segunda-feira, 30 maio 2022 14:08

Gapp/McNair Piano Duo – Improvisation, Experience and Written Music

Nicholas McNair

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Gapp/McNair Piano Duo – Improvisation, Experience and Written Music

Nicholas McNair |  Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa / CESEM
Samuel Gapp |  Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa

 

Creativity is not a Power, but rather a Principle: an abstract generalization of the myriad of agential energies comprising the creative advance. Creativity is not an agent that works through us. It is us. Whitehead's Radically Temporalist Metaphysics: Recovering the Seriousness of Time (Allan, 2020, p. 32).

 

Spontaneous improvisation could be defined as that aspect of a musical process that does not proceed from consciously predetermined decisions. Because of its “non-formalistic and non-objectivist” nature, “improvisation has been neglected in musicology as well as in philosophy of music” (Bertinetto 2013, p. 83). But it is for precisely this reason that research into the practice of spontaneous improvisation can amount to a form of ontological research into classical music itself – with all the attendant implications for teaching – and lead to a different understanding of the relationship between the roles of composer and performer as reflected in the musical score. Why? Because a score implies a spatialized form of time, while the absence of a score can bring the musical experience more securely into experiential as opposed to spatialized time. The “artistic object”, indeed all “objects”, could from this point of view be better understood in terms of events, and music-making as the realization of a unified experience of the possible in a dimension beyond the Cartesian “subjective/objective” split. I begin with a description of the event, as the best way to define exactly what is under discussion here.

 

  1. The recording:

The session of spontaneous improvisation presented here was the first of four sessions recorded over two afternoons on 29-30 July 2021, the very last days of my 34 years of activity at ESML. These sessions, of an hour or so each, were the latest product of what had been a fortuitous contact between myself and Samuel Gapp a year or more before, at a time when he had been studying at ESML for his licenciatura in jazz piano. I came across him on a number of occasions when he was practising in the room where I was to give classes, and I became aware of his exceptional qualities as a musician. I was also by then having supervision from his teacher – Prof. João Paulo Esteves da Silva – for my doctorate on the subject of improvisation. We eventually became aware of our mutual interest in what I call “spontaneous improvisation”, that is to say, improvisation in which there are no conscious decisions made prior to the moment the performance begins, no musical material nor structure – nothing. At its best this requires, of course, a very high degree of intuitive musical understanding, and yet it can be applied at any level, as was the case with me from an early age, and as was the basis for my improvisation classes, from 1998-2021, as part of the Formação Musical course at ESML.

One short experimentation on two pianos (whose tuning did not quite coincide, but for which I acknowledge gratefully the generosity of Prof. Jorge Moyano in allowing access to his piano) was enough to convince us of the desirability of doing more. Two further sessions under the same conditions gave us the confidence to proceed with our first concert, on two Bechstein grand pianos of the 1930s, which took place at the Museu Nacional da Música on 18th June 2021, and which was the last time we played together before arriving for the session recorded on this video.

On each of the two afternoons of 29-30 July, the first of the two recording sessions took place as described above, without interruption, and with no prior discussion about what we would do; and it is for that reason that I thought it most valuable, from a pedagogical point of view, to show one of these sessions in its entirety, just as it happened (see below for more on this question).

The second session of each day happened in much the same way, except that, perhaps in an effort to achieve greater variety, we allowed ourselves to make occasional proposals about the next improvisation – such as “ff throughout”, or “with prepared piano” (all of which is registered in the other recordings). In order to take advantage of this mix, we decided to create a CD (called Mirages, and issued in January 2022 by Habitable Records), whose 12 tracks were selected from all four sessions and given titles, in a friendly bargaining process of personal preferences. My introductory text for the CD is as follows:

 

This is the selective record of a meeting – of two Steinway grand pianos, audio and video equipment and technicians, and the fingers of a young jazz pianist and a much older classical pianist. The notes teased out intuitively by these fingers reflect an uncommon complicity that allowed us to walk onto the stage and begin to play without having decided anything more than the position of the pianos. Of the 49 pieces we recorded in total, in 2 sessions of 4 hours each, these 12 are a taste of the sheer joy we had in playing together on instruments of such quality. Needless to say, the suggested titles came later.

 

As mentioned here, we recorded altogether 49 improvisations – 23 on the first day, and 26 on the second – with the indispensable support of Prof. Sérgio Henriques and his excellent team of assistants from the school’s Technology department. In each of the two sessions within the four hours alluded to above I began playing with my favourite of the two Steinway instruments, but we agreed always to change pianos somewhere in the middle, as can be seen after the sixth of the eleven pieces in the video (in fact, in our first sessions some months before, with the differently tuned pianos, we had changed pianos after each piece). The average length of these eleven pieces is six minutes, and the starting-point of each on the video is as follows:

 

1. 00’11 2. 06’23 3. 12’47 4. 21’44 5. 26’14 6. 31’44 (changed pianos)
7. 39’05 8. 45’47 9. 53’43 10. 58’10 11. 63’34

 

The most striking thing about a recital of this nature, in which no-one knows what will happen, is the openness throughout to possibility. We never knew who would be the first of us to begin a piece, and it is noticeable on the video how on several occasions one of us was overtaken by the other at the beginning. This could potentially affect the entire piece, if the material of the opening was of such a nature as to impose itself on the whole, which might happen as the result of our different backgrounds – in the sense that an opening suggestive of one or other extreme of the classical/jazz spectrum could have the effect of leaving the other pianist less intuitively ready to contribute immediately. On the other hand the overall climate of possibility allowed for a fundamental relationship of freedom and ease that is not often the case in classical music, and music has everything to do with relationship. It is, in the last analysis, a question of letting go one’s individuality, and allowing the music to speak through us as a collective capable of involving everyone present.

