Musical communication is commonly associated with place or location; for instance a piece of music will often bring about a flood of memories recalling the place the piece was heard, perhaps the people in whose company the time listening to the piece was spent and certainly the mood of the piece. A piano recital is the cultural event we will focus on, using specific examples of piano recitals held around the world, drawing on reports about those recitals from performers and audience alike. The framework of thought, feeling and behaviour which takes place at a piano recital is different from any other cultural environment, primarily because it the most special and intimate of instruments, one which connects the player with the listener in intimate and unmediated communication, in a pure communicative act. The piano is an instrument which evokes extraordinary passion, requires considerable dedication and patience, together with skill and flair to bring about a perfect percussive performance. There are a number of key players in a piano recital, not least the composer who communicates his art to the pianist and onwards, through the instrument, to an audience. The composer is the translator of musical ideas into a symbolic form, usually the twelve semi-tone scale on a musical stave. The standard Western musical notation is a treble clef and a bass clef. Each note can be between lines or on a line and the piece is given a time signature denoting the rhythm of the music. Other symbols signify changes in tone, pace, volume and feeling. The behaviour of the player is also communicated from the composer to the pianist using symbols, including Italianate adjectives, although with more modern piano pieces the Italianate is often replaced with words from the composers’ usual vocabulary. Examples include piano, meaning quiet and forte, meaning loud. The nature of this communication is symbolic, or in the words of Roland Barthes, the literary critic, semiotic Barthes (Barthes 1977) views semiology as underlying all communication, an ’empire of the signs’ that extends over film and photography, music criticism and reading and writing as historically situated activities. He identifies two natures of music: There are two musics (at least so I have always thought): the music one listens to, the music one plays. These two musics are totally different arts, each with its own history, its own sociology, its own aesthetics, its own erotic; the same composer can be minor if you listen to him, tremendous if you play him (even badly) – such as Schumann. (Barthes 1977, p. 149) We will employ this distinction between passive and active to our discussion of the piano recital, where passive music is the music we listen to and active music is the music we play. Schumann is the composer we will focus on when discussing the cultural event that is the piano recital. Robert Schumann was a significant figure in German musical romanticism.
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