Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bad Music Concert?

I think I may have mentioned before on the blog about a friend I had that instituted an annual tradition of a "Bad Music Concert". Here is the link. I was just thinking about how crucial it is to aesthetic judgement to have before you examples of both good and bad. The problem with most education in the humanities is that they study examples of great works of art, but never look at bad works of art. And unless you do both, you will have no sense of what is good and bad aesthetically. So my friend who initiated the "Bad Music Concerts" was doing something of real significance, aesthetically.

I am reminded of this because I just ran across a post on another blog about a similar project in visual arts: a Museum of Bad Art: MOBA! Go ahead and watch the video, it is quite interesting. Seeing how a piece of art can fail is a very interesting exercise in aesthetics. Now, can I come up with some musical examples? Here is something:

Lang Lang seems determined to be a classical pianist version of a pop musician so that explains the presentation. The playing is ok, but the piece itself is banal and trite, don't you think?

Now that is a great piece, the Italian Concerto by Bach. But the performance was marred by more than the excessive echo in the recording. This pianist doesn't actually seem to have time to allow for phrasing or even some of the details in the notes. He is going to get to the end no matter how many harmonies he has to brush by on the way. Being "frog-marched" though Bach is what I call this style of performance.

Next is a performance of a staple of the violin encore repertoire, the Meditation from "Thais" by Massenet whose excessive portamenti give it the feel of an ethnic joke:

Some pieces, harmless enough in themselves, tend to attract bad performances. Among these is the classical guitar piece known as the Spanish Romance. The composer is unknown. The first version here demonstrates the literal approach: no rhythms or tempi will be altered for the sake of musical expression. Instead, he is going to play it straight through, straight up:

This helps to set up my second example, which shows what happens when you try to play the Spanish Romance after listening to too much salsa music--you just can't help those little syncopations creeping in everywhere:

Perhaps my readers could contribute some of their favorite examples?


Bridge said...

Liszt is very much a pianist's composer. I think his piano parts have some fantastic technical ideas but you are right, it does sound pretty banal and trite because the actual composition is more like a virtuoso vehicle than a piece. That's why I don't like Liszt that much, it seems to me (even though I am ignorant to much of his music) that he did not achieve what Beethoven, Chopin, Ravel and Debussy for example could - create compelling music using virtuoso pianistic techniques. Liszt has of course done some good stuff though, the piece you linked is perhaps not a fantastic example.

The second performance of the Spanish Romance you linked is quite puzzling. What's even more bizarre than the decision to play it in 8/8 are the sporadic rhythmic outbursts which seem to have no connection to the music at all. They are quite disturbing and the way he leads back into the piece without any warning is even more jarring.

My favorite worst performance ever is this little gem:

This is however "intentionally bad" in the sense that the players all switched instruments. They might be sight-reading, in which case it is doubly impressive, but who knows. Still hilarious though.

Apart from that I don't really seek out bad performances. If I come across one I look for a new one and forget about it, to be quite honest. Then again, my own playing is bad enough that I can appreciate what good piano playing is without having to listen to anybody else. Hah!

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh. Yes, I think that to truly qualify as "bad art" it has to be unintentional. The artist really has to believe that they are doing something artistic. But it just comes out all wrong.