Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Richard Taruskin's Text and Act and Our Musical Presence

Lukáš Olejník

The chapter 19 of Richard Taruskin's book titled Text and Act , Text and Act (identical title), is a concluding chapter of the fourth larger section of the book that comprises the total number of four chapters under the larger title Antiquarian Innocence.

The main purpose of the chapter is to outline chronologically the progress of events that throughout the history led to currently, as Taruskin seems to make an impression, a rather disappointing  situation in which no one is able to appreciate classics anymore.  The discussion of the chapter centers around the four stages that, as he argues, progressively reinforced the final outcome of our musical presence.
The first such stage, according to Taruskin, is the stage of literacy. With the emergence of textual literacy music started to have a physical appearance independent of people who produced it and performed it. Its new ability to persist and prevail by bearing its witness on a page of a mediating piece of a physical substance such as parchment or paper was crucial for perception of those who were to succeed its creators. 
The second stage is the stage of printing. With the invention of typography distribution of music become much easier and cheaper. The new form of a printed book, in fact quite different from a hand-written manuscript,  found its way into libraries of private collectors, supporters, and most importantly musicians themselves. The fact that music took on an appearance of a physical object (item) had a positive impact on the circulation of music.
The third stage had to do with the temporary absorption of classics. The rise of Romanticism brought upon a rapid increase in the popularity of art primarily made for gazing. The prevalent utilitarian purpose of music making characteristic to previous centuries was compromised and music ceased to be something that an average person did. Musicians became creators and their music, being representative of a sovereign form of art, was interpreted as a reflection of their personalities.
The last of the four stages described in the Taruskin’s chapter is the stage of recording.  The beginning of twentieth century marked the start of music’s commercialization associated with technologies. The newly established recording industry fundamentally changed or at least compromised the traditionally established relationship dynamics between the performer and his audience. The initial intention of a composer and performer to make music and have money placed in their hands in exchange for a show has disappeared and has been replaced by selflessness associated with the possibility of an indefinite number of „performances“ to take place by means of a recording.
I believe that it is not Taruskin’s purpose in this chapter to convey a negative portrayal of the phenomena described above. It is beyond dispute, however, that he tries  to establish and defend a view that the history and morality of music has taken a downfall over the course of centuries.

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