 

  1. The listener:

This question of possibility is, of course, of capital importance for the listener. It has been an almost universal habit in the classical music world to offer programme notes, that designed to inform anyone who reads them how they should be listening to the music – whether from a historical or an aesthetic point of view. What tends to be suppressed is any recognition of the audience’s rolein the proceedings – that their own experience and interpretation of the music is essential when it comes to live performance. Their presence will make itself felt anyway, either as a negative presence or a positive one, and in that sense they can change the entire atmosphere of a concert by the quality of their attention – and this will have more to do with their openness to possibility than with their knowledge. The music will only speak if they want to listen.

In terms of the improvisations on this video it may help to follow the dialogue between us, and that is the reason why I wanted both pianists to be visible throughout. Even if it is not always entirely clear visually who is playing what, hearing with stereo headphones should be enough to identify the two pianos most of the time. There are pieces, such as the last one, in which we keep intuitively very close to each other (this piece appears on the CD with the title Mimesis), and others where we keep strictly apart, even when swapping material, as in the third piece (also on the CD with the title Chiasm), but at no point do we simply ignore what the other is doing. This hypersensitivity to what we are hearing at the same time as what we are playing is one fundamental ground of all improvisation, and indeed should be of all music-making – which makes of improvisation, in my opinion, an essential pedagogical tool, because in this context it is never just a question of hearing and/or playing what is expected. In the fifth piece, which was the last from this session to be included on the CD (with the title Rêves/Espoir), one can hear how the nature of the initial theme made it easier for Samuel, rather than trying to make some form of commentary, to wait and eventually take the theme over, thus leading to an alternation between us of this material. This piece also reflects, perhaps, the desire on my part to create a contrast with the previous fourth piece, whose discourse belongs more clearly to the jazz domain. The following sixth piece is a further contrast, initiated by Samuel with a combination of keyboard and strings. This is a natural creative process, common to most composers as well, in which there is an interweaving, on many levels, of contrast and continuity; the latter here is sustained by an absolute identification with the pleasurable activity of the body – which I view as the other fundamental ground of improvisation and, indeed, of all performance.

 

  1. A collective continuity?

Music, as indeed all the performing arts, is traditionally expressive of a subjective continuity, whether seen as individual or social, as a sign of our essentially temporal nature [Heidegger (1985) says in this respect: “the time which I myself am each time yields a different duration according to how I am that time” (p. 225)]. But it is much harder for this subjective spirit of music, when assaulted on all sides by antagonism, criticism and competition, to maintain itself in expression, to make itself felt fully in practice. As Harnoncourt says in his book Baroque music today: music as speech (1988): “the unity of music and life and the view of the oneness of music has been lost” (p. 20). The intellectual focus over the last two centuries has been increasingly in the direction of the individual composer and his works, rather than music as a practice carried on through those works. This has, of course, deeply affected the teaching of classical music, as well as the model of music schools ever since the founding of the Paris Conservatoire in 1795 (Harnoncourt, 1988, p. 25), but with greatly increased intensity over the last century. The whole notion of repertoire, which had been introduced in the first place ostensibly as a guarantee of quality, threatened to degenerate too easily into mechanical teaching, and a cheapening of works as endlessly repeatable market products, a tool for attempts on the part of composers, or performers and teachers, to achieve visibility and financial success. Peter Hill speaks of the “central dilemma” of the performer arising from this mechanical aspect:

 

How can we work and work, without losing enthusiasm or the open-mindedness that enables our ideas to develop? How, indeed, can we perform at all – in the sense of creating a unique event, with insights which arise from the inspiration of the moment? (Hill, 2002, p. 131)

 

Simultaneously, musicological research, as with scientific research in other fields, tended to reinforce this mechanical element through a growing concern with analytical or methodological factors, a process which has perhaps served to conceal a spiritual insecurity incurred through the loss of an encompassing creative vision. Paul Feyerabend, the philosopher of science who described science as being “an essentially anarchic enterprise”, complained of this 50 years ago in a passage in the first edition of his book Against Method, although he withdrew this in later editions:

 

The idea that science can, and should, be run according to fixed and universal rules, is both unrealistic and pernicious. It is unrealistic, for it takes too simple a view of the talents of man and of the circumstances which encourage, or cause, their development. And it is pernicious, for the attempt to enforce the rules is bound to increase our professional qualifications at the expense of our humanity. In addition, the idea is detrimental to science, for it neglects the complex physical and historical conditions which influence scientific change. It makes our science less adaptable and more dogmatic: every methodological rule is associated with cosmological assumptions, so that using the rule we take it for granted that the assumptions are correct. (Feyerabend, 1978, p. 295)

 

What is at issue here, and what both Hill and Feyerabend in their different contexts are referring to, is the stultifying effect of habit in our thinking, arising from our projection of time in spatial terms, as being outside of us, rather than our embodiment of time as our essential nature. This problem may be faced in improvisation more directly than in other forms of musical activity, given that the improviser must struggle with himself in real time. Spontaneous improvisation, then, can serve to confront precisely this issue of music and time, which tends to be concealed by the separation of the creative powers of performer and composer.

