Words and Music: one art redeemed by the other!

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Words and Music: one art redeemed by the other!

I must choose - decide?

Is it the words that move my heart, or is it the music that speaks more strongly?

Fruitless effort to separate the two.

Words and music are fused into one -

Bound in a new synthesis.

Secret of the hour -

One art redeemed by the other!

In choosing the one you will lose the other!

Does not one always lose, when one wins?

[Countess Madeleine in Capriccio: Words by Clemens Krauss, Music by Richard Strauss]

 

Picking up on discussions in several threads, I thought this subject worthy of a separate discussion. As Ganymede says, there is the risk of opening a can of worms, but there are some interesting families of worms to be found here!

Rather than start with my own views, I thought it better to at least start by collecting together sections from a few relevant posts from other recent threads:

Of course opera comes quickly to mind in any such discussion, as in my opening quotation, above.  

On the one hand Matthewpiano wrote:

“With reference to Opera I believe the drama and text to be of huge importance, with the music there to create the atmosphere and make the whole experience more submersive. Of course, the music can stand very successfully on its own in the case of the finest compositions, but even then language and the sounds of words are such a crucial part of that.”

And tjh212:

“In Wagner it's more difficult to separate music and libretto. Yes, a "C" or a "D" does not equal "Liebe", but in Wagner (especially), what the words and music convey together may be important. If you have every singer/instruments the same, but change all to the words to a hum instead (not just Wagner), what do you think? At the least, the pronunciation of the words is part of the music.

"Carried away by the music itself" also can involve further thinking, similar to Wagner comment above. Yes. the vast major portion of being carried away is the music. But can you separate your emotion, at the moment, from the dramatic event (e.g. opera)? As you know in opera (especially), the music progression follows the drama. A sudden cymbal crash seemingly out of place in what comes before it may loose its "meaning", if you just listen to the music absolutely blindly without knowing the event behind.”

 

On the other hand, this from Parla:

‘While I can agree with you, in general terms, that the text (see libretto) is an essential character of the Opera (not necessarily of the music) and may constitute a "crucial part of it", I still do not find any musical added value in them. Just try to present in the theatre any libretto or text (in the case of Wagner) without the respective music. No audience will stand it for more than few minutes, unless they stay there out of curiosity. On the contrary, how many times we see the music of Operas (in various forms) without words”.

 

And the same view but with a slightly different gloss came from Ganymede:

"Music and words are two entirely different things. You can use music to accompany words (with the words at the centre), but in the end I completely agree that pure music is beyond words. Words appeal to logic, to the analytical side of the brain, while music has nothing to do with our logic. Of course the material itself (the notes, playing techniques, etc.) are analytical tasks, but once those are out of the way the end product is completely beyond that. Music can be experienced, not thought of.”

 

The question of the importance of the text is by no means restricted to Opera. In religious music the text again comes into consideration, and provokes much argument.

In a previous discussion concerning Bach’s texts, after I challenged Vic’s assertion that:  “As for the texts, they might as well be singing about Druidism for all I care.” he responded with exemplary clarity:

“I don't avoid any contact with religious texts, in fact I read a translation of [Cantata No.]178 and I take your point about Bach's motivation entirely.  His deep religious faith is a fact - the holding of which, now as then, is a right to be respected.  But another fact is that such superstitious nonsense is irrelevant to the enjoyment and appreciation of the music for me and for, I guess, the majority of listeners.”  

Fair enough. Yet what we are discussing here now is something else: something that lies in between those extremes and neither requires religious faith nor threatens to invade rational thinking. Nicholas Kenyon (in his Bach guide), writing about the St.Matthew Passion said:

“The work grows directly out of its liturgical and cultural context and is fully grounded in it, yet it seems to reach beyond that context, beyond narrow sectarianism and even beyond religious observance, to say something to the whole of humanity.”

I’m sure most of us have shared that feeling: can one really claim that the text is not important?

And then, what about Lieder.  The quotation that opens this thread, although it comes from an opera, refers to a sonnet, set to music. Surely you can’t seriously appreciate Lieder without giving due prominence to the texts?  Perhaps that’s why Lieder represent a closed book to some music lovers!

 

Finally, I must add my tuppence worth to the discussion of Ganymede’s comment that “Words appeal to logic, to the analytical side of the brain, while music has nothing to do with our logic.”

Well, many of the most moving experiences of my life have included performances of plays by Shakespeare, Chekhov, Ibsen, as well as literature and poetry too diverse to mention!

