Academic journal article Current Musicology

A Timely Musical Discourse, or a Music Treatise from Lost Times, Part I

Academic journal article Current Musicology

A Timely Musical Discourse, or a Music Treatise from Lost Times, Part I

Article excerpt

Eschewing some serious scholarly reservations, I wish to present a significant portion of a heretofore unknown treatise that concerns the nature of musical time. It takes the form of a dialogue between two musicians, a teacher and his student. The characters might represent actual musicians, or perhaps they personify two entirely contrasting musical cultures. In all likelihood, they are both fictional. Yet if we take their discussion as an allegorical representation of a fundamental rift in the understanding of musical time, then the characters seem to function as every-musicians, who offer a variety of arguments in support of fundamentally oppositional stances. Their wandering discussion, as is typical of the Socratic style, nevertheless revolves around a central thesis. What quickly comes to the fore is the teacher's assertion that objectivist ideals regarding temporality fail to reflect complex performance practices from past Western traditions.

I regret to admit that the full origins of this treatise confound the present scholar, which is one reason why I cannot reveal the entirety of the document at the present juncture. The date and location of its creation, along with issues of provenance, are inconclusive. Yet the theories juxtaposed within the work suggest that it may have been drafted either many centuries ago, or as recently at the previous fortnight. It is an amalgamation of historical thoughts--a pastiche--one not entirely balanced or comprehensive, which splices theories from many different places and eras. If we consider the text to be "authored" and not simply compiled, then the author might have conceived the work over many years of obsessive study, or perhaps it simply sprung to him, Athena-like, from a very bad headache into reality. Again, since we can only speculate upon the work's originating circumstances, it is best not to mythologize such mysteries.

Although the treatise's origins remain obscured, I took pains to fully annotate this work with all of the appropriate references to passages that are either paraphrased or restated outright from other historical texts. I added quotation marks to those passages repeated verbatim or near-verbatim from past documents. It is my sincere hope that any concerns over the treatise's provenance will be overlooked once readers consider the valid arguments and neglected evidence on which the work is founded. Indeed, despite any perceived failings, this treatise does much to reintroduce some historical theories and practices that are seldom addressed by today's very modern, yet anachronistically named "classical music" culture. Vale, fruere, et indulge.

Master Alejandro: Good Doctor, I wish to know the nature of musical time, specifically how I should exactly determine all kinds of tempo intended by composers both alive and departed.

Doctor Bueno: Such a simple question, and yet so complicated an answer. I know you to be a faithful student, and your intention is an honest and sincere one. But by the terms of your question, I can tell your mind is riddled with preconceptions that color your view not only of musical time, but of musicality itself. Anyone truly committed to understanding musical temporality must tackle such false premises, and challenge a mind filled with mere opinions now taken to be immutable truths. Are you willing to cast out those unquestioned falsities about time and tempo that you now hold in high esteem?

MA: I think so, Good Doctor, yet I cannot promise that I will quickly accept notions the likes of which I have never heard before. How can I promise not to fight ideas that have yet to invade my mind? What prejudices are barricaded within my head that have so easily betrayed my noble desire for understanding?

DB: Your uncertainty is understandable, since it is difficult to dismiss an education that your educators have always claimed to be absolutely true. But often we must challenge truths merely told to us, truths that we have not earned but have nevertheless paid dearly for. …

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