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Re: The Bach Choral Dilemma

I higly like and agree with Eliot's elucidations of performance
freedom regards Baroque music, especially the music by JSB. Allow me
to point to an other, and certainly not subordinate factor which
permits divergence of performance interpretations of that music -if
not really good music in general: it is the highly ambiguous nature
of musical structure in general and music by JSB especially. A nice
and unfortunately rather underexposed form of the ambiguity in
question concerns the so called overlap phenomenon. It refers to the
fact that a certain tone (chord, or chord constituent) functions both
as the END of a phrase / theme / motive, and simultaneously as the
BEGINNING of the next phrase etc. Overlap is, to my opinion and
research, not a kind of epiphenomenon in good music, but rather an
ubiquitously present compositorial "construct". One important reason
why this special form of ambiguity -and hence its contribution to
expressive performance freedom among performers- is so abundantly
present in music, at least so in Western tonal music, is the fact
that some tones / chords are equally good to terminate a phrase as to
open a phrase. (For details, see Vos & Pasveer, Perception &
Psychophysics, 2002). The underexposition of ambiguity and its
special manifestation in overlap has probably to do with the
historical fact that 20th century attempted to develop (more or less)
formal models of musical structure, borrowing from Chomskyan
(psycho)linguistics, in which there is no "comfortable" place for
structural ambiguities within conceptualization in terms of
hierarchical tree representations of structure.

Piet G. Vos
section Perception NICI, U. Nijmegen
P.O.Box 9104
6500 HE Nijmegen NL
tel: +31 24 36126 31/20; fax: +31 24 361 60 66; vos@nici.kun.nl
home-page: http://www.nici.kun.nl/~vos

et altissimus humilissimum facere debet