Friday, December 01, 2006

Pavane pour a Dead Princess

So Professor Dahlman and I were talking about composers who've come to hate their works, like Ravel with his Pavane and Boléro, or Debussy with the Rêverie. She told me Chopin asked one of his relatives--sister perhaps--to burn a bunch of manuscripts after he died, including his Polonaise-fantasy. This would have been a loss (though my friend David would probably disagree). We agreed that composers often aren't the best judges of their work.

Of course, my professor and I both have a healthy respect for the composer's original wishes. She suggested getting an Urtext edition of the Beethoven Sonatas, and I did (and I'm glad--it's so pretty), because in many an edition--my previous one was Schirmer, I believe--you can't tell which dynamics are the composer's and which are the editor's. I can't stand this. I believe (somewhat tentatively) that music is essentially a communication between the composer and his audience, and some third party shouldn't go screwing with that more than need be.

So in light of that, here's a little hypothetical I've thought about. Brahms burnt all his early work--we don't know what we've lost. All the youthful endeavors, the juvenile drafts that would have showed him developing his skill--gone. The result of this is that there is no bad Brahms. Some of it's craggier than others--the piano sonatas and the string quartets have never really achieved popularity--but none of it's actually bad.

So let's say, you found one of his early works, buried in a book at Brahms manor or something. Let's say it's clearly something he would have incinerated if he'd remembered it. Do you save it, or burn it? The tension's obvious: if you respect the wishes of the composer, you burn it.

But it would be invaluable.

I just might burn it. I probably wouldn't. God knows what masterpieces are out there that the composer might wish unwritten. If I had to justify such a move, rationalize rather, I'd probably say that we should trust a composer's musical choices, such as his dynamics, et al, but when it comes to his desired immolation of his own works, we're dealing less with music and more with the symptoms of poor self-esteem or brooding genius, choices we need not respect.

Tough to say what we should do with Bruckner then, whose low self-esteem led him to continually revise his symphonies, altering his musical choices. Seriously, if one of his students would make the least criticism he'd run crying to his office, to fashion his work anew. Luckily, I don't listen to Bruckner's symphonies. (I do recommend the motets though, and his string quintet).

Also, Professor Dahlman said, on her first hearing me playing the Pavane, that my touch was "beautiful." And Professor Dahlman seldom gives compliments--to me, at least. Which of course makes them all the more gratifying on their rare occurence.

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