Oddly enough, there’s been a great big to-do going on around the web about the Appoggiatura. I suppose folks wanted to use a fancy word for what they are hearing in the music, and the debate is basically whether they used the correct word. First, let’s get a good clear (albeit dry and heartless) definition:
“A dissonant pitch occurring in a strong metrical position and resolving by ascending or descending step to a consonance in a relatively weaker metrical position” (Harvard Dictionary of Music s.v. Appoggiatura).
In my studies I had learned that an Appoggiatura was a dissonant pitch that was approached by leap and resolved by step. Well placed and performed, it sounds like a brief and emotional over-reach whose stepwise resolution is audible before it occurs. Apart from the approach, I think that this jibes well with the Harvard Dic.
Now, these discussions revolve around a story NPR did on Adele and her ability to make us cry. Well, they got the technical definition wrong and produced an apology. It is an interesting debate, if only because someone is paying serious attention to music. Here’s a timely rant about that (with which I completely agree!!!)
Anyway, I’m not really concerned about the musical appoggiatura here, instead, I’ve recently noticed the same expression visually, and it is quite beautiful. “Stay” by Sugarland is a traditional country song, stripped down (visually and aurally) but only to lay bare the sophisticated timbre, color and diction of Jennifer Nettles’ voice. Indeed, if silly terms like “appoggiatura” are all we’ve got to work with, this song’s power is a testament to how much work is yet to be done in melodic analysis. Anyway, give it a watch first and then read on….
Anyway, the part I’m most interested in occurs about 3:00 minutes in at the song’s B section, when visually she breaks down and stops singing (even though the voice in the recording continues.) It is shocking because the synching is so good until that point that when it is disrupted, it distrurbs your sense of the performance’s authenticity, as if for just a second you’ve “caught her” cheating. But then when she collects herself and continues singing, you can almost buy the performance–the “aura” of authenticity returns rather quickly and the fact that she broke down, even adds to it. That break-down, that momentary inability to sing, matches the heart of the expression of an appoggiatura, it is the visual accented dissonance. It is approached by visual leap and resolved by visual step. Check it out, I’ve excerpted the part, I hope folks don’t mind…
It’s nice that the form matches the content, and Nettle is quite the actress. I also like the moment at the end of the B section when she assembles the resovle to look her problem in the face (as shown by turning directly towards us).
I don’t know if the director Shaun Silva knows the term “appoggiatura” but he darn sure knows what it does.