The principle of cadences stressing the strong dominant seventh whose dissonance is released by a weaker tonic (consonant) chord must now be mirrored by the concept of the tonic chord at the beginning of a musical phrase being weak and leading to the first chord of the next bar being stronger even if it is another tonic. Hence, the following:
For instrumentalists and singers alike, the attack is the beginning of good phrasing. Attack is the activation of sound at an emotionally perceived point in time. To be in time, the sound and the time must already be in the awareness (imaginative ear) before the pitch is sounded. It is a point perceived in time and not on time. This concept has to be pondered long and well.
If we have a doctor's appointment at three o'clock, we arrive at the office before three, even though we know we won't see the doctor much before three-thirty. Similarly, to catch a train at eleven, we will be at the train station before the scheduled arrival of the train. Being on time always implies being early and adjusting our lives to an alien objective happening. Feeling in time is subtly different. It is not alien; it is an internal perception.
Thomas Aquinas defines time as nothing other than the number of motion according to before and after. Note the operative word, motion. In other words, time is a continuum and the artificial continuum of innerly perceived motion with the sequential counting of before and after (i.e. beats) is the important aspect of music which allows it to become linear. When we practice or perform music, we surrender ourselves to this inner clock which we feel. This inner feeling of beat has to precede the attack and carries us through to the cadence. The feeling is perceived before sounding; the line is already in existence before the first articulation in sound.
Also by definition, it becomes possible to experience the now and to feel what is coming at the same time. This is important, because the emotional complexity of the musical phrase can be experienced only in time.1
The problem of articulating the first pitch will be to activate the sound emotionally: not intellectually, not muscularly, not technically. Another way of saying this is that the attack must be conceptually linear, not vertical. The statement agrees with our definitions of musical expression and is true simply because music is an emotional art. The emotional attack is possible only by feeling in time and not by doing something on time.
All attacks in music must be light attacks even in fortissimo. For singers and wind instrumentalists, heavy attacks cause the larynx to rise and the throat to close. The resultant strain is deleterious. For string players, harpists, keyboardists and percussionists, heavy attacks cause tension in the arms. The result makes the instrument speak with a mechanical sound.
For singers, the weight of the attack is governed by the emotion of the spoken syllable, whether unaccented or having the primary or secondary accent of the word. The emotional weight of speech is coordinated with the feeling of the beat or subdivision in the music. This may appear too scholarly, but it is not a matter of intellect, rather a matter of feeling, and feelings are complex. The purpose of the knowledge of these things is to increase the ease of distinguishing feelings, especially in the matter of separating appropriate from inappropriate feelings. The complexity of feelings is what requires so much concentration in music. In real life those complexities contribute to our lives without much necessity of awareness except in spiritual direction and psychoanalysis; in music they become the very matter of awareness, but not of intellectual calculation.
We gain such awareness from good teachers who understand that the art of teaching is having the ability to isolate one feeling after another and progressively to relate them into a more integrated awareness. The assertion flies in the face of the voice teacher who said that there is nothing natural about singing. Everything about singing is natural, even the longer time span required for musical expression. What singers have to discover is the depth of their nature; this is done by examining and experiencing feelings in relation to the feelings of the composer as he has notated them.
At the soloist's first statement in the bass aria, Grosser Herr, of Bach Christmas Oratorio, in neutral speech "grosser" is said with less emotional weight than Herr.
By putting "grosser" on higher pitches than "Herr'', Bach gives the attack a required lightness that gives the word "grosser" enormous power without the voice having to push (the higher on the staff, the weaker the inflection). That means the singer will not say GROSSer Herr. Indeed the entire A section of the aria is built on this principle of light emotional weight at the attack of the line. The grunt-and-groan type of bass soloist ends up with a remarkably uncomfortable experience by the time he gets to the E above the staff (m.64), if he doesn't carefully heed this approach to an attack. Indeed the line from measure 62 is a superior example of everything contained in this treatise.
Instrumentalists discover the emotional weight of their attack from the principles of beat and subdivision. It is obvious that an upbeat attack will differ from a downbeat attack. An attack on the first beat differs from an attack on another beat of the bar. The result is different in quality only if the sound is felt in time, not controlled. This may belabor the subject, but it is important to recognize the strength of feelings and their capacity to enliven a line from the inception of that line, obviating the necessity of playing a note technically and consequently with improper emphasis.
To get groups to attack simultaneously is a matter of getting people to feel the time and the music together. It is not a matter of making people observe ensemble by physical means and improper temporal considerations, for the interruption of feeling by the distraction of paying attention to sounding together creates shallow musical expression. They might attack a note on time, but where is the music? They are just making a sound. If a note is but a symbol signifying a deeper and richer expression, depth and richness will come from emotional involvement, not intellectual control.
