I have been listening to many classical pieces on Youtube and I am becoming more and more discontent with the interpretations made by current musical conductors. Is it me or do they just love to slow down the pacing of the music? I understand that current conductors are trying to remain loyal to the source and intent of the composers (e.g. by not cutting elements of the score) but I feel that by reducing the pace; the conductor is not only prolonging the duration but ironically, is making them stray from being loyal to the composer’s intent.
When I heard Leonard Slatkin’s interpretation of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings with the BBC Orchestra for a memorial of the 9/11 bombings, I felt that his conduction was too slow. The cathartic and melancholic quality that exists in Barber’s piece were reduced significantly; which I felt were akin to slowing down the pace of an action movie… significantly downplaying the emotional impact. I felt that Georges Delerue’s interpretation for Oliver Stone’s Platoon was a touch too fast; making it sound a little more frantic than necessary. Leopold Stokowski’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 (mvts 1-4) were too slow; giving the sound a more balletic and graceful touch; touches I believe weren’t musically intended by Beethoven.
The only musical conductor that has done right with every musical interpretation he made to a composer’s music; in my opinion is Arturo Toscanini. Not only was he determinedly loyal to the composer’s intent (by not chopping out elements of their scores; a common practice during his tenure as a conductor) but he was pitch-perfect on tempo. His version of Barber’s Adagio for Strings is paced perfectly; the qualities of simplicity, beauty and tragedy are combined properly. I absolutely loved hearing his 1952 TV concert of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 (mvts 1 & 4 in particular) because they feel more energetic; more exciting. His 1948 TV concert of Richard Wagner’s The Flight of the Valkyies is the interpretation that should’ve been used in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
My second favourite conductor is Leopold Stokowski. I have disagreed with his interpretations of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5, RIchard Strauss’ The Blue Danube, Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and a few others but he has also done so many other great compositions. In particular: his 1929 recording of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 2 (mvts 1-3), Debussy’s Clair de Lune, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 4 and many others.
What I am coming down to is my belief that musical interpretation can significantly improve or compromise how we as a viewer experience the emotional and artistic intent originally imposed by the composer. It doesn’t apply to classical music alone. I have seen many movies; especially those in the past and feel that many compositions have been rushed. A good example is in Hitchcock’s Vertigo with the ‘Scene D’Amour’ scene just after Scotty (James Stewart) sees Judy (Kim Novak) as Madeleine; the woman of his dreams. I believe that the effective tragical music pieces are delivered with a slow pace to emphasize on what has happened; to dwell, to make a point of it. I feel that the ‘Scene D’Amour’ scene was too rushed and lost some of its tragic quality as a result of the interpretation.
I have only criticized the pacing of music. There are other reasons but my lack of musical experience makes it difficult for me to use musical terms.
My question is: have there been any musical pieces you’ve heard (regardless of the genre) where you’ve disagreed with the choice of interpretation and why? Have there been any instances in the movies where you’ve disagreed with their interpretation of the music and if so, please give examples and say why you disagreed with their interpretation.
Could it be that audiences today expect serious/classical music to be slow? Kind of New Agey?
Nice thread, John.
I can’t think of anything to say (especially about classical performances), but I’ll put some thought into your questions.
I honestly don’t know why people think, “oh, classical music is so dreadfully painful to hear. It’s slow; for the elitists and the old”.
It’s always baffled me as to why many in Generation X and Y in particular are so resistant to giving it a shot. Okay… if I asked you to listen to an opera made from the 1700’s by a lesser known composer like Antonio Salieri; it would make sense.
I can only pinpoint it down to prejudices & harsh expectations. They’ve heard it only in one manner & so they’re not willing to see it in another. Or maybe today’s conductors think that slow pacing enhances the experience. Maybe for John Cage’s 4"33" it would be appropriate but when you’re talking about Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries; a piece that is deliberately exciting & gloriously sounding, why slow it down? I find it rather sad that I must listen to the interpretations of older conductors (due to low-fidelity sound, pops, crackles & background noise in the soundtrack) to hear a version I like (although I haven’t heard anything from Leonard Bernstein or Eugene Ormandy) because I am in disagreement with the interpretation of current conductors. I’m not saying all of them are bad. I’ve yet to pinpoint any in the league of Toscanini or Stokowski.
There have been exceptions. Generally, film music is conducted very well. Just listen to the soundtracks of many Kubrick films! They’ve been interpreted perfectly; even when different instruments are used (Beehoven in A Clockwork Orange). There’s no doubt that it can be done well; it just needs to be interpreted properly.
@John: There is NO modern tendency to give ‘slow’ interpretations of classical music. Even if there were, that would be OK. Over the past decades there has been a movement towards authenticity in performance, for example in the use of original instruments. However, the job of a conductor is to interpret a piece in the way he sees it – a composer cannot specify exactly how any piece is to be played since musical notation isn’t exact enough to allow that – you can specify loud/soft/fast/slow etc etc but exactly HOW loud/soft?
Some top conductors of today you might want to try:
Christian Thielemann (German opera)
Kurt Masur (German repertoire, esp Brahms/Beethoven)
Sir Simon Rattle (Mahler, Beethoven)
Sir Mark Elder (Opera, most orchestral too)
Osmo Vanska (the world’s #1 for Sibelius)
Valery Gergiev (world’s #1 for Russian music, esp Shostakovich and Mussorgsky)
Marin Alsop (good all-rounder, very good Brahms symphony cycle)
Herbert Blomstedt (German 19th century classics)
Donald Runnicles (Opera, esp. Wagner)
Riccardo Muti (Verdi, Puccini)
Sir Colin Davis (Mozart)
Riccardo Chailly (modern music, Italian opera)
And no longer alive:
Sir Charles Mackerras (best conductor of Janacek ever)
Sir Georg Solti (Wagner, Beethoven, R.Strauss)
Otto Klemperer (very slow, so watch out – but fantastic for Brahms/Beethoven)
Herbert von Karajan (Wagner, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Richard Strauss)
Carlos Kleiber (fantastic Beethoven)
Sir Adrian Boult (Elgar, Vaughan Williams)
Sir John Barbirolli (Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Puccini)
Richard Hickox (English music)
These (and many others) are fully the equal of people like Toscanini (who was often accused of rushing music).
Although Stokowski was/still is one of my favourite conductors, he often adopted slow tempi. He was also famous for editing/changing the scores of masterpieces. Sometimes this worked (as in his Bach transcriptions for orchestra) – sometimes it was disastrous.
You mention John Cage’s 4’33". I assume you don’t apparently realise that this is a piss-take? It is 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. You can (if you are VERY STUPID) buy the score. It contains blank pages.
You mention film music. Most film music is trash. It is often hugely derivative and plagiaristic. At best, you could call it a tribute to great composers. At worst, you would say cheap plagiarism.
Are you referring to my comments? I like classical music, but I can’t read a musical score, so I couldn’t really comment on your OP. Actually, I don’t think I’ll be able to contribute to this thread because of this. (How can I agree or disagree with the interpretation of a piece of music used in the film unless I know how it was meant to be interpreted? :()
I thought this thread was going to be about spirituals, I am sad.