Day 141 – February 18th – Le Merle Noir

Today was a reminder that there are wildly different ideas about music, both its interpretation and how we share it with others.

As I mentioned yesterday, the repertoire piece today was Messiaen’s Le Merle Noir, and I was genuinely surprised at some of Trevor’s ideas on the piece. He started off with some valid comments about my attention to rhythms in the opening cadenza, were I was taking a bit too much liberty with semiquavers in relation to the quicker note values. However, I was surprised how quickly Trevor conceived of the cadenzas – there was very little room in his interpretation for space in the musical line, and the cutting that I’d been trying to avoid yesterday was actually quite well thought-of. Rather, Trevor wanted expression through loud and soft playing.

The presque lent, tendre section was where our ideas differed the most. I’ve always tried to match the piano tone here, playing quite a stark, clean line. It’s been suggested a few times that I play it senza vibratio, which I don’t like, but I also don’t think of it as overly romantic or anything. Trevor, however, said it was a “big romantic tune” and made me do some quite big crescendos and diminuendos. It made for a very different piece. The final section, vif, was pronounced “almost there”, I just needed to aim for tighter grace notes and really clear articulation even when notes are repeated. Overall, though, it felt like everything had to be played very fast.

After the playing part of class, we has a general skills session on the topic of chamber music. Once again, I was a little surprised. Rather than talk about creative ideas for chamber playing, Trevor wanted to talk about the easiest ways to form a chamber group for the greatest variety of repertoire, and I felt that the conclusions he reached were a little one-sided. The logic was that too many players is too hard to organise, so wind quintets aren’t a good idea and neither are bigger groups. Suggestions of flute and guitar were greeted with some rather scathing comments of guitar players, and flute and percussion was considered “too boring” (I feel like this was only in reference to flute and marimba though). Flute, viola and harp has a “limited repertoire” (I bit my tongue here), as does anything including voice. So the conclusion was that the best chamber group to form is either flute, oboe and piano or flute, cello and piano, as that has the broadest range of standard repertoire. It might also be a good idea for befriend a string quartet in case they need a guest to play some flute quartets occasionally.

On one level, fair enough, it was practical advice for forming a core group with some staying power. On the other, where is the sense of adventure in that? We certainly shouldn’t all be going and playing 18th and 19th century repertoire in trios with oboes, cellos and pianos, because everyone will be utterly sick of it! Alongside that, we need musicians that are willing to be a lot more daring, to drum up the numbers to play new works, exciting works, and works that are going to define our generation of composers in the future. We also need people that are prepared to go delving into archives, breathing new life into chamber works from the past for more obscure combinations. I think diversity of music is such an important thing, and that was what was missing from today’s discussion. I didn’t dare mention Pierrot ensembles!

On the bright side, and to sum up a long post; I did learn a lot from today’s class even if I didn’t quite agree with everything I heard. This evening I made sweet potato and sage risotto with some of the others, and on our evening walk the dark sky was bursting with stars.

1 thought on “Day 141 – February 18th – Le Merle Noir

  1. Always good to discuss and hear different views, even if it just confirms your own. Follow your heart to where it takes you. The easy path is seldom fulfilling.

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