Thursday, September 27, 2012

Disclosing a Citation of Busoni

I had a lot of fun yesterday writing a piece for my national site about the new Nonesuch recording The Art of Instrumentation: Homage to Glenn Gould, featuring violinist Gidon Kremer and his Kremerata Baltica chamber orchestra. True, I missed Gould’s birthday by a day; but it is never too late to take on the complexities of Gould’s character while, at the same time, trying to pin down his thoughts about the music he performed. Those efforts led, among other things, to the following sentence:
In the sprit of Ferruccio Busoni’s “Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music,” Gould approached every performance (including his work in recording studios) as an act of rethinking what the composer had done and committed to marks on paper.
I felt a sincere, rather than pedagogical, need to bring Busoni into the picture. After all, Busoni was responsible for some of the more notorious approaches to performing the compositions of Johann Sebastian Bach, at least in his own day; and, while, as far as I have been able to determine, Gould never performed any of Busoni’s transcriptions, he may have embodied Busoni’s spirit more than any other pianist since Busoni himself died.

Now I should be honest and admit that I am currently reading that “Sketch of a New Esthetic of Music.” So it was impossible for me to write about either Gould or Kremer’s project without that text lurking somewhere in my mind. Still, it was a consciousness decision on my part to yank it from the background into the foreground. Therefore, on this site, I feel it would be a good idea to reproduce the specific passage I had in mind when I wrote that above sentence:
Notation, the writing out of compositions, is primarily an ingenious expedient for catching an inspiration, with the purpose of exploiting it later. But notation is to improvisation as the portrait to the living model. It is for the interpreter to resolve the rigidity of the signs into the primitive emotion.
This tells us all we need to know about how and why Busoni was as inventive as he was (even if many would feel destructively so) in approaching Bach; and, as a corollary, it also tells us something about Gould’s inventiveness and about the extent to which Kremer’s project was, in its own way, yet another exercise in inventiveness.

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