Willem Retze Talsma - Tempo giusto
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TEMPO AND CHARACTER IN 18TH AND EARLY 19TH CENTURY MUSIC
by Willem R. Talsma
The basic reason for insecurity as to the performance of the music of our Classics is that 20th century music practice has lost sight of fundamental knowledge. The 18th century musician called it Tempo Giusto. The notion Tempo Giusto did not only refer to tempo, but to performance in general to the character of the composition.
20th century dictionaries merely give a literal translation: the "right tempo" of a composition. 18th century sources refer to the natural value of the notes and the natural movement of different kinds of measures. These notions and their consequences need an explanation, which will be given in the classic question-and-answer form:
QUESTION: What is meant by the "natural value" of the notes?
ANSWER: Each had its proper duration and character, the starting point being the quarter note, considered as the mean note value. The duration of the different kinds of notes was related to the duration of the quarter note, thought of as about a second. The character of those notes longer than the quarter note was achieved by a heavier, and of the shorter ones, by a lighter execution. The violinist would use respectively a longer and heavier or shorter and lighter bowing.
Q: What is meant by the "natural movement" of the measures?
A: When the different kinds of notes were combined in different rhythmic/metric patterns, or measures, they did not lose their duration and character. That is to say that each measure had its own tempo and character.
Q: What are the basic practical musical consequences which stem from this basic notion?
A: The notation of an 18th century score states not only the tempo but also the character of the composition. Works such as those of J.S.Bach which did not bear the so-called "Italian" tempo indications were played in "Tempo Giusto". "Tempo Giusto" depended on the natural movement of the measures and the shortest notes used in a particular work.
Q: What was the meaning of the Italian expressions of character and tempo?
A: Their classical meaning can only be understood in relation to the "Tempo Giusto". They indicated comparatively minor deviations of character and tempo, already expressed in the notation of the score.
Q: What was the reason that the knowledge of the basic 18th century Tempo Giusto concept got lost?
A: The 19th century Industrial Revolution had a profound impact on thinking and feeling in the western word. In this process, natural structures and traditional knowledge were lost. Among other things this caused a break in Man's relationship with nature, the Environment and his past.
Q: What is the 20th century musical situation seen from this historical perspective?
A: Our musical practice, together with all other aspects of western culture, has been profoundly affected by the Industrial Revolution. The 20th century interpretations of our Classics -the music of the 18th and early 19th centuries- can be characterized by what might be called a polarization of the tempo: the fast movements are played too fast, the slow movements too slowly. The Tempo Giusto, the connection with the past, has been lost.
Because of this polarization, the rhythmic/metric and harmonic structures of compositions are no longer perceived, and so their character cannot be expressed.
Q: What is the reason underlying this polarization?
A: It reflects the same behaviour which 20th century Man shows to the environment, the creation: HE IGNORES STRUCTURES.
Q: How can we rediscover the character, and thereby understand the spiritual meaning, of the music of our Classics?
A: The answer is simple, but indeed so simple that it appears difficult for the "sophisticated ego" of the 20th century. We should learn anew to identify ourselves with structures: the structure of the composition, its rhythmic/metric and harmonic quality, its metre -that is to say, the expression of a once-living reality.
This general analysis of our musical and spiritual situation is put forward by the "CENTRE TEMPO GIUSTO", based on the research of its founder, WILLEM RETZE TALSMA, and published for the first time in his book:
WIEDERGEBURT DER KLASSIKER. ANLEITUNG ZUR ENTMECHANISIERUNG DER MUSIK (Innsbruck, 1980, 1988).
("Rebirth of our classics. Manual for the demechanization of music") the musical results of his research are also reflected in the following writings:
*DIE KLAVIERSONATEN BEETHOVEN'S IN ZEITGENOESSISCHEN ZEUGNISSEN. (Innsbruck, 1980,1988 )
("Beethoven's Sonatas for piano in contemporary testimonies".)
Those testimonies transmit practical musical information coming directly from the composer himself and musicians who were very close to him, and reveal that the character of these "Tongedichte", as Beethoven himself called them, was more poetic and their tempo less exaggerated than our 20th century concert-practice leads us to believe.
