Creativity versus Scholarship

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Creativity versus Scholarship

I referred in another thread to a book I’ve been reading, Real Presences by George Steiner.

A major part of the first essay in the book is concerned with the nature of creativity, and in particular the balance between creativity and criticism, which might be summarised in our case as the balance between music and musicology.

He draws attention to the increasing role of academic research (essentially non-creative) in modern times and asks if this trend has gone too far. Is musicology a barrier to musical creativity?

Beecham famously defined a musicologist as one who can read music but not hear it.  Less wittily, but no less cruelly, Hans Keller, as distinguished a music critic as they come, described all musicology and music criticism as phoney. Steiner himself asks “Whether anything meaningful can be said (or written) about the nature and sense of music.”

Perhaps that is going too far. The balance between creativity and musical knowledge is a difficult thing to assess, of course.  Musicology has opened up to performers and listeners alike a whole realm of earlier music that previously seemed largely intractable. On the other hand there is no doubt that in performance of even the standard repertory the balance has shifted towards the scholarly, and thereby away from the creative. Again, there are gains as well as losses.  The struggle to balance those two aspects can be seen by regular Gramophone readers in the valiant attempts of reviewers to weigh the scholarly against the creative.  Steiner again makes an interesting distinction her between the inventive and the creative. Much scholarly performance practice is not ‘dry’ or dull, but extremely inventive - and yet there can surely be no denying the difference in approach to performance now, compared with only 40 or 50 years ago - and the Gramophone Archive provides fascinating insights into the way the priorities of its reviewers have changed over the years.

Steiner again:

More than any other act of intelligibility and executive form, music entails differentiations between that which can be understood, this is to say, paraphrased [i.e. studied; musicology], and that which can be thought and lived in categories which are, rigorously considered, transcendent to such understanding [i.e. creativity].

Have we moved too far from creativity towards the scholarly inventive?

Chris

 

 

 

 

 

Chris A.Gnostic

RE: Creativity versus Scholarship

Chris, if "creativity" applies (normally) to composers and "scholarship" to other than the composers people (including some seasoned listeners perhaps), do we have a problem? Please clarify...

Parla

RE: Creativity versus Scholarship

Sounds like typical Steiner waffle to me. I have no particular axe to grind here, but he is poseur, a charlatan. Quite a lot has been written to expose his rubbish over the years. There was a very good articule in the New Criterion by John Simon, for instance:

But what can you expect from a critic who, in his Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, performed stylistic analysis on a passage from the Russian on the basis of its uses of ‘a’ and ‘the,’ even though Russian has neither the definite nor the indefinite article? Or a scholar, moreover, who in an essay in The Atlantic Monthly settled the vexed ‘Homeric question’ (without knowing Greek): the Iliad and Odyssey are the works of the same poet, the former of his angry youth, the latter of his mellow old age? Or of a fellow (sorry, Extraordinary Fellow, his title at Cambridge University; in Geneva, he is a professor) who published a two-part essay in The Kenyon Review arguing that Robert Graves was an overrated minor poet, but an underrated major prose writer, and cited as evidence, among others, Grave’s two novels about the Argonauts, The Golden Fleece and Hercules, My Shipmate – without realizing that they were the same novel under its British and American titles? And when a reader wrote in pointing out this and other comparable errors, Steiner’s printed rejoinder was not an apology but a string of insults hurled at the hapless correspondent

Anyway........Creativity vs Scholarship?

A false dichotomy, surely. 

Can you be more specific about the so-called "different" approach from 50 years ago? Are you saying performers were more creative then? And are you saying that they were more creative BECAUSE they were less scholarly?

More generally, are you saying that scholarship somehow inhibits creativity? Acts against it? Destroys it?

I am also a little confused by the sudden appearance of the word "inventive" which is then distinguished from "creativity". What distinction is this?

Anyone else around?

Anyone else around?

 

What happened to all the replies??? They seem to have been deleted......

Hello again to all fellow

Hello again to all fellow participants of this very dysfunctional forum. A few months ago I was about to answer your post, Chris, when we were all sent home.