 

  1. Music between experience and writing

The practice of spontaneous improvisation is evidently an attempt to preserve the experiential aspect of music-making from the threat of annihilation posed, potentially at least, by the printed page and the concomitant demands supposedly issuing from composers, whether dead or alive. Needless to say, it is not so much the printed page which threatens anything as the assumptions which go with it, nor can such a stark separation of the written and the experienced be sustained usefully for long (Gendlin,1997, p. xxi), at any rate from a conceptual point of view. However, the relationship between the conceptual and the experiential is not a symmetrical one, and from the experiential perspective things are somewhat different. Almost all musicians these days can read music, at least in a basic form, and by virtue of this their music making will already have been influenced by the experience of reading music. But to what extent can they maintain the personal sense of their freedom, in the temporal sense, when confronted by the mechanizing aspects of this influence?

It is reasonable to suppose that anyone who can read what I write here, or even something much simpler, can also engage in spontaneous conversation using some of the same words or ideas. But in musical terms the same is, strangely, not true for most classical musicians, irrespective of whether they are good readers or not. They normally believe themselves to be incapable of just speaking the ‘language’ of music without reading from or committing to memory a specific piece. Why? Following Harnoncourt I have proposed that at the time of the French Revolution a whole tradition of collective music-making, involving more creative relationships between players, was being lost to the bourgeois conception of music as an individual affair involving individual composers, and, with the founding of the Paris Conservatoire, a new style of music education taking its cue from a pared-down and more mechanical relationship to the written score (which continues to dominate the modern understanding of what a score stands for). Let us consider, by way of contrast, the following description by Margaret Bent (2014) of Renaissance polyphonic practice, in regard to the “elementary training shared by composers and singers, and which composers presumed in their singers when they committed their compositions to notation; namely… fluency in practical counterpoint” (p.25). Such a training demanded of the singer the capacity to apply accidentals to his own part on the basis of what he was hearing in real time from the other parts:

 

The singer reads his own part in a state of readiness to reinterpret, of readiness to change his expectation of how to read the under-prescriptive notation (not to change the notation!) in prompt reaction to what he hears. The "default" of the visually scanned line with its implied melodic articulations (perfecting linear fourths, making cadential semitones) is controlled and sometimes overruled by the counterpoint heard. The "default" that is "changed" is not the notation as transcribed, but the expectation of how the original notation is to be realized. (Bent, 2014, p. 26)

 

Modern editions of this music for widespread use are obliged not merely to provide the music in score, i.e. with all parts visible to all the singers, but also to specify an editorial choice for the accidentals, due to the literal and far less creative relationship of the performer to the notes in the score. Is it any wonder, then, that modern musicians find themselves reduced to silence when the score is removed? Recent research by Nicholas Baragwanath suggests that a kind of experiential relationship to notation as described above by Bent persisted in choral training, in some respects, into the early nineteenth century, at least in the case of Italy. What has prevailed often since then, reflecting especially the historical relation between keyboard and stave, is a mechanical attitude with little reference to the ear, that prescribes the movement of fingers in space according to the dots specified on the staves. The assumption lying behind this, one which I seek to dismantle, is that the experiential and the notational aspects of music are in a mechanical, as opposed to a dynamic, relation with each other, and that therefore one can discuss one as if it were the other. In order to counteract this widespread error it might be helpful to consider the words of anthropologist Viveiros de Castro, as quoted in Holbraad and Pedersen’s book The Ontological Turn, on the subject of translation:

 

To translate is to emphasize or potentialize the equivocation, that is, to open and widen the space imagined not to exist between the conceptual languages in contact, a space that the equivocation [here qua error] precisely concealed. The equivocation is not that which impedes the relation, but that which founds it and impels it; a difference in perspective. To translate is to presume that an equivocation always exists; it is to communicate with differences, instead of silencing the Other by presuming a univocality – the essential similarity – between what the Other and We are saying. (Holbraad & Pedersen, 2017, p. 187 [my emphasis])

 

This is, surely, the musicological ‘elephant in the room’ – the need to confront the difference between description or analysis, on the one hand, and the temporality of actual music-making, on the other. Only in this way can the space for more creative communication between musicological thinking and experiential performance in classical music be opened up.

Spontaneous improvisation reveals such a distance by its very nature, and has served, perhaps for precisely this reason, from Forkel (the “founder of musicology”) onwards, as the negative definition of what musicology was all about. Its disappearance as a performing art was, of course, intimately connected with that change in paradigm described by Lydia Goehr (1992), involving the ‘work-concept’ and the rise of the idea of historical repertoire as the primary basis for the organization of concerts. Living composers from the time of Beethoven onwards found themselves increasingly in competition with compositions of the past, if only by virtue of the widespread availability of printed scores and parts by composers such as Haydn and Mozart. Goehr writes:

 

Their romantic role willingly adopted, composers enjoyed describing themselves and each other as divinely inspired creators — even as God-like — whose sole task was to objectify in music something unique and personal and to express something transcendent. Bizet described Beethoven not as a human, but as a God. Samuel Wesley referred to Bach as a ‘Saint’, a ‘Demi-God’, and a ‘Musical High Priest’, and to his masterpieces as the ‘Works of our Apollo’. Haydn's spirit was said to penetrate ‘the sanctuary of heavenly wisdom’. (Goehr, 1992, p. 208)

 

In these circumstances the individual composers in making their choices may have been as much weighed down by a defensive or adulatory attitude towards the past as by their concern for the present performance, and this factor will have intensified the need for developing a recognizable personal style. In this sense composers could be seen as having been led into an unspoken partnership with the critic or musicologist, in the attempt to justify their ‘works’ in the public domain. Goehr quotes Forkel in this respect:

 

The public merely asks for what it can understand, whereas the true artist ought to aim at an achievement which cannot be measured by popular standards. How, then, can popular applause be reconciled with the true artist's aspirations towards the ideal? (Goehr, 1992, p. 210)

 

A subtle wedge is thus driven between individualist acts of composition and the more collective aspects of music-making, exacerbated by the ever-growing claims to authority on the part of teacher-performers in the field of education.

