Saturday, February 27, 2016

To Live For the Words: A Response to the Debate of Story Vs. Style

If you ask most people why they read, they will invariably respond, “I like the stories,” or “to lose myself in a good book,” or even, “to meet interesting characters.” Each one, however, seems to suggest that the essential quality of a book is its story, the escapist factor that would make sitting in isolation for an hour or more an inviting prospect. It’s amusing to think about: reading is staring at marks in a book over and over again, while sitting still, and trying to block out the surrounding world—an almost impossible with 2016 racket. And yet these little marks can make an entire world rise beneath our feet, carrying us to far-away places, or transforming our perspective of the work-a-day world. Each one increases our collective wealth, so we horde them like a treasure-mad dragon, salivating over each bauble, even if we’ve polished it a thousand times.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Musical Authorship--or What If They Didn't Write the Notes?

What does it mean to compose a piece of music? Does it mean that that composer in question personally wrote—and orchestrated—every bar? Or what about a melody he/she composed that is then arranged by others? If a composer leaves a work in fragmentary form, and a second party comes in and completes it, even composing new music, is that piece still by Composer A—or Composer B? Is that really a collaboration, or a completion? In short, what truly constitutes authorship in music? This is a difficult question, particularly in the world of classical music, when works are often completed by students and colleagues, or in the world of film music, where orchestrations are farmed out to studio hands, so the composer can dash off multiple scores at once. While we like the idea of a single composer, often this is hardly the case, and a single piece of music might go through multiple hands over decades and centuries. Consider a piece that survives 300 years and is then “edited” by a musicologist: is that an act of co-composition, particularly if the piece is tailored to appeal to modern audiences? In the same way, what about Mozart;s re-orchestration of Handel’s Messiah for an 18th century audience? Is that a new opus by Mozart? Or when Mahler did the same for Schumann’s symphonies? Similarly, if you quote parts of a piece in your own work—say, Strauss’ Metamorphosen, which quotes  Beethoven’s Eroica—does Beethoven get credit (even if he wouldn’t want it)?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Can Women Order From the Menu of Fiction?

Shortly after the publication of Jane Austen’s novel, Emma (1815), the greatest English writer of the day, the now largely-forgotten Sir Walter Scott, wrote an unexpected review of the work which brought her attention and acclaim. Though he praised the work on the whole, he hastened to add that,

"The author’s knowledge of the world, and the peculiar tact with which she presents characters that the reader cannot fail to recognize, reminds us something of the merits of the Flemish school of painting.  The subjects are not often elegant, and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the reader” (1815).