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


At the age of eight, I began piano studies with a teacher who laid a very fine technical foundation upon basic notational concepts. Among those concepts, she emphasized two important things. First, she taught me that the first beat of every bar is stressed. Second, she taught me that in the matter of cadences, the dominant chord also is stressed and the tonic chord that resolves it is weaker. Those two thoughts have nourished me for over fifty years. She also frequently said of the piano with great emphasis, "This is a singing instrument. Make it sing!" That also would be important for the future.

Most of the music I studied with her was what I later called teaching music, for she taught repertoire graded to develop technique rather than to develop an appreciation for great music. For example, she said of the A minor theme in the rondo of Beethoven's first piano concerto, "Beethoven must have been drunk that day."

At age fifteen, I began studies with another teacher whom I greatly admired because he taught me the power and importance of great music. But he was what I have since come to call a rhythm and pitch man, someone whose musical interpretations were based upon a system of control and perfectionism. I have since eschewed such teaching.

He once wondered why Bach ended so many of his choruses and arias with an unaccented syllable on the first beat of the bar. The question was significant not because the answer was given to me by my first teacher (the accented syllable is on the heavier dominant chord in the previous bar), but because the question and the answer to it indicated a division in the understanding of the nature of notation. Both he and my first teacher agreed that there is something special about the first beat of a measure, but the definition of that something special was not clear.

This division operated in me over many years of my professional life. I became a church organist and, as was common in those days, directed the choir as well. Naturally, I came under the spell of choral and vocal music. Gradually over many years, I became aware of the dichotomy discussed above, and I came to understand that what my first teacher taught me was especially viable and important for great music whose joys were instilled in me by my second teacher. I began to look at notation with a view to the discovery of what composers were trying to communicate.

The seminal and pivotal event in the realization of these matters occurred when I was asked to accompany in recital a famous violist, the principal violist of one of the top symphonies in the U.S., who was to be guest soloist for the local symphony. The local chamber music society asked him to give a recital at the time of his visit, and through a series of happenstances I was asked to be the pianist. On the program, he scheduled the Arpeggione Sonata of Schubert and in the first movement at bar 40 he played the sixteenths metrically, but when I had the same idea for the piano in bar 41 and he had the expressive octave leaps, he insisted on a caesura or Luft before the third beat. That made me break the sixteenths that were a direct repeat of his statement.

Such a cute reading of the score left an indelibly negative impression upon me and led me to a stronger desire to discover what a musical score really tells us.

Over the years that I have been working pri­marily as a coach and a conductor for singers and instrumentalists, I have noticed that there is considerable confusion among them as to what the printed page means. Further, it has become obvious that the confusion has had a great influence upon technical expertise in performance. I once accompanied a voice lesson for a singer who was having difficulty with a particular passage in a Puccini aria. After several tries with poor results, I suggested that the problem might lie in the fact that the singer was making a crescendo a bar early. The singer responded, "Puccini didn’t know what he wanted."

Several years ago, I heard on PBS a performance of Handel's Messiah conducted by a highly respected early music specialist and was amazed to hear four of the five soloists sing consistently out of tune. A few days later, on PBS, I heard a performance from the Metropolitan Opera in which the lead tenor sang not a single note in tune and the soprano did only somewhat better. The notational and technical reasons behind these deficiencies are the matter of this treatise.

Serious classical music is slowly losing its audi­ence, whose age is rising as its numbers decrease. The reasons are many and various. Only one will occupy our attention on this journey: the separation of musical notation and its ability to convey the composer's processes from the technical expertise required to deliver same with realistic and attractive authority.

Each of the subjects discussed in this opusculum could require a book. It is my intention not to produce a scholarly work on these subjects, but rather a collec­tion of thoughts to deepen awareness of musical expression. I will always be grateful to the world of musical scholarship; my admiration for scholars and their work has led directly to my musical growth. However, more knowledge is not my intention; more awareness of musical processes is.

Over many years my reading has consisted of anything scholarly and otherwise that I could lay my hands on, but when I began to write this book the writers who influenced its coming into being the most were those who were telling what they heard -Mozart, Berlioz, Debussy, George Bernard Shaw, Virgil Thomson and the like. Except Mozart, they all were sensitive listeners telling in their newspaper accounts what they HEARD (Mozart was telling his father). Knowing the score as related to what they heard, they influenced my thinking more than analyses of how composers and their compositions came to be. Composers’ letters and writings also contributed to expose their intentions. We shall see that it is the intentionality as defined by psychiatrist Rollo May contained in the act of performance that is my primary interest, in other words what the composer’s score says to the listener by way of the performance of musicians.

The unsubstantiated anecdotal references are mostly autobiographical; a few are happenings I have read of without any chance of remembering where. These are secondary incidentals to the concepts of notation and technique as I expose them in the practicalities of private lessons and rehearsals and are intended as a source of quiet thought and introspection. The result owes much to Musashi's Book of Five Rings, an interesting and viable resource despite its subject matter for those who must deal with any kind of practicum, that is, anyone who must discover the efficient causes of results.

Finally, this opusculum is devoted to both singers and instrumentalists, for all is singing. As long ago as 1970, Samuel Alder complained of the narrowness of focus that victimizes young music students in their vocation. Any voice teacher, with little musical back­ground and with steadfast refusal to develop a compre­hensive pedagogy to allow singers to develop as choral singers as well as soloists, is an obvious example of his complaints. I have observed all over the world how instrumental and vocal teachers rarely communicate with each other, yet they share the same principles of notation. However, Bruno Walter said, "All music is singing. The ideal is to make the orchestra play like singers."

 Several of my former students have told me that they insist that their bands sing vocally what they are rehearsing. They tell me the students hate singing the music but are always amazed at how much better the music sounds when they play it.

Vocal and instrumental teachers too often are highly gifted performers who attract students on the basis of their reputations as performers but lack any realization of the basics of technique or any prin­ciples of coaching those who are less naturally gifted. Too many coaches teach ritardando this, accelerando that, put a luft in here, ignore the composer there. There are also the country piano teachers, of whom harpsichordist Ralph Kirkpatrick complained, who teach their students to crescendo anything going up the staff and diminuendo anything coming down. The fact that many of these teachers (as well as many conductors and coaches) trained after Woodstock were reared with the sounds of commercial pop entertainment rather than the classics contributes to the problem in our own time. The intent of this study is to encourage singers and instrumentalists and their teachers to recognize what is common to all musicians when performing the music of great composers and lesser composers that derive from them.