Thomas Stevens

Musical Expression I

  • General Quotes

"Dolce is not salivating."-Erich Leinsdorf (1985)

Quotable: “We may as well go on to the next movement…… [because] you’ve done it all…………there is nothing left for us to do.”

The above Quotable was offered by either Michael Tilson Thomas or Lawrence Foster* following an effusive, over-phrased rendition of the opening statement (oboe solo) of the principal theme of the slow movement of the Tchaikovsky Symphony IV.
As part of the training process, music students are routinely encouraged to do as much as they can with the expressive content of the music they play. This is a logical, time-honored approach, especially for young performers who will, as they say in the world of collegiate athletics, make it to the “next level,” because in accordance with the conventional wisdom of the music profession, it is always easier to moderate or refine the work of a performer who over-plays than it is to get more out of an under-producer.
The oboe soloist in the Tchaikovsky had taken what seemed like every conceivable liberty with the melodic content of the tune, executing what amounted to a complete performance, in and of itself. (The treatment of the internal melodic cadences, for example, exemplified textbook over-phrasing, reminding one of a suggestion offered to another oboist, in 1967, by conductor Thomas Schippers: “Sing, don’t die.”) Of course, such excesses come rather easily in the music of Tchaikovsky, which lends itself to such interpretive abuse and can easily degenerate into unadulterated schmaltz if not treated with extra care and discretion.
The particular musical theme in question occurs a number of times, in many different instrumental settings, during the course of the movement, and the oboist's version is, at the most, the opening statement of the theme; so, what might have been an award-winning performance by the oboist for a jury at a conservatory examination or solo contest was totally out of place in the context of the musical setting at hand because it actually did leave the rest of the orchestra with nothing more to do except applaud (which some did-in jest) or move on to the next movement.

*During this period of time, I was keeping notes of comments made from the podium, for future reference, in small steno tablets that I kept in my trumpet case. Now, many years later, with comments by MTT/LF on the same page, I cannot decipher the scribbling beyond the point of ascribing this particular offering to either one of the gentlemen. (A few years later, my colleague, trumpeter/publisher Rob Roy MacGregor, started inscribing conductor comments on the inside covers of the manila-type folders that contained our individual orchestra parts. Some of the Quotables have been copied directly from Rob's notes.)