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 Post subject: Rhythm vs Rubato
PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 9:32 pm 
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Since we don't have a category for items strictly Theoretical (maybe we could add one?), I thought this would be the best file for my subject. Elsewhere, I objected to the notion that rhythm could be subject to personal interpretation, but acknowleged that rubato is (13th post of 2nd page at viewtopic.php?f=20&t=5276&start=15). In the ensuing discussion I made arguments against the idea that rubato affects rhythm, stating that rhythm is seperate from rubato, using arguments from
A. the principle of musical notation and
B. the phenomenon of multiple players in an ensemble playing together despite executing rubato (this despite the improbable (some might say impossible) phenomenon of many individual musicians individually and simultaneously interpreting disperate rhythmic values, presumably changing by virtue of rubato, in a manner exactly equivalent as all others such that synchronization remains).

Having put forth my arguments, I relented going tit-for-tat. But now I have a new line of reasoning to add.

To be clear, I again state that IMO rubato doesn't affect rhythm, but rather affects tempo. One might (and should) ask, "the tempo of what?" The answer is "the tempo of the tempo." For those confused by that statement, consider that you have a heart rate and that heart rate can be adjusted physiologically or by a physician when need be (tachycardia may be slowed, and bradycardia may be accelerated). A normal sinus rhythm of the heart may be heard at various heart rates. In a similar way, meter and tempo serve as the fabric or foundation that the particulars of a musical work reside upon. Rubato then is nothing more than the gradual transition between differing tempos, in direct analogy to the dynamic gradations that the pianoforte offered to the terraced dynamics of the harpsichord. Rubato is to tempo, exactly what crescendo/descrescendo is to dynamics. As the second does not affect pitch, so the first does not affect rhythm.

Two new arguments to support the view that rhythm is not affected by rubato (as before, these are musical arguments):

1a. Consider that whether one plays the 1st movement of the Beethoven "Moonlight" piano sonata in a very slow tempo (such that it is sounded in 4/4 time), or in a relatively faster tempo (consistent with a 2/2 time as indicated), the rhythm of both the score and its realization in both performances is identical. Therefore, rhythm is a relationship not subject to tempo.
1b. If differing tempos per se do not change rhythm, then it follows that gradations of change between different tempos (rubato) cannot affect rhythm.

2. Having argued before that the phenomenon of ensemble among players despite use of rubato suggests that rhythm is not affected by rubato, I realized that that was only half the argument. Notation in music includes both sound AND SILENCE. For every note there is a rest, including rests for entire measures and even tacit abbreviations for collections of silent bars. It occured to me that when an instrumentalist or vocalist in a large work (such as Verdi's Requiem for chorus, soloists and orchestra) has occasions of momentary or lengthy resting, during which time there are expressive passages that entail use of rubato, the taciting musicians have NO RHYTHM to observe being affected by the rubato, rather only the tempo of the underlying meter (as demonstrated by the conductor's gestures). For these musicians, it is impossible for rubato to affect rhythm, because they have none to be affected, nonetheless, due to an engagement (no matter how passive) in the progress of the meter, their next entry will be perfectly synchronized.

3. To update my conductor argument: A conductor uses the two domains of managing tempo and dynamics to provide a unique interpretation of a work (ignoring particulars of voicing and phrase shaping that are pursued in rehearsal). When chosing or adjusting the tempo in real-time, never is the rhythm of a work changed. No matter how fast or how slow the tempo, no matter how stretched or contracted the change between tempos, the rhythm remains unchanged in the context of the meter it is found in.

Summary: Rubato affects the tempo of the meter, not rhythm. Rubato is to tempo what [de]crescendo is to dynamics; they are both adjustments to changeable (interpretable) elements of a work. The first has no affect on rhythm as the second has no affect on pitch. Rhythm and pitch are unchangeable elements of a work.

Edits: Added a bit here and there and corrected my ever-present spelling mistakes.

