There are probably
as many ideas about musical expression as there are conductors and
performers. At one level this is all right, because intuition,
for example, does have a place in musical expression. It is
only when intuitive performance ignores musical nuance and performance
practices that it often strays into the realm of anachronistic performance
(i.e., using Romantic era performance ideas to perform Bach).
added to modern scores are helpful. Variations in dynamics,
phrase markings, accents, articulation signs, etc. all provide great
helps for the performer in making decisions about musical expression.
Nevertheless, score markings alone cannot communicate all of the subtle
details about musical nuance, about the ebb and flow of musical phrases,
or about how note "A" relates exactly to note "B" and
then to note "C" etc. Moreover, when approaching music
written before 1750, precious few score markings exist at all unless
added by an editor. [For more information see Choosing
a Good Edition.]
within the notation itself, however, are valuable hints and organizational
tools for the conductor and performer. They consist of inherent
tendencies that allow certain notes within a musical context to be
stressed, accented, or singled out as major or minor goal points
of the melody or musical phrase.
If we agree that
music is always in motion, moving toward or away from goal points,
determining the goal point or points within a complex musical phrase
must be a starting place for every conductor or performer. Musical
accents are often discussed in beginning theory classes only soon
to be forgotten and probably never actually connected to their value
in understanding musical phrasing.
Since the word "accent"
may suggest to some a striking of a note and quickly backing away,
calling these inherent tendencies rather by the word "stresses"
provides a broader term that would allow for a much wider variety of
musical approaches in realizing goal points than the former term would
seem to convey.
Metric stress -
inherent in music organized by meter with the primary and/or secondary
stress points (i.e., beats 1 & 3 respectively in 4/4 time)
Agogic stress -
(duration stress) inherent in notes of longer duration than those
Tonic stress -
(pitch stress) in which the highest and/or lowest notes within a
phrase receive an inherent stress
Harmonic stress -
inherent in the dissonance/resolution or unstable/stable harmonic
Weight stress -
achieved through texture or volume of sound rather than intensity
Pattern stress -
inherent in repeated patterns of a common musical shape
stress - inherent
in notes that are embellished melodically with appoggiaturas, acciaccaturas,
mordents, trills, etc.
stress - inherent
in this formula that shifts stress to the off beat and is more
pronounced when approached by a short note or a note articulated
composers of choral and vocal music will usually find ways to make
sure that "word stresses" (inherent in various languages)
are reinforced by one or more of the notational stresses mentioned
above. When they don't seem to match, one should look to see
if the text being used is a translation or adaptation. Regrettably,
many translations have not been devised with the same care one will
find in the original setting.
inherent stresses in a musical score can be an enlightening experience. It
can also help sort out some complexities where competing stresses
may call for more than one approach to various voices within the
inherent stresses is the starting point for understanding musical
phrase. For no two musical notes are the same. No two
rhythmic pulses are exactly alike. Music is always moving toward
or moving from goal points. Each note has its dramatic meaning
within the musical phrase because of it distance (near or far) from
Goal points within
the phrase structure, then, usually are reinforced or identified
by the convergence of more than one notational stress indication. When
doubt arises, look for the weight of evidence. At what points
do several notational stress indicators converge? (Don't forget
to include "word stresses" and "dynamic score markings: >,
sf, sfz, etc." into the mix.) Normally, this determination
will provide the "secret" information needed to perform
the phrase with confidence as well as providing an informed structure
on which to base your musical decisions.