Sunday, April 30, 2017

No music is ever finished; only abandoned


That is E.J. Moeran (left) in the photo with John Ireland on the Norfolk Broads. I have been spending time recently listening to the Sketches for Moeran's Symphony No. 2 as realised and completed by Martin Yates in the recently-released recording on the Dutton Epoch label. Leonardo da Vinci declared that "No work of art is ever finished; only abandoned." Some music compositions are abandoned at a later stage in their gestation than Moeran's Second Symphony, which was abandoned as no more than fragments when the composer died in 1950. But every composition, even if considered completed by the conventional definition, is not finished but simply abandoned to the musicians who perform it. And those musicians do not finish the work, because they in turn abandon it to the audience. And when the audience leaves the hall the work is not finished; because the musicians and audience are again abandoning it to all those participating in the next performance.

It is an endless cycle of death and rebirth which questions the convention that the score is the final word. It also suggests that interpretative freedom is undervalued, and highlights the essential chemistry - quantum entanglement? - between composer, performer, and audience of Britten's 'holy triangle'. And the cycle chimes with the Buddhist cycle of existence, birth and death known as saṃsāra. In Tibetan Buddhism bardo is the intermediate state of existence between death and rebirth, and the famous Tibetan Book of the Dead is known in Tibet as "The Great Book of Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the Between'. It gives a new and useful perspective on interpretation if all music compositions are viewed as existing in varying degrees 'in the between'.

Martin Yates' realisation and completion of Moeran's Symphony from fragments is totally convincing and provides a valuable addition to the composer's scant discography. My only comment is that the completion is so authentically Moeran it is almost too authentically Moeran. I just wonder if the composer would not have broken more new ground if he had lived to complete the work. But we can only speculate while being thankful that this fragmentary work has been sent on another cycle of existence. The sound on the recording which couples the Symphony with an orchestration of Moeran's Overture for a Festival and John Ireland's Sarnia is exemplary; Dutton is one of the few labels which still believes that high-resolution recordings should not succumb to low-resolution listening. Martin Yates conducts the realised Symphony and the other works with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and his advocacy is totally persuasive. In 2015 I enthused about his recording of Richard Arnell's overlooked symphonies also for Dutton. Martin Yates is grossly undervalued as a conductor and if you need convincing his recording of the magnificently completed Moeran Symphony No. 2 is recommended.

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