Eurofebruari: tre nivåer av intonation

Feuermann.
Feuermann.

Europa, pianot och harmoniumets hemland, får ta mycket skit på temat att all europeisk musik är ostämd. Å andra sidan har Europa också uppfunnit fenomenet ”perfekt gehör”: OCD-patienter som tror att A=440Hz är en naturlag och varje annan stämning producerar ”falska toner” i ett vakuum. Ja, tyvärr förstås sig inte ens Europas egna besserwissrar alla gånger på europeisk stämning och intonation. Vi illustrerar med en glimt av 2004 som vi flyttar till dagens datum för att slippa producera nytt material till vår eurofebruari:

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Intonation är ett ämne som det alltid ska tramsas om något förfärligt. Ta bara Brian Cyphers på rec.music.classical.recordings:

I often have a difficult time listening to cello because it seems to me that even the “greatest” cello players have difficulty playing the instrument in tune. Yesterday I was listening to a recording of Brahms trio opus 8 featuring Rubinstein, Heifetz, and Feuermann, and I had to turn it off because Feuermann’s all-over-the-map intonation was ruining it for me. I wondered how those involved could not have heard this, especially in the parts where he was playing in close harmony with the violin. And to think this was made under studio conditions over a period of days and these were the best takes available?

Other legendary cellists I cannot stand to listen to because of their pitch issues include Jacqueline du Pre (probably the worst case. I have never heard a recording where she did not go disastrously wayward every few measures) and Pablo Casals. Better but still problematic are Pierre Fournier and Mstislav Rostropovich …

… What cellists do play in tune more or less consistently? (In my opinion, and I am not saying he is a better musician than the above in every respect, Yo-Yo Ma [!] would be one name with which to start.)

Det här får sägas vara absolut lägsta nivån vad gäller förståelse för intonation, och här befinner sig säkert många. Tom Deacon, som svarar först, får exemplifiera nästa nivå: “a little learning is a dangerous thing”.

People used to fixed tuning often have problems with instruments in which the tuning is more flexible, where F# does not sound the same as G flat, for instance.

Ha, ha, ha, Tom Deacon, vi är alla imponerade av att du vet att det är skillnad på rent och liksvävande. Fast kanske är Brian Cyphers imponerad på riktigt. Som tur är finns det en Lena på rec.music.classical.recordings som verkligen förstår sig på intonation:

To put a slightly more objective spin on this conversation, let me try to say what Feuermann actually does in one example on the Beethoven opus 69 recording.

Feuermann can switch intonation up or down from the pianist’s baseline. The intonation shifts occur in musically pertinent places, in ways supported by the score (and the reason must be to change sound “color”). Within individual passages Feuermann’s band of intonation deviation is mostly extremely narrow, but at expressive notes, the intonation can differ by quite a bit. To me, the result is heightened emotional effect.

On the other hand, Feuermann’s intonation can swing wide enough from himself and from the pianist have a potential for some dissonance. (Whether that sounds “out of tune” to a given listener is, I think, a comfort-level question which has little to do with distinguishing pitches.) One example is in the adagio. The basic outline is simple: Feuermann starts a hair sharp, lowers his intonation a little in measure 8, where the cello repeats the melody an octave below, and keeps lowering it, until the subdominant culmination of the passage at measure 13. This feels like a sudden, dark, warm sound which intensifies. So what Feuermann is doing is heightening the already “warm” subdominant effect. (I think it’s really wonderfully done, and I haven’t heard other cellists do it like this here.) To me, the pitch shift is sit-up striking, and it’s fairly wide.

Not to be accused of inaccuracy: here the pianist (Hess) is at (about) A=440 Hz; Feuermann is initially slightly sharp at ~443 Hz, and, at his lowest point, flat at about 437. So the maximum intonation difference between Feuermann and Feuermann is over 20 cents. (A piano semitone is 100 cents.)

In any case, this is a pretty wide intonation band. As an illustration: the 20 cent range can potentially cause some awkward almost siren-like effects, and standard intonation systems reasonable in this kind of music depart from each other by under 10 cents. Even the maximum separation between the standard equally tempered scale and just intonation is less than 20 (14 and 15+ cents for the maximal deviants, the thirds), and mostly well under 10. Here the result does sound wonderful, but it should also be noted that Hess is so soft that some of the piano/cello interaction gets sacrificed.

There’s a lot of documentation of all kinds (if it’s even needed) about the effect of intonation on expression, but I’ll just say that small variations in pitch are heard most strikingly as color. For skeptics: the connection is not speculative and given decent software, non-cellists can test it at home. (Of course, other items contribute too: vibrato, and, if I’m allowed to say it, the string used, etc., but I can produce an effect similar to Feuermann’s by only manipulating pitch electronically.)

To put it objectively: Feuermann’s intonation does sometimes circle the pianist’s fixed equal temperament like a slightly appalled tiger, with very interesting results … I don’t consider this to be “out of tune,” even though I do hear the pitch differences, but I can’t vouch for other people’s tolerance for “interesting” sounds. This tolerance has I think little to do with the ability to distinguish pitch – everyone should be able to distinguish a 20-cent difference …

Further, if examples like this are what the original poster meant, I don’t think he’s deaf. Even though he draws entirely the wrong conclusions from what he hears. That Feuermann is “incapable of playing in tune” is clearly not at all the case. Further, if someone makes intonation changes with as much precision and effect as Feuermann I’ll hazard the blind guess that he knows what he’s doing.

Och Stephen Langley lägger till:

Very generally, sharpened notes (particularly the 7th) can impart an aspiraional quality to a phrase, as can a sharpened major third. Very often a minor third is flattened to create forboding. In studying numerous concerti and the romantic sonata repertoire, exacting harmonic analysis must ensue in order to make informed choices regarding this phenonomon. It is a science.

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