the channeling musician

I originally had some misgivings about the idea of an online encyclopedia to which everyone contributed. Recently, I heard someone on the radio beating up on Wiki, saying it was only good for things like popular culture.

Then after just a little thinking about how many errors I routinely run across in scholarly publications, I realized that Wiki was just like everything else: let the buyer beware. Let the reader use her brains! Don’t accept it just because it’s in print.


Case in point.

This morning I used three editions of Scarlatti to examine (admitedly belatedly) the sonata I performed Sunday. I now own the complete Longo edition of these works (some 550 pieces in many volumes). I am still playing my way through the first volume and recently ran across one I really like a lot.

So when I knew that I couldn’t do an organ prelude this past Sunday, I scheduled the Scarlatti sonata.

I did mean to look at other editions before performing but then life got complicated and I arrived at the college music library ten minutes too late. Dang.

I did manage to get over there yesterday and checked out the appropriate volume of the Kirkpatrick facsimile edition and the Kenneth Gilbert edition.

This morning as I began looking at the sonata in the three editions, I made the discovery that all three editions differ. The sonata I played is both of the important manuscripts from which most modern editions are derived. Apparently these manuscripts differ. At one point a line is a third higher in one than in the other.

The most important things I need to change about how I play this piece were added editorial by Longo…. reflecting the practice of the time which was to correct the great composers. He put in a tie that doesn’t work at all and is none of the other manuscripts.

Musing on these differences led me in two directions.First how the idea of a definitive version of a piece according to the intention of the composer is an ephemeral concept and probably not that important in most cases. When you add the fact that few performers make it through a piece without messing up something. (I know. I know. There are the perfect performers out there who rarely hit a wrong note or vary a tempo. I think they play this way largely because of the influence of recording on performance practice which causes players to value accuracy over interesting interpretation…. but maybe that’s just because I make so many mistakes myself. Ahem.)

So what is the concept of a piece of music? Is it floating in an ideal way as a shadow in some Platonic music cave? What if music is something you do? If you do it a bit differently what has happened to the music? Is it destroyed?

I had a theory prof at Wayne State who was sure this was the case. Music is not plastic he used to say to be twisted into the various shapes interpreters will.

Maybe he’s right. But for me, I like music so much that it is the doing of it that brings me the most satisfaction. Of course I strive for accuracy, but what I strive most for is to the let music come through me.

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