Writers who address the relationship between music analysis and performance have usually begun their discussions with analytic observations and then, after completing them, have tried to draw conclusions from them about how to play the music being analyzed. Even though some of these writers deny the direct applicability of analytic findings to performative decisions, they still entreat their readers, whether implicitly or explicitly, to regard analysis as a foundation for performance, as a way of grounding or validating performance objectively. In his review of Wallace Berry's Musical Structure and Performance, John Rink takes issue with the implicit belief of these writers that what he calls "serious analysis" can serve as a basis for performance.1 Rink, himself a pianist, holds that "a unique kind of performer's analysis . . . quite distinct from what we as analysts usually practice . . . forms an integral part of the performing process." According to Rink, performer's analysis aims to discover, above all else, aural "shape" and musical gesture. Acknowledging that informed intuition, more than any theoretical system, guides such performer's analysis, Rink nonetheless clearly regards such unsystematic analysis as more suited to performers' needs than systematic analysis can ever aspire to become. He suggests, moreover, that theorists may have even more to gain from building their analyses on performers' modes of musical awareness than performers can gain from the explicit analytic awareness of theorists.
Rink thus describes and endorses what many performers already do; but some theorists may disagree with his apparent belief that what performers actually do is what they ought to do. Berry, for one, advocates a view of performance as "critical discourse on the perceived meaning of a score,"2 and argues that performers who do not ground their conception of this meaning on musical analysis can rely only on what he regards as the vagaries of intuition, or on docile imitation of their teachers and other performers. He considers analysis, therefore, to be "the inescapable basis for interpretive doing and not doing."3
Many performers, if asked about Berry's views, might say they agree with them, at least in principle. The fact that they almost never have the time, or the capacity, to carry out such analysis does not imply an objection. But, as Rink points out, the ways performers reach decisions and the ways we evaluate performances have no simple relation to such convictions. In particular, any attempt to develop a comparison of performance to critical discourse leads immediately to problems. Most obviously, critical discourse makes explicit statements about texts and artworks, but performance cannot state anything explicitly. While one can usually infer some of performers' thoughts about the shape and character of what they play from their playing, one can only infer them; one can never hear or read these thoughts directly. Unlike critical discourse, moreover, performance cannot choose which details it will take into account, while leaving others out of consideration. As Janet Schmalfeldt has written, the performer's "synoptic comprehension must be placed completely at the service of projecting the work through time—making moment-by-moment connections, holding the thread of musical logic at every point, living within and through the work until, and even after, its final tones have been achieved."4 She cannot stop to reflect on a passage, or ignore any detail of it while emphasizing others. Again quite obviously, performance neither draws generalizations from a score, nor makes abstractions. On the contrary, as Fred Maus has argued, performance specifies and makes determinate what the score leaves indeterminate, in a sense completing the music itself.5 Once again unlike critics, who must normally take the artworks they discuss as objects, performers seek through their identification with the music to recover its immediacy from the medium of the score. Before performers can bring the music to reflection, they must bring it audibly to life.
Even the most musically literate listeners respond not so much through any observations they formulate in the course of listening to a performance as through the vividness that the imaginative focus and energy of the performance brings to their musical experience. Many performers can bring this focus and excitement to the playing of a piece without ever formulating an articulate basis for their decisions, just as we can all make refined responses to the situations within which we have expertise without having to specify explicitly the reasons for these responses. Practical musicianship consists more in the ability to imagine music, both aurally and bodily, than in the ability to define and order its parameters; and no analysis can take the place of the years of practical experience required to develop and focus a performer's aural and technical imagination. Indeed, the physical aspect of a performer's relationship to a piece is essentially implicated in his or her hearing, imagining and shaping of the music. Therefore a performer's analysis, no matter what conceptualizations it might explicitly draw upon, must both arise from and resolve itself in that performer's technique as an embodiment of his or her musical imagination.
Berry thus overplays the role of musical analysis in the preparation of performance, and with it the performer's capacity to convey critical judgments; and he underplays the role of experimentation, of trying things this way and that in order to discover what "works", what produces a performer's sense of identification with the music. For an experienced musician, this process of experimentation is far from merely intuitive. It is based on knowledge of all sorts, but on knowledge that has become for the most part embodied in the performer's ways of hearing and producing musical sound rather than remaining consciously remembered as knowledge. It would be as inhibiting and impractical for performers to try to articulate consciously every aspect of this experimentation, to restrain it analytically, as to become analytically self-conscious about most of the rest of their behavior.
