"lyrical"- what does it mean in music? - What does the word lyrical mean to you?

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Postby Stretto » Sat Apr 08, 2006 5:51 pm

When it comes to the term "lyrical" in relation to music, what does that really mean?

I hear these statements sometimes like, "his playing is lyrical", "try to play this piece more lyrically", "this is a lyrical piece", "he is a lyrical composer". Or works, for example, Grieg's "Complete Lyric Pieces" for piano. Others throw this term around without going into specifics of what they mean. What exactly is meant when someone says something like, "try to play more lyrically"? - as if one is suppose to automatically know what they mean.

I have a good idea of what it means but can't quite put it into words. Can some others of you explain what it means to you to help me and others understand it in more specific terms? And if someone says, "play more lyrically", how does one exactly go about that?




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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sat Apr 08, 2006 8:44 pm

Funny word, Stretto, isn't it? 'Lyrics' are the words to a song, not the music!

The New Harvard Dictionary of Music defines 'lyrical' as 'melodious', and in voice study a "lyric tenor" or a "lyric soprano" is one with a lighter, less vibrant voice, as opposed to a "dramatic" soprano or tenor.

I've always thought of lyrical playing as a style which emphasizes the melodic line, legato touch, sensitive phrasing, a smooth and connected (rather than percussive) sound, and perhaps the lower degrees of the dynamic spectrum.

Lyric playing is probably what most people mean when they say "he has a nice touch."

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Postby 108-1121887355 » Sun Apr 09, 2006 2:24 pm

I think of it as Cantabile - "singing and playing in a graceful style. full of expression." This if often written in the music, so I am used to explaining it to students. Lyrical, I don't find, Think the meaning is similiar.

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Postby 88keys » Sun Apr 09, 2006 8:41 pm

Wow - lyrical is something that is so hard to put into words. It's almost easier to demonstrate. I really prefer to hear what I consider to be a lyrical style. I like "clean" playing without lots of clutter. (like I said - hard to put into words! lol)
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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Mon Apr 10, 2006 7:55 am

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:The New Harvard Dictionary of Music defines 'lyrical' as 'melodious', and in voice study a "lyric tenor" or a "lyric soprano" is one with a lighter, less vibrant voice, as opposed to a "dramatic" soprano or tenor.

I've always thought of lyrical playing as a style which emphasizes the melodic line, legato touch, sensitive phrasing, a smooth and connected (rather than percussive) sound, and perhaps the lower degrees of the dynamic spectrum.

This seems to me to be an excellent explanation, Dr. Leland. It brings to mind a question: How does the description "lyrical" differ from the direction "cantabile" (singing), which seems to take in a lot of what you said?
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Tue Apr 11, 2006 7:13 am

This discussion of musical terms brings to light a very important point for serious pianists and teachers, namely, that none of these descriptive words have rigid, fixed meanings. Different composers--even of teaching material--have somewhat different ideas of what they mean, and the differences can be really pronounced when you go back into past centuries. We all need to remember that.

'Lyrical' isn't much of a problem; most people have a pretty good idea that it refers generally to a singing, legato approach that tends to avoid being excessively loud--but what about a term like 'andante'? This word has been a historical problem child in the classical literature. The Harvard Dictionary defines it as a kind of "walking tempo" that is positioned somewhere between the slow and fast tempos such as 'adagio' and 'allegretto'. But the hitch comes when it gets modified: "piu andante", "meno andante", or "andantino". (Beethoven once wrote to his publisher that 'andantino' could mean either slower or faster than 'andante'--figure that out!)

The only thing to do is to get as familiar as possible with a composer's style and how he uses terms (Beethoven confuses things even further by switching back and forth between German and Italian). "Fuer Elise" has always bothered me, because what seems a comfortable tempo for the main theme sounds too fast when the 32nd notes show up. Ah, me!! The trials of a musician in an age of technological exactitude!!

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Postby 97-1128742375 » Thu May 04, 2006 2:37 pm

making something lyrical is (to me) taking it, shaping the tone and the melody, using your wrist, and making it sound like a singing voice.
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