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


Last edited by musical-md on Fri Apr 13, 2012 9:07 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Rhythm vs Rubato
PostPosted: Fri Apr 13, 2012 3:38 pm 
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Imported from other thread:
troglodyte wrote:
In order to clarify this interesting terminological question and relate it to some present practical examples: in Für Alina a few items down the list the long notes are not equally long. In your opinion, is this an expression of different rhythm or is it a rubato?

(Sorry Chris, your thread was already hijacked!)


In a way, I think your question is sort of like asking, "What note is the 1st space from the bottom on the staff?" Some, assuming the treble clef (G 2nd line), may jump and say, "f," and others, assuming the bass clef (F 4th line) may answer "a," but the right answer is that there is no actual pitch value without a clef, and depending upon which clef I assign to the staff I can make it ANY pitch I wish. Nowhere in music education is one taught how long in seconds (or parts there of) are the durations of the differing note-values. And you will not find same. This is a confusion of categories. The rhythmic values of notes is contextual, depending primarily on the meter chosen as a framework and tempo assigned by the composer for individual works.

Before there can be rubato, there must be an established pattern of beat/pulse that can be disturbed. You have to have something to change, before you can change it. The beautiful Für Alina, is a static work (that is inspired by eastern mysticism and/or chant from the western tradition), has no assigned meter (time-signature) and uses only black note-heads (1/4 note without the stem) and [tied?] whole-notes to indicate sustained pitches. As such it is not a good template to discuss the traits of rhythm. It's sort of like discussing organization or form in an aleatoric work. In fact, one might say that it is rhythmically undefined such as division by zero in mathematics.

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: Rhythm vs Rubato
PostPosted: Fri Apr 13, 2012 8:32 pm 
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I was merely and honestly wondering if in your opinion my performance of Fur Alina exhibits 1) Different rhythms in different parts 2) Rubato between different parts 3) both of these 4) none of these. I take your answer to be 4), for the reason that these concepts cannot be applied to this piece.

If so we simply have different views of the concept of rhythm. My own view is more towards 3).

Don't get me wrong here. I do respect your opinion. But it is not mine.


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 Post subject: Re: Rhythm vs Rubato
PostPosted: Fri Apr 13, 2012 10:21 pm 
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Joachim,
Again let me reiterate that I enjoyed your performance. Let's not forget that this discussion started with comments on the performance of a Beethoven sonata, so it was really best in the context of standard-practice music. To be a bit more philosophical (or theoretical if one prefers) I would offer the following. What meter provides is some degree of pattern and expectation. Within same can be identified larger patterns of strong and weak beats, and points of repetitions (that we call measures or bars). This character of strong and weak beats together with meter is what allows for attributes of disruption and surprise that we call syncopation and hemiola. In the first, sounds are made to begin on weak beats or weak portions of beats and made to sound through the relatively stronger beat or portion (syncopation). (If these are not allowed to sound through the stronger portion then it is a subclass of syncopation termed conter-beat.) If music in the meter of 6/8 (123456) undergoes a moment of shifted expected accents such that it sounds as in 123456, then we have hemiola suggesting 3/4 time. In the same way that these two phenomenon require the prior existence of the pattern and expectation to be realized, so to rubato requires patterns and expectations to be manifested against. In a work of indeterminate meter, tempo and rhythm, such as in Fur Alina, one is hardpressed to acknowledge the existance of rubato. You will appreciate that my response is a sort of musico-legal one. Of course I hear and acknowledge that tones will have different durations, but even by virtue of the parameters given (or not given) by the composer, I don't see how one can use the term rubato in this case (even if the composer does; he could equally have written a piacere or ad libitum). The idea of rubato itself even suggests that some tone should have or not have a value, but if there is no ground for this, one can't really "rob" time where there is none defined.

