Saturday morning quotes 4.23: Arrangements
It’s an odd circumstance having invested so much acute focus, time and energy concentrating on the (better sort of) music of the distant past and its context, that it seems comfortably normal. By extension, it becomes apparent that current music and its context seem completely misguided and utterly mad.
Surely, such a statement will induce eye-rolling among those acclimated to today’s environment, and cause those with twitchy fingers to click that little X in the corner of the screen and return to their comfortable reverie. But the true point of reference that will objectively determine quality and worth of any kind of music has to be how well it can be adapted for different media and played for one’s own enjoyment. Played. Not passively consumed as ear candy.
Think back not so awfully long ago to the 1920s, a time when show tunes created a sensation; catchy tunes written by inspired composers and given clever orchestrations by musical craftsmen. Such tunes were promptly arranged for solo voice and keyboard to be enjoyed by the masses in the comfort of their parlor, making a pile of cash for the owner of the publishing rights. Adaptability to arrangement was the mark of how well a song would endure over time.
Then along came the gramophone and the radio, allowing a song to be repeated ad nauseam, entering the public consciousness via ears alone rather than assimilated more thoroughly through voice and fingers. For some of us, things went downhill from there, resulting in a modern version of music that is less music and more synthetic sound that simply cannot be recreated and played at home by the musically-inclined without many thousands of dollars worth of electronic gear.
Now take a giant step backward into our world of the strangely normal, when music was written to be reproduced. In the 16th century most published music was written for voices and was adapted for use by different forces, the most common being for solo voice and lute.
“[There is] every reason to believe that sixteenth-century musicians arranged virtually every sort of madrigal for solo voice and lute.”
– Howard Mayer Brown, “Bossinensis, Willaert and Verdelot: Pitch and the Conventions of Transcribing Music for Lute and Voice in Italy in the Early Sixteenth Century” Revue de musicologie, 75 (1989), p. 29 n. 13.
It turns out that most of the music we perform continues this established pattern, and we have quite a bit of it available for the select members of the population still capable of making their own music.