Example Cultural Studies Essay

Example Cultural Studies Essay
Musicalcommunication is commonly associated with place or location; for instance apiece of music will often bring about a flood of memories recalling the placethe piece was heard, perhaps the people in whose company the time listening tothe piece was spent and certainly the mood of the piece. A piano recital is thecultural event we will focus on, using specific examples of piano recitals heldaround the world, drawing on reports about those recitals from performers andaudience alike. The framework of thought, feeling and behaviour which takesplace at a piano recital is different from any other cultural environment,primarily because it the most special and intimate of instruments, one whichconnects the player with the listener in intimate and unmediated communication,in a pure communicative act. The piano is an instrument which evokesextraordinary passion, requires considerable dedication and patience, togetherwith skill and flair to bring about a perfect percussive performance.
Thereare a number of key players in a piano recital, not least the composer whocommunicates his art to the pianist and onwards, through the instrument, to anaudience. The composer is the translator of musical ideas into a symbolic form,usually the twelve semi-tone scale on a musical stave. The standard Westernmusical notation is a treble clef and a bass clef. Each note can be betweenlines or on a line and the piece is given a time signature denoting the rhythmof the music. Other symbols signify changes in tone, pace, volume and feeling.The behaviour of the player is also communicated from the composer to thepianist using symbols, including Italianate adjectives, although with moremodern piano pieces the Italianate is often replaced with words from the composers'usual vocabulary. Examples include piano, meaning quiet and forte, meaningloud.

The nature of this communication is symbolic, or in the words of RolandBarthes, the literary critic, semiotic Barthes (Barthes 1977) views semiologyas underlying all communication, an 'empire of the signs' that extends overfilm and photography, music criticism and reading and writing as historicallysituated activities. He identifies two natures of music:

There are twomusics (at least so I have always thought): the music one listens to, the musicone plays. These two musics are totally different arts, each with its ownhistory, its own sociology, its own aesthetics, its own erotic; the samecomposer can be minor if you listen to him, tremendous if you play him (evenbadly) - such as Schumann. (Barthes 1977, p. 149)

We will employthis distinction between passive and active to our discussion of the pianorecital, where passive music is the music we listen to and active music is themusic we play. Schumann is the composer we will focus on when discussing thecultural event that is the piano recital.

RobertSchumann was a significant figure in German musical romanticism. (Jensen 2001) Schumannspecialised in writing lyrical piano music and songs, but also composed notableorchestral choral and chamber works. He literary output was motivated by hislove of literature which informed his musical criticism and composition. He wasforced to abandon his career as a pianist after critically damaging, with astrengthening device, a finger on his right hand. Schumann wrote piano worksthat were a linking of short sections, such as Kreisleriana and Carnaval.Linked together, these sections paid extreme attention to detail, forming aninterlocking composition. A talented music journalist, he was editor on one ofthe most significant journals of his day, Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.In 1840 he wrote over a hundred songs, a year that became known as his year ofsong, including the song cycles Dichterliebe and Liederkreise.Schumann suffered from depression and mental instability as a result ofsyphilis and died in an asylum.

Schumannbelieved that musical communication was under attack from virtuoso players whohad little thought or feeling for music. His mission statement was given in hisjournal Die Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, which, perhaps in spite of itsname suggesting new music, promoted music proven by history - music which hadwithstood the test of time His era saw the rise of piano virtuosity fromplayers who wanted to become celebrities in their own right without recognitionof whose music it was they played, going so far as to compose pieces withoutthought about the framework of the musical communication, preferring technicalcomplexities over clearly communicated music. Their ignorance of the thought,feeling and behaviour of composers, said Schumann, was philistine. He thusfounded the Davidsbündler, or League of David, named after thebiblical King David, who composed music, wrote poetry and slew the Philistines.

Barthesspeaks of piano recitals as an active form of music that has declined inpractice to almost extinction where the piano has been forsaken for the guitarrecital:

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