Musical Performance

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Musical Performance


the execution of a work of music by any of several means; a type of artistic creation. A musical work existing in notation is actually embodied in sound only through a musical performance. Thus, the performer is the necessary intermediary between the composer and the listener.

Musical performances may be vocal, instrumental, or a combination of vocal and instrumental. Operatic art is included among the mixed types of performance. However, operatic soloists are actors as well as musicians, and decorative art also plays an important role in opera. Depending on the number of performers, musical performances are classified as solo (one performer) or group performances (several performers). A group performance may be given by either a chamber ensemble (for example, a trio or quartet), in which the musicians play parts of relatively equal importance, or a symphony orchestra or choir, usually under the direction of a conductor or choirmaster who executes a plan of performance with the participation of the other musicians.

Many of the suggestions for performance of a work (for example, tempo and dynamics) are relative, and within certain limits, they may be executed in different ways. Consequently, the goal of a musical performance is not simply an exact execution of the composition as written but the fullest possible realization of the composer’s intentions. Of great importance to the performer in attaining a deeper understanding of the content of a particular work is the study of the period in which the composer lived and of his aesthetic views. While each performer reveals the composer’s conception of a particular work, he also inevitably brings to the performance his own approach, which is conditioned by both his personal qualities and the prevailing aesthetic views of his time. Thus, every performance is also the performer’s commentary on the work—his interpretation. Under the influence of aesthetic views as well as the social milieu and ideology, a musical performance incorporates various styles that are analogous to the styles that condition the creative work of composers. Until recent times, past styles of performance could be studied only on the basis of the statements of contemporaries of the performers, as well as through their reflection in adaptations and transcriptions made by the performers themselves. The situation changed with the invention of sound recording at the turn of the 20th century, and today it is possible to compare the treatment of the same composition by various performers by listening to recordings of their performances.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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