In my discourse with Joe earlier, I made a point that I was arguing from a musical perspective, even as he made reference to absolute value differences that "change" the rhythm. I actually said that his was a good way to explain it to the artistically uninitiated. I have come to understand a bit more clearly his and my difference. Where Joe would cite the absolute change in duration of notes during rubato as evidence that rubato affects (or changes) rhythm, I see now that he failed to recognize that the performer is simultaneously also transmitting a sense of the meter and tempo in which the rhythm exists. This is in fact the kernel of the difference between us. His absolutist view was focused ONLY on the duration of a tone, where my relativist view interprets the duration of the tone in the context of the transmitted meter and tempo. For me, rubato is nothing more than taking a line of music written upon an elastic fabric and stretching or contracting it (changing the tempo=rubato), where Joe is standing apart from it and measuring the duration with a stop-watch. This is why I stated that my explanation was a musical argument. I suppose this is not unlike the phenomenon of time-dilation that is associated with relativity. I'm the space traveler who perceives time as constant (rhythm does not change), and Joe is the aged man to whom I return, with him asking why I took so long.

Some may think this is just a theoretical discussion, but I believe it has very important application in the performing of music. I believe that these ideas help to define what is acceptable or extreme practice in rubato. Certainly, all would agree that to be so capricious with rubato that the resulting tempo fluctuation makes the short notes long and the long notes short, as the meter and tempo are played upon like an accordion, is not good art. I think that legitamate tempo changes are very much akin to proper shifting of gears in an automobile with manual transmission. We all know those who can't shift gears in cars, resulting in all sorts of hiccups and tire-screaching. Proper rubato results in smooth accelerations and decelerations (even extreme ones) that successfully convey the contectual tempo and meter too, and thus allows for the perception of the correct rhythm. Unsuccessful rubato causes confusion regarding the rhythm or meter. I think in general, successful musicians are those sounding the rhythm into the meter, where those who struggle are just playing a rhythm without a deeper sense of the fabric called meter and tempo. This is in fact what every young music student goes through: the process of discovering that the correctness of their rhythm at any time is judged by a higher-order element called meter and tempo.

(For those sick of all my prose, I think I've said everything I have to say on the subject -- again)

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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 Post subject: Re: Rhythm vs Rubato
PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2012 7:59 am 
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Hi Eddy,

First off, I would like to apologize for leaving off the earlier discussion with my last comment in a bit of a huff. I guess I was just frustrated that you thought I was belaboring the point when my intent was just to answer your points (though as usual, I was a bit long-winded about it :P ). And also about what seemed to me at the time an unjustified introduction into the discussion of the concept of notation. But I'm glad that you posted a more formal outline of your argument because now I have a better idea of it (also from looking at some of the previous portions of the thread (and Rainer's mediation also helped :) ). While I still don't agree with your conclusions, I at least think I have a better point of departure from which to respond.

To be perfectly clear (and to verify and for anyone else who might read the thread), I would first like to restate what I at least have interpreted as the position. You are arguing that rubato affects only tempo, not rhythm, and that this makes sense because rhythm by definition is fixed according to its notation while tempo on the other hand is fluid and changeable according to its performance and that rubato is also a performance element so it makes sense that rubato would therefore affect only tempo. And I am saying that it affects both tempo and rhythm, rhythm being a constituent part of tempo, and that this is because they are both subcategories of duration, which is overall the only element being affected by rubato if we consider that there are only two basic performance elements that are variable in music: duration and force (dynamics) (and a third, pitch, in certain instances).

First, I would start off by commending your argumentation (which I am defining as the logical progression of the steps in the argument) itself, which IMHO is excellent -- very clear and sequentially laid out. However, there are two basic criteria for the validity of an argument (not saying you don't know this, but just laying it out to illustrate my point): it must be (1) logical and (2) sound. (1) says that the steps of the argument progress and follow, while (2) says that it is based on solid, unquestionable premises. I am convinced that you basically have fulfilled (1), but I have objections on (2). The general nature of my objection is that the premises are too narrow and restrictive. Specifically, I would object to the following:

