Saturday, December 10, 2005


Brahms's orchestration - the Charles Ives factor

In Charles Ives', Essays Before a Sonata, New York, Knickerbocker Press:

"To think hard and deeply and to say what is thought, regardless of consequences, may produce a first impression either of great translucence or of great muddiness, but in the latter there may be hidden possibilities. Some accuse Brahms's orchestration of being muddy. This may be a good name for a first impression of it. But if it should seem less so, he might not be saying what he thought. The mud may be a form of sincerity which demands that the heart be translated, rather than handed around through the pit. A clearer scoring might have lowered the thought."

The issue of muddiness in Brahms orchestration is maybe controversial, maybe dialogical, or possibly the quintessential challenge for our best conductors to make the lowest registers "sound." Sonority and resonance of singing instrumental melodic lines with a rich balance of conservation of energy with clarity of tonal momentum have usually been the measure of mud metrics. I believe Ives leads an inquiry of value for a sound-color of tonal clusters, or a density of impressionism. It would appear that Ives is stretching a foreign style to justify a viable meaning. I believe that only a Toscanini or Koussevitsky could work their special "magic" to realize the aspirations of Brahms.


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