The "professional" will discover that he no longer needs to submit himself to extreme technical training. The "enlightened amateur" will be surprised to find that Beethonven's sonatas are once more within his reach: they were written for him or her, not for the distracting concert hall, not for the "virtuosos", in the 20th century meaning of the word. (An English edition is in preparation.)
*TEMPO AND CHARACTER IN 18TH AND EARLY 19TH CENTURY MUSIC.
This work is to be a practical musical guide for the intelligent musician or music-lover, who requires clear answers on clear questions. It is the result of almost a life-time of musical confrontation with the classical fundamentals on the part of the author.
Both works - the first has recently been completed and the second is nearing completion, need an imaginative editor, who understands that the musician of the future requires real information and a genuine human perspective.
Experience gathered over a period of years and in collaboration with other disciplines, has led to the conclusion that the music of our classics, played in the light of its structure and with understanding of its timeless human character, can be one of the most transcendental forces which mankind has at its disposition to face the challenges of the future, to survive both mentally and physically, on entry to the 21st century.
Being aware of the fact, that words cannot fully explain musical phenomenona, the CENTRE TEMPO GIUSTO offers personal-musical backing: courses for musicians-instrumentalists, singers, alone or in ensemble who want to discover classical proportions and thus themselves creative. It is open for all kinds of expositions, articles and discussions, related to the musical aspects of the tempo.
<h2>Willem R. Talsma</h2>
Born in 1927 , in the Netherlands, he has been involved in the following spheres of activity:
Pianist and accompanist. Organist and choirmaster of the Zorgvlietkerk, the Hague-Scheveningen. Founder and conductor of a chamber-choir. Concerts and lecture-recitals on the historical keyboard instruments of the Gemeente Museum, the Hague. Live and broadcast concerts all over Europe. Recordings for several companies, such as Archiv Deutsche Grammophon. In 1967 he was awarded the international Grand Prix du Disque Edison.
His musical education can be considered as something of an anachronism. He received his first and decisive musical experiences in the West Frisian village of Wognum, where, thanks to an exceptionally gifted musician of the first half of the nineteenth century, the school-master Jacob Kwast, children had taken daily professional music lessons following the classical rules and conventions. The tiny village thus became a sort of Schola Cantorum, bringing with it an internationally reputed choral tradition which lasted well into the twentieth century.
As a result of this background, when furthering his professional education, he sought out musicians who still preserved the dying elements of a classical musical tradition going straight back as far as the eighteenth century. He owes much to a distinguished ex-singer who taught and explained the classical solfege she had originally learned from her beloved teacher Frans August Gevaert (1828-1908). Gevaert in his turn was the favourite pupil and successor as Director of the Brussels Conservatory of the prestigious musicologist Francois Joseph Fétis(1785-1871).
In 1973 Talsma left the Netherlands for Spain, relinquishing a promising concert career, to reflect and give up all his time and energy to the investigation of the historical and scientific foundations of the musical heritage he had received. It seemed to him that the eighteenth and early nineteenth century sources used a musical language with which he was already familiar, thus revealing more information than he had expected.
His historical and musical research led him to a revolutionary conclusion; western music practice has lost its roots. Twentieth century performances of the music of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries no longer reflect the intentions of the composer, but are instead the product of the nihilistic thinking and materialistic behaviour which dominate today«s society.
In 1980 he publised his book "Wiederburt der Klassiker. Anleitung zur Entmechanisierung der Musik." (The Rebirth of our Classics. Manual for the demechanization of music.) (Innsbruck, 1980,1988). Here, for the first time he reveals this concusion and its historical foundation.
Since 1980 his life has been given up to the teaching of the classical fundamentals, to the recovery of the spiritual and healing impact of our musical heritage. Why not let his teaching change your personal life? It could even change our society.
At the moment he lives in Murcia (Spain). His phone number and fax is: 34-68-264887.
For more information write an e-mail to:
CENTRE TEMPO GIUSTO (firstname.lastname@example.org)