Author Topic: All instruments are equal, but some instruments are more equal than others  (Read 682 times)

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ComposerOfAvantGarde

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Looking back to an interesting and enlightening conversation I had with our dear friend Florestan I once said to him: "Neither piano nor guitar is more important than the other, and therefore the developments and people associated with them in the 19th century are of course all interesting and worthy of discussion," to which he graciously informed me: "Wrong! Dead wrong, actually! Piano music is much more important, and much more influential than, guitar music! You can twist your head as much as you want, this is a fact!"

I would like to open this up to a wider discussion to see if Florestan's indisputable fact can indeed be disputed. :)

(to be fair, I wasn't talking solely about repertoire, but Florestan brought up the topic of the repertoire itself as being more important)
« Last Edit: May 17, 2018, 05:28:40 PM by jessop »

Offline Mirror Image

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Looking back to an interesting and enlightening conversation I had with our dear friend Florestan I once said to him: "Neither piano nor guitar is more important than the other, and therefore the developments and people associated with them in the 19th century are of course all interesting and worthy of discussion," to which he graciously informed me: "Wrong! Dead wrong, actually! Piano music is much more important, and much more influential than, guitar music! You can twist your head as much as you want, this is a fact!"

I would like to open this up to a wider discussion to see if Florestan's indisputable fact can indeed be disputed. :)

(to be fair, I wasn't talking solely about repertoire, but Florestan brought up the topic of the repertoire itself as being more important)

Well, I can kind of see Florestan’s point: look at all the composers who wrote for the piano versus the guitar. I’m not about to make the declamatory statement of one is more ‘important’ than the other, but it seems all of my favorite composers (w/ a few notable exceptions) all wrote piano music and didn’t write one single piece for the guitar. So much of the classical guitar repertoire is attributed to Spanish composers anyway. Composers like Debussy, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Mozart, Bartók, Brahms, and so many others had no interest in guitar music. The guitar is a wonderful instrument (I’ve been playing this instrument for the last 24 years), but I won’t lie and say that I seldom listen to guitar music and actually prefer the piano (and so many other instruments) to the guitar. I suppose that’s why I felt the need to explore electric guitar and the use of effects to somehow emulate other instruments. Anyway, just my own two cents.
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ComposerOfAvantGarde

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Well, I can kind of see Florestan’s point: look at all the composers who wrote for the piano versus the guitar. I’m not about to make the declamatory statement of one is more ‘important’ than the other, but it seems all of my favorite composers (w/ a few notable exceptions) all wrote piano music and didn’t write one single piece for the guitar. So much of the classical guitar repertoire is attributed to Spanish composers anyway. Composers like Debussy, Stravinsky, Beethoven, Mozart, Bartók, Brahms, and so many others had no interest in guitar music. The guitar is a wonderful instrument (I’ve been playing this instrument for the last 24 years), but I won’t lie and say that I seldom listen to guitar music and actually prefer the piano (and so many other instruments) to the guitar. I suppose that’s why I felt the need to explore electric guitar and the use of effects to somehow emulate other instruments. Anyway, just my own two cents.

Very true, however I would still say that the guitar has influenced music generally to a great degree (not limited to classical) just as piano has in a different way.

Offline amw

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Certainly during the 19th/early 20th centuries, when classical music served the purposes of the middle class, middle-class people were more likely to have a piano in their house than a guitar. Nowadays it's the reverse, but also classical music no longer is useful or interesting to the middle class.

I think also even in the 19th century (and earlier) the guitar was more associated with popular music than classical music, and much popular music from the era has not survived to the present day.

None of this means piano music is "more important", only that we have more of it that has come down to us from history.

