Canonics are the Sudoku puzzles of performance

I just love when critics are kind enough to explain the mechanics of how music is written. Just such an example can be found here, in an review by Harriet Howard Heithaus (love the alliterative quality of this name) of the Naples Daily News.

The concert Sunday was to introduce the reconfigured and redesigned Daniels Pavilion at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts. But music and the musicians kept stealing the show.

I hate when they do that.

First it was Glenn Basham, Naples Philharmonic Orchestra concertmaster, and Eric Berg, its associate principal second violinist, playing a Telemann canonic sonata movement from each side of the hall’s midpoint.

Good information. A canonic movement, with the musicians opportunely placed at opposite sides of the hall.

Wait. Is that what you wrote? Playing a Telemann canonic sonata movement from each side of the hall's midpoint.

Do midpoints have sides?

figure escher: Which way again to the midpoint?

Then Principal Flute Suzanne Kirton musically somersaulted in, answering Basham measure for measure in a second Telemann canonic sonata.

Musical somersault?

Also, what are these canonic sonatas?

Canonics are the Sudoku puzzles of performance.

Well, I'm pretty sure that totally clears things up.  

But perhaps you should elaborate, you know, just for clarity's sake.

These tightly assembled pieces require a second musician to start one to two measures after the first, but playing the exact same score. Each performer must be extremely confident in his or her music because the two never meet until the last notes. Their timing also has to be in perfect sync to keep that carefully constructed musical chase from turning discordant. Kirton, Basham and Berg were great ambassadors for the device, forging tight sequences without ever sacrificing the melodies they were playing.

What piece of Baroque music doesn't need to "be in perfect sync to keep...from turning discordant"?

And, "ambassadors for the device"? Are canonics suffering from bad press?

figure bad decisions: Canonics should probably just lay off the sauce...at least until they score that next big symphony.

She sure does make this sound like brain surgery. And my favorite part of this lengthy explanation is that at no point does Ms. Heithaus ever use the root form of the word -- you know, 'canon'.


Empiricus said...

Not to belabor the point, but I think it needs to said. I (We) know that critics must jump that hurdle and actually explain some esoteric things, once in while, to a music terminology-challenged audience. But, come on, in order to explain these things one must, at least, know what they are. It irks me to no end that our critics are often only minimally qualified to write about music. (No, one music appreciation course does not cut it.)

And for those of you who haven't made it over to the actual review, I highly suggest you do so. It's bad. Real bad: tenses go missing; figured bass is apparently (?) thrown out the window; things are wedged into a footprint; the German language becomes a formidable challenge; and there's even a threat to analyze the wall color.


Gustav said...

I actually didn't want to pick on this person too much, because this review does seem to be quite an honest, genuine attempt (unlike the pile of puke you uncovered in the Kansas City Star), and I can appreciate that much at least. Although, everything you say is true.

But you make my main point admirably -- an expertise in music is a must.

And the line about the wall color is pretty amazing. Although, and perhaps I was being generous, I did chalk that one up to a good sense of humor on the author's part.

AnthonyS said...

Look at Gustav being charitable.

I spent the better part of yesterday driving around looking for the midpoint of the San Gabriel Valley.

AnthonyS said...

Wait, Gustav, in light of the use of the "word" canonics, I'm very surprised you didn't make mention of counterpunctual lines?