REPERTOIRES – ‘the software’
The features of the above mentioned musical language could be defined as the idiom of the instrument. Idiomatic repertoires reveal the most appropriate use of musical instruments and their possibilities and applications. These repertoires were normally composed by the players themselves and idiom was developed by practice. In most cases these practices were going hand in hand with the change of musical styles, which altogether constitutes what with hindsight we call the canon of a particular instrument.
If one wants to describe the historical development of an instrument, the canon of prominent players and their repertoire is indispensable to define the identity of that instrument. Composers such as John Dowland, Marin Marais, Arcangelo Corelli, Luigi Boccherini, Frederic Chopin, were all principally outstanding players of their instruments and often found reason for innovation in using its possibilities.
To grasp the full spectrum of their music and its contextual coherence, asks for a certain amount of identification with the intentions of the original players. Getting acquainted with a substantial part of their oeuvre and its context is the only way to understand the peculiarities of the art of playing the instrument at stake. The guiding help of teachers in this process is of great value. But teachers can be found in many different ways and short or long term interactions and relations.
Normally repertoire is the domain of the main subject teacher, who is the principle person to make clear how the embodiment of a musical style, playing techniques, aesthetics and artistic expressions through a musical instrument works.
Musicians build up professional knowledge in this domain in a direct way by experiences such as performance or practice.
Classes with repertoire studies help to map the canon and often are essential as introduction into territories unknown to a student, but the personal relation with the repertoire only arises together with experience.
This experience can also be obtained indirectly (passively) by listening to a performance by someone else, live or recorded. It is the ability of any talented person to empathize with peers, which makes such experiences valuable in building up a frame of reference. Sometimes this indirect way works even stronger than the active learning.
Acquaintance with repertoire, apart from any artistic satisfaction it provides, is a way to build up a personal relation with the past that leads to a broader understanding of the present.
In terms of sound the concept of ‘the past’ has changed fundamentally since the age of recording started. As in visual arts it became possible to ‘freeze’ the musical work of art and preserve it. Nevertheless the idea that recording would be a technology excluding all doubts concerning repertoires and playing styles is a misconception. It lasted only briefly among some composers (such as Debussy) at the beginning of the twentieth century.
In that sense recordings are just another reduction of the phenomenon called music, which through the ages was reduced to a variety of codifications or more specifically, notations in order to be transmitted to future performance.
Ideally the confrontation with repertoire and its performers, dead or alive, is an essential step in the education of new performers towards independence and the capacity to make their own assessments.
Finally the perception and assessment of repertoire by a learning musician changes the more experience is built up, because with every newly ‘conquered territory’ the frame of reference is growing. This is what we call professional knowledge and it is tacitly understood as expertise.
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