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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lack of Passion

What happens when musicians loose the ability to grasp the music they are performing, or never attain an understanding it in the first place? It's a controversial and thorny issue. To put it another way, what is the obligation of a musician to perform music that they don't care for or like?

Audiences encounter this all the time. Often you will hear a performance of a work where the artist is just not into it, lacks passion, and ultimately falls short of communicating the essence of the piece. The notes might be reasonably accurate, but the phrasing and expression is awkward, off the mark, and just plain inappropriate for the music. Unsympathetic performances are off-balance and boring, since a lack of interest and understanding just can't be hidden under the rug or ignored.

Take Arnold Schoenberg's Fantasie Op.47 as performed by Glenn Gould (1932-1982) and Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999). Gould was a fanatic supporter of Schoenberg and his music. Menuhin apparently didn't care for it. Together they worked on and performed this work, and in the conversation before the piece (video number one below) you can hear the musicians in conflict and disagreement about the music.

Menuhin was not exactly a champion of new music, even though he had commissioned and performed the Béla Bartók Solo Sonata. But you can hear from his performance (in the second video below) that he is very ambivalent about the music. While Gould plays from memory, Menuhin has his face in the score. This lack of passion can't be hidden in Menuhin's adequate but very uninspiring performance of the Fantasie.