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Patric Standford's recent 'Provocative Thoughts'


I have to admit that, on seeing the title of the latest of Mr Standford's Provocative Thoughts, my initial assumption was of an article about the spaces between pairs of notes: I was accordingly reminded of my (now deceased) aural training master at the Royal College of Music who, in moments of greater than usual despair at the ineptitude of the class before him, would seek to persuade its members that he would at least succeed in something were they to grasp the difference between intervals that are augminished and those that are demented.

On realising that Mr Standford's piece was not about this at all, I read it with the usual interest and find that he has touched on a number of interesting issues, fleshing some of them out neatly with useful historical illustration, but I am unsure that he has covered the subject as fully as he might.

The concert tradition as we know it -- in the sense of performances where musicians present works to an audience which attends for the purpose of listening to music without much other distraction -- is indeed in reality less than a century and a half old; the notion that a concert should be of rather less than two hours including one interval, whilst it has never applied universally (for a variety of reasons), is probably an even newer convention.

Interval Talk - Alkan, Sorabji, Messiaen, Allgen, Brian

The first problem with determining whether concert intervals should occur or be expected to occur and how long they should be is in establishing an acceptable length for a concert performance. This itself opens up factors such as audience attention span and duration/s of work/s presented; of these, the first is arguably more problematic, since it would be almost impossible to get an audience all of whose members' concentrative faculties were identical. It also raises the question of why the inevitable is also the acceptable in a performance of one of Wagner's large music dramas but does not apply to concert performances. (Why would the addition of sets, costumes, dramatic presentation, etc alone be expected to extend attention span way beyond concert performance expectations?) As to work durations, these can sometimes be influential in determining whether intervals occur, at what stage in the proceedings and of what length.

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Copyright © 1 May 2007 Alistair Hinton, Bath UK


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