Today I am going to pose more questions than I will answer, and probably more than is “seemly” for this modest venue. Perhaps you, my dear readers, will contribute answers?
I want chamber music returned to “the chamber” so to speak. I am sick and tired of hearing performances of chamber music in halls that are way too large for clarity and intimacy, solely because the greater audience size permits a greater income harvest.
Was this an issue prior to our day? Probably.
The aristocracy of the eighteenth century wished to show off its wealth, power and taste by providing cultural events for their guests and themselves. Think of the baroque “Tafelmusik” churned out for anywhere from three to two dozen players. “Tafel” means “table” in German. That’s right, it was “music to dine to,” nothing more, nothing less. It was talked over, and when a princely hand was clapped, it most likely stopped. Can this be a precursor to Hindemith’s twentieth century concept of “Gebrauchsmusik” (useful music)?
One thing it wasn’t: listened to in the sort of reverential silence that art hounds who wish to appear cultured adopt in our concert halls.
In the common practice period most of us associate with the core “chamber” music repertory, many of the aristocratic patrons were themselves gifted players of one or more instruments or voice. They were truly “amateurs” in the highest sense of the word. Just when did the “split(s)” occur between a dedicated amateur participant community and composers who were their own interpreters and the rise of a professional class of performing virtuoso who no longer created the music? These virtuosi merely “interpret” the canonized (or new) works of others, and they do so for remuneration, as when Clara Schumann programmed Beethoven’s Piano Trio No. 6, Op. 97, “Archduke” in her public recitals.
Another question: How did the advent, refinement, and mass-production of the piano, which then became almost a mandatory furniture piece in a well-appointed home, further the creation and performance of more “chamber” works, which were then heard properly, to my way of thinking, in familial surroundings, not in concert halls?
And how did the rise of public music making for paying audiences inspire composers to create new “chamber” works that are “larger” in tone, scope and ambition, that were “never” designed for “home use”?
And how did the virtual “demise” of said piano as a bourgeois attainment “kill” the dissemination of the more intimate works. What about women’s “lib” and the lessening of piano study as one of the “feminine” accomplishments that made one’s daughters more marriageable?
And how did the rise of the recording industry “kill” the need for average citizen to play an instrument for him/herself? Just push a button and, presto, “Archduke” note-perfect, 80 versions available!
I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know! But I do know that usually when I hear a core chamber repertoire in a large concert hall, and by large I mean anything over 150-200 seats, I usually heard performers “pushing” the music “out” to the audience, inflating dynamics and rhetoric. I would much rather be “drawn in” by intimacy.
Just scratching the surface here!
My, my, I’m cranky today. But then: I’m a dinosaur! And you thought we were extinct.
© 2010 by Frank Daykin, for Innovative Music Programs