Taking the lead

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My last lesson of the day ended with a discussion of bows. Not being a string player I lack detailed knowledge of the nuances of a bow’s construction but it seemed likely that the tweaks François Tourte made to the bow in the 1780s would have made considerable difference to the sound produced. It struck me during the discussion of the Forty-two studies by Kreutzer that perhaps these studies were written in the wake of such bow developments and perhaps were an attempt to exploit the increased tonal potential the watchmaker Tourte’s bow modifications permitted. Perhaps an obvious thought.

Performer-composers undoubtedly crafted works that were very much a portrait of their technical prowess and as such the repertoire of Rachmaninov, Scriabin and others displayed not only an idiomatic exploitation of the pianoforte but the limits – or possibilities – of their technique. The stretches in some Rachmaninov’s works, and agility demanded of the left hand in Scriabin, demonstrate a concern with keyboard topography more than pitches for pitches sake. Again perhaps an obvious point but for me the origin of sounds is a preoccupation.

The developments in piano manufacture – such as those that allowed greater rapidity in the repetition of notes – allowing the repeated notes in Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso to speak with real bravura on an instrument of quality – must have invited composers to exploit the new potential. Or did composers’ demands on the potentialities of the instrument persuade piano makers to refine the mechanism? It is this reciprocity that fascinates me.

Sibelius Software removes the editorial stress associated with score writing, but what is lost in the process? It is an engagement with the corporeal musician; the physiognomy of which should always dictate the realm of possibility in a composer’s output. But should music be about realisation by a human being? Does this matter in an age where sounds can be reproduced without human ignition?

I might try and catch the Nero and BBC Philharmonic “Dubstep Symphony”. Such an interface between two different genres is exciting. It reveals an attempt to connect a tradition that can be perceived to alienate with one that interacts with an even broader spectrum of the populace. Will this lead to electronics becoming a fixed feature of the institution which is the symphony orchestra, or will dubstep gradually require live players during it’s performance? I’m rather looking forward to finding out.

Admittedly I neglect the demands of programming that must govern the development of so much music – Jenny Doctor’s fascination book on serialism, and Georgina Born’s ethnography of IRCAM reveal the power of those who dictate new music programming. There is indeed a complex web of interactions . Attributing the responsibility of musical developments should be avoided. The collisions of so many variables in the fostering of music’s future should be relished.

I wonder what Tourte would think of his beautiful bow being used to play an electric guitar, or a cymbal…

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