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That 2-layered rubato thingy

Discussion in 'Technique' started by musical-md, Aug 11, 2011.

  1. musical-md

    musical-md New Member

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    I lost where this was being discussed a bit elsewhere so and am starting a new thread as I wished to add to the discussion.

    It has been said that the accompaniment vs melody rubato -- what I am calling Musical Dissociative Disorder -- is something that is best exemplified in the vocal literature, as I presume, a demonstration of melodic freedom of the singer, etc. However, I would have to say that listening to a performance where the accompanist (pianist or conductor) did not in fact accomodate the accompaniment to the singer's interpretation, thereby maintaining the vertical integrity of the composition and limiting rubato to the tempo as a whole, would be looked upon as a poor accompanist indeed. I'm sure many pianists here have good or even extensive accompanying experience (I do), and the fact that no matter how flexible the soloist or conductor (choral works) can be, that the pianist can "follow" is recognized as the achievment of art and skill -- just plain ensemble ability. This all came back to me as I was listening to a Chopin Nocturne performed by violin (melody) and piano (accompaniment) and recognized as I listened that I would be horrified to hear any dissociation of the melodic rhythm from that of the accompaniment in this two-performer version. Why should it be any different if performed just by a pianist? I maintain that such a dissociation is both unmusical and contrary to everything a musician trains by.

    :)
     
  2. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Eddy,

    I too have accompanied singers and totally agree with your viewpoint. The pianist has to be flexible in order to follow, never lead, the singer. In following the singer, the pianist plays an almost imperceptible nanosecond (figuratively speaking) behind the singer. Too there are those unwritten subtle pauses to enable the singer to take breaths as the song unfolds.

    Personally, I've never put much stock in those 18th and 19th century descriptions of rubato whereby the melody flows freely, accelerates then slows to resume the pace while the accompaniment has remained strictly in tempo and meter, as Chopin taught. It would lead to the very disassociation that you describe. In fact, the pianist ought to follow and mirror the singer through any rubato, ad libitum, or a piacere or other subtlety in my opinion. Likewise, in the piano literature, I would assert that it is not just the melody, but rather the whole musical fabric that is affected by rubato. I would argue that playing rubato in this way is more coherent, dramatic, satisfying and convincing, at least in my opinion.

    David
     
  3. musical-md

    musical-md New Member

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    David,
    I appreciate your commenting on this subject. Earlier this evening the thought occured to me that, perhaps, this notion of free melody versus "fixed" accompaniment is one erroneously born in the auditor when listening to several of those passages in Chopin where irregular groupings of notes are accompanied by clearly patterned accompaniment, the impression being that the melody has "done what it liked" with the tempo when the accompaniment has not -- when of course all along, it was just an irregular grouping in the melody. Examples are almost everywhere in his writings, but two examples suffice to illustrate my point: the 4th measure of the "A" material of the "Raindrop" Prelude, Op.28, No. 15, both times but especially in the return of the A section; the 2nd and 3rd full measures of the first Nocturne, Op.9, No.1. I think that someone listening to these for the first time may have had the impression that Chopin's RH was freely singing while the LH was keeping careful time.

    Having said all this, I can't deny that Karol Mikuli (his pupil and then teaching assistant) confusingly states the following:
    I really want to give Mikuli the benefit of the doubt ... but struggle to do so. Perhaps all this he's just described was the RH in irregular groupings or fioritura passages? Oh the mystery.

    Eddy
     
  4. richard66

    richard66 Richard Willmer Piano Society Artist

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    As I mentioned in the other discussion, this very possibility was mentioned while I was still learning the piano and was associated with Chopin only. The piece I was learning was the Prelude in d (24) The teacher studied at the Paris Conservatoire in the '40s, if this has any bearing on the discussion. To add to this, I never finished that particular prelude and never went any further into the matter and had quite forgotten about it till this came up. I also remember that I was told that Chopin was to be played in strict time and not with the rubato that so many pianists employ. One example of good playing of Chopin that was given to me was by Nelson Freire. We did discuss Arau, but if I remember correctly he was mentioned as paying correctly, which I understand to mean that he played what he saw on the page.
     
  5. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    There's a difference between "accomodating the accompaniment to the singer's interpretation" and pedantically following every microscopic nuance of the singer. As a professional accompanist, I want to be sure that I can follow the singer (or instrumentalist) as closely as I want--but it doesn't always mean I should. There are times in music when a "soloist" (I hesitate to use that word, but there isn't a better) wants to be able to push against a firm rhythmic structure without it giving way. If the accompanist is too "sensitive", it can cause the performance as a whole to lack conviction.

    To be fair, this sort of rubato is more common in popular music, jazz and musical theatre (especially where the composer has set speech rhythms in a reasonably natural way), and also in the virtuoso violin repertoire, than it is in mainstream lieder or art song.

    Since you seem absolutely convinced that this sort of rubato is wrong, it's unlikely that I can persuade you otherwise just by typing a few words. But I can tell you firstly that top professionals occasionally do this deliberately, and secondly that you've probably heard it without being aware of it. (If it's obvious that the pianist isn't following, then they're overdoing it.)
     