1. Your assumption that the definition of rhythm is only fixed according to its notation. I would begin by defining notation, i.e., the system of signs and symbols, notes, their values, and otherwise, that a composer uses to write or mark his score.
I would attempt to illustrate the falseness of this by appeal to relevant analogy. First, a line of reasoning similar to that I used on that MIDI thread when I briefly argued against photography as a viable artistic medium. This is that the score in music is nothing more than the sum of its markings and means nothing until it is brought to life by a performer. That is, unlike, say, a painting, which is literally the work in itself and, once being completed by the artist, is there to be admired as the work in itself, music requires a performance and a performer(s) in order to have meaning or be appreciated. This makes music an art that, to fulfill its message as art, must always be applied independently of the score or notation. Therefore, rhythm and meter, as one constituent part of this art, are more than just the sum of their notation; they mean nothing on the page until brought to life by the performer and thus are inherently always applied. You mention pitch as a parallel case to rhythm, arguing that pitch is always fixed as well, but I think that is wrong. On the piano, presuming it could of course ever be in perfect tune, that may be the case, but for vocalists and violinists, that is an essential technical element of their performance that can be criticized or lauded as the case may be, and there are an infinite number of slight gradations that can be brought out on a fractional scale. Frank Sinatra, in fact was known for doing all sorts of slidings and elisions down fractions of a step in some cases that were of course not notated in the score.

Second, a much briefer example. Consider situations in which we don't have a score at all, say, a group of children clapping. Some will be on the beat and have good rhythm, some will be off the beat and have questionable or poor rhythm, depending on their musical ability. It is according to a metrical beat and roughly estimated division, so it is therefore rhythm (as I think we have defined it), but we have qualitatively judged it according to their ability to maintain the beat, which is applied rhythm in performance so there is no score or notation yet they are still using rhythm.

Conclusion: Your premise involving the definition of rhythm is too narrow because it fails to consider other valid definitional aspects of rhythm besides its notation and, indeed, the most important aspect -- that it always must be applied in some sort of performance and that this can, in fact, be done without the existence of a score or without the presence of music's other aspects. I know you may say that your argument is in the context of formally notated music such as, for example, the piano music we record, but this brings me to my second objection:

2. Your use of the term "musical argument" to justify your position. This is, I believe, a commission of the logical-depth fallacy (deliberately insufficiently considered premises). That is, once its parameters have been defined (i.e., in this case whether rubato affects rhythm, tempo, or both), any and all information, including that from other relevant disciplines, is admissible as evidence. I think you tacitly agreed to this by admitting of the possibility of the broader scientific viewpoint, but the point is that all viewpoints must be considered as part of one's own viewpoint in order for one's conclusions to be valid on the basis of the evidence. Then one must go back and incorporate that evidence if the opposing conclusions are contradictory. By way of example, Aristotle in his Ethics argues that moral excellence is based on habits acquired in one's youth through good instruction (an ethical aspect) but then also extends this to good deliberation and practical wisdom (an epistemological viewpoint). If he had said that he were only treating of the "ethical argument" he would be failing to consider vital evidence.

Overall Conclusion: Though you have successfully described one aspect (the notational aspect) of the debate, you have failed to take account of the fact that all musical elements that are written into a score will still be dependent on their musical performance to be actualized. Now to return to my argument. The fact that the rhythm in a score can never be perfectly rendered by a human being (e.g., without the use of a machine or midi program) means that rhythm can never be rendered perfectly in a musical performance, musical performance being the only way of conveying music to make it do what it does as an art. Therefore, rhythm can, and in fact, must be affected by human performance variables. Rubato is one of those variables, which indeed affects the tempo, albeit only briefly when it is applied, but then also affects the meter or rhythm, which is a constituent part of the tempo since the tempo is an overall pace and the meter are the divisions according to which the performer keeps that pace Then both tempo and rhythm are subcategories of the larger category time or duration, which is in effect, all that is being manipulated by the performer with respect to the time element. Therefore, on the basis that the whole is the sum of its constituent parts, both rhythm and tempo are affected.

Furthermore, in closing, I would also point out (though this is not an official part of my conclusion but more of a conjecture), rubato may even affect rhythm more than tempo if it is ideally applied (which of course is not actually possible for a mere mortal), since the purpose of rubato has always been described as not to change the overall tempo, but that in fact, when time is robbed it should be made up later, in which case the net effect on the tempo would ideally be zero, and since rubato is applied only to small fragments of a piece and not a whole piece, it would affect the smaller divisions of the piece, where the individual rhythmic elements are more the issue.

