Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Joy of Music by: Leonard Bernstein

The Joy of Music by: Leonard Bernstein

A few months ago, I went to a library sale and spied a book titled The Joy of Music. Any book with the theme of music always catches my eye, and to see the name Leonard Bernstein connected with it meant I must peruse and likely purchase.....and so I did.
There were a few sections that I didn't care to read, like the one on Jazz, and a few words that I blackened out, but over all I think it was worth the $2.00.

The Joy of Music was originally supposed to be entitled: Conversations at Thirty, but since it was written by the time Bernstein was around 40 ( 1959 ), the titled changed to The Joy of Music.
The chapters in this book were taken from television and radio shows, so they are conversational style, with lots of musical notation since you can't actually hear the musical excerpts.

The Art
of Conducting
Telecast: December 4, 1955

Bernstein, in this chapter:  dissolves any confusion as to the role of the modern day conductor, gives a little history of the modern day conductor, explains what exactly a conductor does, and shows with words and pictures how to beat out the music with a baton.

History of the Conductor:

" Mendelssohn was the first real conductor in our sense of the word, who founded the tradition of conducting with a wooden stick/baton. Mendelssohn dedicated himself to an exact relication of the score he was conducting, through manipulation of the baton. There soon arrived, however, a great dissenter; Richard Wagner, who said Mendelssohn was doing it all wrong, and that a conductor should personalize the score he was conducting by coloring it with his own emotions and his own creative impulse. And so, out of the clash of these two points of view the history of conducting was born. Mendelssohn fathered the 'elegant' school and Wagner inspired the 'passionate' school of conducting."

Bernstein goes on to explain that both schools of conducting are needed; the ideal modern conductor is a synthesis of the two attitudes, and this synthesis is rarely achieved. “ Almost any musician can be a conductor, even a pretty good one; but only a rare musician can be a great one.”

Bernstein also expounds on why we have conductors now; “because the orchestra is bigger than it used to be, and its harder to keep everyone together rhythmically and musically.” A leader was needed and so the conductor was born! The modern day conductor has only been around for the last 200 years or so.

What do you have to be, to become a Great Conductor?

  • Must have enormous authority
  • Master the mechanics of conducting
  • Inconceivable amount of knowledge
  • Profound perception of the inner meanings of music
  • Uncanny powers of communication

How to Look at a Music Score

  • Read through the score more or less superficially, like racing through a detective story. During this first reading, he must form his own opinion of the cultural and stylistic position of the work. E.g. style of Brahms period; atmosphere of his life and country; the goal he set himself in his work; the influence of other composers and artists on him. In other words, a conductor must be more than a musician he must be also a kind of artistic historian.”

  • Take the score apart and study all aspects of it; what instruments are playing, where is the melody.
  • Decide how fast it must go
  • How loud?

What Makes a Great Conductor

Bernstein says he believes that the chief element in the conductors technique of communication is; preparation. Everything must be shown to the orchestra before it happens. Once the player is playing the note, its too late. The conductor must always be a beat or two ahead of the orchestra. He must hear two things at the same time: what the players are doing at any moment, and what they are about to do a moment later. Therefore, the basic trick is in the preparatory upbeat. The preparatory upbeat is exactly like breathing. The preparatory beat is like inhalation, and the music sounds as an exhalation. A conductor who breathes with the music has gone far in acquiring a technique.

But the conductor must not only make his orchestra play. He must make them want to play. He must exalt them, lift them, start their adrenalin pouring, either through cajoling or demanding or *raging. But however he does it, he must make the orchestra love the music as he loves it. It is not so much imposing his will on them like a dictator; it is more like projecting his feelings around him so that they reach the last man in the second violin section. And when this happens—then there is a human identity of feeling that has no equal elsewhere. *It is the closet thing I know to love itself. On this current of love the conductor can communicate at the deepest levels with his players, and ultimately with his audience. He may shout and **rant and **insult his players at rehearsal--as some of our greatest conductors are famous for doing—but if there is this love, the conductor and his orchestra will remain knit together through it all and function as one.”

Well, there is our ideal conductor. And perhaps the chief requirement of all is that he be humble before the composer ( and I would personally add, God ); that he never interpose himself between the music and the audience; that all his efforts, however strenuous or glamorous, be made in the service of the composer's meaning-- the music itself, which, after all, is the whole reason for the conductor's existence.”

*I don't agree with this statement completely, but I understand what he's trying to get across. I suppose that if you weren't a believer that this "feeling" could  be the closest thing to love......
** Don't agree that its okay to rage just to get what you want
*** Or with the rant and insult

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