Nuances of Musical Expression by Heidi Castleman- Part I: An Energy Manual

Nuances of Musical Expression by Heidi Castleman
Part I: An Energy Manual

Part I: Exploring Rhythm – General Rhythmic Principles
A. Pulses are bursts of energy; each has its distinctive character and direction.
B. Measures group pulses; each beat within a measure has its own quality.
C. Phrasing is the flow of musical energy.
a) An impulse is that portion of the phrase where energy gathers.
b) A resolution is that portion of the phrase where energy dissipates.
c) All energy gathered should be completely discharged by the end of the piece; cadences release accumulated energy.
D. Playing freely within the framework of a regularly felt pulse is inherent to musical movement.

Great rhythm often happens instinctively and is a joy to experience. When it does not, or when one wants to go to the next higher level artistically, awareness of the above principles can provide a path well worth traveling.

Developing Musical Vitality
Practice methods for exploring pulse character, direction and flow of energy
Counting aloud
1. Character of pulses
Ex. 1 Schubert, 2nd movement, opening 8 m. [gentle]

Ex. 2 Hindemith, 1st movement, 1 m. before R to 7 after [explosive]

* 1 m. before R [yelling]
* 4 m. after R [speaking syllables]
2. Direction of pulses
Ex. 3 Bartok, 2nd movement, opening 3 m.  [horizontal rhythm]

Ex. 4 Bartok, 3rd movement, opening 3 m. [vertical rhythm]


3. Flow of energy in phrases
Ex. 5 Schubert, 1st movement, opening of viola part, 12 m.

Notice impulse (gathering of energy) and resolution (dissipating of energy) within phrasing and that there exist waves within larger waves.

The role of sub-pulse in is critical to determining character: decide how active or inactive the sub-pulse should be in the chosen character.
When the sub-pulse is active, staying loose in the joints helps communicate important information about the multiple pulse levels.
Ex. 6a. Brahms, f minor, 1st movement, 2nd theme, 12 m. [with no sub-pulse]

Ex. 6b. Brahms, f minor, 1st movt, ma ben marcato, 7 m. [with active sub-pulse]



Clapping is ideal for showing how gentle or explosive a character is, as well as for indicating direction of pulse.
Ex. 7 Enescu, Anime, 6 m. [explosive, with active sub-pulse]

same example [body percussion] engages the whole body rhythmically

Can be especially helpful if large beats with a lot happening within the beat, helps to unify rhythm
Ex. 8 Boccherini, first movement, opening 4 m. [walk large beats]



Playing freely
#1 where to play freely
● To some degree playing freely is appropriate everywhere, because natural human expression is not metronomic (e.g., Rhetoric)
● Playing freely is demanded the most in:

  • cadenzas or cadenza-like writing
  • highly emotional music
  • certain national styles  (e.g. a lot of Italian music dramatic in nature)

● some Baroque music is much better approached rhetorically

#2 what happens in playing freely
● In playing freely, the metric quality of each beat becomes exaggerated. For example in a common time measure:
* the downbeat, as a point of rest, expands
* pushing the weaker 2nd beat over
* the third beat functions like a mini-downbeat
* and the leading qualities of the fourth beat as an upbeat are exaggerated
● There is a similar adjustment of the spacing of the sub-pulses within each beat while playing freely.
Ex. 8 Boccherini, first movement, opening 4 m. [playing freely – qualities of sub-pulses and pulses exaggerated]


#3 playing with the metronome or around it
* Experiment playing around the beat, i.e., on the front side of the beat or the back side of the beat, as well as on it
Ex. 9 Rachmaninov, Vocalise, opening 7 m. [playing on front or back side of (metronomic) beat]


#4 Strong-weak relationships are inherent to the music of the Baroque and Classical periods.
Beat hierarchy (contrast between strong vs. weak or heavy vs. light beats) influences the relationship of beats within measures, one sub-pulse to another, and the weight of one measure to another within a phrase. Relationships in Baroque and Classical music are not democratic! Only well after the American Revolution, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars did democracy influence music.
Ex. 10 Bach, Suite in d minor, Allemande, opening 2 m


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