Monday, November 14, 2011

Spontaneous conduction (BBC News)

I thank P.D. for passing on this link from BBC News about what is effectively a form of "jazz chironomy" (one wonders if the conductor has heard of the ancient or medieval forms). It is a fascinating concept and much is conveyed by it - certainly showing just how much ancient chironomy could have done if desired. Yet the rejection of a preconceived melody and of a fixed tonality makes the results (on the video) mostly unpleasant to me. My first reaction was, "You couldn't pay me enough to play in that ensemble and I certainly wouldn't applaud by the end of the concert. In fact it might take heavy chains to restrain me from going up and expressing what an exercise in futility the whole thing was in the end."

The purpose of ancient chironomy was not to encourage improvisation, but to preserve sacred tradition. To do that it had to have fixed melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and tonal norms. Beyond that improvisation might indeed have a role - yet still under conventions, as with the famous musical ficta so long prominent in Western music. But it seems that the eternal battle between Apollo and Dionysius (as some have put it) - between the approach of the born classicist and the born improviser - is far from finished.

On second thought, that dichotomy is likely a false one anyway. There are four human temperaments and each likely has an overall approach to music, of which Apollo and Dionysius represent just two. What makes Suzanne Haik-Vantoura's discovery so marvelous in part is that it balances all four temperamental perspectives: not too much freedom, not too much rigidity, not too much sentimentality and not too much stability. Here we have freedom and sentimentality exercised at the expense of rigidity and stability - in keeping with the natural strengths and weaknesses of the composer as they appear on camera, to the eye of one trained in personality type theory as I have been these past several years.

- John Wheeler (יוחנן רכב)