Performance Studies

by Dr. Norman Stanfield ~ October 17th, 2011. Filed under: Pop Music Studies.

The Quartet, by Chrisopher Levenson

After the velvet hush
the first chords assail us
gathered in darkness to watch
the intent, horn-rimmed, screwed up
of four foreign, middle-aged gentlemen
consorting maestoso,
bowing and scraping.

Out of the fidget
Brahms slowly emerges
like the Brocken, misty
and far off and under
another name.
Four spotlights, one over each
perfectly preserved specimen
(a 1750 viola, a violin
from 1672)
skewer these aural butterflies
to their sheets, only the frockcoats
and the black forelock of the one
who is not bald (but perspiring)
to follow other rhythms.

By now the mind has wandered
so far from the auditorium
that it takes a whole avalanche
of flurried sound to return us
to darkness and the strings’ predictable
twitter. The lento massage
of rich sound,
plangent agonies over-rehearsed into
monochrome, are barely in time to
dither once more into a final
reverie, and chase it with a frenzied
rush towards silence.

At last they are bowing, the four
earnest musicians, and leaving
allegro for refreshments, ma non troppo,
to our half-lit applause.

From the author’s book of poems entitled Stills (1972) with permission

This insightful poem illuminates a troubling debate in Western Art Music, where the reception of music has become the topic of discussion. It follows a line of inquiry founded partly by Stuart Hall who formulated a Theory of Reception within the confines of Cultural Studies. Now countless musicians and music scholars are following suit by investigating the highly diverse ways that music is received by the listening public, not always to the good.

What began as a blog entry about performativity grew to an unwieldy essay on the topic. Rather than clog up the blog pages with reams of pages, I have decided to added it to my column entitled Music Matters. Please have a look at the discussion, then come back here to add a comment.

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