Musical Mutualism

by bofengc

One of my favorite days in class so far was this past Tuesday when Erica Ball and Daniel Shapiro came in to have a “rehearsal session” with pianist Greg DeTurck. It was incredibly interesting to watch the two composers present their respective pieces to the performer, whose job was to interpret the music and provide advice on how to improve each piece. This relationship between composer and performer is very unique because neither can really exist without the other. The composer needs someone to play his music, while the performer obviously needs music to play to. After experiencing the workshop on Thursday, I wanted to learn more about how the composer and performer truly affect each other.

So if you think about it, music as an art form is a lot different from painting or sculpture or photography because there is no need for an intermediate interpreter. Ordinary people can view and understand a painting, sculpture, or photograph by themselves, but they need someone else to play the musical notes for them to enjoy a piece of music. You could even go as far as calling the performer a “musical middleman.” This leads to a one main consequence: the performer has full control of the interpretation of the music. For example, if Lang Lang doesn’t like the mezzo forte that Liszt uses in one of his Hungarian Rhapsody passages, Lang Lang can simply play that passage with fortissimo, and no one will persecute him for it.

The freedom that performers have to change up the composer’s original musical intentions brings up the debate if it’s fair to the composer for the performer to play to his fancy. All problems would be solved if the composer were the only one to play his pieces. However, that is neither practical nor appropriate. Composers often don’t have the technical prowess that profession musicians have to successfully perform their pieces. Moreover, composers die while their music lives on. But is it really that bad for performers to modify parts of the original music? I personally don’t think so. I think that performers should be allowed to use their independent creative personalities to play to their moods. That way, the music sounds more natural to each individual performer. I would enjoy listening to different versions of the same piece and seeing which performer’s version I like the best. (Different theatrical versions of La Ci Darem La Mano come to mind.) And sometimes, the performer may even have some ideas that are better than the composer’s original ones! I’m sure that Erica Ball benefited from having Greg DeTurck play her piece and provide her with helpful feedback.

What do you guys think about the relationship between composers and performers? To what extent should performers be able to alter the composer’s original piece of work?