"there is no doubt that in performance of even the standard repertory the balance has shifted towards the scholarly, and thereby away from the creative"

Let me pick up this simple statement as it seems to summarise the whole (false, in my view) premise.

When I say that the statement is false what I mean is that it is logically incorrect, faulty -or to agree with Fasolt, a false dichotomy.

To illustrate what I am saying let me give a couple of examples:

-If a Mozart's symphony is interpreted with a reduced orchestra and "original" instruments, this does not negate a full/modern orchestra interpretation more than a Karajan/BPO negates an interpretation with reduced orchestra and "original" instruments.

-Or, as we have discussed before: Richter's big forces means no-Kuijken as much as Kuijken means no-Richter.

Why anyone would assume that there is "more creativity" involved in Richter than in Kuijken, Karajan than Gardiner is beyond me. Kuijken is so alien to the use of big forces as Karajn was to use of smaller forces. Actually, we could argued that Kuijken's is an artistic (creative) choice whereas Karajan just didn't' know any better.

There is of course another way to look at it: not looking at individual performances/recordings but at the whole picture, that is, looking at what is actually played in concert halls, what is recorded, etc.

So what we see is that the proliferation of "historically informed" ensembles, orchestras, soloists, etc has not stopped the traditional orchestras and soloist from doing their thing, and so the BPO keeps playing Mozart and so on.

In the era of the "big creativity" (lets say before the sixties) all you could find was: big orchestra, big chorus, modern instruments, constant vibratto, etc, etc. A very dogmatic time, that was.

Chris, where is the loss of creativity?

Welcome back Camaron

Hi Camaron, 

Good to see you back. As you say the Forum is rather dysfunctional but we will soldier on. Hope springs eternal!

I wanted not to delay in welcoming you back but I will have to delay replying to your post for a little while. I'll be back once I've dealt with Mendelssohn and Figaro, and got back into the mood of this thread! 

Chris

 

 

Chris A.Gnostic

Thanks for the welcoming

Thanks for the welcoming chris, and no rush. Hope you get into the mood though: it is a potentially good conversation/discussion to have!

 

 

 

Creativity, Scholarship, the right balance?

Hi Camaron,

I've found it quite difficult getting back into the right frame of mind for this after all these months, but here are a few comments.

First, I think that in looking for a 'pithy' title for the thread I may have gone too far in implying an automatic opposition between creativity and scholarship, or creativity and inventivenes, in some ways a more subtle and more interesting distinction. By overdoing the title I may have provoked a stronger response than otherwise might have been the case.

 

What I think is incontrivertible is that there has been an opening of the floodgates of scholarly research papers, and their consequences (new editions etc.) over the last half-century compared with anything that's gone before, and not only in the field of music. 

To take a couple of examples, just look at the number of new editions of scores of standard repertory from Bach to Bruckner, each new one advertising itself as more Ur- than the previous Urtext. An interesting point that comes from this is the increasing trend to advertise new recordings on the strength of their adherance to the latest text. Now, in part this is a side issue to the main subject but when each new recording in an overcrowded field needs a new USP*, a frequent resort nowadays is to the use of a new performing edition, or new scholarly analysis of the score.  The new Bach Ausgabe is already being re-updated (re-Urtexted).

Look in the latest issue of the Gramophone.  The recording of the month is a new one of the Mozart Requiem. "A new approach to the Requiem we know and love", says the headline.  You guessed it, it's USP is the use of a new edition, but what's new about it is that ..... it goes back to Sussmayr's version that we all knew and loved before the scholars started playing their games! 

Does it matter to the listener, or is it just hype (as per another thread)!  It's interesting that the writer of the Gramophone article (perhaps he didn't write the headline) admits in the text that "the actual difference [of the new edition] as far as the general listener is concerned is likely to be minimal.  ...... To all intents and purposes what is presented here is the Mozart Requiem as it has been known and loved for centuries."

The point that Steiner makes (you don't have to agree with the overall thesis of his book) is that increasingly scholars write not about the music but about the previous research of other scholars and so on (in ever decreasing circles). Perhaps this rang a particular bell for me after the Poppea thread here in this Forum, where the current internecine scholarly discussion of the music is perfectly described by the above.

