Saturday, February 24, 2007

one more perspective (for today) on musical meaning

I spend a lot of time in classes trying to talk to students about why certain musical works are important. Not so much why a work is historically important - that can usually be established with some dates and a simple narrative. The much more interesting and challenging question is why the particular sounds of a work are meaningful to listeners. How do notes communicate? I'll probably spend the rest of my life chasing that around, but this meditation by Jeremy Denk on a movement of a Schumann trio shows the way. What I love is how eloquently he gets across the experience of the listener/performer feeling the music unfold. I especially like the line: "I think this is the sort of 'melody' that could not exist before musical notation." It suggests that the music is not just communicating as a mass of sounds, but that it is composed in a way that expects involvement from the listener - in other words, the listener's experience of these unfolding events is crucial to what the music means. That doesn't mean the listener needs to see the score or be able to follow all the analytical detail that Denk provides, but it does suggest that a real immersion in Schumann's language is an essential part of hearing what's there.

No comments: