Imagery In Music

By Peter Coraggio
Illustrated by Jon. J. Murakami

Neil A. Kjos Music Company, Publisher ISBN 0-8497-6279-0

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"Imagery In Music"
"Italian Expressive Terms Of Tempo, Character And Spirit"

Those of us who have been practicing, performing and teaching for years often forget the great amount of information which must be understood before being able to interpret the standard repertory of the important composers for the piano. Traditional piano instruction most often begins with the study of musical notation and grammar. Students must learn to recognize an incredible number of signs and symbols, know what each represents and what they mean in the context of the musical moment. Unfortunately, less emphasis is given to the most fundamental component of expressive interpretation, the composer's verbal instructions for tempo, character and spirit.

Expressive performance shares many elements in common with spoken language. Music reflects life. Every human emotion, sentiment, mood and feeling may be expressed through music. To convey the message, both language and music require sensitive shaping and pacing of phrases, a variety of depth and frequency of breathing, and a diversity of dynamic accents, agogic stresses and dramatic pauses. For music to posses the composer's intended spirit and emotional content, understanding the original meaning of the composer's descriptive words is essential.

Most terms used today to describe the spirit and character of music originated in the 17th and 18th centuries. Because many of the finest musicians were Italian, composers and conductors had to communicate in Italian to have their music performed as conceived. Initially, words such as allegro or adagio were placed at the beginning of works to express the basic spirit of the music to the musicians. Later, composers added more descriptive words within the musical score such as crescendo, con anima and dolce to indicate more explicitly the intended musical expression. The words at the beginning of a composition, now commonly called "tempo markings," were never intended to mean just how fast the music should go. "Tempo" in Italian literally describes how time is being passed, the music's character, spirit and emotional essence.

Individual musical interpretation is affected by the performer's knowledge of the musical fashion and style of the time of the music being performed, and the personal subjective interpretation of the expressive terms colored by the artist's life experiences. The meanings of some of the traditional Italian musical terms have changed over time and many words of musical expression are no longer used in contemporary Italian conversation. Returning to the original literal meanings of the Italian descriptive words of tempo and character will result in a more sensitive and keener perception of the composer's intentions and an enrichment in the depth and pleasure of performance.

Peter Coraggio