Performing to a Score, Performing to Score

This month’s ABC Limelight Magazine (August 2010) has a discussion of performing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I am interested in the parallels between interpreting a musical composition and realising a game plan in sport.

Jo Litson’s article in Limelight explores the different tempos used in playing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Richard Tognetti is quoted in the article as saying “the weird thing is that it’s now an accepted practice to play it at a much , much slower tempo than what Beethoven wrote”.
Richard Tognetti has an annotated score of the Symphony from 1817. This score has the composer’s metronome markings. Richard Tognetti observes that “the markings are really, really, really specific and we know Beethoven was adamant that they were to be adhered to. He famously said his Ninth Symphony worked so well in Berlin, I think it was, because they played it at the metronome marking”.
Jo Litson reports that a 1945 recording of the Fifth Symphony “zips by in just 26 minutes and 45 seconds”. Recordings in 1959 and 1969 by a different conductor “run to an expansive 40 minutes”.

It seems to me that game plans have similar issues. Coaches and players spend a great deal of time practicing (rehearsing) and developing tempos. Unlike an orchestra where there is no immediate direct competition, game playing necessitates the negotiation of tempo. Dominant teams with on-field leaders (orchestra leaders) appear able to set (sometimes re-set) the tempo at which the game is played. This seems true of race plans in individual sports too.
A musical score and a game plan offer opportunities for interpretation as well as application. Conductors and coaches personalise both sets of opportunities. Listening to a performance of a symphony or watching a game played in a particular way give us moments of recognition that affirm and question our love of music and sport. They create comfort and unease.
I found it informative to read in Jo Litson’s article that:

The Fifth had its premier in Vienna in December 1808 as part of a four -hour concert directed by Beethoven himself … it was not the most auspicious beginning. The makeshift orchestra had only one rehearsal and didn’t play well. Also, the hall was bitterley cold, so by the time it got to the Fifth in the second act, the exhausted audience was too frozen to take much notice. There was critical response.

I think these are experiences that many coaches will recognise. It took almost two years for the Fifth Symphony to receive critical acclaim. It is now “the most famous opening in all classical music“.
This month’s ABC Limelight Magazine provides further links for me in my exploration of performance. Performing to a score and performing to score have great synergies.
Photo Credits
Carl Davis


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