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The Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna decided to give Avior Byron the Avenir Foundation Research Grant for a one month research trip in Vienna in order to work on two books that he is writing.  

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Avior Byron

My name is Avior Byron and I am a musicologist, blogger and composer. I write books, articles and a blog about music, performance, research, and theory. Read more at my about page

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Performance and Analysis: a response to Zecharia

Shalom Zecharia. Thank you for your interesting comment. You wrote that Roger Kamien “organizes his Beethovenian thought and music according to Schenker. It does not matter that nobody […] understands what the Schenker formulas are about. […] Kamien knows Schenker intimately and very well, and apparently understands Beethoven through him. No doubt his excellent and convincing performances are a product of this knowledge […]. Everyone hears Kamien’s convincing Beethoven, therefore Kamien’s argument for Schenker’s necessity is passively corroborated by everyone who listens to Kamiens’ Beethoven. The opinions of other musicologists or commentators do not constitute any sound argument in this regard. Would Kamien’s Beethoven sound less convincingly – and Kamien would nonetheless argue for Schenker’s necessity - then we could start citing other musicologists. Kamien is right in his position (it does not mean that his truth is the only one).”

I am not sure that Kamien’s performance (I am speaking about the one I heard in his lecture in the Tel-Aviv University about three years ago) sounded ‘convincing’ to everyone. Moreover, I am not convinced that it sounded so to everyone from the same reasons. You assume that if Kamien ‘understands’ Beethoven’s music via Schenker and plays ‘convincingly’ than it is necessarily due to a Schenkerian analysis. What about the other things originating from performers? These are also an integral part of the performance. Why do you assume that ‘the’ structure that is analyzed from the score is more influential on the listener’s experience than other things such as performer’s character, mood, performance tradition, and interaction with the audience (etc.) that influence the flow of time, articulation, tension, body language (etc.)?

The fact that Kamien relates his achievements in musical performance to the composer and to a certain analytical method does not mean that we must accept his explanation. We might, instead, choose to give him more credit than he gives himself, and to assume that Kamien is more than a faithful messenger or a tool in the hands of others. Perhaps there is something in his personality or momentary choices that make his performances as they are.

Recent post-structural research in music and in other fields demonstrates that from the point of view of perception, score originated structure (there are other structures are you know) is an important factor. Yet it is only one factor in a large net of factors that create musical meaning in the heart of the listeners.

If you are interested to read something I wrote on the subject in Hebrew you are welcome to look at my publications and press the link on a review I wrote on Eric Clarke that deals exactly with such issues.

One Response to “Performance and Analysis: a response to Zecharia”

  • Zecharia responded:

    You touch a VERY wide theme of meaningfulness and persuasiveness of a musical performance, concentrating in your Kamien-talk on piano solo alone. One should take into account several large-scale paths of thought in this regard, including the listener’s cognition and the listener’s embeddedness in a certain culture (and the compatibility of listener’s embeddedness with the performer’s embeddedeness); but it is not the whole story even in a very rudely sketched argument. Much depends on the performer’s decision to concentrate on certain palette of thought and set of principles in his way to perform a composition. The listener may follow this set (if he/she wishes so, if he wants so, if he feels comfortable in doing so). In this case whatever OTHER SET-POSSIBILITIES are, a performer on a specifically piano instrument may choose a less colourful set, and then Schenker’s way of thinking may be fruitful (for the performer and FOR THOSE WHO FOLLOW SUCH PREFERENCE COMFORTABLY).

    If, however, the listener opposes the performer’s approach right on the onset (or casts such an opposition backwards) and sits in an alienated manner, then, of course, no comment in favour of performer’s inner compass would help: such a listener would criticize whatever emanates from the performer (even if occasional detail would be found delicious).

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