In his response to Berry, on the other hand, Rink underplays the ways that the "performer's analysis" that both guides and evolves through such experimentation can draw on "serious analysis." Imagining the music in all its detail, or finding in it a distinctive musical shape or gesture, can often become a daunting task. And surely when the music baffles the performer's intuitive or experimental capacities, an explicit awareness of its components and of their harmonic, contrapuntal and motivic interactions can help bring one's sound-image and technical image of the music into focus. But often a performer, in order to gain such focus from analytic awareness, must supplement it imaginatively in ways that neither Berry nor Rink bring into consideration.
To develop a realistic assessment of the possible role of analysis in achieving the kind of imaginative specificity necessary for performance, both theorists and performers themselves need to investigate not only the ways performers—especially ones they admire—actually reach decisions, but also what attitudes and habits of thought enable them to make musical experience most vivid. Autobiographical information from performers will be more helpful than theorists' formulations of ideological programs in assessing just what kinds of theoretical analysis have the most to contribute to performer's analysis. As a performing pianist who also teaches theory and in some ways claims an analytic approach to performance, I propose to explore one performer's working and decision-making processes—my own—in relation to these concerns.
In order to make this exploration, I shall reconstruct some analytic observations that I developed in order to solve specific problems in the performance of two pieces by Robert Schumann, the Arabesque and the second piece of Kreisleriana. With the Arabesque, the less overtly problematic of the two, I shall attempt simply to describe some aspects of my own "performer's analysis" as I recently studied the piece for the first time; I shall try to clarify the ways this performer's analysis drew on articulate analytic awareness, and also how assessments of the music's character became necessary supplements to more objectively analytic observations. With the Kreisleriana, to be discussed in Part II, I shall explore how my analysis—more detailed in the delineation of musical parameters—grew from my attempts to solve some editorial riddles.
It is common for instrumentalists to begin work on a piece simply by playing it, in this way initiating a process of learning to "hear" it through their hands and arms, their breath, their vocal chords—whatever parts of their bodies the technique of their instrument involves. Since the Arabesque poses no obvious technical difficulties, a good pianist beginning to work on it will be able to play it very soon. But at the same time, or soon after, this performer will most likely begin to listen critically and analytically to his or her own way of playing it, and probably in doing so will become more and more dissatisfied with this way of playing. The theme, for example, is likely to seem too heavy, either too strongly or too vaguely accented, too monotonous, or too opaque in texture. The pianist begins to experiment, to play the hands separately, to try the theme with fingers flatter or more curved, with more or less arm-weight, with rotations of the wrist from side to side or with in-and-out motions of the hand and forearm. Sooner or later the pianist discovers, sometimes as if by accident, a combination of attitudes and motions that captures and embodies what feels to that pianist like the essence of the theme; one's motions become subordinated to, or part of, the motion of the music, and, ideally, any physical impediment to hearing the music while playing it vanishes.
The personal discovery of how to play a passage with which one has experimented and struggled can be thrilling; but that discovery is a sensory and bodily more than an intellectual experience, the experience of becoming an incarnation of the music. Any analysis of the technical and aural factors contributing to that discovery, if detailed enough to be clear, will probably fail to capture the excitement of the discovery itself, for what one discovers is not primarily cognitive, not a series of observations or a summary such as a theorist might discover, but instead a capacity. A performer might describe this capacity simply by saying: "I can play this now." A more metaphysically inclined one might add: "It has become part of me, and I part of it; I am at one with it." One has found a way to imagine the music through one's own technique; one has rediscovered the music through one's own body, and the body feels taken up in the music as one plays.
The motions I eventually discovered for the theme of the Arabesque (Example 1) will not surprise anyone whose understanding of piano technique resembles mine; I probably told piano students to employ the same or similar motions before I ever learned to play the piece myself. And yet I did not settle into these motions for myself until I had experimented with the theme for weeks or even months. After describing these motions—in doing so I beg the reader's patience—I shall comment on their relevance to different ways of understanding the theme.
