Monday, February 7, 2011

two musics

There are two musics (at least so I have always thought): the music one listens to, the music one plays. These two musics are two totally different arts, each with its own history, its own sociology, its own aesthetics, its own erotic; the same composer can be minor if you listen to him, tremendous if you play him (even badly)-such is Schumann.

So begins Roland Barthes's short essay Musica Practica (Image, Music, Text, Fontana Press 1977, select. and trans. Stephen Heath, p. 149). He mourns forgotten culture of amateur pianists of classical and romantic era. What he misses is a culture of redundancy, in which the musical experience is physical: "seated at the keyboard or the music stand, the body controls, conducts, co-ordinates, having itself to transcribe what it reads, making sound and meaning, the body as inscriber and not just transmitter, simple receiver. This music has disappeared [....]" Though he acknowledges that the young generations play the guitar, he states "passive, receptive, sound music, is become the music." By "amateur" he doesn't mean those who plays with technical imperfection. He says their is a style that defines amateur. He means those aristocratic amateurs who make music, or at least show their desire to create one on their own. Those pre-Beethoven composers wrote pieces that made those amateurs think, "Oh, maybe I can write something like this, or add some ornaments, or make variations out of it." Such a musical style has "the fetishism of a single element," such as voice or rhythm. (But, wait--I think, today pop plays that role. And I even include minimal, drone music, and some experimental music.) Barthes complains Beethoven made music too difficult. His music has too many meanings, is too total, and no fetishism of a single element: "The body strives to be total, and so the idea of an intimist or familial activity is destroyed.(p. 152)" Beethoven actually wrote some pretty piano sonatas for the small hands, for example 2 sonatas of Op. 49. And I like Op. 49-1 G minor very much (here is Andras Schiff's fine lecture on this piece). Though many children ruin this sonata (I did), actually this is very difficult piece.

What Barthes wants to do is deny the notion of Romantic Beethoven which Beethoven's way of composing is largely responsible for it, and created the passive listeners who listens to professional performances. He suggests a possibility of another Beethoven who wrote music rather for reading (but not for hearing or performing), such as Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, C Major. Barthes argues that reading this score makes the reader feel as if participating its creation.

Though I've never really studied Diabelli Variations, I think I understand what he is trying to say. But, I suggest that, if you want to regain some redundancy, physicality, and creativity, hand copying whatever you are interested in, be it a musical score or a painting, or a writing, is a good way.

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