Monday, October 12, 2009

Western Music's Faces

The readings in Music: A Very Short Introduction this week I thought were particularly interesting. As my last blog entry tipped off, I am very interested in the underlying philosophical themes presented by musical practice. In this regards, there were several items in the readings that I found relevant to my own thoughts.
In chapter 5, toward the end, Cook wrote of the orchestra in something of the terms of a business. Perhaps a corporate structure of management and workers comes to mind. Perhaps an assembly line, with notation as a blueprint, is the dominant image; in any case, the idea of a final product for consumption is dominant—whether or not the product is wanted or needed, it is produced. Another image is important, and that is the more religious image, where art is for art's sake, that a “masterwork” has intrinsic worth separate from its context of creation, as an object that exists. In both images, there is little room for the individual—it is all about what is made, and not about the making and the experiencing.
The idea of authenticity is intriguing—the idea of the pure authenticity of a score and of the pure authenticity of performance. As Cook illustrated, the understanding of authenticity as it has been applied—or has been attempted to be applied to music—is actually impossible. Why, then, try so ardently to achieve authenticity? Because there is a system of beliefs behind the music—beliefs of divine superiority, beliefs of permanence, belief of conforming, upholding, and reaching an ideal.
I find this intriguing, because one cannot escape seeing parallels between the systems of Western art music and Western religion—frankly, I think that this idea of art music is impossible without the Judeo-Christian practices of the West. Take, for example, the theory of evolution—it is extremely uncomfortable for many Western religions, because at its heart is the idea of change, of impermanence, that things weren't always the way they are, and that things won't always be the way they are—that, in fact, it is impossible for things not to change.
In terms of music, what does that mean for the masterpiece? What does that mean for performance practice? What does that mean for the composer's legacy, for the performer's legacy? What does it mean for the future of the art form?

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