Example 1. Arabesque (theme)
On the rhythmic level of the beat, the motion I found for my right hand involves a leftward rotation into each thumb-note, and a swing through each melodic sixteenth into a rightward rotation for each of the melody's dotted quarters. But on the level of the measure, I subordinate these rotations to a down-up motion of the arm from every second beat into every following downbeat, feeling the arm-weight drop ("entering" the keyboard) on the upbeats and then feeling the weight release ("exiting" the keyboard, although without releasing the key) on the downbeats. This motion of the right hand agrees well with the left-hand motion suggested to me by the syncopations in the tenor register; they make it natural for the left hand, like the right, to drop into the upbeats and to release into (or just after) the downbeats. I initiate the entire measure-long motion of the hands with the right thumb, on the second eighth of each measure. This starting-point may strike the analytically-minded as violating the integrity of the voice-leading, since the second eighth of the measure often resolves the dissonance occurring on the fourth eighth of the preceding measure. But if one controls the right thumb dynamically, and—after teaching the hand to move in this way—plays continuously, the motion does not disrupt the continuity of this alto voice.
Simple analytic observations can sometimes help to suggest the possibility of such motions; at other times, awareness of analytic points can result from trying such motions out. The motions I employ (and advocate) in this theme correspond to the harmonic patterning of the first two subphrases (m. 1-8), in which a dominant harmony on every upbeat leads to its respective tonic on the following downbeat. Of course, this analytic observation is not at all subtle, and I was certainly aware of it even as I began to try out different motions. It did not in any strong sense determine the course of my pianistic experimentation, but it did set limits for that experimentation: whatever motions I eventually employed must not violate this harmonic pattern.
My technical explorations interacted much more closely, however, with thoughts about the texture and character of this theme—thoughts too impressionistic and too personal, perhaps, to be regarded as analytic. For all the care of the part-writing and the functional differentiation of the parts in this theme, its texture is surely more homophonic than polyphonic. The lower parts all ally with and support the melody, and the pianist, while subtly controlling them, should not (in my opinion) strive to make them distinctly audible as separate parts, except possibly for the bass. In particular, the next-highest part, divided between the hands, should flow into the melody so that the listener does not make too clear a distinction between its sixteenth notes and the sixteenth-note upbeats in the melody. It is part of the evanescent quality of the theme that it emerge from its own aura, that one not separate it too markedly from the arabesques of its own accompaniment. I intend the fluidity of my playing motions to allow the melody to float in the atmospheric web of its own accompanimental ornamentation.
In teaching the left hand its pattern of syncopation as part of my own playing motion, I began to take note of the earlier cessation of the syncopation in the third and fourth subphrases (m. 11-12, 15-16) than in the first and second: the places where, as it were, the melody no longer has to pull against these syncopations. Becoming pianistically aware of the syncopations and of their abatement helped me conceptualize and then bring out the difference of character between the first pair of subphrases, somewhat pleading in their rising line and their chromaticism, and the second pair, more playful in their falling and skipping line, their pure diatonicism, and their earlier breaking free from the syncopations. Taking these differences into account, I began in different parts of the phrase to vary the amount of arm-weight, the ratio of finger-articulation to arm-motion, and the degree to which the measure-long arm motion prevails over the beat-long wrist rotation.
In the middle phrase (m. 17-24) of the theme's ternary structure, explicit attention to the left-hand syncopations helped me especially. This phrase consists of two identical four-measure subphrases, each marked with a ritard for its last three measures. I could find no satisfying way of making these ritards until I practiced the left hand alone, focusing especially on the syncopated B, the motion from B to G, and then the syncopated G in its middle voice. The ritards had to make sense for this voice before they could make sense for the others. But even then, it was not until I recognized and conceptualized the relationship of this phrase to the music of the contrasting B section, Minore I, that I felt I understood these ritards at all fully, and hence felt more fully motivated to make them.
If one's playing of the theme of the Arabesque can seem monotonous in its unvarying rhythm and texture, then one's playing of Minore I (Example 2) can seem even more so: the texture of this E-minor episode is thicker, simpler, chordal rather than arpeggiated; its rhythm unfolds in undifferentiated eighth notes rather than in a dotted figure; and its subphrases are almost all two rather than four measures long. The characteristics of the main theme that one might associate most readily with the piece's title, Arabesque, seem entirely absent from this B section. While I could not initially find a distinctive character for the opening theme through my fingers, I could find one all too readily, and too oppressively, for this contrasting music. I did not have to experiment technically with this episode in the same way as with the theme, yet I felt much more dissatisfied from the start with the way I played it.