Attack is most important because it initiates sound. If it is emotional, the line has a better chance for emotional expression. The word sound is used here in the sense of mechanical radiant energy, which is not the same thing as music. Music is larger than sound and has meaning because ideas are being transmitted by it.
The usual practice for conductors today is to give the preparatory beat in such a way that singers and wind players actually (and usually quite noisily) stop the breath and clutch muscles before intoning the attack. Likewise, string players, percussionists, and pianists also clutch on the preparatory beat, and the result is muscular and physical attack. This completely negates the emotional expression of the first note, and then how can deep emotional expression for the rest of the phrase be brought into being? Furthermore, the resulting tone is not the best technical result for the voice and instrument, and it often suffers from faulty intonation.
The problem with orchestras is that if they don't play in tune, they are told to clean up their intonation instead of being told to feel the music and play their instruments with the appropriate feelings for them and the music. Most professional musicians are competent practitioners of their instruments, and if they have any emotional connection to their instruments and if they are guided into feelings of deep emotional response to what they see on the page, they will accordingly correct their intonation without getting their attention on it. Years of scales and arpeggios train the neural memory of the musculature and when the emotions are invoked, that neural memory will be free to serve musical ends.
For choruses the problem of intonation will mostly disappear if the singers speak the text with adequate resonance and breath. God did not create the human body to sing out of tune. We sing out of tune because of human frailty, and the corrective is speech emotionally impelled on a proper breath. Correcting pitch intellectually removes emotional response to the music.
When intonation becomes the focus of attention, the resultant sound becomes subject to quality control. Constant distraction of the singers and players in such a matter leads to more and more quality control and less feeling for the music. The control escalates exponentially until, in highly disciplined ensembles, the playing and/or singing is sublimely cold and inhuman. Moreover, the public (and the critics) have not noted the difference. How perfectionism has taken us over. Over a hundred years ago George Bernard Shaw wrote of the vulgarity which is the heavy price we have to pay for professionalism in music.
As Rollo May, the noted psychologist, has so forcefully said, perfectionism is a bastardized borrowing from technology which, in its transfer to human acts, essentially dehumanizes us. Actually, only machines run perfectly, and we all know what high maintenance they require to do so. When a machine malfunctions, it has to be repaired; when human beings malfunction, they need only adjust their thoughts and their feelings. To think perfectionistically, musicians are burdened with time and downtime to repair the damage from wear and tear on their instruments, their bodies, and their selves. Besides, much practice and rehearsal time is wasted in matters such as intonation, articulation, and blend. With constant reinforcement from the conductor, the result is a substitute for musical expression, which is why the performers are there in the first place. Without denying the importance of intonation, articulation, and blend which are results, we give our attention to the causes that lead to the results. Emotional expression arises from the notation which "informs" the performers. Correcting results by adjusting the resulting sound shortchanges both the composer and the performers.
Once, when Mozart was about to play a piano concerto without rehearsing the orchestra, he said, "Gentlemen, you play well; I play well." Then they made music for some noblemen or other who was undoubtedly delighted. This incident is worth connecting to the problem of intonation. It leads to other interesting thoughts as well -- even more justification for saying that notation conveys the composer's emotional intentions; for, if not, the orchestral musicians could not have played with feeling while sight-reading. Indeed there is a particular phenomenon that many people who sight-read well generally play with more feeling while sight-reading and lose much of the depth of feeling as they practice, to acquire facility and/or accuracy. In ensembles this is exacerbated by control issues imposed from without.
To continue the consideration of articulation, one must remember that the definition of a musical phrase is that which is terminated by a cadence. From attack to cadence the musical phrase must be linear, and in common practice period linearity is given emotional rhythm and depth of expression by the bar line. The only thing that takes precedence over the first beat of a bar is the cadence. Hemiola is proof of this assertion. Handel is wonderful in his frequent placement of the dominant seventh on the second beat of the bar thus elongating the previous measure. His phrases acquire elasticity by that expressive means. Bach often does it also. The composers of each stylistic period developed ways of overriding the bar line -- in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries through accentuation particularly, but we are here dealing with principles. The overriding of the bar line can only take place if there is a bar line to override. Even syncopation has to have a reference to the first beat to be syncopation. Though not germane to this treatise, contemporary popular music that relies on accentuation of beats two and four cannot ignore their relation to beat one.
