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  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: January 2010

THREE - Performing: The Improvisation of Preservation


While we have seen that the activity of composing takes place within the framework of a musical discourse or practice, we have concentrated largely on the composer's part of that process. Yet, at least in the discourse of classical music (and even, say, in the composition of jazz tunes), there usually comes a point at which a piece of music takes on written form that gives it a relatively permanent existence, one that often extends far beyond the composer's own existence. But does writing serve only to preserve a musical work? What we will see is that making a piece of music publicly available by means of a written score results in both preservation and improvisation. And this improvisation affects the very identity of the musical composition.

Unbestimmtheitsstellen and the Irrelevanzsphäre

We tend to think of language as a kind of conductor through which thoughts are able to travel from one person to another. Writing takes this a step further, for it provides a lasting link to others in the form of an inscription. Thus, a score – written in a kind of musical language – does not simply provide a way of “remembering” a musical work. It also gives the work a kind of ideal existence, for it takes on a more or less “defined” form and so can be passed on to others.