Example 2. Minore I
The simplest harmonic analysis began to help me somewhat: I began, for example, to intensify the tonicization of the iv chord in measures 45-46, and to recognize the departure of the ensuing E-minor half-cadence from the dominant-to-tonic patterning of the three preceding subphrases. I then sought to bring out the slowing of harmonic rhythm in measures 54-56, where a single dominant harmony, by controlling three measures, produces a longer subphrase in order to pull the tonal center from B major, the ephemerally tonicized dominant, back to E minor. By making the music quieter and more floating in measures 65-68 and then intensifying it again in 69-72, I differentiated the momentary relief of the G-major imperfect cadence in 67-68 from its dramatic negation in 71-72. I intensified still more the four-measure subphrase (m. 77-80, only the second four-measure group in Minore I), with its chromatic suspensions, that leads back to E minor.
But making my fingers responsive to these harmonic changes did not fully dispel the monotony of my playing in this episode, a monotony brought about in part by the espressivo rubato on which I found myself insisting within almost every subphrase. Only when I began to think deliberately of Minore I as obsessive, to regard its monotony as part of its intentional aesthetic quality, did I begin to accept this insistent rubato and feel it as natural. I cannot reconstruct how this rubato actually changed under the influence of this conception of the episode, but it must have changed somewhat, for I no longer felt awkward carrying it out.
One observation helped me especially either to arrive at or to confirm this view of the character of the episode (I no longer remember which): the recognition of the motivic and harmonic connection of the episode's opening gesture to the beginning of the contrasting middle phrase of the theme (compare Example 1, m. 17 with Example 2, m. 41). Within the theme, this E-minor tonic-to-dominant progression sounds especially poignant, in a way that seems to bring about the hesitancy of the next three measures. The first episode begins with this same melodic and harmonic idea and returns to it twice, each time more intensely, as if the music cannot get away from it. Heard as obsessive, the painful mood of Minore I can also be heard as a conflicting stratum of experience underlying the more fleeting yet more serene and nostalgic mood of the theme, and thus as an obsession that momentarily overtakes the theme in its central phrase. The recognition of the relationship of this central phrase of the theme to the music of Minore I helped me to make sense of the ritard within this part of the theme: the music hesitates over the intrusion of a poignant or painful preoccupation.
Regarding and playing Minore I as obsessive also helped me to come to terms with the transition (Example 3, m. 89-104) from that episode back to the theme in its first return. This transition may look more different on the page, and feel more different under the fingers, than it actually sounds: its long melody-notes respond to the high accented notes occurring on almost every even-numbered downbeat throughout Minore I, and its inner voices perpetuate the constant pulsation of eighth notes, even if at a slower tempo. Nevertheless, the melodic gestures of this transition, falling by step for the first time and incorporating the rhythmic motive of the theme at the end of each gesture, led me to conceive of the transition as embodying a different voice, or at least a different attitude, from that of the Minore I episode: a voice that calls the obsessed one back into the sphere of the theme; or an attitude of seeking reconciliation between episode and theme, a response to hearing them as being in conflict with one another. It is a very searching passage, far more wide-ranging harmonically than any other passage in the piece, and also much more fluctuating in tempo. In spite of all its fluctuations, I eventually decided, after taking note of the dissonant harmonies at the end of each of its subphrases (two six-fours, then two dominant sevenths), to play this transition as one sixteen-measure phrase (beginning each subphrase somewhat "early" in order to do so) rather than as four four-measure ones. If one plays the transition this way, the search that it undertakes does not lose its urgency.
