Monday, August 11, 2014

Why Play Music by Dead Composers?

Let's pose the question somewhat differently:  Why is music by living composers always* separated from music by dead composers?

Let's assume there is a good reason for this arbitrary programming:  If you, the player, know that just about everyone in the room is hearing the music for the first time, then you are truly in command of their hearing.  Right?

Well, maybe.  Trouble is the modern listener is so used to multiple hearings of the same music that he or she is not likely to recognize the action of listening unless it is to something already heard at least once.  Thus the resistance to new music on the part of so many listeners.

The rest of the question underscores a huge dilemma facing professional music training.  Based, as most of it is, on repetition (etudes, exercises and, alas, repertoire) very few professionals survive with any sense of tone as a living thing, or the perception of tone as fresh within themselves, much less in the form in which they deliver it to the audience.

What one hears, therefore, coming out of countless violins, pianos, etc. is boredom.

That is the reason NOT to play music by dead composers.  Boredom is, in my view, the enemy.  Recognizing it and refusing it in the light of the enormous senses of humor shared by the likes of Ludwig, Wolfgang, Johannes, Joseph, Franz, etc., is the task.

Good luck.

*Not always, thank goodness! When I started Alaria Chamber Ensemble in 1983, and for as long as I was responsible for its programming, we made a point of including in each of each programs music of every period that we knew anything about, Renaissance through contemporary, that was sure to include unfamiliar music of other eras than contemporary.  The result was that members of the audience learned the skill of listening receptively, some even able to take in newly composed works by the likes of Ursula Mamlok (schooled in serial composition).