to create a
blur of sound. Teachers value cleanliness as next to godliness (or musicality) and
critics are vociferous in their pursuit of the clean performance. Hence any
pianist who asserts a desire to stretch the boundaries, to drive music forward with
the blow of a hammer, rather than the chime of a teaspoon, is sure to fall foul of
these guardians of musical purity.
I'm all for purity when it is appropriate, and modesty is as becoming of some
music as it is in life. But surely too the frenzy of life, the overwhelming horror,
the vehemence, the ribaldry, the maniacal lunacy of the human and cosmic spectacle
are also fit subject for musical expression. There can be no doubt that the
Romantic composers, and Rubinstein as a pianist, cast their expressive nets that far.
Liszt visited the prisoner condemned to death, how can such an experience be
expressed -- carefully? Rather we need every tool, every technique, every device and
every possibility in order to do justice to the musical aspirations of these geniuses,
like Rubinstein (for he was).
The limitations of expressive tools is one of the reasons modern pianists tend to
sound the same. This is something we need to get over.
Copyright © 20 July 2003
Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada