Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Remembrance of Things Past (and Crunched)

I love Terry Teachout's post today, not least because my family also used to make regular vacation stops in Gatlinburg, albeit usually en route to somewhere else. He does a great job articulating how memory and nostalgia can work, and he makes me want to get back to the Smoky Mountains. Not long after reading that, I had my own musical nostalgia moment while helping my newly 8-yr old daughter practice. She's just started working on the Veracini Gigue near the end of Suzuki Book 5. She doesn't actually study under the Suzuki method, but her teacher uses a lot of that repertoire, and the Veracini was always one my favorites. And I should know, having grown up with three Suzuki violinist sisters. (By the way, the Suzuki rep deserves a blog post or two of its own; I have my quibbles with it - with the very rigid idea of it, in fact - but there's a lot to be said for it as well, and it now has taken on a life of its own to the point that it's shameful that Wikipedia's entry on Veracini doesn't mention his place in Suzukidom. I'd guess a very high percentage of the world's Veracini performances are of that gigue in Suzuki settings.)

But back to my nostalgia moment. This gigue is a wonderful piece that, generally speaking, sails along much more easily than the difficult Vivaldi concerto that Suzukily precedes it. Then, right after the double bar, it happens: a crunch of a diminished seventh chord that, through the power of memory, makes me brace myself before it even arrives. I'm not saying my sisters and other Suzukiites I've heard over the years never mastered this chord; I'm just sayin'. That moment in the music to me is as much about the crunch of a student struggling with it as anything - and I'm sure I would feel that even if the finest violinist in the world were to sail through it. There's no telling how many times I've heard it tortured over the years -and I love it that way!

Here's what it's supposed to sound like:

Here's what it will always sound like to me: (It's not quite right. I didn't feel it was fair to record my daughter, so I had some fun trying to get my computer synth to struggle.)

UPDATE: My dad, who's probably heard this chord more than I have, suggested that the crunch could use more punch, so I tried to make it worse, and I added piano. (Hear above) Making my computer be humanly bad turns out to be harder than I expected. Here's the old version:


sarah marie said...

haha, oh how well I recall learning that piece myself! Nasty chord.

Elaine Fine said...

I can't believe that is a synthesized violin! I love the graphic crunch too.

Joanna said...

The intonation of the crunched chord is fine, Michael, but it's missing the extra pressure in the bow that inexplicably comes along in tense moments of violin playing.

Matthew said...

I first heard Ravel's "Valses Nobles et Sentimentales" on an old Charles Dutoit recording, and there was one particular chord in the fifth that was so extraordinary, I rushed out to get the score. Turns out it was a wrong note by one of the brass players, jazzing up the harmony far in excess of Ravel's intent. I was crushed.


Quite interesting, Matthew. My parents had that Dutoit LP when I was growing up, and I see it's on iTunes as well. I don't remember the mistake, but I didn't know the music well then. Do I have the patience to wait until I get my hands on the record, or do I spend the 99 cents? (Without question, I'll be 99 cents poorer soon.)

Coincidentally, I have a recording of myself performing the Ravel on piano from a few years back. I'm actually pretty happy with it and have listened to it many times, in spite of many wrong notes. The most interesting and memorable wrong note I played happens to come in #5, although it doesn't have the sort of effect you describe. The mistake used to drive me crazy, but now it sounds right to me for counterintuitive reasons. Basically, I played a melodic appoggiatura a step too high; thus, it's more consonant than the right note, but because I know I overshot, it sounds kind of like its own meta-appoggiatura. The effect now strikes me as quite elegant.

I'll have to return to this at some point.


Also coincidentally, I used the word "counterintuitive" in my response to Matthew before reading his post+comments today in which the word "counterintuitive" shows up all over the place.


By the way, Ley, I agree with your assessment. In fact, I al mo st started working at distorting the violin tone there to get that special crunching sound, but I knew that way was the way of the time sink. I stood at the abyss, but I turned my back - and now I'm commenting for a third time in a row to my own post. I tend to be very distractable when I should be working. Note to employers: do not read the above.