Expression: Timing, Dynamics and Tone

• Nov 16, 2021 - 08:50

I think there's merit and probable reward in launching an effort—possibly collaborative—to create MuseScore files that reproduce (with a high degree of accuracy) the expression of existing high quality recordings.

For instance, consider these performances:

In these examples I hear temporal variations that grace the composition and are easily grasped by the listening heart ... resulting in performances superior to most metronomic interpretations.

Nevertheless, I frequently advise caution when students use timing as an expressive devise. Becoming a good curator of time takes time, and experimentation, much listening to others, and requires a personality able to honestly hear one's own playing ... like effectively proofreading one's own screenplay while maintaining an objectivity that allows you to observe it as though never before experienced; having the courage and humility to lance out your favorite line; or snip an entire scene or character to the cutting room floor; to toss out purple prose, extraneous cleverness or wit in pursuit of story that most directly and compellingly communicates the human messages.

Sadly, in the hope of imbuing expression, many artists induce jarring, meaningless pauses that leave the listener scrambling to reset their connection with the performance only to run headlong into the next odd fermata. Those artists may want to add a poignant personal stamp by adding surprise and mystery. And indeed they do, but it's a shame when it twists and tarnishes the piece and looses the listener. Surely, one can always argue it's a matter of taste, but there's a point where I feel a particular performance stands between me and the composer's message. And I usually conclude that it's due to overzealous or indigestible temporal tampering.

In contrast, in the example recordings submitted above, I find the temporal variations truly enhance each piece. I relax as I sense a transparency in the performer. That he or she is a portal to the piece—to a new perspective or insight, to a deeper understanding or unknown facets—and yet stands mystically aside, out of the way, pointing for us, through themselves, to the beauty they've discovered by listening and playing, in conduit, in service, without opaquely painting over the composition. And yet we lightly witness the artist in their holding and caring for the piece, by their obvious depth of love of music, and because the emotion they felt when playing it flows into us. Like sympathetic vibration. And that's good expression, that we feel something close to what the artist did.

In short, I guess I'd say ... rubato is easily played but not always easily appreciated or enjoyed. And I'd say, the responsibility is more on the communicator than the listener.

So that's a few thoughts on expression via timing.

I believe that the topics of accents and dynamics are simpler and more easily quantified, and more readily rendered via MIDI, (of course with some complication due to the competing factors of playback "velocity" and dynamic markings.)

And there are some extant discussions here on the forum, which often include the terms "humanize" or "humanizing." So they are easily found.

•     •      •

Predictably threads like this (one's that lead with a strong opinion) readily spark strong reactions and often spiral out of control. So I'd like to request that people temper their responses in the two following directions:

a) submissions (links to Spotify, youTube, etc.) largely of solo material, of performances that you feel are good examples of expression, accompanied by brief supporting commentary that describes what makes them work for you.

b) discussion of experimental projects in MuseScore that recreate, as best as possible, the expression found in a particular recording.




I guess this response is in category b) - I'd like to reference the "MuseSampler" project mentioned in various announcements and other threads about MuseScore 4. My sense is that this is exactly the sort of thing it is aiming for, and that further discussion probably should take place in the context of that feature in particular.

Interestingly enough, you chose three Baroque keyboard pieces. The instruments these were written for largely do not exist any more. Plus no one really knows how they were performed. We can guess, of course. I have recordings of a certain Baroque trumpet concerto by the Boston symphony from the 60's. It is loud, slow and bombastic. I really like it. I also have the same concerto recorded by a small European group. It is light,airy, quick and probably more authentic. I really like it, too. It is the sacred job of performers to bring music to life as they see fit. We may or may not like what they do. But we aren't the ones performing.

Do you still have an unanswered question? Please log in first to post your question.