  6. hanysz

    hanysz New Member

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    Okay, here's the first two examples I found on YouTube.

    Martha Argerich plays Chopin's Mazurka opus 24 no. 2. Pay attention to the section from 0:37 to 0:48 (where Chopin actually writes the word rubato in the score); it's subtle but it's definitely there.

    Maria Callas sings the Habanera from Carmen. There are a few examples of rubato in this performance. I think the clearest is at 2:12: she wants to emphasise the text "Il est la", making the last two quavers of the bar late; but if the orchestra were to follow her, it would spoil the Habanera rhythm, so the orchestra keeps strict time here.

    There would be plenty more examples out there (it didn't take me too long to find these two), but I'm not going to spend any more time identifying them for you. Just keep your ears and your mind open.
     
  7. musical-md

    musical-md New Member

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    Alexander,
    Thank you so much for the examples and I weigh most carefully what you offer. I listened to the Chopin VERY HARD, over and over, and I just can't appreciate any dissynchronization between the hands. Maybe if I could slow it down I might be able to detect it. I would love it if you could find something a little easier to appreciate -- a Nocturne perhaps? In fact, I don't think there would even be such a notion as this subject if it were this hard to hear.

    Eddy
     
  8. jlr43

    jlr43 Member Piano Society Artist

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    I think this is very likely the case. Mikuli's comment on this, and others' echoing of it, is an issue that has long confused me, for it it doesn't seem possible for melodies and harmonies ever not to match up with one another except when it is specifically part of the musical structure. Keeping in mind that playing the piano is largely an illusion anyway (in terms of the listener's appreciation of it), I'd say too that the likelihood is that Chopin was able to create the illusion that his left hand was keeping perfect time (and presumably his auditors not having a metronome handy to check him :) ), probably because his rubato was so perfectly and aptly applied. And indeed, the filigree figurations in nocturnes that are deliberately asynchronous help create that illusion anyway. I think it is really almost a logical impossibility for the two to diverge and sound like anything other than cacophony.
     
  9. richard66

    richard66 Richard Willmer Piano Society Artist

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    Is it such an absudity that one hand is precisely in time while the other deviates only very slightly? It is not that one is to have the left paying bar 10 while the right plays bar 12! I ask you, if you have this pattern: 5 notes against 6 or 7 against 11, how can you possibly play these if not by taking these infinitesimal liberties? I realise this is not quite rubato, but it does come near. Maybe we should be discussing the amount of rubato.
     
  10. jlr43

    jlr43 Member Piano Society Artist

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    No, in fact it is not rubato at all. This is simply polyrhythms of one part against another, both of which can be played exactly in time if one wishes (and can hear the polyrhythms against one another). It's probably easier to visualize by thinking of a 2 against 3, which is no different an idea in concept but much easier to count out. Both parts in a two against three are often played exactly in time. Rubato, on the other hand, is literally the idea of stealing time from your overall tempo, then in many cases presumably making it up so that the effect is natural, though the latter is not necessarily a requirement.
     
  11. richard66

    richard66 Richard Willmer Piano Society Artist

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    Indeed, though 2 against 3 is equal to 4 against 6, which is perfectly divisible.

    Anyway, I have never played the way Eddy is protesting against, so...
     
  12. jlr43

    jlr43 Member Piano Society Artist

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    Very true, though it might be harder in actuality for the ear to hear a 4 against 6 while playing.

    In your initial response, though, you did say 5 against 6, though, which is a different kettle of fish entirely :D In the opening of the B-flat minor nocturne, op. 9 No. 1, I believe there are some weird polyrhythms of like 11 against 6. In such cases, I think it's permissible to break up the righthand figurations by, say, 2-2-2-2-2-1, and when it's played up to tempo no one will notice anyway.
     
  13. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Interesting discussion, guys! I was going to add my two cents but keep deleting everything. Too hard to describe my thoughts on rubato, except that it's hard for me to do! Maybe because I'm a stickler for sticking with the rhythm that's on the page. Also, I don't care for players who push and pull things so much - it gets annoying real fast.

    Anyway, carry on..... :)
     
  14. richard66

    richard66 Richard Willmer Piano Society Artist

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    I was thinking of this as practice and a sure way of getting 2 against 3 right.

    I suppose I was thinkning of that as a type of rubato and I wonder if this might not be what Chopin is said to have done. I believe that unless one is an African drummer 5 against 6 will never divide evenly.
     
  15. richard66

    richard66 Richard Willmer Piano Society Artist

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    Indeed, Monica. Maybe you might listen to some of the Chopin performances on the site. I listened to one of the Prelude in e... I do not believe there were two notes for the left hand that had the same values.
     
