Tag Archives: 19th century salon

The Competition Conundrum

The Competition Question: This is likely the most serious question we, as stewards or the serious music in the Western European Musical tradition. By serious music, I mean music which is, in and of itself an artistic, personal or philosophical statement or argument. In other words, it is music without words, music which stands as a statement in and of itself. I do not know of any other musical culture or heritage that has developed its music in a way to embrace statements like we make with musical tones alone.

That said, how does a young artist become known? In the distant past of the 19th century, you would play at various private salon’s and soirée. Public concerets arose from these private appearances. The material performed at concerts was entirely differnet than what appeared on public concerts. Clara Weick made her first performances in this manner and later with the assistance of her piano teacher father was able to become a sensation.

These days there are no equivalent to the Salons or Soirées of the 19th century. All we have is the concert stage and the competition. The competition rose in importance during the 20th century “Cold War” between the Western Block countries and the Soviet Block countries. The competition became a propaganda tool. While the compeititors were really competing and their desire to play well was sincere, the results were tainted by judging that was frequently slanted towards one side or the other. It was expected that someone from the Soviet Block countries would win the U.S.S.R. Tchaikovsky Competition. While there were some notable exceptions, the corruption of the results was almost complete.

That is not to say that the winners were not really good. They were, For example Grigory Sokolov is a Tchaikovsky competition winner and it is steadily becoming clearer that this is a pianist of true integrity and worthy of note. Others have simply faded from the public eye.

That said, we will never know about the heart ache and tears shed by competitors who should have won or placed but were set aside by Cold War politics. The Cold War is now over, but the politics of that war have been replaced by new set of politics – the politics of teacher’s cliques and the competitiveness of Academic institutions. It is sad, but true that a new face never wins the big prize– that almost always goes to someone who is already known to the jury. This type of prize by jury has even filtered down to the level of the local amateur piano competitions.

Just exactly how do you explain to a talented young player why he didn’t win, when he turned in what should have been a winning performance? How do you translate the jurors cryptic comments about metronomes and counting when there are only one or two lines of comment about a performance lasting up to 10 minutes and taking months of preparation? I have recently been put in that situation and has made me think anew about how we shepherd young players from youthful amateuers too seasoned adult performers capable of making a living playing their instrument.

At the same time, we sit on the edge of a precipice. An old order is coming to an end and something new will take its place. The traditional ways of publishing music are now outdated and outmoded. What once took dozens of skilled tradesman, huge investments in printing presses and the creation of cumbersome metal plates now can be done by a single person using a lap top computer. The output from programs like GNU Lilypond, Finale and Sibelius is press ready. It can also be distributed over the Internet and printed by any home inkjet or laser printer. The traditional publishing industry is on its last legs. There is no need for this layer of complexity in our distribution systems.

Likewise, during the late 19th and the entire 20th century it was possible to “publish” a recorded performance. There are huge repositories of recorded performances owned by the companies that package these performances for sale. Of course, these performances can easily be copied and distributed by anyone with a lap top computer. That is what is known as P2P or Peer to Peer distribution on the Internet.

Those publishers or distributors are now disparately trying to salvage and keep their old model alive by litigation. They are demanding stiffer penalties and extended life for their copyright repositories. At this point, the Public Domain is now on life support. Probably nothing published in my lifetime will leave copyright during my lifetime. Likely things published near the dawn of the 20th century will still be copyright when I am no longer here.

You see, the picture is bleak. How does a young peformer (or any performer for that matter) proceed in this new world? Perhaps the answer is partially in the past as well as in the new Internet technologies.

The salon and soirée disappeared because people began communicating in a different manner. We use our own homes for entertainment less and less. More and more our communal activities take place in larger venues. At least that is the way things were at the close of the last century. However, something new is now possible. The Internet holds promise for new methods of communicating.

Let me enlarge on this. Up to now, most of my friends are drawn from those people I meet in my day to day life. It has not been possible for me to meet with someone in Australia or the U.K. simply because of distance. The Internet has changed this. I now have someone I consider a very close friend in Melbourne Australia. I had not considered or planned this. It happened in the virtual world of cyberspace in much the same way as it does in real life. Friendships can now grow and flourish inspite of distance.

Technology had now made video conferencing a reality. Imagine if you will, a Salon or soirée which takes place in cyberspace. Imagine a piano lesson or even a master class which takes place in two or three places at once, the meeting space being in a virtual space in cyberspace. This can now be done without the intervention of a third party publisher or even coordinator. A peer-to-peer network will suffice given sufficient bandwidth and well designed software.

Some things like this are now happening, but they are under the sponsorship of major telecoms acting as the third party publishers. In reality, this added layer is not needed. Currently the need is artificially placed there because of the bandwidth limitations placed on what the telecoms call “residential” customers.

This article should have a conclusion, but it is not written because I do not know how to conclude it. I just don’t have enough information, nor do I know the road forward.