So, I was surfing, as I way too frequently do, for reviews of Sacred Hearts, Secret Music when I found this one. It’s quite complimentary, in its way, if you take it in the spirit in which it seems to be intended.
But our friend here seems to be wishing for what most of his mind-set call a “definitive version” of a work – that is, a recorded performance that cannot be bettered. And that “bettered” is normally pretty loaded with intimations of composer intention – the Holy Grail of a performance, after which the composer would have said, “That’s it!! You’ve understood everything I meant to say in this music, and you’ve communicated it as clearly and as eloquently as if it had been transmitted directly from my own consciousness into the listeners’ ears. No performance, before or since, will be quite as valid as this one.”
After one more drink, I might have said this was b…., um, but I’ve only had two, so it will have to be “claptrap.” Quite apart from the fact that his beef seems to be the fact that the bass line isn’t sung at pitch (ho hum, the harmony isn’t inverted, and the voice, albeit transposed, is still in the polyphony – Palestrina and all his chums wouldn’t have batted an eyelid – THE MUSIC IS NOT TO BE HEARD OR UNDERSTOOD VERTICALLY!!!), I cannot imagine any Renaissance composer, from Arcadelt to Zarlino, who would have any comprehension of such a notion.
In the 1500s, composition – at least, the written working out of musical ideas – was quite a different pursuit to performance. What went down on paper was just one, just one, amongst myriad possibilities for the performance of a work. The idea that you could condense the best qualities of all those versions into one monumental performance would have be preposterous.
I realise that a generous, open-minded and universal reception/acceptance of non-score-bound performances of Renaissance polyphony is kind of like full employment – a nice idea, but I won’t see it in my lifetime. But sometimes, just sometimes, I wish people would just go with the flow, and let their Ramellian prejudices float away on a crest of really beautiful, voice-led polyphony. I spent most of my teens and twenties in a love-affair with bass lines (and, truth be told, bass players). But then I grew older and realised that there is a false security in foundations, at least when it comes to polyphony. The vertical warp is there for organisation, but the beauty of the fabric comes from the weft.