 

After all:

In the beginning was the word.

 

 

Chris

Chris A.Gnostic

RE: Words and Music: one art redeemed by the other!

Chris, I'm sure you open an interesting can of worms. I hope we'll have an equally interesting series of exchanges on such a delicate and slippery subject.

My initial position on the matter is the following:

The text, whenever is involved in Music and in Classical more particularly, is an accessory to the musical work in question. An important, significant, crucial, vital one, but of not actual added musical value. Thus, even if one has to pay the utmost attention and attach the greatest importance to it, it won't make any difference to the musical value of the concerned work of Music. From that perspective, some of us, like me and Ganymede, for instance, may overlook or even neglect the text accordingly and put all the emphasis on the music and its development.

In Opera, where the weak and naive libretti is more the norm, the glory of the Music transforms the triviality of the texts into divine Art (e.g. Mozart) and sublimity (e.g. Haendel). I wonder who would care for the trivialities of Cosi fan tutte, if there was no such glorious music by Mozart to metamorphose it to something...viable.

In religious Music works, still, the text plays a vital role but it can never reedem the music. In any case, it is like a "pretext" rather than a text! So many different musical forms and structures for saying the same thing (an Amen or a Kyrie or a Gloria).

The Lied is another more linked form of text and Music, but, still, the latter counts, since, quite often, we may have existing poems as such or well known texts, but what again counts is the Music that transform them to the new medium. Who would care about the fate of a Trout, if Schubert did not immortalise it with his Music?

So, I don't see any rdemption for either of the two Arts, but, in some cases, the Music can justify the text. "In the beginning was the word", but, at the end of the day, the Music counts.

Parla

RE: Words and Music: one art redeemed by the other!

I did not say or imply that we should take out the words (of "Die Forelle"). I just said that, without the music, the poem itself would have been forgotten or neglected. On the other hand, the music of that Lied can be and has been performed, transcribed, etc. in instrumental form, since its music counts and works pretty well.

Parla

RE: Words and Music: one art redeemed by the other!

Chris, because of the significance of the Gesamtkunstwerke, do we have to believe that the costumes, lighting or staging add or even have any musical value? They are components of the Gesamtkunst but not of the music, I suppose...

Parla

RE: Words and Music: one art redeemed by the other!

Chris, because of the significance of the Gesamtkunstwerke, do we have to believe that the costumes, lighting or staging add or even have any musical value? They are components of the Gesamtkunst but not of the music, I suppose...

Parla

RE: Words and Music: one art redeemed by the other!

Hi folks,

We have Parla again causing trouble with his little box of verbal tricks.

When does he actually listen to the music he claims to understand much better than the rest of us? According to my calculations he is talking virtually more than he is listening.

Not asking for him to be "put away" but just be ignored by the rest of us. I hope to hear no more of this utter nonsense.

Listen to the music and enjoy!!!!

RE: Words and Music: one art redeemed by the other!

I see, Chris, you carefully used the words "adds enormously to the value of the work". I have no problem with the "work", since the work is a "Complete Art" and not only Music. However, the Music is definitely the notes and the musical performance by the singers and orchestra concerned.

The "Gesamtkunstwerk" refers to a work that embraces all the aspects and forms of Art, but these Wagnerian Gesamtwerke remain in the History of Music as Works of Music and Wagner only as a great composer, despite all his other talents.

I may respond to further comments tomorrow, since it's getting dangerously late.

Parla

RE: Words and Music: one art redeemed by the other!

So, Chris, to reply to the question of today:

In all the major definitions about Music, let alone of Classical Music, there is a common word: sound. Most of the definitions, then, define this general term with words like ordering or organised sound connecting these attributes with the musical terms rhythm, melody, harmony, even timbre. So, in one or the other way, the question of notes and notation (score) is the essence of what is Music. There is nowhere any reference to texts, costumes, lighting, staging etc.

Going back to your reply to my question (post #13 of Sept.26), I notice that you mentioned that the costumes, etc. add enormously to the work's value, without referring specifically to the musical value, which is correct since a Gesamtkunstwerk has a wider value as a complete work of Art.

Later, you make a distinction of your own about "adding musical value" and "having musical value", claiming that certain elements, that do not have any musical value, can add extra musical value to the Gesamtkunstwerk. I cannot comprehend how this may happen, in musical terms. What I can understand is that they may greatly contribute to the non-musical value of the complex (if not "complete") work of Art, but not in the value of its music. If you care for the quality of the "Complete Work of Art", I'm 100% with you, but if we talk about the Music, then, we may have a problem...

