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< Musical Puzzles | Main | Nigel being Nigel >

How to enjoy classical music: Lesson 47

Posted at 10:38 PM on May 20, 2008 by Fred Child

A study from 1992:

Diversity and commonality in music performance: an analysis of timing microstructure in Schumann's "Träumerei".Repp BH. Haskins Laboratories, New Haven, Connecticut 06511-6695.

"This study attempts to characterize the temporal commonalities and differences among distinguished pianists' interpretations of a well-known piece, Robert Schumann's "Träumerei." Intertone onset intervals (IOIs) were measured in 28 recorded performances. These data were subjected to a variety of statistical analyses, including principal components analysis of longer stretches of music and curve fitting to series of IOIs within brief melodic gestures. Global timing patterns reflected the hierarchical grouping structure of the composition, with pronounced ritardandi at the ends of major sections and frequent expressive lengthening of accented tones within melodic gestures. Analysis of local timing patterns, particularly of within-gesture ritardandi, revealed that they often followed a parabolic timing function. The major variation in these patterns can be modeled by families of parabolas with a single degree of freedom. The grouping structure, which prescribes the location of major tempo changes, and the parabolic timing function, which represents a natural manner of executing such changes, seem to be the two major constraints under which pianists are operating. Within these constraints, there is room for much individual variation, and there are always exceptions to the rules. The striking individuality of two legendary pianists, Alfred Cortot and Vladimir Horowitz, is objectively demonstrated here, as is the relative eccentricity of several other artists."

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