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 Time for Rhetoric and Music: Χρόνος and καιρος
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United Kingdom
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Posted - 31 Dec 2012 :  04:06:26  

I research music composed in the years 1100-1800 and how such music was performed in its own period. Time (ie rhythm) is a crucial concept for Music, and is given high priority in this period. In this period, Music is also understood as a part of Rhetoric.

I do not know Greek, but I have been exploring Plato's and Aristotle's writings on Time in translation. However, a colleague has just made me aware of the distinction between χρόνος and καιρος. Before 1800, musicians seem to have understood καιρος in the Biblical/rhetorical sense of "the opportune moment". However, many European sources blur the distinction, using the same English or Italian word (time, tempo) for both concepts.

Would anyone care to comment on Time, as understood by Greek philosophers, in any of these contexts, and at any level. I probably need some basic help with language, and of course I will acknowledge all assistance.

Thank you, and Happy New Year to all readers!

Andrew [ "continuo"]



615 Posts

Posted - 31 Dec 2012 :  06:12:06  


Dear Andrew, if your research regards the so called 'authentic' performances of old music, I'm afraid you won't find much help in ancient notions of time. The distinction that you mention between chronos (time) and kairos (proper time) is in the language itself, valid until today in Greek - it is not a particular philosophic distinction. In any case, it doesn't help in understanding the tempo of the music you research.

Examining the word music itself in ancient Greek, a word connected with the Mouses, deities that inspire human creativity and personify human virtues, we find that the concept refers to instrumental music united with words, i.e., ancient music refers to singing, and goes even beyond that, to the formation of a meaning for the whole of reality. In this sense Music and Philosophy are almost synonyms. Plato regarded as hybris the fact that in his days instrumental music, i.e. the separation of music from poetry, was becoming something usual.

United with poetry music with the narrow sense was obliged to follow to the greatest possible degree the music that is inherent in language, i.e. the duration of the syllables, some of them sounding longer than others (which is usually described with the term "prosody"). I don't see how even this can help you on your particular research.

In my opinion, the question of authenticity in performances of the music you are interested in, is not so much a question regarding archaeology or philology, but rather aesthetics. To be more clear, it is most important for us in order to understand how to play this music, to ask questions like this: if Mozart had the chance to listen to a Steinway piano, would he prefer this sort of instrument, or the toy-piano that was regular in his days?

In another post, where I refer to best performances of the Complete Mozart piano concertos, I mention also Bilson, whose performance was a painful experience to me, even if only for the 'authenticity' of the piano used. There is a distinction we have to make. Are we interested in the music as a living substance, or in music as something dead, an object of archaeology, etc? In the second case, which is not without any use of course, we should, as we do, create again old instruments, etc. But music as a living reality regards rather our aesthetical abilities, our being able to make our own and enjoy a composer's vision, not to 'prove' it as something past and objective. In the later case even the discoveries of archaeology can be used, but subjugated to aesthetical not archaeological criteria.

Having said that, let me repeat that I don't see any relation between notions of time in ancient Greek philosophy and the research of authenticity in older 'classical' european music. You may like also to check www.ellopos.net/music/library/futureofmusic.html">the meaning of music as it starts in ancient Greece, and a note about www.ellopos.net/music/library/authenticity.html">authenticity in the interpretation of music.

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Posted - 01 Mar 2013 :  11:36:56  


I have followed this forum for years and I appreciate it very much. This topic attracts me to say something from an inner point of view since I am a musician.
I would be really surprised to find some hints on the concept of musical tempo in the writings of the ancient Greek philosophers, (although I have found in this site a lot of peculiarities), because this problem arose completely in performing practice only in the last decades.
On analyzing in order of appearance several recordings of a single musical piece played by different interpreters, we can notice a progressive slowdown of the performing tempos from the early recordings to nowadays. There is a main reason to this fact and I try to summarize: when an interpreter plays a relatively limited number of musical works for years, he aims at digging into musical meanings and highlighting more sophisticated and less obvious details, so the slowdown of tempo is one of the commonest ways to achieve this. The attitude of the public has changed in the last century too, so I wonder if people really need more time than the past to enjoy a musical work.
In recent decades the systematic study of early performing practice (in particular baroque and classical styles) and the attention among other things to the metronome marks written by the composers themselves or, for the XVIII century, to the measurement of tempo by heartbeat (see the “Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen” by J. Quantz) have opened new solutions to modern interpreters. But what musical image is obtained from these suggestions? As for the tempos, music sounds a little too fast, we sometimes get the impression of flying over the music (at least for a modern ear).
There are also other considerations: the lighter weight of the keyboards before the mid-XIX century has allowed a speed which is a little unpractical on modern instruments, and the tone thinner but clearer should suggest us other phrase shaping, other meanings. Playing on period instruments becomes interesting only when it reveals a new relationship between sound and score or also a new physical approach to the instruments. The faithful reconstruction of a lost past is likely to remain an illusion and as a matter of fact it could be not so interesting.
In recent years we often find exaggerations: some executions are unnaturally slow, or on the contrary they are fast only to demonstrate compliance with the author’s intentions. In the choice of the proper tempo there are also other factors to take into account, for example acoustics: our perception of the flowing of time is really subjected to the environment which surrounds us. Then we have the tone character of the instruments, the distinction of musical genres, also personal mood.
In my opinion the aesthetic approach gets the risk to be often too intellectual, whereas it should remain mainly practical in order to give us the possibility to expand the musical vocabulary of our personal expression. If we search an infallible (scientific) method, we meet with almost insuperable difficulties. In a few words: textual criticism has the aim to provide a score as close as possible to the intentions of its author, but this task is not always easy and we can often find some variants which share the same authority. The reading of the treaties and of the ancient accounts about historical performances can give us interesting suggestions about some playing styles now fallen in disuse, but the reports are often subjective and ambiguous.
I am often curious to know if it is easier for the music lovers to criticize a performance for the lack of sensibility rather than praise it for its supposed authenticity. Perhaps we should remember that the Masters of all periods have moderated their precepts appealing to the “good taste”.

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615 Posts

Posted - 05 Mar 2013 :  10:06:59  


It is also true that in the course of time the 'authentic' movement gained some maturity and gave some interesting performances. But, as regards the instruments, even if the strings and winds can have a pleasant sound, at least some freshness for our ears, used as they are to modern instruments, the early piano remains always unbearable.

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