Saturday, June 25, 2016

You Can't Denominate Something as Definitive Without Using the Definite Article

Now, isn't that an interesting problem.  How can a performance designated as "definitive", that is defining what a specific work of music is in its ideal form, be qualified with the indefinite article "a". Something which is "definitive" must be the definition of what it is, there can't be more than one.  To designate something as definitive would require the DEFINITE article.

The only way I can see for that to make any kind of logical sense is if there were more than one "definitive performance" which was identical in every detail which, in live performance or even a recording and editing of a performance is impossible to achieve.  And, as I pointed out, the only time that happens is with a piece of music which exists in its final form, defined as such by the composer, as a recording.  Even a composer who might say that a particular recording of one of their works is "definitive" would likely not do it that way themselves if they performed it again.

As Carl Nielsen died when young Lenny was 13 and, from what I can see, several decades before he ever recorded even one of his works, you're all wet, as always.  I wouldn't say you are the definitive musical meat head but I'd certainly never say that you are a definitive meat head but not because you aren't an adequate approximation of one.

I can say that there could be such a thing of the definitive score of a work, but it would have to be the product, so designated, by its composer and I'm not aware of too many who have done something like that.  And, unless they died, I would bet that they would, eventually, get around to changing a detail or more.

Any performance is definitely NOT definitive the extent to which it departs from or violates the stated intentions of the composer in their own music.  And Lenny was notorious for doing that, especially with scores of dead composers.  Really, you have absolutely no idea what you're talking about.  Read Gunther Schuller, who knew Bernstein, especially before he became a spoiled celebrity when Schuller played horn for some of his performances.

Bernstein, one of the most overrated and adulated conductors of recent times rarely practiced what he preached – a sad fact given his enormous basic natural talent, musical and conductorial/gestural.  In his Joy of Music, he wrote, for example, “perhaps the chief requirement of all is that [the conductor] be humble before the composer;  that he never interpose himself between the music and the audience;  that all his efforts, however strenuous or glamorous, be made in the service of the composer's meaning – the music itself, which, after all, is the whole reason for the conductor's existence” (The Joy of Music, New York, 1954, p. 156).  It is as perfect and beautiful a statement about the art and philosophy of music as can be found.  It is all the more saddening and perplexing that Bernstein rarely followed his own credo.

Gunther Schuller, The Compleat Conductor p. 89

So, you see, Simps, even as you claim otherwise in defense of Lenny Bernstein's celebrity distortions of the score, he, himself, agreed with me, in principle, at least on paper, though not at the podium.

Update:  Simps is making a ridiculous analogy between a musical composition and a stage play as if the media are at all comparable in substance or the exigencies for any given piece to exist were analogous. Proving that as a musician, it's all TV to him.   Classical composition exists within a far tighter range of possible variation than a stage play, that is especially true as what is communicated and what it addresses are so different.  To perform even an opera does, actually, mean you make some stab at performing what the composer wrote, no matter what the idiot director and production designers have cooked up by way of novelty - which can ruin even a brave effort to remain faithful to the intentions of the composer and librettist.

As I pointed out, his hero, Leonard Bernstein, agreed with me, in principle even as he did the career gratifying and composer insulting thing of crapping all over the music to appeal to a more vulgar and ignorant audience - many of whom scribbled garbage about the music as "critics".  There were far, far better conductors of his generation who could have done so much better with the resources that the board of the NYPO gave him.   The difference between a performance that ignores the intent of the composer and one that succeeds in honoring the intent of the composer is great and, as it turns out,  such composers as Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, etc. knew better how to communicate their intentions than the spoiled NY Philarmonic and later Leonard Bernstein.  As I said, he had that right to decide for his own music but he had no right to abuse his fame and position to do it to the music of other composers.  He was hardly the only one but, as Gunther Schuller documented in his vast and minutely detailed and documented study of recorded performances, at every point consulting accurate scores noting the performance instructions of the composer, he ranked up there with the worst of them.   I, somehow, doubt that even Bernstein would have welcomed some other conductor making a botch of his music in a similar way.   I would be curious to know if he ever complained about others abusing his far more modest compositional efforts.

1 comment:

  1. Jumbo shrimp. Chicken fingers. Military intelligence.