My last post was inspired by a recording of a pianist who made a choice in interpretation that was directly in conflict with what was written by the composer in the score. I believe performers ought to pursue this agenda with enthusiasm, especially the more advanced the artist: trust your musical intuition, your analysis might well be better than the composer's.
But few people do this, and so many performances of standard repertoire suffer because they fit into a box, take few risks, and simply recreate what everyone expects to hear. Often we talk about respecting the 'composer's intentions' when studying a new piece of music and advocate using an Urtext score so that our interpretation is based on what the composer wrote and nothing else. Again-I refer you to the Taruskin quote to the right: starting with the Urtext is important, but performing is by its very nature an act. We must make the composer's intentions come alive by putting ourselves into it.
Furthermore, I would argue that we confuse composer's intentions with interpretations that we have already heard. What undergraduate piano student prepares a piece for performance without consulting recordings by other artists? What good teacher does not encourage their student to use recordings for information? This is common practice in preparing for performances today and while I'm not against the idea, I'm convinced that there is a fine line between being inspired by a recording, and copying a recording. I'll bet that more often than not, we fall on the side of the latter, rather than the former.
When I was first preparing Beethoven's Piano Sonata, Op. 110 for performance several years ago, I was struck by a passage in the Scherzo movement:
I found myself emphasizing beat 2 of the first and third measures of this excerpt as if they were the downbeat. Momentarily, I shifted the barline over one beat. This bothered me, my inclination should be to keep the sense of meter correct and this created some sort of metric dissonance. I realized that I played it this way automatically because EVERYONE plays it this way. Not that it is incorrect: some accent could be implied on beat two being the first note under a slur, but it bothered me that I would automatically make a musical decision just because "that's how it's done". I believe my alternate interpretation, is equally valid: giving an emphasis to beats one and two as equals, "DUH-DUH" instead of "da-DUH).
Oftentimes what we think is following the "composer's intentions", we are only following another performer's decisions. If that is true, I'm going to give myself some credit by going along with my ideas, even if I cannot verify that anyone else has ever interpreted the passage in the same way.
Since then I have tried to be aware of all musical decisions that I've made when learning a new piece of music. What if I approached this canonical score as if I were preparing the premiere? This was the primary reason pursued a doctorate in contemporary music: I was on the forefront of new creations, and prepared countless works for which I could NOT consult a recording. I had to look at the score and make decisions for myself, not based on what someone else decided to do. And working with composers on their own music, I found that they often are surprised by the decisions I make, but they are happy to go along, understanding that my musicality was an honest response to the textual clues that they had written.
"Modern performers seem to regard their performances as texts rather than acts, and to prepare for them with the same goal as present-day textual editors: to clear away accretions. Not that this is not a laudable and necessary step; but what is an ultimate step for an editor should be only a first step for a performer, as the very temporal relationship between the functions of editing and performing already suggests." -Richard Taruskin, Text and Act