2.12.2011

HDM: Prospectus, A, Ab, and Abbandonné


Upon graduation from Westmont College in 2007 I was presented with my very own copy of The Harvard Dictionary of Music, Fourth Edition. What a treat! As it has been consigned to the bookshelf in the second bedroom of our wintry house (Erik calls it the sarcophagus chamber of death, or something to that effect) I had forgotten about it, but recently rediscovered it. Thoroughness is important. Since I do not have ready access to the Grove Dictionary of Music and since that would take friggin' forever, I've decided to blog my way through this modest, one-volume tome of musical scholarship and see what comes to light. I will be the smiling lad having inordinate amounts of fun. I hope you enjoy it too.
PicturePS There are a good deal of cross-references in this book, as the first entry below will demonstrate. Though it may prove labored, the interplay between word and definition, the subtleties and obfuscations of language... well it's fascinating and worth at least mentioning in this exploration through the musical alphabet.
A
  1. Pitch name, etc.
  2. Abbreviation for alto, altus.
  3. Preposition in Italian (a) and French (à): to, at, with, for, etc.
It brings me back to Sesame Street. Undoubtedly we'll encounter this little word again several times. Suffice it to say that I sometimes carry around an A=440 tuning fork and test myself, alto things are cool, such as my plastic alto recorder in F, and how am I supposed to learn prepositions in a foreign language? Tirade: It makes no sense! I can't translate them, I can't remember them, and then some of them require the dative, others the accusative, others both depending on who knows what! End tirade. Whew! Let's give it up for A, the first letter in the alphabet and second letter in my name.
Ab
Picture
German preposition: off, as in a mute or organ stop.
No, this is not a cheap way of writing A-flat. It's another one of those tricky prepositions I was whining about above. This is one of those non-Italian musical indications, much like the quite ambiguous French "otez" (which also means "off") which appears inexplicably at the beginning of the Procession of the Elders in the four hand piano arrangement of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Not sure why it's there. I just perused some organist composers who are in my opinion very German and might go for register directions auf Deutsch. Sigfrid Karg-Elert is completely Italian in his indications, Josef Rheinberger (actually a Liechtensteiner) has hardly an directions in any language, and Max Reger, who uses German for tempo markings, doesn't show registration. Let me know if you've seen this word in music anywhere.
PictureAbandonné (Fr.), abbandonatamente, con abbandono (It.)
With abandon, unrestrained.
Well, I found "otez." I was looking through Romantic French compositions for some "abandonné" and found the phrase "Otez tous les jeux d'Anches excepté ceux de R." in César Frank's Grande pièce symphonique for organ. As for unrestrainedness I am striking out in direct quotes from scores. Even Liszt, the eponymous nineteenth century rock star, only gets so far as the precipice ("precepitato") even in the most passionate of pieces from his Années de pèlerinage, though I wouldn't put it past Ferruccio Busoni's editions of Bach works. My style of playing is naturally restrained, though I would argue that a sort of shattering of bonds occurs in an inspired performance of a Bach Invention, Byrd Galliard, or even Kabalevsky Children's Piece. As CPE Bach says: "Play from the soul, not like a trained bird!" Let me know if you find this one anywhere.

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