Offline Crudblud

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Canonically the keyboard family has attained far greater proximity to universality for the Western tradition of classical music, the guitar is far more a specialist instrument with a repertoire that is largely self-contained. In popular music, so far as universality is concerned, it is close to the opposite. Being a guitar player who started in rock music, I am well aware however that the wellspring of universality for the guitar in popular music lies in the ease with which one can memorise a stock of chords and perhaps a lead line or two—even "advanced" techniques of electric lead guitar can with daily practice be honed to a good standard in the space of a year or two of first picking up the instrument—and have that suffice for the creation of music which, by and large, will serve as a mere vehicle for lyrics. As an added bonus you can stand up while you play, unleashing your full expressive capability as you pout and do a few moves to the beat. In other words, it is not universal because it is versatile—it is versatile, but had you been exposed only to popular music, likely you would not know as much—but because it is easy to play sufficiently for popular applications. Both are greatly important to different musical traditions for very different reasons.

Baron Scarpia

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The capabilities of the guitar are extremely limited compared with the piano. It has a range of only 3 1/2 octaves with weak bass, it can only sound a maximum of 6 notes at once, the combinations of notes are severely restricted by the possible positions of the left hand on the fret-board. Counterpoint is almost impossible. There is simply no comparison between the capabilities of the two instruments. The main advantage of the guitar is that it can be played at a basic level with almost no skill and instruction.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2018, 07:37:41 AM by Baron Scarpia »

Offline Florestan

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I disown the formulation (and apologize) but I stand by the idea: while guitar is a wonderful instrument for which wonderful music has been written, when it comes to the development of classical music and the influence particular instruments had on it the piano is from another galaxy. That's why I say you can't compare Chopin to Mertz or Regondi, or rather you can but only at the level of the supreme technical and expressive mastery of their instruments; otherwise, the influence the former had on subsequent composers is huge and can hardly be overstated, while the latter two, for all their wonderful music (I have two discs worth of Mertz), are negligible with respect to influence.
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Offline aleazk

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The only advantage of guitar over piano is that you can put it in a case and travel comfortably with it in your back. That and its modest capability at polyphony (chords of more than two notes, a melody accompanied with a simple bass line,...) is the only reason why that ugly instrument got some popularity. As for driving music revolutions, call me when you can conceive and play something like Ravel's Jeux d'eau with it, or Ligeti's etudes...

ComposerOfAvantGarde

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Canonically the keyboard family has attained far greater proximity to universality for the Western tradition of classical music, the guitar is far more a specialist instrument with a repertoire that is largely self-contained. In popular music, so far as universality is concerned, it is close to the opposite. Being a guitar player who started in rock music, I am well aware however that the wellspring of universality for the guitar in popular music lies in the ease with which one can memorise a stock of chords and perhaps a lead line or two—even "advanced" techniques of electric lead guitar can with daily practice be honed to a good standard in the space of a year or two of first picking up the instrument—and have that suffice for the creation of music which, by and large, will serve as a mere vehicle for lyrics. As an added bonus you can stand up while you play, unleashing your full expressive capability as you pout and do a few moves to the beat. In other words, it is not universal because it is versatile—it is versatile, but had you been exposed only to popular music, likely you would not know as much—but because it is easy to play sufficiently for popular applications. Both are greatly important to different musical traditions for very different reasons.

This seems like it makes the most sense to me. Perhaps western classical music has been so preoccupied with textures that have always been more suited to keyboard instruments, whereas the accessibility of guitar has lent itself more to popular genres.

Offline Madiel

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Instruments (1) don't all come from the same culture and (2) don't all occupy the same place in culture.

I particularly like amw's observation. The place that the guitar now occupies in music is very different. But then the culture is different. The piano was king in a time and place when/where people sat down in drawing rooms to listen to music. Guitars are far better for outdoors, wandering the streets etc.
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ComposerOfAvantGarde

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I disown the formulation (and apologize) but I stand by the idea: while guitar is a wonderful instrument for which wonderful music has been written, when it comes to the development of classical music and the influence particular instruments had on it the piano is from another galaxy. That's why I say you can't compare Chopin to Mertz or Regondi, or rather you can but only at the level of the supreme technical and expressive mastery of their instruments; otherwise, the influence the former had on subsequent composers is huge and can hardly be overstated, while the latter two, for all their wonderful music (I have two discs worth of Mertz), are negligible with respect to influence.