  16. jlr43

    jlr43 Member Piano Society Artist

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    Don't be shy, they're probably excellent points, even if you only give us two cents worth of them:p

    I see your point here, although sometimes it pays to experiment and then you can always go back later and discard or refine upon relistening. A problem I have with the musical establishment these days is the notion that there is ever an ideal performance of a piece, particularly with such a personal issue as rubato. Then it seems as though everyone is listening to everyone else and terrified to try anything new with an aspect like rubato with the overall result that it all starts to sound the same. I think in the end what we ideally want is to hear 50 completely new and individual performances of, e.g., any of the Chopin preludes. That's the interpretive aspect that makes listening to performances interesting.

    That said, I agree with you that there are limits and strictures. The key is to find the happy medium of the individual discovering what works for him/her (i.e., what to do with each phrase dynamically, rubato-wise, etc.) without completely distorting the music. And I think it goes without saying that that's extremely difficult.

    On that note, I'm still having a devil of a time with it on, as you may remember, preludes 4 and 6 :p The fast ones I have recorded so far still are far from perfect too, but I'm coming to terms with at least some of those interpretively (though the next one on my list, No. 16, still freaking terrifies me :cry: ), but I find these two apparently simple pieces two of the hardest pieces in Chopin's entire oeuvre to get right, at least for my taste. I have yet to hear a performance I'm satisfied with, and I'm sure I'll never be satisfied with mine either. Even Cortot's version that I listened to again recently sounds rather straight-laced, perfunctory, and monotonous to my ears. Ah well, maybe it's just me -- maybe I need to drink more :D . Hopefully I'll at least improve those two somewhat when I re-record them this weekend

    Chopin I guess I just find the most difficult of anything to play. Every measure of it is replete with the most wonderful nuances yet at the same time great perils both interpretively and technically for the performer.

    Joe
     
  17. 88man

    88man Member Piano Society Artist

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    Rendering any "Musical dissociative disorder" seems a bit stretched, because deviations relating tempo or synchronicity is intentional on part of the pianist, and it is not involuntary, nor pathologic. It's a matter of taste. Synchronicity is mathematical and absolute in written manuscript, but any tempo deviations via rubato really should involve BOTH hands, and not just one hand. Music is cohesive, not dissociative. The only time that I clearly remember playing a dis-synchronous passage, and have it still sound stylistically appropriate, was in Schubert Impromptu Op. 90/4: The beginning pp passage "can" be played with the low A-flat LH immediately preceding the C-flat RH passage. Try it and see for yourselves. (see attachment)

    The golden age of Romantic pianists would do this kind of thing more often. But the argument is passe as tastes and conventions have changed over a 100 years. However, these days, regardless of the temptations to stray from what is written, "dissociating" or dis-synchronous playing is the trait of an amateur and not correct in almost all cases.

    As in the aforementioned works of Chopin's Op. 9a, and Op. 28/24, the odd numbered rhythmic subdivisions in the RH against a metric LH accompaniment can be determined in most cases by the melodic importance, or how a passage resolves toward the end. Here is a thread where the Chopin Prelude No. 24 was discussed: viewtopic.php?f=19&t=4420

    Re: Rubato?! Your damned if you do, and your damned if you don't. For those who don't use enough of it, their performance is sterile, devoid. For those who use too much, their performance is an emotional blasé mush. We all can hear this. Rubato is like herbs and spices in food - use in trace amounts!

    Conclusion:
    - Music is cohesive, and not dissociative to the score.
    - Synchronicity is mathematical. Fluctuations in tempo (rubato) is subjective and is a matter of taste (or the lack thereof).
    - Dis-synchronicity has almost no bearing in music, it's passé at best.
    - Ultimately this whole topic is a matter of taste. We/you either like or don't
     
  18. musical-md

    musical-md New Member

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    Perhaps I should change the "diagnosis" to Munchausen's Musical Dissociative Disorder (MMDD) :D
     
  19. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    If I was very serious about this rubato thing, then maybe I'd listen again to some PS recordings. But since I have listened to so many, many, many recordings for PS, I don't really feel like listening to any one of them again! I must be burning out or something regarding listening to piano music. I've even given up my series tickets for solo piano concerts at Chicago's Orchestra Hall and instead purchased a series of Chicago Symphony tickets for the upcoming season. Three times as expensive, but will provide much more variety than hearing the same pianists over and over again.

    Well, it's Friday night so I'm a little loopy. But okay here goes...
    Rubato - Mostly, I don't like to 'know' that I'm hearing it, nor do I want to 'try' playing it. When I know a piece well enough, and if I'm in the right mood, I can make my RH do rubato easily and it's very natural. Meaning, I'm just letting my current
    thoughts/feelings/emotions guide my hands. That is my kind of rubato - it's very simple to do if I don't think about it.

    Agree with you one hundred percent! I've recently changed my mind about the way I (want to) play some mazurkas based on listening to the likes of Friedman. If I re-record any of my own mazurkas, I think they'd sound a lot different.

    I like a lot of herbs and spices in my food (except hot pepper). It doesn't seem to do anything to my playing though... :lol: (kidding, George. I know what you mean.. :) )
     
  20. jlr43

    jlr43 Member Piano Society Artist

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    Good point, I try to the do the same and be spontaneous. As Hofmann said, "Spontaneity is the soul of art."
     

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