Meanwhile, the expressivity of the cadence today has become so foreign to all periods of style that it is necessary to repeat the definition of the means of bringing expression to a close. Cadence comes from the Latin verb cadere, which means to fall. Traditionally this means that the weight of the dominant or dominant-function chord is heavier than the tonic chord, which is its resolution. Theoretically, even at the final cadence, music expresses itself in time. To slow to the cadence, to put a luftpause before the tonic chord, or employ any of the ludicrous practices so prevalent today that make the tonic chord heavier than the dominant, falsifies the style and interrupts the flow of the musical idea to its conclusion. Besides, the practice implies an arrogance and egocentricity that screams at the audience, "Weren't we good?"
The author has never seen in print the obviousness of the heavier weight of the dominant in common practice music by reference to the fact that in eighteenth century music the larger of the two timpani always plays the dominant note and the smaller drum the tonic final note.
Obviously, when singers are singing a note on the last pitch and then allow their attention to be removed from the music to noticing its effect, the music loses life. This is in contrast to performers who on the last pitch continue speaking the vowel, keeping their concentration on it; the music never dies before it is over. Indeed the musical experience for the performer and the audience extends beyond the last sound.
Instrumentalists should continue sensing the weight of the final note of the cadence as an emotionally rooted pitch rather than shift attention to anything else, even the conductor's cutoff . (We do not disregard the cutoff; we feel it.) The musical experience is then free to extend beyond the sound.
The fact that nineteenth and twentieth century composers write ritardando or rallentando at cadences does not justify transporting the practice to seventeenth and eighteenth century music. For that matter, when the great nineteenth and twentieth century composers don't say rit and rall, it might be perfectly stylistic to keep the tempo. Correspondingly, in the matter of Handel's adagio endings, the effects he makes are spoiled by slowing to the adagio and then slowing the adagio itself. Beethoven once said of Handel that he is the master of us all, for he made the grandest effects with the simplest of means. Beethoven understood that Handel creates the effects, and if we impose our own effects upon his, Handel gets lost in our ego and ends up sounding pompous instead of humanly grand.
The extraordinary variations in this matter exhibited by performers and recordings should indicate the falsity of this contemporary distortion of good phrasing. The final cadence has been described in some source readings as having a slight slowing down, but this slowing is a result of feeling the music fall away rather than an intellectually contrived control that stops the emotional continuity of the music toward its logical end. In other words, the slowing happens, the performer must not intellectually make it happen. When performers make it happen, they sever their connection to the music and the music's connection to the audience.
Many composers add small tags after the final cadence, Mozart being the most notable. The vitality of these tags depends upon their growth out of the final cadence, and they achieve the feat of continuing the music past the cadence when they are kept in tempo rather than used as a further means of slowing down the momentum of the music. Two examples are the two-beat tag at the end of the Piano Concerto, K.503, and the two-bar tag at the end of the final chorus of Idomeneo. When played in time with the proper stresses of the beats, they seem to re-echo to the vaults of heaven long after the sound has stopped.
Certain interesting source readings from the seventeenth century tell another story, not only in regards to the slowing of the cadence (they do not contradict the nature of strong dominant and weak tonic) but also in regard to tempo. These things must be taken into consideration when performing works by these composers, but they do not make a general rule for the style of that period. Indeed, the sources referred to are from keyboard players, i.e. soloists with no social obligation to other collaborators; and their references are to their own keyboard music, not to music for vocal or instrumental ensembles. To apply them willy-nilly to other musical forms that are more social in activity is unjustified.2
One of the most telling aspects of our loss of sensitivity to the musical expression of cadences in common practice notation is manifest in some recordings of commercial dance music of our own time when the cadence is not the domain of the composer but rather of the sound engineer who merely fades the music out. There is no cadence, just an embarrassment because the music was going somewhere but nobody gets to know where. It becomes doubly embarrassing when the DJ brings another piece in without interrupting the beat, thereby implying that the music wasn't necessary at all. All that is needed is a beat.
We leave the realm of commercial music with Bing Crosby 's assertion that popular music is one of the few things in the twentieth century that made giant strides in reverse and resume our inquiry.
Another issue related to the problem of allowing the ritardando at the cadence to happen is rubato. Several references to it exist in eighteenth century sources but too many in the modern control mode perform it willfully and intellectually and chart it out while practicing, instead of allowing the composer's feelings to generate this effect. Both Mozart and Chopin were famous for rubato in their right hand (melody) while keeping strict time with their left. Today, we hear all sorts of musical distortions in these men's music from people who do not have that facility. If the performer is not capable of the required manual independence, the left hand will do the rubato along with the right. The resulting performance is stylistically incorrect and the application of simpler principles of expression as noted in this treatise is at least more honest to the musical intention. (In an interesting aside of music history, Berlioz disapproved of Chopin's use of rubato as an expressive device.)