Bringing it back to the old discussion, I would say that we agree that the technical and expressive mastery of each composer for piano and guitar in the 19th century made a comparable mark on technical and expressive mastery for their respective instruments. I would go further to say that in some ways they also may have influenced the build of their respective instruments as well, as piano did undergo many changes (as did guitar) in the 19th century. Perhaps guitar in the 20th century underwent even more changes when it had to accommodate to an increase in concert hall/recital repertoire and many more popular music styles.

Offline XB-70 Valkyrie

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Objectively, I think we would all have to admit that the pipe organ blows them all away, at very least in terms of range and power and tonal and expressive versatility. In terms of importance to the history of Western music, I would also agree that the piano is arguably more important than the guitar (and most other instruments), when you consider the repertoire (e.g., Beethoven sonatas, Haydn, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Schumann, Schubert, Debussy, Bartok, etc.). However, I wonder whether there is an argument to be made that the pipe organ is even more important than the piano in this respect. When you consider that it is a far older instrument with centuries of repertoire more than the modern piano, I think there is a possible argument there--maybe not.

None of this is to say that one is BETTER than the other. I play the piano, but have no axes to grind about its importance--and if I had to start over, I would very likely choose the pipe organ/harpsichord instead. Personally, the guitar as a classical instrument does very little for me. As a jazz and pop instrument (ethnic music, Flamenco, etc), I find it much more appealing.
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Baron Scarpia

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Objectively, I think we would all have to admit that the pipe organ blows them all away, at very least in terms of range and power and tonal and expressive versatility.

I wouldn't say that.

Offline Mirror Image

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Objectively, I think we would all have to admit that the pipe organ blows them all away, at very least in terms of range and power and tonal and expressive versatility.

I couldn’t disagree more.
“I really would like to go to Marmorkirken. It was there that I heard music for the first time, and that experience is like a heavenly vision for me.” - Rued Langgaard

Offline Mahlerian

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Objectively, I think we would all have to admit that the pipe organ blows them all away, at very least in terms of range and power and tonal and expressive versatility.

Range and power, sure, though it comes across as weaker in recordings than in person.  Its expressive versatility is limited by the fact that attacks can't be varied in the way that they can with a piano or with any wind or string instrument, although there is a certain control over timbre.
"l do not consider my music as atonal, but rather as non-tonal. I feel the unity of all keys. Atonal music by modern composers admits of no key at all, no feeling of any definite center." - Arnold Schoenberg

Online Mandryka

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  the fact that attacks can't be varied

Can someone who plays (maybe Mahlerian) confirm this is right? That's to say, does the way (speed) the organist strikes the keys have an effect on how the wind enters the pipes, and hence the sound of the start of the notes?
« Last Edit: May 26, 2018, 06:56:42 AM by Mandryka »
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Online Mandryka

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In my opinion the symphony orchestra is an instrument . . .
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Offline Mahlerian

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Can someone who plays (maybe Mahlerian) confirm this is right? That's to say, does the way (speed) the organist strikes the keys have an effect on how the wind enters the pipes, and hence the sound of the start of the notes?

I don't play (though I've touched the keys a few times), but see this page for info on what an organ can and can't do to alter attack:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expression_pedal

I should say that bellows organs like the harmonium are more amenable to differentiated attacks than the pipe organ is, though in both cases the differentiation is provided by a modulation of the sound rather than an alteration in the manner of attack from the player's perspective.
« Last Edit: May 26, 2018, 07:13:08 AM by Mahlerian »
"l do not consider my music as atonal, but rather as non-tonal. I feel the unity of all keys. Atonal music by modern composers admits of no key at all, no feeling of any definite center." - Arnold Schoenberg

Online Mandryka

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What I don't know is whether the player can effect the transients at the start of the notes, at least on baroque and renaissance organs. I have a feeling that touch has something to do with it  -- the more articulated the touch, the more clearly it chuffs. But I could be wrong. Someone will come along and explain all I'm sure. I just did a quick google of it and came up with this paper, which I haven't read yet.

https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00810933/document
« Last Edit: May 26, 2018, 07:53:10 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline Madiel

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Pipe organs simply don't have the same capacity for expressive nuance of many other instruments.

Yes, you can change the timbre and the registers. What you cannot do is change things between each and every note.
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