Music and Feeling: An Inquiry into the Relationship of Notation and Technique by Daniel Durand

A Corollary

Anyone who began to work as a church musician in the late fifties of the twentieth century entered upon a world of musical expression in a state of flux. The old Victorian approaches to hymnody, choral music, and organ music, so full of  emotional  expression  to hide insufficiency of musical depth of ideas, were being replaced by many musicians who brought a revi­sionist mentality to the great music of the past. But the drawback in the movement was that emotion was out and the standoff objectivity of music's transcendence became the norm.

In Roman Catholicism the re-emergence of Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony, delivered correctly and musicologically but unemotionally, left people confused, but not too many because this music was mostly delivered at lengthy solemn high or sung masses which most people avoided. In the mainstream

Protestant churches, anthems took on a bland musical expression, apparently designed more for intellectual satisfaction than spiritual enrichment. New hymnals arrived, the Episcopalians having done theirs in 1940, leaving many people scandalized and wishing for the old feel-good approach to music for worship.

But this was the twentieth century and the triumph of streams of musical thought inimical to great music was in full swing; people in religion were not to be trifled with. The Vatican Council in the sixties, corning on the flowering of the liturgical movement of the previous thirty years, changed Catholicism forever; music became both in musical services and worship committees the domain of amateurs, people (unpaid -­ to the relief of so many pastors) who were expected to encourage the requirement in Catholic churches of the full and active participation of the laity in every cele­bration. This movement came hand and hand with ecumenism, and Protestant hymnody was borrowed. Then what began as a folk mass, with emotionally accessible folk tunes and imitations thereof , got mixed in with Fiddler on the Roof and other Broadway trends to pro­duce by the eighties a style that, whatever one might think of its musical ideas (mostly but not all depressingly dull, by the way, as to depth) has become practi­cally universal in the United States. Mainstream Protestant denominations were not sluggish in borrowing and adapting to this stylistic trend.1

But music in this  style depends precisely on the emotional parameters described in this treatise, that is, it is mostly written with bar lines. It is very interesting that the need for emotional expression, which gave rise to the style, is so incredibly missing in the delivery of this music because it is performed as rhythm and pitch rather than rooted in the bar line -- which at this late date in its history, the composers themselves seem to misunderstand. So far have we come from the cultural roots of this notational style. But, any thought on the matter will make it apparent that it would become more musically moving in both idea and expressive power from the applications  of the simple principles deriving from notation  and technique.

This book has made several references to the dis­tinction between musical art and  musical entertain­ment. A peculiar practice has arisen in many churches: that of the congregation applauding the musicians at the end of the service. Indeed some congregations applaud the musicians after the important choral work during the service. So much for Bach's "Soli Deo glo­ria" (the glory is God 's alone).

Af ter this brief view of contemporary practice in churches, let us turn to our wider view and speak of good composers not still looking for the lost chord as the basic principle of their work. A cursory view  of those still writing in common practice notation will tell us that they mostly arrive at highly unique and individ­ual harmonic expression. The good composers do not all  sound  as though  cut  from  the  same cloth, just  as

Mozart, Haydn,  and Beethoven differed from each other as they wrote in classical style. The same is true of melody. Good or great composers writing in com­mon practice notation can still write with deep expres­sive significance without the imitation verismo that passes for the same in musical theater today, for example.

This is not a plea for composers to write only in this style. Good composers will not, anyway, if their vision is expressible in other modes of communication. What is being asked is that composers who do write in common practice style use the notation with some sense of its power, and that performers treat the music of the past according to the principles of notation that give rise to it without imposing upon it stylistic elements foreign to it, in other words not to adulterate the great music of common practice notation with performance practices that are inimical  to  it. Entertainment, with quality control of notes and manipulation of sound, has entered the realm of the expression of serious music, a trend which this treatise opposes.

Sometimes a significant part of the work of ascertaining the original meaning of notation consists in clearing away a mass of "tradition" attaching to the performance of a particular work or type of work.
In the exercise of his interpretative imagination, a great performer, whose playing or singing carries particular conviction, introduces a hastening or slowing down of the tempo, a sforzato or a piano subito, a Luftpause or a fermata, that constitutes an integral part of his conception of the piece. Lesser men, then, in search of the secret of the compelling power of the greater artist's interpretation, grasp at the details in which it obviously differs from others-details which the great interpreter has not found explicit in the notation but which have been suggested to him by his own re-creative imagination. And the lesser men imagine that if they imitate these details they will achieve an effect similar to that of the performance in which the details occurred.

Out of these imitations, and imitations of these imitations, are born performance "traditions", which by the time they have earned that impressive name have usually become meaningless distortions guarded with opinionated obstinacy and a sort of guild or secret-society pedantry by those who have no conception of how they arose or what purpose they originally served. Probably few of them have any connection with the composer. Whatever their origin, the musicologist must help the practical musician to free himself from any supposed obligations imposed by them, and thus to make his own direct contact with the notation in which the composer has symbolized his intention and arrive at his own independent understanding of its meaning.2

While entertainment has not had a high reputation in this treatise, it is not being denied  its  legitimate place in a society rooted in individualism and its atten­dant manifestations in our democratic times. Justice requires acknowledgement that Western civilization 's music has tended to entertainment from the beginning. Even Gregorian chant has occasional descriptive pas­sages. In the common practice period, the descriptive harpsichord pieces of Couperin and the tone poems of Richard Strauss are obvious examples. But too much of a  good  thing  has  caused,  for  example,  the  public's interest in  Aaron Copland to reside in his theatrical music to the neglect of his great serious works. The entertainment values in great music are peripheral  to the depth of idea and feeling; in entertainment music, the depth is studiously avoided.


  1. This view of the question can only be described as gener­al. There were and are exceptions. 
  2. A. Mendel et al., Some Aspects of Musicology (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1957)