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Musical Taste or Expression

BY FRANCES C. ROBINSON.
 
At the present time piano students spend such unlimited time and strength in the acquirement of a fine technic that it is necessary that great emphasis should be laid, and very frequently, upon the development of the artistic sense. Technical skill is most necessary, but it is by no means all that a musician, or the would-be musician, should cultivate. Arms and hands are the physical mediums through which the pianist's knowledge is made manifest on the keyboard, and it is right, and very necessary, that they should be trained and prepared for intelligent and ready response to the mandates of will power before forcing them to try to perform duties impossible to them. But it seems sometimes as if students and concert pianists as well were sacrificing the genuinely artistic to the exploitation of marvels of technical accomplishment. There is so often the attempt to astound by physical performance, rather than an endeavor to touch the souls of those who listen. Over and over again we feel constrained to repeat and to emphasize the great fact that music, worthy the name, is something to hear and not something to see.
 
The true artist has no thought but of interpretation—how he may make plain to his hearers the message, or meaning, of the composer. He strives to send the art content of the composition to the psychic depths of the genuinely musical listener. Though he should strike every note with perfect accuracy, and though he should play the greatest numbers of notes, per second, on record, he would by so doing offer only the athletics of pianistic performance, nothing more, nothing higher.
 
Now the details that make up the complete realization of finished interpretation are many—all small in themselves perhaps, but so numerous that some of them may easily be overlooked by even an advanced student; so the writer purposes to name, and thus bring to remembrance, a few of them. First I will mention
 
Rhythmic Effects.
Rhythm is, as some one has said, "Music's heartbeat." There must be the right use of rubato; we must know when to accelerate and when to slacken the time, so that the composer's meaning may be fully brought out. Let me add that we must be careful, always, not to do these things in an exaggerated fashion, which becomes mere caricature. Our aim is to intensify the meaning, and true or artistic interpretation calls for a judicious, discriminating use of uneven rhythms. Dynamic effects, in their wide range from fortissimo to pianissimo, are to the pianist in his work of interpretation what the wonders of light and shade are to the artist painter, or as intonation, inflection, and emphasis are to an actor in the delivery of his lines. There cannot be too careful study of the varying shades of expression in music. A too slavish following of printed expression marks, or signs, is not advocated. Indeed, too strict an observance of such marks is to be deprecated, for it interferes with and destroys spontaneity. A player who feels music scarcely needs such suggestions. Careful teachers find it needful to exercise the utmost care in dealing with expression marks and may, at an early date in student life, point out that such marks or markings are not laws, but are to be used as suggestions only, and are open to difference of opinion and subject to change.
 
Marvels of interpretation are accomplished by the slightest variation in tone, or by a pronounced crescendo or diminuendo. The power to produce exquisite tonal shadings does not come at one's call, however, but only after earnest study combined with a genuine love for musical work.
 
Rhythmic Accent.
Rhythmic accent may seem, to the advanced student, a little thing to speak of; yet its presence or absence adds to or detracts from musical effects. There is measure accent, passage accent, chord passage accent, and so on. Definite accent prevents monotony and imparts a rhythmic movement which has its own share in the spirit of one's interpretation of a composer. Definite accent is wonderfully effective.
 
Prominent Melody.
One more detail, viz., that of making the melody distinct, making it stand out with due prominence.
 
Many players do not sufficiently realize that what is clear to their own ears through familiarity may be entirely missed by one who hears the music for the first time, especially if the listener be an inexperienced untrained one. The melody should stand in unmistakably clear relief against its background of harmony. The player who brings out the melody in clear solo effect adds an infinite beauty to his work as pianist. If the melody lie along the surface of a succession of chords, it is not enough to play each chord with a firm, elastic, pressure touch. The melody note must be given prominence; it must receive a greater pressure than the more subordinate tones of the chord. This will give the effect of a solo with rich harmonic accompaniment and not seem to the listener a succession of mere chords.
 
Three details have been mentioned. (1) Rhythmic effects; (2) Rhythmic accents; (3) Prominent melody: all little things in themselves, but which add to and must be included in a finished interpretation.
 
Playing Should Satisfy.
Music, we must remember, is a wholly unintelligible language to the multitude until it is interpreted to them by the player. We all wish to be satisfying players, that is we want our listeners, both the trained and untrained, to feel that their inner beings —their souls—have been touched, fed, satisfied by our playing. Nothing should pain us so much as a knowledge that our playing has been meaningless to our listeners; that they felt a something lacking; our playing did not refresh them, or help them; it was not satisfying.
 
The educative influence of one who can unfold the hidden beauties of the printed page is very great, and we should try faithfully and conscientiously to fit ourselves thoroughly for the work. Attention to every detail, therefore, is most necessary. The end and aim of all our technical training and mental effort is that we may be able to play skilfully and with feeling. Touch, Tone, Expession (sic), Artistic Interpretation—these are the all-important ends to be reached.

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