‘Classical Music as Enforced Utopia’

Professor Daniel Leech-Wilkinson (King’s College, London)

Date: Monday 2nd February, 2015

Time: 6.00 p.m.

 Venue: Katherine Brennan Hall,  Royal Irish Academy of Music

In classical music composition, whatever thematic or harmonic conflicts may be engineered along the way there is always resolution: in the end everything turns out for the best. A similar kind of Utopian thinking underlies performance: performers are brought up to see their job as carrying out faithfully their master’s (the composer’s) wishes, to be at the same time brilliant and yet a transparent medium through which the notes pass. The more perfectly they represent the composer as currently conceived, the happier the result. But why should performers not have a critical role to play in re-presenting a score, just as actors and directors are permitted – required even – to find new meanings and new relevance in texts? What does classical music performance tell us about ourselves as musicians that is not complacent or obedient? And what or whom are we obeying, the long dead composer (and what is the ethical basis for that) or a policing system (teachers, examiners, adjudicators, critics, agents, promoters, record producers) that infantilizes us by enforcing an imaginary tradition from childhood to grave? Starting from the evidence of early recordings, showing that composers are in any case misrepresented, this talk will seek to unpick some of the delusions that support classical music practice, and at the same time to open up new possibilities for performers and audiences once the dead hand of the imaginary composer has been removed.