Is it thus that the notion of repertoire gained its hold on musical practice and pedagogy? At all events it continues to do so whether it is seen as a positive or a negative force. Perhaps only a radical assumption of equality between self-confident performers and composers, imbued with the spirit of improvisation, will achieve the freedom to pursue together a new path of creative understanding, untroubled by the anxieties of their teachers and the models of the past.

 


Gapp/McNair Piano Duo - Improvisação, Experiência e Música Escrita

 

Creativity is not a Power, but rather a Principle: an abstract generalization of the myriad of agential energies comprising the creative advance. Creativity is not an agent that works through us. It is us. Whitehead's Radically Temporalist Metaphysics: Recovering the Seriousness of Time (George Allan, 2020, p. 32)

 

A improvisação espontânea poderia ser definida como aquele aspecto de um processo musical que não procede de decisões conscientemente pré-determinadas. Devido à sua natureza ‘não formalista e não objectivista’, ‘a improvisação tem sido negligenciada tanto na musicologia como na filosofia da música’ (Bertinetto, 2013, p. 83). Mas é precisamente por esta razão que a investigação sobre a prática da improvisação espontânea pode equivaler a uma forma de investigação ontológica sobre a própria música clássica - com todas as implicações para o ensino - e levar a uma compreensão diferente da relação entre os papéis de compositor e intérprete, tal como reflectida na partitura musical. Porque uma partitura implica uma forma espacializada de tempo, enquanto que a ausência de uma partitura pode trazer a experiência musical de forma mais segura para o tempo experienciado, em oposição ao tempo espacializado. O "objecto artístico", ou mesmo todos os "objectos", poderiam, deste ponto de vista, ser melhor compreendidos em termos de eventos, e a realização musical como a realização de uma experiência unificada do possível numa dimensão para além da divisão "subjectiva/objectiva" cartesiana. Começo com uma descrição do evento, como a melhor forma de definir exactamente o que está aqui em discussão.

 

  1. A gravação:

A sessão de improvisação espontânea aqui apresentada foi a primeira de quatro sessões gravadas ao longo de duas tardes a 29-30 de Julho de 2021, os últimos dias dos meus 34 anos de actividade na ESML. Estas sessões, de cerca de uma hora cada, foram o último produto do que tinha sido um contacto fortuito entre mim e Samuel Gapp um ano ou mais antes, numa altura em que ele tinha estado a estudar na ESML para a sua licenciatura em piano jazz. Encontrei-o em várias ocasiões quando ele estava a ensaiar na sala onde eu ia dar aulas, e tomei consciência das suas qualidades excepcionais como músico. Nessa altura já tinha também a supervisão do seu professor - Prof. João Paulo Esteves da Silva - para o meu doutoramento sobre o tema da improvisação. Acabámos por tomar consciência do nosso interesse mútuo no que eu chamo "improvisação espontânea", ou seja, improvisação em que não há decisões conscientes tomadas antes do início da actuação, nenhum material musical ou estrutura - nada. No seu melhor, isto requer, claro, um grau muito elevado de compreensão musical intuitiva, e no entanto pode ser aplicado a qualquer nível, como foi o meu caso desde tenra idade, e como foi a base das minhas aulas de improvisação, de 1998-2021, como parte do curso de Formação Musical na ESML.

Uma curta experimentação em dois pianos (cuja afinação não coincidiu exactamente, mas pela qual reconheço agradecido a generosidade do Prof. Jorge Moyano em permitir o acesso ao seu piano) foi suficiente para nos convencer do desejo de fazer mais. Duas outras sessões nas mesmas condições deram-nos confiança para prosseguir com o nosso primeiro concerto, sobre dois grandes pianos Bechstein dos anos 30, que teve lugar no Museu Nacional da Música a 18 de Junho de 2021, e que foi a última vez que tocámos juntos antes de chegarmos para a sessão gravada neste vídeo.

Em cada uma das duas tardes de 29-30 de Julho, a primeira das duas sessões de gravação teve lugar como descrito acima, sem interrupção, e sem discussão prévia sobre o que faríamos; e foi por isso que achei mais valioso, do ponto de vista pedagógico, mostrar uma destas sessões na sua totalidade, tal como aconteceu (ver abaixo para mais informações sobre esta questão).

A segunda sessão de cada dia aconteceu da mesma forma, excepto que, talvez num esforço para conseguir uma maior variedade, nos permitimos fazer propostas ocasionais sobre a próxima improvisação - tais como "ff throughout", ou "com piano preparado" (tudo isto registado nas outras gravações). A fim de aproveitar esta mistura, decidimos criar um CD (chamado Mirages, e emitido em Janeiro de 2022 pela Habitable Records), cujas 12 faixas foram seleccionadas de entre as quatro sessões e às quais foram dados títulos, num processo de negociação amigável de preferências pessoais. O meu texto introdutório para o CD é o seguinte:

 

This is the selective record of a meeting – of two Steinway grand pianos, audio and video equipment and technicians, and the fingers of a young jazz pianist and a much older classical pianist. The notes teased out intuitively by these fingers reflect an uncommon complicity that allowed us to walk onto the stage and begin to play without having decided anything more than the position of the pianos. Of the 49 pieces we recorded in total, in 2 sessions of 4 hours each, these 12 are a taste of the sheer joy we had in playing together on instruments of such quality. Needless to say, the suggested titles came later.

