We took our next fresh, crisp score at the end of the previous part and played it through on the piano thoroughly, just to get to know it. The instrument is important to me for two reasons: firstly, it helps to clarify passages difficult to hear at first reading, and secondly, the medium of music is physical vibration after all – and often what is not immediately “visible” on paper gets immediately brought out by the sound, for example the character of a theme or the significance of a counter-melody. It’s the same with poetry: sometimes you have to recite a line loud to understand, or rather perceive, what it’s about.
When closing down the piano, we reach a stage of preparation that for many (well, most of the) people is a mystical experience hard to perceive. This is the part when the conductor glares at the score blankly for hours. The most common question in this regard: “do you actually hear what’s written there?!”
Well, for most musicians, the principal weapon is inner hearing. Not much technical literature have I found, although I sought. . In Hungarian, Iván Vitányi’s The Psychology of Music is the most detailed work on the subject, but it does not fully articulate what this actually is. Based on my own experience, I would compare it to a simulator that mixes millions of sound samples stored in the brain to produce a sonic image that changes with each re-reading, initially being sketchy, then becoming more and more detailed, which the musician then tries to reproduce on his instrument or on the orchestra.
For the conductor, the process of learning consists in the grooving and polishing of this inner sonic stream, and precisely because of the way this simulator works, it never ends. I would venture to say that there is no point in time at which you have learnt the piece and you are done. We always arrive at a certain subtlety in this inner sonic image, which can always be further refined – of course, within the limits of the individual’s abilities.
Let’s say, for example, that the young conductor opens the score of Mozart’s “Great” Symphony in G minor for the first time:
It usually starts by getting to know the melody and hearing it from the inside – firstly at a tentative tempo, without dynamics or timbre.
Then he also discovers the basses he will mentally match to the melody.
Then, struck by lightning, he discovers the “diabolical” difficulty of the melodies the viola received already in the first bars.
He puts all this knowledge together and now hears a three-layered fabric – without tempo, color, dynamics or proportions.
Forgetting the good old music school mantras, it is usually only then that the eager youngster realizes that the piece has a tempo signature and dynamics.
He then begins to search for the right tempo, in which the movement of the first violin melody, the playability of the viola parts and Mozart’s tempo marking are all important factors. What the novice conductor does not know here is that they can only find a real, workable tempo if they have embraced the whole movement as described above and has taken into account the “tempo needs” of the different themes.
Now the real refinement starts: the brain slowly begins to blend the melody and the accompaniment with their respective violin and viola timbres, to establish the proportion of the accompaniment (30% bass, 45% violin, 25% viola), and to ponder the phrasing: does the musical phrase begin in the 3rd or 1st bar? (This is often the most difficult thing to mull over: in this particular case, for example, I don’t think there is a clear answer.)
This phase actually lasts the longest, and the more splendid the (master)piece is – the longer it can last. That is why it is possible to conduct the above symphony five hundred times, because the shaping of the piece never ends. Often, a different tempo seems more interesting, a counter-melody becomes more significant, a character changes: the pieces living inside evolve with us. That’s why you can happily pursue this vocation until you pass away, you can never get bored.
(to be continued …)
Author: Máté Hámori