PART ONE, THE CELLO
I do not mean to imply that the answering of this question is alone enough to make a good performer out of a poor performer. But surely concerning oneself with this problem and recognizing its overwhelming importance can be of great practical use to many.
In order to convince oneself that idiosyncrasy as well as overdone individualism or a combination of both by the interpreter are not a new phenomenon, one need only study the letters of composers from Mozart up until our own time. Again and again, the same complaints arise about carelessness, misconceptions, and lack of ability. Even Leopold Mozart, father of Wolfgang, in his magnificent Violinschule, in 1756 complains about the irresponsible teachers and the vain players who want to be alone in the limelight and completely forget the composition. It is sad to realize that nothing has changed in the two centuries since Mozart.
I used the term "interpretation technique" earlier, and I would like to discuss it more fully. Usually the concepts of technique and musicality are played against one another-a player is characterized as a mere technician, but not musical, or else as a good musician, but without technique. Usually the latter is said in praise, as if musicality alone makes the artist, while the term "technician" is an unflattering description meant to disparage the artist. This debate about technique and musicality results in much nonsense and confusion, and what is worse, is aided through amateurism.
How simple it is for the musician who can really do precious little to display an air of authority, in that he boasts about his "musicality," but consciously demeans "technique" as something inferior, possibly even inartistic. Rating musicality above technique is tempting for many performers as well as for the public, because they can then believe that they are in the upper spheres; this justification is used by many players.
Well-intentioned people believe that through such an underestimation of technique, of basic skills, they can concentrate on more fitting goals in music-the spiritual-when in reality they open wide the doors and gates for those who cannot play; they sanction the desecration of music by these bluffers.
How many good artists would be found among the amateurs and in the audience, if the only consideration were the ability to recognize and comprehend the spiritual, the metaphysical, the technique of writing in music. I myself know hundreds of nonmusicians all over the world who are completely at home-as dilettantes-with either orchestra or chamber music literature, or with the instrumental repertoire, and about whom one could maintain that they have grasped the music.
Nothing is easier to answer than the question why they are not also capable of interpreting the pieces. Because they do not have the ability to direct a symphony or to present a concert on some instrument.
It is therefore useless to praise the musician above the technician; the comparison leads to confusion from which only the fakers and bluffers benefit.
There is little interest taken in analyzing or clarifying the word "technique" when speaking of an instrumentalist. This expression is usually employed to mean facility, secure intonation, and mastery over all the different types of bowing. If this is technique, how should one designate the ability to interpret a piece of music; for interpreting does not mean simply playing through a piece quickly but, after one has grasped the spirit of a piece, the important themes, the musical line and structure, then one has the means for presenting the music as one wishes.
I would say that the word "technique" be used to express mastery over the entire mechanism. When one understands that mastery of the mechanism of an instrument makes the real artist as little as does simple comprehension of the music, can then go farther to say that the combination of these two factors is still insufficient. It is the link between mechanism and music which counts, the application of the mechanism to the music: The technique of interpretation.