 

Como aqui mencionado, gravámos ao todo 49 improvisações - 23 no primeiro dia, e 26 no segundo - com o indispensável apoio do Prof. Sérgio Henriques e da sua excelente equipa de assistentes do departamento de Tecnologia da escola. Em cada uma das duas sessões nas quatro horas acima referidas, comecei a tocar com o meu instrumento preferido dos dois Steinway, mas concordámos sempre em mudar de pianos algures no meio, como se pode ver depois da sexta das onze peças do vídeo (de facto, nas nossas primeiras sessões alguns meses antes, com os pianos afinados de forma diferente, tínhamos mudado de pianos depois de cada peça). A duração média destas onze peças é de seis minutos, e o ponto de partida de cada uma delas no vídeo é o seguinte:

 

1. 00'11 2. 06'23 3. 12'47 4. 21'44 5. 26'14 6. 31'44 (mudança de piano)
7. 39’05 8. 45’47 9. 53’43  10. 58’10 11. 63’34

 

O mais surpreendente num recital desta natureza, em que ninguém sabe o que vai acontecer, é a abertura ao possível. Nunca soubemos quem seria o primeiro de nós a começar uma peça, e é notório no vídeo como em várias ocasiões um de nós foi ultrapassado pelo outro no início. Isto poderia afectar potencialmente toda a peça, se o material da abertura fosse de natureza a impor-se ao todo, o que poderia acontecer como resultado das nossas diferentes origens - no sentido de que uma abertura sugestiva de um ou outro extremo do espectro clássico/jazz poderia ter o efeito de deixar o outro pianista menos intuitivamente disposto a contribuir imediatamente. Por outro lado, o clima geral de possibilidade permitiu uma relação fundamental de liberdade e facilidade que não é frequente na música clássica, e a música tem tudo a ver com relação. É, em última análise, uma questão de prescindir da individualidade, e permitir que a música fale através de nós como um colectivo capaz de envolver todos os presentes.

 

  1. O ouvinte:

Esta questão da possibilidade é, evidentemente, de importância capital para o ouvinte. Tem sido um hábito quase universal no mundo da música clássica oferecer notas de programa, que pretendem informar qualquer pessoa que as leia como deve estar a ouvir a música - quer de um ponto de vista histórico ou estético. O que tende a ficar suprimido é qualquer reconhecimento do papel do público no processo - que a sua própria experiência e interpretação da música é essencial quando se trata de uma actuação ao vivo. A sua presença far-se-á sentir de qualquer forma, seja como uma presença negativa ou positiva, e nesse sentido podem mudar toda a atmosfera de um concerto pela qualidade da sua atenção - e isto terá mais a ver com a sua abertura à possibilidade do que com o seus conhecimentos. A música só falará se eles quiserem ouvir.

Em relação às improvisações neste vídeo, pode ser útil seguir o diálogo entre nós, e essa é a razão pela qual eu queria que ambos os pianistas fossem visíveis em todo o lado. Mesmo que nem sempre seja totalmente claro visualmente quem está a tocar o quê, ouvir com auscultadores estéreo deve ser suficiente para identificar os dois pianos a maior parte do tempo. Há peças, como a última, em que nos mantemos intuitivamente muito próximos um do outro (esta peça aparece no CD com o título Mimesis), e outras em que nos mantemos estritamente separados, mesmo quando trocamos material, como na terceira peça (também no CD com o título Chiasm), mas em nenhum momento simplesmente ignoramos o que o outro está a fazer. Esta hipersensibilidade ao que estamos a ouvir ao mesmo tempo que o que estamos a tocar é uma das bases fundamentais de toda a improvisação, e na verdade deveria ser de toda a actuação musical - o que faz da improvisação, na minha opinião, uma ferramenta pedagógica essencial, porque neste contexto nunca se trata apenas de ouvir e/ou tocar o que se espera. Na quinta peça, que foi a última desta sessão a ser incluída no CD (com o título Rêves/Espoir), pode-se ouvir como a natureza do tema inicial tornou mais fácil para o Samuel, em vez de tentar fazer algum tipo de comentário, esperar e eventualmente retomar o tema, conduzindo assim a uma alternância entre nós deste material. Esta peça reflecte também, talvez, o desejo da minha parte de criar um contraste com a quarta peça anterior, cujo discurso pertence mais claramente ao domínio do jazz. A sexta peça é um contraste adicional, iniciado por Samuel com uma combinação de teclado e cordas. Este é um processo criativo natural, comum também à maioria dos compositores, no qual há um entrelaçamento, a muitos níveis, de contraste e continuidade; esta última é sustentada por uma identificação absoluta com a actividade prazerosa do corpo - que eu vejo como o outro terreno fundamental da improvisação e, de facto, de toda a performance.

