23 March 2007

Music Making Sense

My friend, Rod, sent me an article by Denis Dutton from the NY Times called, "Shoot the Piano Player." (26 Feb 07)

It is about Joyce Hatto, an elderly British pianist who received critical acclaim for the diversity of classical music recordings she made from the 1950s - 1970; in total 120 CDs.

The article says, "Her recordings, CDs made when she was in her late 60s and 70s, are staggering, showing a masterful technique, a preternatural ability to adapt to different styles and a depth of musical insight hardly seen elsewhere."

She once told the Boston Globe, "Our job is to communicate the spiritual content of life as it is presented in the music. Nothing belongs to us; all you can do is pass it along."

She meant this literally, as it became known after her death that her "preternatural ability to adapt to different styles" was the result of stealing the recordings of lesser known musicians and selling them as her own.

The interesting aspect of this escapade is the critical acclaim she received. The lesser known artists remain obscure, even though the critics sang their praises, when they thought it was Joyce, the "prodigy of old age" playing.

Dutton's conclusion discusses how music critics mediate the environment.

I find it an interesting example of how we 'make sense' or 'attach meaning' based on our context.

It supports my belief in the importance of averting this natural tendency by remaining curious and developing a practice of crunching contexts together.

(It also reminds me of how experiences can be designed, of how effects can be created.)

Dutton says,

"Yet the Joyce Hatto episode is a stern reminder of the importance of framing and background in criticism.

Music isn't just about sound; it is about achievement in a larger human sense.

If you think an interpretation is by a 74-year-old pianist at the end of her life, it won't sound quite the same to you as if you think it's by a 24-year-old piano-competition winner who is just starting out.

Beyond all the pretty notes, we want creative engagement and communication from music, we want music to be a bridge to another personality.

Otherwise, we might as well feed Chopin scores into a computer.

This makes instrumental criticism a tricky business.

I'm personally convinced that there is an authentic, objective maturity that I can hear in the later recordings of Rubinstein.

This special quality of his is actually in the music, and is not just subjectively derived from seeing the wrinkles in the old man's face.

But the Joyce Hatto episode shows that our expectations, our knowledge of a back story, can subtly, or perhaps even crudely, affect our aesthetic response."

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home