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.
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?