 

  1. Uma continuidade colectiva?

A música, como de facto todas as artes performativas, é tradicionalmente expressiva de uma continuidade subjectiva, quer vista como individual ou social, revelando a nossa natureza essencialmente temporal [Heidegger (1985) diz a este respeito: “the time which I myself am each time yields a different duration according to how I am that time” (p.225)]. Mas é muito mais difícil para este espírito subjectivo da música, quando atacada por todos os lados por antagonismo, crítica e competição, manter-se em expressão, fazer-se sentir plenamente na prática. Como Harnoncourt diz no seu livro Baroque music today: music as speech (1988), “the unity of music and life and the view of the oneness of music has been lost” (p.22). O foco intelectual ao longo dos últimos dois séculos tem sido cada vez mais na direcção do compositor individual e das suas obras, em vez da música como uma prática levada a cabo através dessas obras. Isto tem, naturalmente, afectado profundamente o ensino da música clássica, bem como o modelo das escolas de música a partir da fundação do Conservatório de Paris em 1795 (Harnoncourt 1988, p. 25), mas com uma intensidade enormemente aumentada ao longo do século passado. Toda a noção de repertório, que tinha sido introduzida em primeiro lugar ostensivamente como garantia de qualidade, degenerou demasiado facilmente num ensino mecânico, e um barateamento das obras como produtos de mercado infinitamente repetíveis, uma ferramenta para tentativas por parte de compositores, ou intérpretes e professores, de alcançar visibilidade e sucesso financeiro. Peter Hill fala do “dilema central” do intérprete resultante deste aspecto mecânico:

 

How can we work and work, without losing enthusiasm or the open-mindedness that enables our ideas to develop? How, indeed, can we perform at all – in the sense of creating a unique event, with insights which arise from the inspiration of the moment?’ (Hill, 2002, p. 131)

 

Simultaneamente, a investigação musicológica, tal como a investigação científica noutros campos, tendeu a reforçar este elemento mecânico através de uma crescente preocupação com factores analíticos ou metodológicos, um processo que talvez tenha servido para ocultar uma insegurança espiritual incorrida através da perda de uma visão criativa abrangente. Paul Feyerabend, o filósofo da ciência que descreveu a ciência como sendo "um empreendimento essencialmente anárquico", queixou-se disto há 50 anos atrás, numa passagem da primeira edição do seu livro Against Method (1978), embora o tenha retirado em edições posteriores:

 

The idea that science can, and should, be run according to fixed and universal rules, is both unrealistic and pernicious. It is unrealistic, for it takes too simple a view of the talents of man and of the circumstances which encourage, or cause, their development. And it is pernicious, for the attempt to enforce the rules is bound to increase our professional qualifications at the expense of our humanity. In addition, the idea is detrimental to science, for it neglects the complex physical and historical conditions which influence scientific change. It makes our science less adaptable and more dogmatic: every methodological rule is associated with cosmological assumptions, so that using the rule we take it for granted that the assumptions are correct. (Feyerabend, 1978, p. 295)

 

O que está aqui em causa, e ao que tanto Hill como Feyerabend se referem nos seus diferentes contextos, é o efeito estupidificante do hábito no nosso pensamento, decorrente da nossa projecção do tempo em termos espaciais, como estando fora de nós, em vez da nossa encarnação do tempo como a nossa natureza essencial. Este problema pode ser enfrentado na improvisação mais directamente do que noutras formas de actividade musical, dado que o improvisador é obrigado a lutar consigo próprio em tempo real. A improvisação espontânea, portanto, pode servir para enfrentar esta mesma questão da música e do tempo, que tende a ser ocultada pela separação dos poderes criativos do intérprete e do compositor.

 

  1. Música entre a experiência e a escrita

A prática da improvisação espontânea é evidentemente uma tentativa de preservar o aspecto experiencial da actuação musical da ameaça de aniquilação colocada, pelo menos potencialmente, pela página impressa e pelas exigências concomitantes supostamente emitidas pelos compositores, quer mortos quer vivos. Escusado será dizer que não é tanto a página impressa que ameaça algo, mas sim os pressupostos que a acompanham, nem pode uma separação tão acentuada entre o escrito e o experienciado ser mantida de forma útil por muito tempo (Gendlin, 1997, p. xxi), pelo menos de um ponto de vista conceptual. Contudo, a relação entre o conceptual e o experiencial não é simétrica, e do ponto de vista experiencial as coisas são um pouco diferentes. Hoje em dia quase todos os músicos podem ler música, pelo menos numa forma básica, e em virtude disso a sua produção musical já terá sido influenciada pela experiência de ler música. Mas até que ponto podem eles manter o sentido pessoal da sua liberdade, no sentido temporal, quando confrontados com os aspectos mecanicistas desta influência?

É razoável supor que qualquer pessoa que possa ler o que eu escrevo aqui, ou mesmo algo muito mais simples, pode também participar numa conversa espontânea usando algumas das mesmas palavras ou ideias. Mas em termos musicais, o mesmo não acontece, estranhamente, com a maioria dos músicos clássicos, independentemente de serem ou não bons leitores. Normalmente acreditam ser incapazes de falar apenas a 'língua' da música sem lerem ou se comprometerem com a memória de uma peça específica. Porquê? Seguindo Harnoncourt, propus que na época da Revolução Francesa toda uma tradição de fazer música colectiva, envolvendo relações mais criativas entre os músicos, se perdia para a concepção burguesa da música como um assunto individual envolvendo compositores individuais, e, com a fundação do Conservatório de Paris, um novo estilo de educação musical partindo de uma relação reduzida e mais mecânica com a partitura escrita (que continua a dominar a compreensão moderna do que uma partitura representa). Consideremos, por contraste, a seguinte descrição por Margaret Bent (2014) da prática polifónica renascentista, no que diz respeito à “elementary training shared by composers and singers, and which composers presumed in their singers when they committed their compositions to notation; namely… fluency in practical counterpoint” (p.25). Tal formação exigia do cantor a capacidade de aplicar acidentes à sua própria parte, com base no que ouvia em tempo real das outras partes:

