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1. The Recorded Musical Text Just what is a musical performance? This is a difficult question, one that music scholars have been slow to ask and even slower to answer. We could begin our definition by saying a performance of Western art music transpires with a reading that is more or less normative and executed according to the composer’s instructions. But such a description comes up short because it makes no room for interpretation and variance, leaving Furtwängler ’s view of Beethoven’s Third Symphony much the same as Toscanini’s, for example, while it is those very different approaches that make the “Eroica” the “Eroica,” that make it so enticingly performable in the first place. Drawing on ideas of Edward Said and Peter Kivy, Peter Johnson concludes that performances are important for what they do above and beyond the notated music. The observation has not been widely shared by scholars of Western art music, who, as Nicholas Cook observes, have been so intent on “locating the aesthetic centre of music in the written text”— in other words, on isolating musical invariance—that they have taken little notice of the variance that defines performance.1 Johnson goes further to say that a performance, when heard as an aesthetic whole, in fact embodies “necessary otherness”: it emerges as a function of the score only to the extent that it presents the right pitches at the right time and supplies appropriate articulations and dynamics. Its fidelity to the printed page might well enhance its value qua performance but by no necessity establishes such value.2 I would add that the sounding rendition is “other” in that it can never be wholly comprised or predicted by the inner ear and the mind’s eye: we are rarely surprised by a third or fifth visual, silent reading of a printed score in any circumstances, but acoustic happenstance or other unforeseen factors can have a considerable effect when we hear the same 27 score in performance. Unanticipated vibrato, variation of tempo, a reverberant performance space, or simply too much coffee are more likely to change our impressions of a work than would irregularities of paper, ink, or notation in a score. If these thoughts get us a bit closer to understanding musical performance , the even more vexing questions remain: Just what is a recording, and what is its relationship to the performance it contains? Is it a transparent vehicle, or a medium that recontextualizes or even transforms performance ? Does it work for or against performers’ concerns, or is it a neutral conduit for interpretive thought? In the next chapter, we will address the fate of a performance’s “necessary otherness” when that particular foreignness can be repeated—and therefore familiarized—ad infinitum. In this chapter, I address performance of art music as a phenomenon unto itself, and one that stands transformed when inscribed into permanency. But there are also important questions to ask regarding the ontological role of recordings vis-à-vis performance: Does the recorded performance supplant the musical work any more or less than the live performance, whether it is understood as a sounding entity (“Menuhin recorded a beautiful Beethoven concerto”) or as a physical or commercial object (“Menuhin’s Beethoven concerto is out of print and getting expensive on eBay”)? Or does the recording have the function of performing the performance? And how useful is the conventional notion of recording as documentation of a particular musical “interpretation,” at least in the basic sense that interpretation involves rendering a thought from one language to another? the recording as work or text? Without referring to recordings, Peter Kivy emphasizes the permanence of art music performance. He does this by describing the musical performance itself as a work, explaining, for example, that Artur Schnabel’s rendition of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata or Rudolf Kempe’s particular actualization of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony is an aesthetic object that endures through time much like the sonata or the symphony itself.3 But how would such a performance-work relate to the composition-work that is being performed? Adopting ideas from Paul Thom, Kivy says that the performance in essence “quotes” the work in an act of musical and declarative assertion. It is because he emphasizes the work aspect of performance that Kivy must invoke quotation rather than interpretation or rendering. The former falls in line with the inviolate character of works in that it entails 28 / The Recorded Musical Text no added...


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