Interpretation – how many correct ways are there?
Interpretation and developing a stylistic approach to playing is an important element of any performance. There are of course a number of correct ways to approach a Baroque piece, a classical piece by Mozart or a twentieth century work by Berio, but what is it that makes a performance stand out in terms of having that little something extra, or sparkle?
It goes without saying that there needs to be a good historical awareness in terms of convention when you are in the process of developing your interpretation for a particular piece of music. I have found it useful to always consider the following thoughts when preparing a piece:
What is the piece trying to say, convey and what does it mean to me?
The good thing about this is that although there may well be a particular image, mood or feeling that a composer is aiming to put across, the true meaning of this and the contextual understanding of what and how you play this with can be entirely unique to you. This understanding can also change and develop with you as a musician meaning that it is possible to revisit works with a fresh outlook even if you have played it a hundred times.
What markings are original, and what markings are editorial?
These two things may well often be the same, but as you really get to know a piece of music it is worth considering how the piece is printed and edited. Editors are well within their rights to produce a ‘version’ of the original that has expression, tempo and other markings that they have interpreted from the original score or historical convention.
What historical conventions are believed to have existed during the time the piece was written and how do they apply to the piece I am playing?
This little bit of historical delving may seem a little over the top, but can really help you to develop a better awareness of what is really going on and why things are presented in the way that they are. For example, the approach to a trill varies between the Baroque and Classical eras – only a small point but it can make for a far better musical rendition of a Baroque or Classical piece.
What have other people done and why?
It is always really important to listen to other people perform the music that you are hoping to play. In this day and age it is so easy to get hold of music performed by a number of eminent musicians for your instrument. With the possibilities offered by YouTube, Spotify and other music websites it is so easy to listen to a range of interpretations without even needing to leave your home. The best way of approaching this is through listening with your score and marking things as and when they occur.
Starting to developing your own ideas in terms of interpretation.
Interpretation is an important musical skill and requires a careful, considered and thoughtful approach. The first thing that should always be considered when working toward a performance is that it is important to know the notes. This means really know the notes. This will come down to the practice time you have set aside and the depth of understanding you have allowed to develop. Memorising the music is not always a necessity and even though you may well be learning a piece of music from memory for a particular performance, it is still important to spend a substantial amount of time with the score.
What do I mean by learning the notes?
This is something that I often find is the biggest stumbling block for a number of students. Do you know the music well enough so that there are no real technical issues that cause you issues in terms of actually playing the notes? Overcoming technical issues is crucial in enabling you to have the freedom to look beyond the notes and start to think about how to perform the notes.
Technique and interpretation are invariably two things that are often reliant upon each other. Without the technical ability to perform the piece with ease, the interpretation of the music will always suffer.
Whilst learning the score it is the ideal time to look into the historical context of the piece(s) you are playing and getting a number of recordings that can be used to gain a number of different ideas.
After learning the notes and acquiring firm technique it is possible to spend more time and effort on interpreting the music that you see.
Aim to mark the score as much as possible – write all over the music you play as it will serve as a really useful reminder as you play. (Of course, always write in pencil so that you can rub it out if/when you change your mind!) If you prefer, it is possible to photocopy the part that you use and write all over that so your original copy can stay pristine but do remember that copying music is illegal and should only really be done if you know that you are obeying the law.
If you want to try out lots of new ideas allow yourself to let go. Only through experimentation and exploration can you really find what will work well, and not so well, for you. There is always more than one way to look at every phrase or musical idea and it is worth spending the time to find out what possibilities are available.
Of course it is important to remember to apply things stylistically and think about the musical context in what you are playing. If you want to know what really works and what feels right, try a phrase or musical idea with the opposite in terms of articulation, dynamics etc and see how that makes the music change. This is a really useful exercise in developing the understanding and skill that you have in the music that you are playing.
There are so many ways of interpreting a piece of music and it is through exploration, awareness and understanding that a real sense of sparkle can exist in your performance. What techniques have you developed for interpretation and getting things the way you want them? Have you ever had an experience where things just went a bit wrong, and how did you work around them? Share your thoughts and ideas by hitting reply below.