 

The singer reads his own part in a state of readiness to reinterpret, of readiness to change his expectation of how to read the under-prescriptive notation (not to change the notation!) in prompt reaction to what he hears. The "default" of the visually scanned line with its implied melodic articulations (perfecting linear fourths, making cadential semitones) is controlled and sometimes overruled by the counterpoint heard. The "default" that is "changed" is not the notation as transcribed, but the expectation of how the original notation is to be realized. (Bent, 2014, p. 26)

 

As edições modernas desta música para utilização generalizada são obrigadas não só a fornecer a música em partitura, ou seja, com todas as partes visíveis para todos os cantores, mas também a especificar uma escolha editorial para os acidentes, devido à relação literal e muito menos criativa do intérprete com as notas da partitura. Será então de admirar que os músicos modernos se vejam reduzidos ao silêncio quando a partitura é retirada? Pesquisas recentes de Nicholas Baragwanath (2020, p. 305) sugerem que um tipo de relação experiencial com a notação como acima descrita por Bent (2014) persistiu na formação coral, em alguns aspectos, até ao início do século XIX, pelo menos no caso da Itália. O que tem prevalecido muitas vezes desde então, reflectindo especialmente a relação histórica entre pauta e teclado, é uma atitude mecânica com pouca referência ao ouvido, que prescreve o movimento dos dedos no espaço de acordo com as bolinhas especificadas nas pautas. A suposição por detrás disto, que procuro desmantelar, é que os aspectos de experiência e notação da música estão numa relação mecânica entre si, em vez de uma relação dinâmica, e que por isso se pode discutir um como se fosse o outro. A fim de contrariar este erro generalizado pode ser útil considerar as palavras do antropólogo Viveiros de Castro, como citado no livro de Holbraad e Pedersen The Ontological Turn (2017), sobre o tema da tradução:

 

To translate is to emphasize or potentialize the equivocation, that is, to open and widen the space imagined not to exist between the conceptual languages in contact, a space that the equivocation [here qua error] precisely concealed. The equivocation is not that which impedes the relation, but that which founds it and impels it; a difference in perspective. To translate is to presume that an equivocation always exists; it is to communicate with differences, instead of silencing the Other by presuming a univocality – the essential similarity – between what the Other and We are saying. (Holbraad & Pedersen, 2017, p. 187 [ênfase minha])

 

Este é, certamente, o "elefante na sala" musicológico - a necessidade de confrontar a diferença entre descrição ou análise, por um lado, e a temporalidade da produção musical propriamente dita, por outro. Só assim se pode abrir o espaço para uma comunicação mais criativa entre o pensamento musicológico e a actuação experimental na música clássica.

A improvisação espontânea revela tal distância pela sua própria natureza, e tem servido, talvez precisamente por esta razão, de Forkel (o "fundador da musicologia") em diante, como a definição negativa do que era a musicologia. O seu desaparecimento como arte performativa esteve, naturalmente, intimamente ligado a essa mudança de paradigma descrita por Lydia Goehr (1992), envolvendo o conceito da "obra" e a ascensão da ideia de repertório histórico como a base primária para a organização de concertos. Os compositores vivos desde o tempo de Beethoven encontravam-se cada vez mais em competição com composições do passado, quanto mais não fosse em virtude da disponibilidade generalizada de partituras e partes impressas por compositores como Haydn e Mozart. Goehr escreve:

 

Their romantic role willingly adopted, composers enjoyed describing themselves and each other as divinely inspired creators — even as God-like — whose sole task was to objectify in music something unique and personal and to express something transcendent. Bizet described Beethoven not as a human, but as a God. Samuel Wesley referred to Bach as a ‘Saint’, a ‘Demi-God’, and a ‘Musical High Priest’, and to his masterpieces as the ‘Works of our Apollo’. Haydn's spirit was said to penetrate ‘the sanctuary of heavenly wisdom’. (Goehr, 1992, p. 208)

 

Nestas circunstâncias, os compositores individuais ao fazerem as suas escolhas podem ter sido sobrecarregados tanto por uma atitude defensiva ou aduladora em relação ao passado como pela sua preocupação com a actuação do momento, e este factor terá intensificado a necessidade de desenvolver um estilo pessoal reconhecível. Neste sentido, os compositores poderiam ser vistos como tendo sido conduzidos a uma parceria não falada com o crítico ou musicólogo, na tentativa de justificar as suas "obras" no domínio público. Goehr cita Forkel a este respeito:

 

The public merely asks for what it can understand, whereas the true artist ought to aim at an achievement which cannot be measured by popular standards. How, then, can popular applause be reconciled with the true artist's aspirations towards the ideal? (Goehr, 1992, p. 210)

 

Uma cunha subtil é assim introduzida entre o acto individualista de composição e aspectos mais colectivos da performance musical, exacerbada pelas sempre crescentes reivindicações de autoridade por parte dos professores-intérpretes no campo educativo.

Será desta forma que a noção de repertório ganhou força na prática musical e pedagogia? Pelo menos continua a fazê-lo quer seja vista como uma força positiva ou negativa. Talvez seja só uma assunção radical de igualdade entre intérpretes e compositores auto-confiantes, imbuídos do espírito de improvisação, que conseguirá a liberdade para prosseguir juntos um novo caminho de entendimento criativo, sem se deixar perturbar pelas ansiedades dos seus professores e pelos modelos do passado.

