September, 2019


REVELATION AND THE PIANO: OUR POINT OF DEPARTURE

Words from our lecturer in residence,

FRANK COOPER

 

In the realm of the Beautiful, genius alone is the authority. Dualism disappears, and the concepts of authority and liberty are restored to their original identity.  Manzoni, in expressing genius as ‘a greater borrowing from God,’ has eloquently expressed this truth.”  Franz Liszt, writing to Wilhelm von Lenz on December 2, 1852

Liszt’s words (taken here from Sam Morgenstern’s Composers on Music) speak directly to central issues affecting the understanding of idea underlying musical interpretation – issues of such magnitude that most of us seldom consider them.  We find ourselves challenged discomfortingly by comparisons of earthly genius with some celestial ultimate. Practical musicians as well as listeners shy away from discussing authority and freedom in such contexts.  Paralysis of a kind sets in to stymie our thoughts about such matters.

Natural to musicians in Liszt’s day, this sort of thought has become so contrary and so pervasive in our time that musical perception at large has changed.  It is ironic. Our comparatively recently launched search for truth in music via so-called urtexts, our mid-20th century academic focus on serialism, and our acceptance of the artificial perfection of heavily edited recordings – all have led us into the realms of the quantifiably objective and away from those of the expressively qualitative. In the resulting confusion, we have come to believe that the former automatically includes the latter.

Composers fell into this trap as did teachers, performers, critics, even ordinary listeners.  Our loss of touch with the idea of transcendence has cost us mightily.  Works of music became artifacts for exhibition, carefully prepared, artificially lighted, sterile.  Public performances could be likened to detached museological experiences with the minutiae of scores occupying the attention more than the feelings.  Attendance at live concerts and recitals resulted in such unmoving, unmemorable experiences of what ought to have been extraordinary and indelible that we find it rewarding to remain piously comfortable at home in the company of our sound systems, secure in our isolation from others and reassured by the predictable sameness of recordings made piecemeal in studios.  For a while, the impersonal has triumphed.  But collaborative efforts by large record companies, concert managements, international music competitions, and presenting organizations to manufacture careers for the market have contributed to the growing ills of depersonalized sameness and interchangeability.  Music schools contributed, too, with the production of stamped-out, blind replicas – people whose training made it impossible for them to see beyond the notes and into people’s souls.

The vital connection between music and emotions has been weakened by misdirected composers and performers and a manipulative industry. If we do not re-establish contact with the former spirit of authoritative music making, we risk losing a life-deepening, vast heritage.

“Dry ink on a white page,” writes Kenneth Drake in his The Beethoven Sonatas and the Creative Experience,” is the only trace of the ideas that swept through the composer’s mind.”  He compares looking at a score to “reading the road signs beside dry creek beds in the American Southwest that warn of swollen streams.”  The player must know what the signs mean.  Perception of intent is crucial to interpretation – not just of Beethoven’s works but of all music, especially by great composers.  If the player’s search reveals the idea which the ink symbolizes, then “the result is a oneness with the music that confers upon the player a new, spiritual identity.” Having grasped a composer’s thought and passed it through such fantasy as is his, the interpreter becomes the medium through which works of musical art reach us as experiences of the spirit – particularly when heard in public under the hands of appropriately equipped artists.

The performers presented in these Festivals are, we believe, standard bearers to the cause of this sort of music making, artists of spontaneity and power whose recitals propose alternatives to the usual, the ordinary, the humdrum, the interchangeable.  We stand behind their right to treat the dry ink of scores to imaginative re-creations – colored by their personal grasp of inner meanings and projected by an intense desire to communicate with us beyond the footlights.  May you find the experience of hearing them as exciting as we have in discovering them for you.

 

Frank Cooper, Festival Advisor

Research Professor Emeritus – Musicology

University of Miami