 

Does it matter?  That's the question. Is there a risk that what a performer can do is circumscribed more than is good for it by scholarly opinion? Is artistic freedom enhanced or limited by such a weight of scholarship?  I remember an interesting comment of Harnoncourt, in an interview about HIP. Asked what the performer should do about the historical evidence he answered; if you feel strongly that a piece of music should be done a particular way, try to see if you can find any historical evidence to support your view. A wonderful answer: it shows at once the weight of scholarship on the performer and the most imaginative way out of it! The interviewer was rather surprised at his answer!

 

Anyway, enough for now!

 

Chris

 

*USP = Unique Selling Point

 

Chris A.Gnostic

Not sure what you mean by

Not sure what you mean by creativity and inventiveness but yes, if you are going to oppose creativity to scholarship you will be called for that, not less because they are different fields and different activities. There is this old reactive prejudice that an HIP musician is little more than a musicologist who happens to half-play an instrument. You would not be alone though, and even such a fine intellectual as Adorno misunderstood the whole thing, I think.

But the question of how historical research and awareness has affected (or is affecting) the interpretation of standard (and not so standard) repertory -and how in turn these new performances have affected our currant tastes- is still a very valid one, and worth investigating.

After that I'm honestly not entirely sure what you are getting at: you seem to be mixing up questions regarding scholarship and historical research with pure marketing (how much whiter than white can the last washing powder in town wash, etc).

But the marketing thing is also interesting to an extent. I hear folk talk about the BPO "sound" vs the VPO  "sound" or the American "sound" etc, and to me this is just echos of marketing from an era before my own, because hey, how many times can you sell Beethoven's Ninth to the same public? What Jane said over at the other thread has obviously lots to do with this.

The thing about scholars writing about what other scholars write is... well as old a scholarship itself, but what might be different now is that it will also happen when the work is directed to the general public, as oppose to other experts within the field. Still I'm not sure why you brought this up in relation with music.

Anyway Chris, as you say enough for now. Time to enjoy the beautiful fields I can see though the window as the train heads south...

Scholarship or Creativity?

I can't help thinking that the overall message to a seemingly overgeneralized topic is that too much 'scholarship' means strict, didactic guidelines while 'creativity' means greater freedom and a sense of danger. 

 

I don't understand how these differences towards interpretation are exclusive of one another. My understanding has always been that the arts, despite which discipline, contains multitudes. 

goofyfoot

Scholarship, Creativity, Inventiveness or?..

I feel goofyfoot sends the right message, at least from a specific perspective.

I learned and still believe that creativity is more associated with the composition (and consequently composers) rather than the interpretation and performers. On the other hand, scholarship is, in one or the other way, related to performers or at least those who support them (production team, managers, labels etc.).

What I learned at an early age was the significant distinction of excellence and brilliance in performances.

In the past, artists of Classical Music tried to create a persona around the performer which, in quite a few cases, enhance the interest and the memory of the audience for their love of known but even unknown works (a Karajan's view on Beethoven, Scarlatti by Horowitz etc.). Nowadays, numerous soloists, conductors, Chamber Ensembles, even Orchestras appear, through the various media (CD, many live concerts, TV, Youtube etc.), almost anywhere. Their main weapons are their excellence in dexterity (I would not call it necessarily virtuosity, since the latter requires a great degree of brilliance) and a good (sometimes) scholarly preparation for their performances.

However, I would not argue that the more than 200-300 CDs appeared weekly worldwide rely pretty much on advertising the revelation of new editions of well-known works. Even if this is the case, most of the seasoned buyers purchase them for the actual result. The last two Mozart's Requiem (on Linn and on RCO live) are brilliant recordings of very vivid and exciting performances regardless of the scholarly approach of the work and, definitely, they are not just "another Mozart Requiem", at least from the perspective I already mentioned.

Finally, collectors of serious interest in specific repertory, works or composers try to get practically any version available, simply and mostly on account of their differences.

Parla

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