I have just noted down the following from The Early Music Show presented by Lucie Skeaping, BBC Radio 3, Sunday 21st Feb. 2010.
Introducing a piece by George Teleman (1681-1767) she says... "Actually amateur or domestic music was a really big growth industry in Teleman's Germany and his philosophy was simple... 'A piece that contains witchery in its pages and has many hard passages' he wrote 'is a burden to perform and often causes grimaces. I say that what is easy to play serves everyone, so it is best to stay with that.' Teleman then was clearly (?) a populist and a good businessman too." Lucie Skeaping.
Teleman's own remarks are of great interest and speak for themselves in my opinion. Also, to say that he was 'clearly a populist and a good businessman' felt to me like undermining the emphasis of Teleman's remarks with an assumed insight into unarticulated motives i.e. imagining Teleman to be ONLY motivated by the desire to be popular and to make large amounts of money when we are, in fact, not in a position to know. What is really interesting to us on this page is the presenter's need to disparage Teleman's words by means of the attribution of materialistic motives. Why? It is almost as if the idea of suggesting that music demanding only moderate performance resources were an embarrassment when applied to an otherwise respected and accepted historical musical figure. I in no way mean this to be a criticism of the general excellence of Ms. Skeaping's work but merely note with interest the dynamics that I believe affected it in this case. Top>
I am trying to work out the relationship between excellence and amateurism. If there were two twin brothers with equal talents, one of them serving the community, playing for shows, the church and teaching, whilst the other locks himself away eventually to emerge as a great virtuoso, which of the two is the most valuable to society?
If 10 units of practice can result in either one perfect performance or 10 slightly imperfect performances that, in fact, only 1% of listeners will be able to identify as different from that of the one perfect performance: then is it a wise use of time to strive for that absolute of perfection?
The central idea here is perhaps one of the stewardship of musical talent.
Is there a relationship between: failing interest in classical music and the cult of professionalism that really only began from the mid 1800's. Is it possible that an overproduction of skilled practitioners during this period led to a philosophy or requirement for perfectionism and a demand for ever greater heights of virtuosity which has then failed to take account of a new sea-change in cultural mores? Have we refined our expectations to such a degree that we those very expectations are now in danger of suffocating the art. Top>>
There are perhaps a few literary references that may be of interest. In Emma (1814-15) Jane Austen hints at the lower social status or even class of the secondary character Jane Fairfax by means of, among other things, Jane Fairfaxes' higher level of musical training. The same kind of idea comes out again as late as in Jane Eyre in the remark of Mr Rochester implying that all English schoolgirls were taught to say that they ONLY played pianoforte 'quite well' regardless, either way, of how well they actually played. In other words it was not socially desirable to admit to a higher level of skill. Dr Robert Green quotes from an anonymous letter in the Mercure de France, 1738 (The Hurdy-Gurdy in Eighteenth-century France, page 13) 'Let us indeed leave to those who were born with these great talents the care to cultivate them in preference to all ... but for the nobility they must be occupied with ... their country, the names they carry, and to talents of an altogether different importance.' Top>>