Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Significance of Extra-musical Documentation

We all have our pet issues, don't we? My perennial sermon seems to be the inadvisability of imposing too much "text" on musical compositions. A recent statement in "The Gramophone" by Michael Tanner addresses this problem, with particular regard to a certain Slavic composer:

It's hoped that endless scrutiny of documents will tell us which movements are ironic, which victories that his symphonies apparently achieve are designedly pyrrhic, tell us, in fact, what the music itself fails to achieve.

Now, this is not to say that I necessarily agree with Mr. Tanner's complete view of the composer in question, but that last phrase deftly illustrates the hazards I see in applying too much extra-musical information, i.e., knowledge that does not proceed from the music itself. Do we fall into the trap of believing that a work is significant because we are told so, or because, after hearing it, we perceive it to be so? This blog entry is not meant to be an assessment of Shostakovich, and I am not at all certain I agree with Mr. Tanner's larger assessment [see "The Gramophone," July 2006 issue]. But, as always, there are larger points to be made, and greater concepts to be realized.

1 comment:

MaLj said...

I am trying to figure out how to link blog posts to each other, since I remembered this text by MWM with the same topic on "Beyond Good And Atonal", but I can't understand it yet, so here is a simple link as a comment