 

References/Referências:

Allan, G. (2020). Whitehead’s Radically Temporalist Metaphysics: Recovering the Seriousness of Time. Lanham Md.: Lexington Books.

Baragwanath, N. (2020). The Solfeggio Tradition: A Forgotten Art of Melody in the Long Eighteenth Century. NY: Oxford University Press Inc.

Bent, M. (2014). The Grammar of Early Music: Preconditions for Analysis. In Judd, C. C. (ed.) Tonal Structures in Early Music. Abingdon: Routledge.

Bertinetto, A. (2012). Performing the unexpected: Improvisation and Artistic Creativity. Daimon, (57), 117–135.

Feyerabend, P. (1978). Against Method. London: Verso.

Gendlin, E. (1997). Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning: A Philosophical and Psychological Approach to the Subjective. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Goehr, L. (1992). The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harnoncourt, N., & O’Neill, M. (1988). Baroque music today: music as speech. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press.

Heidegger, M., & Kisiel, T. (1985). History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Hill, P. (2002). From Score to Sound. In Rink, J. Musical Performance: A Guide to Understanding. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Holbraad, M., & Pedersen, M. A. (2017). The Ontological Turn: An Anthropological Exposition. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

McNair, N. (forthcoming) ‘The Spontaneous Wellsprings of Music’ in Kopp, Garcia, Carey, and White (eds.), Ontological Inquiry in Higher Education: An Interdisciplinary Manifesto

Further reading:

Abbate, C. (2004). Music - Drastic or Gnostic? Critical Inquiry, 30(3), 505–536. https://doi.org/10.1086/421160

Benson, B. E. (2003). The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue: A Phenomenology of Music. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Cobussen, M. (2017). The Field of Musical Improvisation. Leiden: Leiden University Press.

Demarco, T. C. (2012). The Metaphysics of Improvisation. CUNY. Retrieved from https://academicworks.cuny.edu/gc_etds

Heidegger, M., & Kisiel, T. (1985). History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Lewis, G. E., & Piekut, B. (2016). The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies Vol. 1. NY: Oxford University Press Inc.

Nachmanovitch, S. (1990). Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art. NY: Tarcher/Putnam.

Peters, G. (2017). Improvising Improvisation: From Out of Philosophy, Music, Dance and Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sarath, E. (2013). Improvisation, Creativity, and Consciousness. Albany: SUNY Press.

Sawyer, R. K. (2003). Group Creativity: Music, Theater, Collaboration. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Sheehy, A. (2013). Improvisation, Analysis, and Listening Otherwise. Music Theory Online, 19(2). Retrieved from http://mtosmt.org/issues/mto.13.19.2/mto.13.19.2.sheehy.php

Nicholas McNair, a resident in Portugal since 1980, was Head chorister at Canterbury Cathedral at the age of 13, later studying at Cambridge University as well as composition and piano at the Royal College of Music. he wrote a series of works supported by the Arts Council of Great Britain, the RVW Trust and other foundations, and gave his first recital of improvisation in 1979. He worked in the 1990s as editor with Sir John Eliot Gardiner, researching and preparing for performance and recording (with DG Archiv) the principal operas of Mozart and Beethoven. Other editions include the opera Antigono by Antonio Mazzoni (Lisboa October 1755 - world premiere Belém Cultural Centre January 2011), also operas by Gluck and Piccinni.
A teacher at the Escola Superior de Música in Lisboa from 1988-2021, he was Artistic Director of its Opera Studio from 2011 to 2015, initiating the Orpheus project for young composers in collaboration with the European Network of Opera Academies and the Gulbenkian Foundation. He worked regularly with the Gulbenkian Choir and Orchestra as organist and pianist, and made live music for 150 silent films at the Cinemateca in Lisboa, appearing also at the Cannes Festival in 1995, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., in 1997. He collaborated with many composers and stage directors in the preparation of contemporary operas and theatre productions in Lisboa.
He is presently preparing his doctoral thesis on improvisation, as a researcher at CESEM/Nova.
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Samuel Gapp (*1997) is a German pianist, composer and interdisciplinary artist based in Lisbon, Portugal.Gapp is active as a pianist in improvised and contemporary music. As a composer, he is mostly focussing on the combination of classical formations with improvisation.In 2019, his compositions for piano trio and string quartet were awarded with the Bernardo Sassetti Composition Prize. In the same year, he won the Young Musicians Prize with the QuartetoTomás Marques in Portugal. Gapp has created various interdisciplinary projects, such as his video exhibition “Social Distancing” (improvised music with abstract videos),  the trio “Triplo Salto Mortal” (realtimeaudiovisual improvising) or his most recent project “14 Dialoge” (dialogues between solo piano and images). As a founding member of “Habitable Records” and being part of “CI Community Project”, he is collaborating with artists all over the world and creating an international platform that aims for exchange, equality and musical research. He is also active in an educational and social context: In 2014, he spent six months in Ecuador, where he taught music to socially disadvantaged children in the city of Guayaquil. In 2021, he performed at the Big Bang Festival in Lisboa, a European music festival for young audiences. So far, Samuel Gapp has worked with musicians like Peter Evans, Evan Parker, Christian Lillinger, Peter Brötzmann, Michael Schiefel, DemianCabaud, among others. He studied jazz piano with Florian Ross, Sebastian Sternal, Hendrik Soll and João Paulo Esteves da Silva at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz in Cologne and the Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa. Currently, he is doing his master’s degree in classical composition at ESML with Luís Tinoco.

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