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Music Teachers National Association

The Nebulous Art of MUSICAL INTERPRETATION Author(s): RICHARD K. WEERTS Source: American Music Teacher, Vol. 14, No. 3 (JANUARY–FEBRUARY 1965), p. 26, 34 Published by: Music Teachers National Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/43536864 Accessed: 29-05-2017 02:26 UTC

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London: H. W. Gray Co., 1915, pp.


The Nebulous Art of


"The pupil will emancipate himself

by gaining a knowledge of the notes

which generate expression, and of

the modes of execution adopted by

the great artists to express their sensations. He will no longer de-

pend solely and blindly on the sen-

timent of his master, but on his own,

enlightened by reason and study,

and will discover for himself how to

give life and poetry to the works

which he executes."

Other performers and teachers rely

entirely on the notation as the ultimate

guide and final authority for the cor-

rect interpretation. Mursell points out:


The art of musical interpretation is

indeed a complex and intricate one.

Yet, in many cases, it is interpretation that separates a good musical perform-

ance from a superb one - an artist

"Although the constant tendency of

notation is to indicate more and

more the composer's intention, it

can only feature the high points of

musical structure. The notation can

only give the performer certain

cues. To make a proper use of these

of the music thoroughly. He must

have creative imagination and a per- cues, he must rely on his musical

sonal-emotional approach to the work


if his performance is to be lifted above

Pound states (Gomer Pound, "Variety

the dry and the pedantic.

in Tone Color" The Clarinet. Vol. 20,

All too many teachers tend to be

Autumn, 1955, p. 9.):

from a fine technician. It is entirely

possible for a musician (or musical or-

ganization) to perform in tune, with

good tone quality, play everything on the printed page and yet sound banal, bland, and uninspiring. As Vander- Cook states (H. A. VanderCook, Ex- pression in Music. Chicago: Rubank, Inc., revised edition, 1942, p. 1.):

"However, even if he follows these plainly marked directions to the let-

ter, the performer will still find a great deal lacking in his rendition

of the passage, especially so after he

has heard an experienced and artis-

tic musician interpret it."

Needless to say the art of musical

interpretation is difficult to explain

verbally and perhaps equally difficult

to comprehend. Clearly, it makes

music an art and not merely a routine

mechanical science.

quite rigid and dogmatic when the

question of interpretation arises. Most

appear to be firmly convinced of the

"Our system of notation is adequate

only to a degree. Beyond a certain

point it is a matter of artistic inter-

correctness of their interpretative ideas

pretation on the part of the per-


with other interpretations. However, VanderCook points out that: "At best, a page of music may be considered as

the possibility of many widely differ- a blue print of the plans and specifica-

ing yet very acceptable musical inter-

and seem to have little or no sympathy

tions of the melody and the manner

pretations has been brought out by a in which it is to be played."

number of eminent authorities. Aaron

Copland has pointed out (Aaron Cop-

land, What to Listen for in Music. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1939, p. 247.):

"A composition is, after all, an or-

ganism. It is a living, not a static, thing. That is why it is capable of

being seen in a different light and

from different angles by various interpreters or even by the same

interpreter at different times."

Ferguson suggests (Donald N. Fergu-

son, On the Elements of Musical Ex-

Thus, the study of interpretation

should broaden and extend the stu-

dent's musical understanding and pre-

sent him with some ideas to aid in the

development or alteration of his own interpretation. Mursell has stated:

"Instead of slavish copying there should

be musical understanding, and along

with that, some initiative in interpre-


Ways to Develop Interpretation

It becomes apparent that musical

The Teaching of Musical Interpretation

Galamian terms interpretation "the

pression. Minneapolis: University of

Minnesota, 1944, p. 61.):

interpretation is clearly a developmen-

tal process that accrues over a period

of time. Moreover, interpretation

should never become fixed and static. There must be room for musical

final goal of all instrumental study,

"While a given figure may have an elemental or intrinsic value of sug- gestion, the possibility of appropri-

ate musical variation is as great as

the variety of mood that demands


its only raison d'etre " (Ivan Gala- mian, Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching. Englewood Cliffs Prentice-

Hall, Inc., 1962, p. 6.). Teaching ac-

cording to rigid and inflexible rules, using the same material for every student, and demanding that the stu- dent attempt to emulate one "correct" interpretation are all open to a great deal of question. The material used in teaching must all be adapted to the

individual needs of each student. The

student must understand the meaning Expression. Tr. by M. E. Von Glehn.

growth and change in musical expres- sion. The mature artist is continually

seeking to alter - usually minutely and

imperceptibly - his interpretation.

Mursell comments (James L. Mursell,

Music Education. New York: Silver

Burdett Co., 1956, p. 284.):

One of the best ways to develop the

"It is very valuable for a mature ar-

tist to hear how other performers

deal with a work that he himself is

highly creative process of musical in-

terpretation is via extensive, intensive,

studying, even though he may not continual, and intelligent listening to

follow their interpretation."

fine performances. There is no substi-

Lussy states (Mathis Lussy, Musical

tute for hearing and studying fine live

(continued on page 34)






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models to be imitated or even emu-

might find a genuine and intriguing

(continued from page 26)

lated. Nor would there appear to be

musical goal to strive for. An experi-

enced performer may well approach

the expression of a composition in a

completely new and different light as

a result of insights gained from the

study of several contrasting perform- ances. The teacher can use the widely

differing recorded performances to

point out the vast number of possi-

bilities and variations in appropriate

musical expression as he guides and

encourages his students in the develop-

performances. Where this is not pos-

sible fine recordings can be of great


Performing with a fine musician in

much worth in merely labeling certain

interpretations as "inferior" and others

perience leading toward maximum

musical growth, one must consider the

different interpretations as aids in de-

help. Actually, both live performances as "superior." It is inferred that, to

and recordings can be used to great make ad- this kind of study a learning ex-

a chamber group or orchestra can be veloping clear and lucid perceptions

a great source of help and inspiration.

When possible (and when one is avail-

of the compositions as pieces of music.

able) studying with an artist teacher-

It seems reasonable to conclude that

performer is another excellent ap-

once a thorough musical comprehen-

sion has been achieved the individual

proach to the development of inter-

ment of their distinctive styles.

It can also be concluded that nota-

can be expected and indeed encour-

pretation. Perhaps it should be em- phasized that the musician must have a good technical command of his

medium of musical expression whether

this be voice, clarinet, violin, band, or necessary preliminary musical and technical development to commence

individuals should have acquired the

aged to develop his own interpretation.

Again, however, it is emphasized that

at this level of study.

Another value which would seem to

accrue from the intensive study of

many dissimilar musical performances

is the development of a genuine ap-

preciation and respect for other mu-

sicians' modes of musical expression.

An unbiased, objective approach to

such a study would seem to be essen-

tion, per se, should not be viewed as

the consummate guide and terminal

authority in developing an interpreta- tion. Notation plays an important role and should be a useful guide, but an

artistic expression can better evolve

through musical understanding and in-

sight gained from a knowledge of

many interpretations.

orchestra. The better technical facility

he possesses the freer he will be to concentrate on musical expression. In

a like manner, the better the performer

knows the printed notation the more

released he will be to think of express-

ing it in an artistic and musical man-

Clearly, the nebulous art of musical

interpretation must be pursued in a

systematic and well-planned manner

by all serious musicians. It is the soul of our profession.



The value of studying many diverse tial in order for the greatest possible

interpretations would not seem to be musical development to take place.

fully realized by considering any as

In many interpretations a student

Richard K. Weerts is Associate Pro-

fessor of Music , State Teachers College,

Kirksville, Missouri.


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