A cadenza, in the musical sense, is a space in the score dedicated to the soloist for an improvisation. Here the composer has explicitly taken a step back to allow the musician at hand a chance to express his or herself. The accompaniment, audience, and conductor turn attention to the soloist’s improvisation and await the indication that the celebrated musician has indeed completed it. It could last two measures; it could last two hours. It could last longer than a congressional filibuster, but everyone’s eyes and ears remain on the soloist until further notice.
A cadenza is not just a black flourish on sheet music; it is a gift from the composer, one of humility, of respect, and of grace. It is not a compositional cop-out. It is an encouragement of individuality. If a cadenza could speak to the musician, it would not say, “it’s your turn” but instead “show us what you’re made of”. And yes, it’s okay to end in a preposition because English is not our hypothetical cadenza’s first language.
This improvisation is more than a bridge from one compositional movement to the next. A cadenza’s wish is for space to be filled in the audience, for ears to be flooded with chocolaty harmonies. It yearns for spectators on the edge of their seats and standing ovations. It calls for lungs to be constantly expelling streams of air and fingers to fly across the keys of a perfectly tuned clarinet. Mostly, the cadenza forces the listener to pause and consider an incomparable experience, while avidly awaiting whatever may come next.
We all have our cadenzas, whether or not we are musicians. We are called to pause, to marvel, to improvise in order to proceed to the next measure with our given accompaniment.
May this be my cadenza, and may you expect everything.