Reveling in Ravel while Lost in a sea of scores…

Duo Parnas

As I search through the duo violin/cello repertoire I’m finding so many interesting gems as well as polished turds.  Not that the latter are bad things but when you’re working with others you obviously just can’t take your own taste into account.

The past couple of weeks Thursday afternoon I’ve been reading through movements of the Ravel Sonata for Violin and Cello.  It’s a work I never had the opportunity to publicly perform though I did spend some time learning and performing in a masterclass with members of the American String Quartet.  It’s a delightful piece which requires the player to be somewhat agile.  But for some reason back then (and now) I find it fits much of my skill set very well and I really don’t find it that cumbersomely difficult.

I’m remembering back then and the resources I had–a taped copy of Jaime Laredo and Leslie Parnas (ironically, I couldn’t remember who the cellist was and had to look it up) from a Marlboro Festival recording and a couple of other recordings of artists I can’t even recall now in the Music Library of my music school.  It’s doubly ironic as I loved the live video (which seems to be no longer available on Youtube) of duo Parnas (granddaughters of Leslie Parnas).

Despite the absence of the Duo Parnas video, that is something that has changed–there are tons of videos of this work by artists of various skill levels.  In some cases, the videos are just stills of recordings with the audio as a soundtrack.  The wealth and ease of information we have in this day and age is just astounding!

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because we Westerners seem to feel the need of making what is heard more comprehensible by "phrasing" it some way or other

Portrait Beethovens mit der Partitur zur Missa Solemnis

Portrait Ludwig van Beethoven when composing the Missa Solemnis (1820) by Joseph Karl Stieler (1781–1858)

As I’m sorting through some heady ethnomusicological material, I came across in a note, some remarks by Jaap Kunst:

Jaap Kunst, after recommending ethnomusicologists transcribing exotic meodies to use bar-lines ‘for the sake of legibility…where the rhythm seems to call for’ them, observes ‘No doubt one will frequently feel, when tackling the same phonogram some days later, an inclination to distribute the bar-lines differently.  The reason for this is the fact that accentuation in the music of many exotic peoples is much weaker than that in Western music; in some cases this accentuation is put into it by the investigator, because we Westerners seem to feel the need of making what is heard more comprehensible by “phrasing” it in some way or other.’ (Kunst, 40.)

I learn this lesson everytime I go folk dancing – and while Kunst overstates the weaker accentuation (though I think he’s talking about strong downbeats here given the context of where this note appears in the text I’m reading) it’s remarkable how much you can easily get a feel for the accentuation(s) when you actually learn how to dance the steps that go to folk dance tunes.  Sometimes just having a visual cue, like a video, can be enough of reinforcement of the rhythmic accents.

This goes back to remarks I’ve made about mis-pronouncing music obviously.   As one of my groups tries to ease it’s way into a more Greek/Mediterranean type setting we’re going to have to sort through some of those music pronunciation issues.

Maybe we’ll even pick up some Ancient Greek tunes along the way.