The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Should your playing slow down or speed up when an audience seems bored?

July 9, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

So there was The Ear, working at home and listening to “The Writer’s Almanac,” which airs weekdays at 1 p.m. on Wisconsin Public Radio.

And famed host Garrison Keillor was quoting composer Gustav Mahler (below) on the occasion of Mahler’s birthday.

Yes, the literary program moved beyond writers to musicians and other artists, scientists and historical events long ago.

Gustav Mahler big

Here is what Keillor (below)  said:

Garrison Keillor

Gustav Mahler, who was a famous and highly respected opera and orchestra conductor as well as a major composer,  said, “If you think you are boring the audience, go slower -– not faster.”

Hmm. Food for thought.

Now, that seems just the opposite of the experience so many of us have during practicing. That’s when slow repetition grinds us down and bores us and makes us long to speed up and hear the music up to tempo as it sounds in a real performance – as if we have already mastered the notes and can turn them into music.

So here is my question:

What do you think Mahler meant by what he said and why did he think playing more slowly works to relieve boredom?

And also: Do you agree with what Mahler said and can you think of a good example where slower is better and can you say why it is better?

The Ear wants to hear, preferably with a YouTube link to a specific performance of a specific work attached, in the COMMENT section.


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