In any case, Wagner remained in history as a great and unique composer and his "Complete Works of Art" are treated, more than less, as mere...Operas. So, at the end of the day, only (or at least predominantly) Music counts and prevails.

Parla

RE: Words and Music: one art redeemed by the other!

To start with the last post, I have to say to Camaron that  "the worth of Mona Lisa is exactly in seeing it" is the proper definition of popularity, not what and why is worth in Art. On the contrary, Tjh is quite correct in writing that "even if not a single note of Bach has ever been played by anyone, the worth of his works still be the same". The performance of Bach's works provide us the quality of his works and, if we are able enough, we can identify and appreciate them.

As for the texts "that inspire music", that Matthew raised as a new question, I believe, in a way, I and Chris have already touched it, to a certain degree. Anyway, let's try again: There are thousands of Requiems by respective composers. Quite a few of them seem to have been truly inspired by the relevant Latin text and composed their own Requiem. However, the results vary and rely entirely upon the Music (and, of course, the respective performance of the Music). The same applies to the Masses, Motets etc. In the same vein, we have various composers who have been inspired by the story of Don Giovanni, Otello, Romeo and Juliet etc., but their fate again relied on the Music of the respective composer.

So, to come to you now, Chris, my issue is not only a "semantic" one. I don't think I speak an entirely different language than yours, as long as you claim you understand my position and, likewise, I understand yours. However, while in my case, you recognise that I am - by definition - right, in yours I see various types of languages used, judging from the posts of yours, the last one by Camaron, tjh and so on.

To make myself clear, I can agree with your statement that ends with the phrase..."one that transcends the individual components", provided that we are talking about Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerke, perhaps. However, even in this case, Wagner's monumental and glorious Music establishes a huge framework for all the other "components" to...exist. On the other hand, this statement cannot apply to all those failed texts, libretti etc. that is the norm in a great majority of the Opera genre or the repetitive and irrelevant (to many non religious audiences) texts of the religious works. As for the Lieder, as you admitted, the case of "Die Forelle" provides the picture of what happens there.

So, my argument is that, while we may agree, in some ways, for the integrity of a work like Parsifal, we cannot come to the conclusion that this is the proper and only way to deal with the rest of the Music that involves a text. On the contrary, the opposite can guide us to identify what is the least common denominator of all the cases, i.e. the Music.

Parla

RE: Words and Music: one art redeemed by the other!

“Last night I was reading exactly the same quotation…”


Chris, that’s funny indeed; I came across it in Taruskin’s History of Western Music. It is obviously from a well known manifest from Monteverdi, as you know, defending his Second Practice (or the beginning of so much to come!).


By the way, at least for Ninfa che, scalza il piede  I prefer Jacob’s Concerto Vocale, but it might be that it is the recording I know best.


Monteverdi…. I have read “your” thread on Poppea -which I don’t know- and can’t wait now to get into it. When I’m ready for it I’ll ask you for ONE recording. The thread’s amount of information left me a bit dizzy, to be honest, so after reading so much I still don’t know from where to start!

 

Bach… so 79 and 80 are coming eh?  what a pair!

 

Parla,

“To start with the last post, I have to say to Camaron that  "the worth of Mona Lisa is exactly in seeing it" is the proper definition of popularity”

Re-read  my post and get back to me on this, parla. This is nonsense.

"even if not a single note of Bach has ever been played by anyone, the worth of his works still be the same"

As for Mona Lisa, if it is music, its value and worth is in listening to it (or playing it!) …. everything else is added on top, like consensus around its worth, academic research, etc, etc. I don’t understand your fascination for this kind of abstract absolutes.

RE: Words and Music: one art redeemed by the other!

I'll be more than glad, if I misread your posts, Camaron and Chris. However, I cannot decipher anything else in them, so that I can add or change anything in my post. So, please feel free to enlighten me.

As a last point, if I understand what you try to say, Camaron, if Mona Lisa is music (actually there is an Opera by Max von Schillings on this subject. A viable well recorded performance exists on CPO), then, "its value and worth is in listening to it (or playing it!)...everything else is added on top"...Frankly speaking, I found it either not making any sense or I need further elaboration. My question, though, could be: If, from tomorrow, for some funny reason, there are no more performances of the work in question and no other access to it, will its worth and value evaporate in the thin air?

Parla

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