A musician’s score can be compared to an actor’s script: it provides the framework for a performance, but can only hint at details such as tone of voice, facial expression, or timing. This is where the actor’s imagination and artistry come in, filling in the gaps inherent in the written word.
As a string quartet, we must often do the same kind of interpreting of the score – (this is the “unscripted” part!) A ritard (gradual slowing) is indicated, but how much? A dynamic of forte is indicated, but how does one part fit into the balance of the overall group? A staccato marking is written above a note, but how short/percussive/off the string does this really mean?
What a benefit it would be to have recourse to the author of the script, or the composer of the score! Many times we are denied the possibility, as the composer has long been laid to rest, in which case we must do our best to interpret and present the score faithfully, accurately and artistically. In the case of scores with few or very “open-ended” markings, the conclusions we reach are often an educated guess as to the composer’s intent.
Working on the string quartets of Amy Wurtz for our upcoming performance and recording, we had just such an opportunity.
It was magnificent not only to be able to ask Amy specific questions about the score, but also to play for her directly and to hear feedback on how we were doing at matching what she had in mind for the pieces.
Amy provided us with valuable comments about balance, timing, and tempo, among other matters. At times she reassured us of how we played a certain passage, encouraging us to continue in that direction. And she even changed some things on the spot, re-writing them based on what she heard live.
This experience has been invaluable not only with regard to performing the works of Amy Wurtz, but it will inform our interpretation process in the future. It is a process of continually searching for what is authentic not only to what the composer intended but also for what we know as artists to be meaningful and effective.