Virtue or Virtuosity? Explorations in the Ethics of Musical Performance

Virtue or Virtuosity? Explorations in the Ethics of Musical Performance

Virtue or Virtuosity? Explorations in the Ethics of Musical Performance

Virtue or Virtuosity? Explorations in the Ethics of Musical Performance

Synopsis

Drawing upon the past two decades of burgeoning literature in philosophy of music, this study offers a comprehensive, critical analysis of what is entailed in performance interpretation. It argues that integrity and other virtues offset the harm that virtuosity and rigid historical authenticity can impose on the perceptive judgment required of excellent musical interpretation. Proposed are challenging and provocative reassessments of the appropriate roles for virtuosity and historical authenticity in musical performance. Acknowledging the competitive ethos of the contemporary music scene, it details the kind of character a performer needs to develop in order to withstand those pressures and to achieve interpretive excellence. Performers are encouraged to examine and explore the ethical dimension of their art against their responsibilities to the diverse patrons they serve.

Excerpt

Virtue or Virtuosity? addresses the ethical questions performers face in interpreting musical works. Although not new, such questions have received particular prominence in recent times due to the emergence of the historical performance movement and its attention to composers' original conceptions. This has prompted performers and others to ponder anew many of the hitherto accepted practices of their art. It has led them to reconsider the validity of performers' creative contributions to the interpretation of musical works, the obligatory force of the score and of historical information, and the appropriate role and visibility of performance skills in the meaningful realization of musical compositions.

In short, more than ever before, performers today are called upon to justify their interpretations ethically as well as aesthetically. Yet the traditional structures that once afforded master teachers the time to work through such issues with their apprentice-students on a one-to-one basis, are no longer in evidence. Instead, students typically find themselves enrolled in large professional music faculties or academies where the education imparted is almost totally oriented toward technical instruction and there is little time to further understanding and resolution of the ethical challenges musical performance presents. Moreover, the exacting demands and ever increasing competitiveness of the contemporary music scene all too often promote cutthroat atmospheres that actively deter students from developing the kind of integrity needed to face and resolve such complicated issues. They are left to muddle along as best they can, a situation that leads to insecurity, uncertainty and self-doubt. This in turn encourages them to engage in spiteful, jealous behaviors totally unconducive to the development of artistic excellence.

In order to combat such destructive learning environments and promote excellence in interpretation, the ethical dimensions of performance need to be reinstated as an essential component in the education of aspiring musicians. Virtue or Virtuosity?

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