WALLACE BERRY: MUSICAL STRUCTURE AND PERFORMANCE


[1.] I have to say that I was rather excited about the prospects of this title, both as a performer and a musicologist. I have for a long while thought that theory and analysis, for the most part, were 'listener's activities' that did not really take performance issues into consideration. Similarly, I have witnessed the utter mystification, if not contempt, that many performers hold towards theory/analysis. I think this distance between analysis and performance is unfortunate, because it would seem that the two fields would have a lot to offer each other. I hoped that this book would open a sort of dialogue between the two fields.

[2.]Berry points out the distance between music performance and music theory: "The consideration of bases for interpretive decision in cogent musical realizations would appear to be of fundamental significance to theorist and performer alike. Yet music theory has by and large, surprisingly little to say about issues of interpretation as these might reasonably derive from observations and hypotheses about musical form structure and process." Yet he also mentions a recent "subculture" of music theory dedicated to the realization of performance issues from theoretical standpoints. But still, these conferences too rarely bring together theorists and performing artists.

[3.] Performers, in Berry's view, base their interpretations for the most part on "capricious intuition". This, of course is a fallacy - "This is not to deny that intuitively informed performance is often convincing...But we all know how frequently and how deeply musical realization can suffer from the performer's failure, whether through inability or impatient denial [snicker] to explore in probing analysis [bigger snicker] those problems of interpretive choice which every artist faces in encounters with challenging works." Berry's separation of performers and theorists is perhaps problematic, but it is a reality in many contexts - particularly that of post-secondary school education. And the fact is that most performers do not have access to Schenkerian analysis or Set Theory, or any other modern systems of analysis.

[4.] Essentially, there are two broad domains that are open to the performer for "interpretive choice": tempo and articulation. [Question: what about dynamics? Is this a part of articulation?] The choices that a performer should make in interpreting these domains - and here he refers back to his previous book Structural Functions of Music (reviewed and summarized by Alex) - are "conditioned by the best possible comprehension of structural processes and functions." More specifically, Berry asks twelve different questions, referring in each case to specific pieces...

[5.] BERRY'S TWELVE INTERPRETATIVE QUESTIONS FOR PERFORMERS:
(based on the larger domains of dynamics and articulation)

1. What note should I play (when there is a choice)?
2.. Assuming I do not get in its way, is the motive self-evident or does it require some deliberate projection?
3. What about dynamic inflection where none is indicated?
4. When is deliberate effort needed to convey the sense of a significant, not necessarily explicit voice-leading construction?
5. In the case of structural/functional "acceleration", should a performer/conductor accelerate the metronomic tempo to match this?
6. What decisions concerning groupings of events may reasonably follow from the analysis of form and structure?
7. Where a texture may be interestingly complicated by an implicit relatively disguised imitation, is it possible and desirable for the performer to communicate this?
8. Is the tempo to be complementary or compensatory in relation to pertinent structural elements?
9. Does the performer underscore by judicious articulative stress or durations palpable metric fluctuation at the surface?
10. Concerning the tonal background, is there anything the performer can or should do about a piece's broadest tonal structure, however one may conceive it?
11. Where music is used descriptively as often in text settings, how do analytical findings concerning descriptive elements condition interpretation?
12. Does not a probing just analysis reveal to the performer an attitude appropriate to the character of a piece and is this not in itself compelling justification for analysis informing interpretation?

[6.] "Analysis which informs interpretation affords a basis - the only basis - for the resolving of hard question of general interpretive demeanor and of those elusive refinements of detail which make for performance which is both moving and illuminating." And yet Berry also states that "There is no single, one and only interpretation that can be dictated by an analytical observation...And multiple meanings of an event may suggest that the execution be as neutral as possible and that the notes be allowed to speak for themselves." [DID I MISS SOMETHING HERE? It would seem that while performance could (and should) be informed by theory/ analysis, the reverse does not hold true!]

[7.] The biggest problem with Berry's book is that most frequently the solution to these interpretive questions is this "neutral execution" or "letting the notes speak for themselves". The majority of interpretive decisions in this book consist of telling the performer what not to do rather than what to do. This, I assume, is to avoid a dogmatic interpretation based on the analytical procedures themselves. But if this is the case - if analysis can only suggest a neutral execution for the multiplicity of meaning in a musical event - then analysis has a very obscure relationship with performance, if there is any at all.

[8.] In fact it could almost be argued that performers, should not attempt analysis, so that their concentration is not scattered during the performance. An analogy explaining this can be drawn with vocal technique: When singers perform, one would generally assume that they do not think along the lines of: 'Okay, now I'm going to move my epiglottis two millimeters to the left and vibrate my cricothyroid 263 times per second" - they do it instinctively, or they use blanket terms like 'open throat' when comprehension is needed. Concentrating on the fact that this is the fundamental structure, or this motive is related to that key etc. would only serve to cause an overload of information.

[9.] This notwithstanding, the thing that is most optimistic about Berry's book is that it does identity relationships between analysis and performance, even if it does not provide answers for his questions. Indeed, if one accepts that there is a multiplicity of performance interpretations that can be determined from analysis, then answers are not the prime concern for the performer anyway. If analysis is to be viewed as performer's activity, then its purpose is not to explain how a piece works, so much as it is to provide the performer with a clear understanding of the resources which are contained within the structure of the music.

[10.] An afterthought: This book attempts to have analysis inform performance. Perhaps an alternative to this, as I mentioned above, would be the reverse. Perhaps better success in connecting these two fields would be realized by if musical theorists extended attitudes towards performers to attitudes towards the analysis. [And as I believe our good friend Prof. Kramer once said "Perhaps there is no perhaps about it"]. This would make analysis into a type of performance itself - and could be used as an extra layer of text for musical understanding.