What you can learn from taking piano lessons near you...
Anthony Elward's - piano and violin teacher at WKMT - insight on interpretation
We may have heard a lot in the past about different singers singing the same song but sounding very different. This is probably one of the ideal examples I could think of to what a different interpretation can sound like. The range may be different, the key they sing in, the tone, extra notes / melisma or dynamic range they use and the length of certain notes- and even the instrumentation in the background itself. The list is endless. But what about for instrumentalists playing the same piece of music where everything seems like it’s set in stone- or paper?
An interpretation can mean a lot of things beyond the notes. Maybe a good way of describing it is a compromise between the composer’s ideas with the performer’s ideas. I’d go even further to swap the word ‘ideas’ with the word ‘personality’. Every period of music has some defining features yet every single composer still had a unique style. Beethoven could be typecast as heavy and dramatic, Mozart could be typecast as lighter and playful. There’s still different sides in all composers and songwriters just like different sides to a personality.
With interpreting something such as piano music where the notes are all the same: what can we do differently? There are many ideas.
First one of the more clear aspects we set is the tempo, we could go faster, slower, or exaggerate tempo changes. It could be the dynamics- using a bigger or smaller range. Since dynamics are relative, there is no specific noise (or decibel) level for loud or quiet. It doesn’t quite solve how music can be made to sound different.
Other things- the smaller details that really count are aspects such as tone colour, where we can make the music sound calmer or with more attack. Music by Chopin will clearly sound different to a Beethoven Sonata or a watery atmospheric piece by Ravel or Debussy and to a Bach fugue. We can play on these features and exaggerate them further for more subtlety. The very articulation also- if we take a fiery piece ‘con fuoco’ adding increasing emphasis, accents to give the music more drive and force. Also other technical aspects like piano pedalling or amount of vibrato on instruments can add a level of tone and expressive impact. Of course, phrasing is another key aspect where we can place more emphasis; leaning on certain notes to give them more importance. There is a blurred line between this and ‘rubato’.
There is an issue where rubato is played to make some notes longer at the expense of others. I don’t really believe that distorting the rhythms on instrumental music can add to the expression when there are many other aspects that are more effective and make a real impact on the expression. Possibly except when the music has rallentando where the tempo slows; or ritenuto which implies something more held back.
For each performer, the best part of a new piece of music is hearing it in our own way. There is no limit to the variety of ideas we can come up with. Even music that seems to have a lot of repetition. We can rely on our musical knowledge and imagination to make each repeat sound completely different.