Occasionally our organ teacher at the Amsterdamsch Conservatorium, Albèrt de Klerk, spoke the immortal words: “Just play what is there.” We, students, grinned a little and everyone had their own opinion on the matter.
But during a dinner in honour of his retirement from the Amsterdamsch Conservatorium – subsequently renamed Sweelinck Conservatorium, today Conservatorium van Amsterdam – Gustav Leonhardt made a similar remark to the guests present: “I’ve always tried to play what I saw before me as well as possible”
The question now is: what is on that paper? What do I see before me?
Usually the more you know and the more experience you have, the more you see.
When we, the garage owner and myself, gaze together into the engine compartment, the garage owner sees more than me. Or so I assume for the sake of this argument.
A restorer of paintings or someone who studied art history sees more things and other things than the average visitor to a museum.
And this knowledge seldom involves scientific insights and observations, esoteric knowledge or more of those elusive things.
It is in most cases it involves no more than facts, tips, tidbits and the combination and skill with which you can put your connections between those. And it is about understanding how things fit together.
Studying music thus also implies a lot of reading and analyzing.
To put it in modern jargon: it is about competence building.
Aside from a school-setting where imitating on smaller items can be a powerful aid. The knowledge and skills that one acquires is very personal. That is obvious. The knowledge and expertise of one person cannot be exactly transferred to another person (eg a student). It is not copy / paste.
Now what about that fantastic interpretation that is perceived by the listener and the reason why this organist or harpsichordist is so famous?
As they say themselves – they play as well as possible what they perceive in the score on the basis of their knowledge and skill.
To express it more exaggerated:
They are not concerned with interpreting at all. They are too busy.
In short. Interpretation is dependent on a person’s knowledge and abilities.
An interpretation can never be copied from one person to another.
That is reserved for audio media like LPs, CDs, etc., not for people.
Actually, playing as the composer would have wanted – an almost sacred principle in classical music – is not an option either. At best, as a musician you can only take into account the directions and intentions of the composer. A human cannot cope with much more.