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World of Music

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World of Music

As a bit of a footnote to our recent discussion: I decided to re-read Taruskin's Oxford History and the introduction, titled "The History of What?" is a brilliant discussion of the methodology. In fact, he comes down in favor of Maury's recent point about the basic division in music being between formal and informal though he describes it as literate and either pre-literate or post-literate--where we are going currently. But he is speaking as a historian and I have a slightly different perspective. He is good at teasing out the left over elements of German Romanticism and rejecting them, but he also takes a run at the pretensions of Adorno and does an excellent job of unveiling the cop-out that comes with avoiding agency. It is always composers, musicians and audiences that cause things to happen, not vague Hegelian forces. What I found most fascinating was his mention of Howard Becker whose book Art Worlds takes an approach close to mine:

An "art world" as Becker conceives it, is the ensemble of agents and social relations that it takes to produce works of art (or maintain artistic activity) in various media. To study art worlds is to study processes of collective action and mediation, the very things that are most often missing in conventional musical historiography. [op. cit. p. xx]

For an absolutely stunning example of that you could not do better than to read Taruskin's discussion of how Stravinsky's Rite of Spring came to be.

The one thing that I find crucially important that Taruskin carefully avoids, is mention of aesthetic quality, though he does talk a lot about the related concept of taste. Aesthetics has been the weird cousin of philosophy for a long time now, but it is pretty important. I was a performer and am now, sort of, a composer, and in those two roles, what you are aiming for is aesthetic quality. So your perspective is very different from that of a historian.

Of course, what I should be doing is composing and not talking about it!

 For an unusual envoi, here is a mixed concert of chamber music played by Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski and friends streamed from Wigmore Hall this morning:



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