Thursday, May 14, 2009
The word "repertoire" gets used here often. This is in part due to training in ethnomusicology (see this post), a field in which defining and characterizing a repertoire and its extents and limits is a central concern. But my concern here is more that of a working composer, trying to figure out how my own work fits into "the rep", if at all. From an entirely pragmatic viewpoint (especially with regard to the livelihoods of composers), art music took a seriously wrong turn in the 19th century with the development of the masterpiece ethic, which was perpetuated and extended to to a ridiculous — and sometimes pathological — extent in the 20th century. When the goal became that of making, of each new work, pieces of such import and significance and so conspicuously consumptive of resources for their realization that it becomes all but impossible to perform these works with any real frequency, then one has elevated the work into a Valhalla of special esteem, which certain shows respect for the work, but in doing so has also removed it from everyday music-making with its intimate connections to the normal rhythms of life, the only repertoire that is meaningful to me. It may well be argued that broadcasts and recordings offset this, but I will argue even more strongly that these forms, as marvelous as they can be, are essentially a different experience from live music making, whether private or communal, in realtime and in real physical spaces, and are by no means a substitute. A record shelf (or an iPod playlist) is a collection but not a repertoire.