Well anyway, enough pontificating from me, I thought I would just recast my position again, since you have also put forth yours twice on this thread already :P Thanks again for raising this interesting point. So anyway, I've basically said my peace and added some more verbiage to this discussion :D No doubt you won't agree with me or still have objections but that's fine. Nevertheless, I always learn much from you (especially about theory aspects, which not at all an expert in), even if I don't agree and I very much enjoy such discussions and hopefully look forward to more in the future (or possibly on this thread, pending your reply).

Regards,

Joe

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 Post subject: Re: Rhythm vs Rubato
PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2012 3:23 pm 
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Joe,
I appreciate the tone of your response very much; thank you. I do hope that our discussion (hey everybody, the waters fine. Come on in!) is serving for more than just entertainment for our colleagues. My background in philosophy is evidently nothing like yours, but since you mention it, I actually think my position is more Platonic, where yours is Aristotelian.

When I said that rhythm and pitch are "fixed" I simply meant that the 4th note of Beethoven's 5th Symphony, 1st movement MUST be Eb, and is not subject to change, and that the opening of Beethoven's Op. 53 (Waldstein) Sonata MUST be 8th notes and nothing else. You will see again that my replies are from music and not from physics.

I totally appreciate your observation of the limits of the score and the need to "realize" music. I would often teach that music was an "immediately perishable" art. However, I think you do the score a bit of injustice in that you don't allow for one psychological phenomenon (evidence from all disciplines should be admissable you say): A really well-trained musician can experience the music (just like the auditor sitting in the concert/recital hall) by just LOOKING at the score. This is the end of the branch called sight-singing, whose obverse is the branch called ear-training. A starter may begin to experinece this by reading the score to something elementary that they have already learned, but advanced musicians can do this with music that they do not even know. This ability extends for some to reading an orchestral score. Some have argued that Mozart's ability (for example) was so great that for him "composing" (i.e. writing notes on a score) was simply the means to share with others what was in his head already completed. So it follows that if musicians can experience music like the auditor simply by reading the score, then in a way the work has life and exists at those moments even without physical realization. (This thought is new for me and born in our discussion).

I think that when you reassert that the only parameters that music allows to be transmitted is pitch and duration, in essence you are begging the question, because that is actually what is the kernal of dispute between us. I believe that more than those are transmitted and that these other elements are in fact what make it art to be appreciated only by humans. As a starting point, I hope you would admit that the works of Haydn are ripe with humor, or that those of Beethoven are filled with drama, etc. These elements are more than just pitch and duration; they are transcendental to them. If we allow for these, then we may ask what other supra-notational or infra-notational elements are transmissable? I would posit that tonality, meter and tempo are among them. Let me say a word about tonality. Here I mean it in the sense that when I have been long at music (as this last 2-years has done for me) I for one (and certainly many other musicians) hear certain works in their actual key. If I think of many famous works, I hear them in my mind's ear in their actual key. Some may call this "perfect pitch" but I do not have that. What I have is "aural memory" and this is what comes naturally after long exposure to sight-singing and ear-training. Anyway, as I was saying, tonality, meter (can you think of the 1st movement of the Beethoven Op.57 and NOT think and feel 12/8? I can't.) and tempo (who can imagine the Mozart Symphony No 40 in G minor 1st movement in adagio tempo?) are part of what is transmitted too. In fact so are formal features. You know and appreciate the features of sonata and fugues and Theme and Variations, and repetition, open and closed phrases, etc. So I would say that much more than pitch (better frequency for your argument from physics) and duration are transmitted. And it is in this context that rhythm lives and is unchangeable (like pitches as described above).

In summary, I think your arguments are from empericism and mine are from the ideal; yours scientific, mine artistic. I would hold that your view provides no subjective meaning to music, and suspect that you would hold that mine provides no objective metrics to music. Yours Aristotelian, mine Platonic.

I must say that I have enjoyed thinking about all this :)

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Eddy M. del Rio, MD
"A smattering will not do. They must know all the keys, major and minor, and they must literally 'know them backwards.'" - Josef Lhevinne


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