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Tureck Bach Research Foundation
Rosalyn Tureck


Performance as an Art

I believe that the music of a composer is the prime consideration in the varied aspects that performance entails. Difficult as are the gathering together of historical data, concepts, media and performance practices, the structural facets and, deepest of all, the concept that gives rise to a composer's sense of form, structure and sonorities - yet these compose an additional responsibility and work of the performer in every age. If a work of musical art is worth learning and performing then it merits the labour and the passion that is involved in penetrating the vision and structures of the person who created that work.

This means that the composer comes first, the performer second. The performer does not create the composition anew. The performer presents a version of a composition - but it is a pitiful impoverishment of great art to hold that each performer's presentation has its own individual validity - a view that has become fashionable recently. This stance makes no provision for performances that are superficial, puerile, uninformed or idiosyncratic. The argument that a performer creates a composition anew in performance may be interpreted at best as a contemporary interpretation of that work. However, this forces the composition into a localised and dated interpretation, much of which imprisons the original work in a constricted time frame. Great art always reaches beyond such boundaries.

There is no doubt that each interpreter imparts, naturally, his or her perception of a composition to a performance; one cannot and need not deny the existence of the performer. To acknowledge each performer's individuality, or lack of it, is essential. However, a musical composition is a concrete edifice containing myriad facets of structure and interrelationships. These must be perceived and illuminated according to the composer's vision, not to be recomposed or decomposed according to each performer's inclinations.

A performer with scholarship, wide technique and passion may also have a vision. But, in order that a vision of someone else's work may operate with integrity and respect - the least one can expect from an activity that deals with and depends upon someone else's materials, concept, construct and passion - the acknowledgement of all these attributes of the original work of a creative mind and spirit is requisite. Such acknowledgement draws upon the capability to perceive, and the desire to fulfil, that original vision. The wonderfully amazing quality of great interpretation by great performers lies in this fundamental recognition - empathic and/or conscious - of incontrovertible features of a particular musical composition that account for its form, shape and sense of its communicating significance. These are the basic elements, fully respected, including one's matured vision and responses, that produce a totality of integration of creative and recreative art. If such a communion does not take place, a performance is apt to be, more likely than not, a hollow academic exercise, or egocentric and narcissistic display. Great art that is worthy of the name does not emerge from impositions of the latter infantile urges.

Such integration as I have summed up is a kind of marriage with the composition, composer and the era, but one that is not based in the imposition of one's individual will upon another. It is of a kind that respects the individual thought and spirit of the originator, and it also requires a good deal of honest study of one's own style of thought and awareness of cultural responses and expectations of taste and judgement resonating in one's own time. The latter may be virtually alien to those of the original composer, era and work of art; however, study and considerations involving the past and the contemporary can indeed lead to a profound sense of aesthetic identity and intellectual conviction in an all-embracing vision. This synthesis promises inspiration. It must be remembered that inspiration is born of physical and metaphorical perspiration. The communion of labour and inspiration have seldom failed to produce illumination.

Rosalyn Tureck 1998

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