I am amazed again and again how the mastery of successive minute technical details releases floods of spiritual understanding. This must be particularly true of Beethoven, and of this work which demands such daemonic dexterity.|
In every vocal convulsion some truth is struggling to be born. In every avoidance or diversion of the “natural” (which downgrades so quickly from
At every instance wherein we achieve this exact balance, or that unequivocal intonation, or yea rhythmic meshing, or an absolute precision of enunciation, or an unassailable propriety of vocal color the miracle happens—the Flesh is made Word, and dwells among us. We put in muscle and blood and brains and breath—and out comes a holy spirit.
Concerning Missa Solemnis, May 16, 1972
Our tenors are adolescent. Our altos have not passed puberty. Our sopranos trip their dainty ballet of coloratura decorum, and our basses woof their wittle gway woofs all the way home ... Get your backs and bellies into it! You can’t sing Beethoven from the neck up—you’ll bleed! Beethoven is not precious. He’s prodigal as hell. He tramples all over nicety. He’s ugly, heroic; he roars, he lusts after beauty, he rages after nobility. Be ye not temperate!
Concerning Beethoven’s Ninth
...We have a right to expect and demand of ourselves not flawless performance but humanly great performance. Music has finally to issue in sound; and the sound has no meaning unless it is the voice of the spirit. The only crescendo of importance is the crescendo of the human heart.
The grammar of music is essential, and those of us who would be musicians are obligated to become experts in its manipulation; but the meanings of notation, of marks of dynamics and tempo, are not limited to their dictionary equivalents. They are frail and meagre and hopeful suggestions to the human spirit to respond to the “why?” behind the symbol.
We’ve worked hard on musical disciplines. They aren’t good enough. They never are. But all that we have accomplished is worth nothing at all unless it releases the spirit to sing and shout, to laugh and cry, or pray the primitive prayer. I earnestly believe, too, that the spirit—and only the spirit—can guide us to the sound. If hearts hymn, then the sound is illumined.
Letter to Collegiate Chorale, February 12, 1953
I get a horrible picture, from the way you sing, of little bitty eighth notes running like hell all over the place to keep from being stepped on. Millions of ’em! Meek, squeaky little things. No self-respect. Standing in corners, hiding behind doors, ducking into subway stations, peering out from under rugs. Refugees. Dammit, you’re all a bunch of Whole-Note Nazis!
Concerning eighth notes
To be an amateur artist means, I suppose, to be unwilling or unable to set a price upon the effort and love which attends the creation of beauty. When you get right down to it, to be an artist is to be an amateur. One can no more think of being a professional musician than he can of being a professional person. To be an artist is to arrive at some sort of resolution of the mind and matter struggle. It’s a yea to the proposition that there are ideal human values lasting beyond one’s own mortal limits, and that it is a necessary part of being human to seek, enjoy and transmit these values. To be an artist is not the privilege of a few but the necessity of us all.
Letter to Collegiate Chorale, November 5, 1953