Example 3. Transition
Recognizing the distinctive motivic relationship between the music of the first episode and the main theme led me to expect Minore II, the second episode (Example 4), to exhibit some similar relationship to its musical surroundings—either again to the theme, or to Minore I, or from the transition back from Minore I to the theme. But the relationship I found surpassed my expectations: Minore II effects a kind of synthesis of all three—of theme, episode, and transition. The music of this episode overlays the melodic motive of Minore I (5-6-5-2-3) with the upbeat-motive and the chromatic ascent from the theme, and then combines this new fusion with a stepwise melodic descent deriving from the transition (m 145-49). Recognition of this motivic synthesis led me to want to emphasize the appoggiatura that binds ascent to descent (m. 147) even more than I otherwise would. This combination of motivic elements harnesses the energies of the theme and of the transition's calling gesture to the obsessive music of Minore I; it musically dissolves the insistent shape of the Minore I material and so metaphorically overcomes the obsession that it embodies. The appoggiaturas (m. 147, 163) symbolize for me the turning-point in this overcoming, and this interpretation of them impels me to make more ritardando in the falling lines these appoggiaturas introduce—to bring to them more importance—than the score suggests.
Example 4. Minore II
No transition intervenes at this time at the juncture between the second episode and the last occurrence of the theme. Perhaps the synthesis that Minore II achieves—what I am metaphorically characterizing as the overcoming of the obsession—obviates the need for such a transition. What then balances the transition, in the sphere of the main theme's last occurrence, is the sublime coda, for me one of the most affecting passages in all Schumann (Example 5). Both melodically and harmonically with its calling pairs of half-notes (m. 209, 211, 213, 215-16) over long-held harmonies while the middle voices arpeggiate upwards in eighth notes, it refers to the transition. The coda thus remembers the transition, even if the memory is only subliminal for the listener; and the resonance of coda with transition deepens the serenity of the coda's final affirmation of C major, in such marked contrast to the transition's mercurial shifts of tonal center.
Example 5. Coda
I never felt any problem in playing the coda. From the beginning I felt physically and emotionally identified with it as I played it, and was therefore motivated not so much to experiment with different ways of playing it as simply to refine my auditory and technical control over what I was already doing. Thus no problem with the coda impelled me to analyze it.
Yet I did feel that I could never understand the Arabesque at all fully without understanding something of how the coda works its magic: put one way, how it resolves compositional issues raised earlier in the piece—if it completes a compositional process, and if so, how; put another way, how it functions dramatically in relation to earlier musical events. Even if I didn't need to resort to explicit musical analysis or critical interpretation to play the coda, bringing these kinds of insight to bear on the coda might focus my imaginative grasp of earlier passages in ways that would further help me in playing them.
As a route to understanding the resolution brought by the coda, one might ask to what extent the music would seem resolved without it. The theme, after all, reaches the same perfect authentic cadence every time (Example 1, m. 40—although the holding of the penultimate G always somewhat covers the resolution to the tonic). One might therefore think that the theme could stand alone, that it could just as well end the piece, and that the coda, like so many other codas, only fulfilled a need for some kind of dramatic balance.
But Schumann's German designation for this final section, "Zum Schluss," is translated literally "In Closing:" it suggests the idea of cadential articulation much more strongly than does the term "coda"—tail—with its connotation of something added as a terminal embellishment to the music. It suggests what any Schenkerian analyst would soon recognize: that the cadence of the theme, not so much because of its held G as because of its low register, is not a completely satisfactory resolution for the theme's opening. The sense of incomplete resolution, of resolution made gesturally but never fully achieved in the theme, partly motivates the explorations of the two Minore episodes. Both episodes, in fact, cadence in the register of the theme's opening, thus preparing for its return while also reinforcing the need for ultimate resolution in this register, a need that the coda addresses.
Schumann's treatment of register in the Arabesque belongs with the issues that any "serious analysis" of the piece would probably investigate in some detail. But once such a serious analysis is carried out, how can performers of the Arabesque make use of what they can learn from it? One might answer that a performer ought somehow to "bring out" registral changes throughout the piece, brightening and darkening the sonority accordingly. Perhaps many performers, though, will respond sensitively to registral changes anyway, and won't need to study any analytic disquisition in order to take them sufficiently into account. On the other hand, such an analysis might help a performer more indirectly but much more profoundly, by providing a route to or a grounding for critical or dramatic understanding of the music, the kind of understanding that can then strengthen a performer's grasp and delineation of changes of musical character throughout a piece. For while a performance cannot of itself make explicit a critical understanding of the music, in the way that Berry seems to want it to, it can often draw on such a critical understanding in order to attain what I am calling "imaginative specificity."
