Author Topic: The Idea of "Definitive Versions"  (Read 494 times)


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The Idea of "Definitive Versions"
« on: March 09, 2016, 03:41:24 PM »
A score can't be 'definitive' like a performance is definitive, because a score is a written form of recording an idea, and a sound recording is an aural way of recording an idea (performance). Therefore, since music is ultimately manifest as sound, a written score can never be as fully realized and complete as a sound recording, in a performance sense. However, written scores are detailed instructions, so a complex idea involving a hundred musicians is not possible without the score as a set of unchanging instructions, embodying a consistent 'unchanging' musical idea, resulting in a more-or-less consistent result.
 The hesitancy of traditionalists to see any recorded version of, say, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as 'definitive' is based on the mythology of the pre-recording era, when the composer was at the top of the hierarchy, because 'the score as idea' was his, and was the only fixed version which was an essentially unchanging set of instructions and musical ideas. The score was not simply a set of unchanging instructions, though; the score embodies a consistent 'unchanging' musical idea, thus it is a written recording of a musical idea, and in written form it takes on the characteristic of an 'idealized' Platonic musical idea. Thus, the mythology arose of the score (as ideal Platonic idea), as being 'definitive' in that sense, like written scripture. "In the beginning was the word." And the conductor said, "Let there be sound," and there was sound. Classical music hierarchy is: Conductor at top, as "God," with the sacred Platonic idea; then conductor as demi-god, bringing the Word to light, manifesting "God's" will.
 since it is irrelevant to an aural approach to creating music.

 The written score has always been a 'set of instructions,' and still is. If Frank Sinatra used Nelson Riddle's orchestra in a recording session, Riddle's written charts would still be just a 'set of instructions,' but in popular music, they are not revered, or seen as the ultimate goal; the ultimate goal of a Frank Sinatra recording session/performance would be to 'create a definitive recording of a definitive performance.' This, in order to create a 'definitive artifact,' i.e, a record which can be sold and listened to.

 In classical music there are authored musical ideas and aesthetic approaches and styles, such as Beethoven's, which exist in the abstract, as written scores, as potentialities, and also as historic artifacts, like books.

 This Platonic aspect of classical music exists before the performance, and has taken of an aura of 'reverence' among both players and listeners. This hierarchy in classical music still persists in the organization of recordings "by composer," not always by performer.

 In popular music or jazz, which is composed and performed in recording studios from essentially aural ideas, this separation of composer/performer does not exist; as in aurally-transmitted unwritten folk music, the performance is the origin of musical ideas, and in many cases the performer is the 'composer.' John Coltrane performing an extended saxophone solo on "My Favorite Things" is the important creative aspect of jazz, and is most valued, not the song by Rogers and Hammerstein, which is only the vehicle for Coltrane's improvisation. The performer is at the top of the hierarchy.

 There are classical traditionalists who insist that the performer is only a servant of the composer, and should not intrude.

 Oral and aural traditions transmit ideas by ear, and they are stored in 'biological memory,' unwritten. Thus, these sorts of ideas change, and are not consistent. Written scores introduced the idea of authorship, and music which could be more consistent and true to the composer's intent. Plus, we're talking large groups of musicians here, not four or five guys sitting around a fire, or four Beatles in a studio.

 Classical music puts the emphasis on the composer; the performers in an orchestra are employees following instructions in an hierarchy which puts composer and conductor on top, and performers to the lower parts of the pyramid. Classical music, in this regard, is an hierarchy of power which parallels the social power structure, rather than the 'tribe' or individual or jazz group.

 In popular and folk musics, the performer is at the top of the hierarchy; and with the advent of sound recordings, their performances can now have a consistency which rivals the former domination of the written score.

 While not even Schumann himself would have expected, or wanted, every performer of his work to render it in an identical manner, nor would he have wanted them to change, or add notes.

 The point I wish to make is that written scores are more consistent in preserving unchanging ideas than aurally-performed music in the era before sound could be recorded."definitive."

 The Beatles record catalogue is definitive, since they are recorded artifacts. Popular recordings which are conceived and created as 'definitive artifacts' such as Pet Sounds, Beatle albums, etc, are easily seen as 'definitive.'

 Not so in classical; its history, in the era before recording, created a different paradigm, as I have explained.
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