Saturday, May 03, 2014

What do conductors do?

It’s worth remembering that the conductor as presently conceived is a recent invention. Music that involves coordinating a group of players or singers has always needed a timekeeper of some sort. But no one was silly enough to think this role might be divinely inspired. In Baroque times the orchestra was led by the harpsichordist, and his repertoire of gesture was necessarily limited.

In the 19th century, as the orchestra expanded and forms like the symphony became more varied, the conductor became essential. But in Beethoven’s time his role was still a humble role. The rot set in with Wagner, and successors such as Mahler. Their grand manner engendered the idea that a conductor is the musical equivalent of the literary critic – an inspired being, whose sacred role is to divine the “message” of the creator and transmit it to a grateful audience.

So where does the truth lie? Is a conductor no more than a combination of timekeeper and showman, emoting like mad for the crowds? Or does he (or she) truly reveal something extra in the music, some extra ounce of expressive intensity or layer of meaning that the players might not discover for themselves?

from Lizard's Ghost

No comments:

Post a comment