Johannes Goebel’s thoughtful notes gave me some thoughts on the way in which some forms of art have always disappeared. Mozart spent much of his life realizing improvisational concerts that never took shape in written scores. These works remained alive while Mozart lived. When Mozart died, these works died with him.
As we move through time, we lose the traces of worlds that once existed in a central way to different forms of art. In some cases, the importance of these lost worlds is greater than we realize. Consider, for example, the role of improvisation in Mozart’s work. Through improvisation, Mozart shaped a tangible experiential world that played out daily through the duration of his life, vanishing when he died in a way that must surely influence anyone who thinks deeply on Mozart’s music. Karl Barth evokes the sense of this world: “… the number of Mozart’s preserved works is enormous. But probably even great is the number of all those works of which we are deprived and destined to remain so. We know that at all periods of his life he loved to improvise, i.e., to freely create and play for himself with in public concerts or hours on end to only as small audience. What he did this way was not written down – a whole Mozartean world that sounded once and then faded away forever.” What we hear is Mozart’s legacy, his nachlass, and his remains. The living Mozart shaped his music in daily practice. This was not the “practice” of practicing scales or the practice of realizing a written composition. Rather, it is practice as an expert physician practices medicine or a lawyer argues law, practice brought to life in behavior.
The movie Amadeus captures a sense of this experience in the scene where Mozart memorizes Salieri’s March of Welcome on one listening. In the motion picture version of Amadeus, Mozart sits at the piano to work with the music as a potter works with clay. He transforms the tune effortlessly as he thinks and talks, shifting it from a somewhat wooden march into the well-known passage it will become in The Marriage of Figaro. This music emerges and vanishes in experienced time. We will never experience this Mozart for ourselves except in imagined reconstructions.
Even in an age of excellent recordings, we miss the depth of many experiences. One cause is the difficulty of capturing the quality of live presence in even the best recording. When Birgit Nilsson died Anthony Tommasini wrote, “it is almost impossible to convey what it was like to hear her in person. Even her recordings, many of them landmarks in the discography, do not do full justice to her singing. … It was not just the sheer size of her voice that overwhelmed recording studio microphones. It was the almost physical presence of her shimmering sound that made it so distinctive.” The physical presence of Nilsson’s voice was unique. The ability to project a powerful sound through diaphragm control rather than volume meant that she could sing her words clearly to every part of a theater, rising over orchestra and chorus with a charismatic power and subtle musical mastery.
Johannes’s notes captured a crucial issue: we create art, enact, and remember it through the vital medium of culture.
While the problem of maintaining new media works is serious, a central aspect of human existence governs everything we experience: all music ends in silence.
Thanks to Oliver, Johannes, Bronac, Paul, and everyone else for excellent comments and useful thoughts.
Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | Editor-in-Chief | 设计 She Ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation | Published by Elsevier in Cooperation with Tongji University | Launching in 2015
Chair Professor of Design Innovation Studies | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China ||| University Distinguished Professor | Swinburne University of Technology ||| Adjunct Professor | School of Creative Arts | James Cook University | Townsville, Australia
Email [log in to unmask] | Academia http://swinburne.academia.edu/KenFriedman | D&I http://tjdi.tongji.edu.cn