In its fusion of contrasting materials, what I understand as its overcoming of an obsession, the Minore II episode may seem to have resolved the central dramatic conflict of the piece, and the coda may have nothing to add. While the transition sought a reconciliation between the music of Minore I and the main theme—or, put more metaphorically, between the conflicting mental states that these different passages embody—the coda no longer has to seek for further reconciliation, but instead reflects calmly on the reconciliation by now achieved. It comes like a realization that what one searches for has already been found, a feeling that can sometimes only follow, rather than accompany, the achievement of the reconciliation itself.
But heard in another way, the music of the coda still searches for something, and its final phrase, ending on e' rather than c' leaves something open. Its two-note melodic gestures refer, as I have already said, to the transition; but also to the crucial appoggiaturas in Minore II. In focusing on this gesture, separating it from the other elements linked to it either in the transition or in the second episode, the coda achieves a new level of calm; yet the gesture itself, in its isolation and its diatonic but dissonant harmonization, becomes more pleading than ever before. In one way, these e'- d' appoggiaturas call for full and richly supported melodic closure on c'; but in another, they beg to keep the music open, insisting on again and again rather than allowing the melody simply to close. The return of the opening motive of the main theme as the final gesture of the Arabesque secures for the e', in its openness, a cadential role. Without the return of the opening idea, the melodic line could slowly work its way to a long-held c'; but with that return, a final affirmation of the c' becomes only a grotesque possibility (try playing c' instead of e' as the final melodic pitch!). The motive of the Arabesque—itself an arabesque in its ornamental movement, a symbol of freedom and fantasy—returns at the last moment to affirm an ongoing life, a life that especially resonates from this piece beyond the moment of its conclusion. Understanding in this way the role of the opening theme's return at the last moment of the coda, I am led to reflect further on the character and potential of the theme itself, and so I am led to play this theme more quietly, more fleetingly, less simply lyrically, than I otherwise might.
These comments obviously do not represent what a theorist would call a thorough "analysis" of the Arabesque; but they do try to represent some ways in which a performer's work can draw upon and lead to explicit analytic observations of different kinds. They also arrive at what one might fairly call an account of the piece, a telling of it that draws on both analytic and characterological descriptions of its musical events. The search for such descriptions might begin with problems encountered by a performer in the initial stages of the "performer's analysis" Rink proposes. In trying to find satisfying ways to play the theme and the first Minore episode of the Arabesque, for example, I not only come to some first analytic observations about these passages, but also find descriptive terms that help me to encapsulate, or at least approximate, their musical character. Eventually, my observations about the main theme and the ensuing Minore I must both feel appropriate in themselves for these passages, and contribute to an intelligible narrative or dramatic understanding of both their opposition and their succession in order for me to draw conviction from them for my performance. Ultimately, I seek an understanding of the entire sequence of musical episodes in the Arabesque, in terms through which I can harness the characteristics of my own playing to the evolving character of the music. Ideally. This understanding can develop from any kind of observation on which I can reliably draw, however indirectly, in order to focus my sound-image of the music: analytic, characterological, biographical, literary, to name the most obvious for Schumann.
Like any critical understanding, such "performer's explication" is unlikely ever to become definitive, even for an individual performer. It may change somewhat—it may even need to change—every time the performer prepares the music again. No matter: the performer usually never has a chance to present such an explication, to be embarrassed by its naiveté, to be forced to revise it; as already observed, the audience rarely knows just what the performer thinks. In some performances, however, the audience may sense that the performer has thought and felt, and that the performer has persisted enough with such thinking and feeling to make it consistent both with itself and with the music. In such performances, the music may seem to become aware of itself, to hear itself, to reexperience the uncertainties of its own course. The performer may seem to have become the music. And for some performers, developing one's own account of the music, drawing on analytic observation to find a way to tell the music imaginatively in some of its myriad detail, can open a way to such becoming.
1John Rink, review of Wallace Berry, Musical Structure and Performance. Music Analysis 9/3 (1990): 319-39.
2Wallace Berry, Musical Structure and Musical Performance (New Haven and London: Yale, 1989), 6.
4Janet Schmalfeldt, "On the Relation of Analysis to Performance: Beethoven's Bagatelles Op. 126, nos. 2 and 5," Journal of Music Theory 29/1 (1985): 1-31.
5Fred Everett Maus, "Musical Performance as Composition." Paper read at the annual meeting of the Society for Music Theory in Austin, Texas, October 28, 1989.