Anders Hultqvist 


‘Who creates the creator’*
– and the limits of interpretation?          (*Pierre Bourdieu)

This article is about work in progress and it takes the form of an associative chain concerning my initiation of two new interpretations of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Albinoni’s Adagio, which are being produced by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra in October 2011. Some thoughts are given more depth than others, which in turn have a more illustrative or poetic function. From a traditional academic standpoint there will therefore exist some objects in the presentation that might come across as loose ends. But I hope in the end that these will become productive for the interested reader.

The goal of the new interpretations is to re-read and re-set the music from within, and relieve it of some of the cultural layers and interpretational rituals conventionally assigned to the pieces. I want to bring forward slightly different stories, than those told by the two composers in question, and this from within the musical material.

Both of the works are exceedingly well known and are in different ways incorporated into our cultural canon. On the one hand, Beethoven’s Fifth is seen as the overall emblematic piece for the whole classical tradition. On the other, Albinoni’s Adagio plays a different role in the cultural landscape and addresses nostalgia in a more direct manner.

By presenting two, in a way opposing, interpretational strategies in the same concert program, there is a greater possibility than is normally the case, for the audience and the musicians to start reflecting on the question of musical interpretation in a broader sense. With orchestras around the world relentlessly upholding the classical and romantic tradition in their repertoire there is a great need for new interpretational angles.

Wassily Kandinsky 1986, 46.

“For once one leaves meaning-interpretation for — what shall I call it? — structure-interpretation, the spell of monism is broken. Why shouldn’t a structure have more than one interpretation, more than one way it goes?” (Kivy 2009, 121)

“A musician, as is obvious, must, in the Western musical tradition, 
know how to read a score intelligently. And, Bar-Elli correctly observes, ‘When we say that one must know how to read a score, we are saying that one must know how to read it in light, inter alia, of the conventions (historical, cultural, and individual) according to which it was written’ (Bar-Elli 2002, 240). This is precisely right. As I put what I think is the same point, some years ago, ‘‘the notes’ are more than meets the eye. Or, rather, just what meets the eye, when it sees within a practice. And without a practice there are no notes at all.’ (Kivy 2007)” (Kivy 2009, 124))

These somewhat self evident citations from philosopher Peter Kivy can be widened to also include the interpretation of form within a certain piece of music and, through this, address the notion of monism concerning the musical ‘text’. Doing this raises the questions of whether the music is confined within the score, the text, or if there is a story being told outside the score in the so-called absolute music.

In an article on semiology the philosopher Staffan Carlshamre (2010, 15-17) cites Roman Jakobson (1956), in his famous essay ‘Two aspects of language and two types of aphasic disturbances’, introducing the theory that there are two fundamental functions of language – the metaphorical and the metonymic – which he in turn uses to describe and explain a large quantity of language phenomena. The two interpretations of Beethoven and Albinoni imply for me these two fundamentally different ways to take on the musical material. It seems to me to be productive to address these two working strategies as either metonymic, in the case of Beethoven, or metaphorical in the case of Albinoni.

The metaphor can be seen as a collection of contexts in which the same word can be used where as a metonymic relationship involves a collection of words that can be used. A metonym is a figure of speech where one word is substituted with another directly related word, from the same family or domain. A metonym is introspective or inward looking; one item within a domain replaces another in the same domain, as if equal. A metaphor, on the other hand, is outward looking; one item within a domain replaces another in a different domain. A metaphor is a figure of speech where one word is substituted with another from a different referential domain.

Carlshamre continues: “Lacan follows Jakobson in conceiving metaphor and metonymy as the keys to understanding the structure and function of language. The distinction between them will in large coincide with Saussure distinction between the ‘associative’ (or ‘paradigmatic’) and the ‘syntagmatic’ axis of language.”  (Carlshamre, 15) A syntagmatic relationship exists between the elements in one and the same linguistic expression and a paradigmatic relation exists between words that are parts of a paradigm (a pattern) and can exist in the same place in a sentence.

“The essential thing for him (Lacan) is the ‘tropological’ perspective itself: to conceive of the displacement of meaning, the newly created, rather than regularity, as the essence of language. The most important differences between different tropes touch upon the relation that is thought to exist between the repressed (latent) and the present (manifest) term. In the metaphor the most relevant relation is thought of as similarity, while in metonomy it is nearness.” (Ibid, 17) [1]

To follow a metonymic strategy is to look into the musical material and seek out the working structural and melodic ingredients and, of course, the overall (musical) narrative they, by their formation, are outlining. This involves looking for structurally associative parts that can be used in a creative way. The Beethoven piece will be interpreted metonymically in the sense of looking for close relationships from within the piece itself. No new outer connotations are established, only associations in the (Lacanian) mode of
displacement. A second way to go about this is to see the ‘outer’ musical implications of the material, the, in a musical sense, more paradigmatic implications. This involves looking for musical and historical connotations that can enhance and put into perspective some of the material in the new setting. Or once again from a Lacanian point of view, seeking a condensation of an emotional charge from an original notion to another – like while dreaming.



[1] In the sentence The dog bit the cat yesterday it is possible to change dog with dogs or cat and these words therefore have a paradigmatic relation. The relation between dog and the following bit is on the other hand called syntagmatic. From psycholinguistic experiments it has been observed that subject persons asked to state words they think about while given a particular word as stimulus more often than not give a paradigmatic association (for instance dog if they hear cat) rather than syntagmatic associations (for instance bark if they hear the word dog). Children (under six years of age) however usually give more syntagmatic associations than grown ups. (Swedish National Encyclopaedia 1994, 614)

In a project like this you also have to assume some roles that, in the art-world, stand out as common ground but for a musician can be a new field of exploration. Are you producing an original work, a stage performance or an art exhibition? Are you a composer, a director or a curator – or maybe all three at once? As I see it from the view of the composer/director it is essential to take the music as the central focus in the new staging. From the position of the curator it is important and quite central for the production that both pieces are presented together at the same concert. They need to mirror one another to enhance the clarity of the overall idea around the limits and possibilities of interpretation. In the opera world, with its kinship to theatre practise, this has been going on for decades but in the field of absolute music there are still some taboos to be conquered in the interest of music itself.

When I first confronted the director of the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra with the idea of re-setting some classical pieces the conversation took an interesting direction. At one stage he asked me if I was to add some new music of my own to the Beethoven interpretation. I said no. He then asked suggestively if there would be some electronics added to the performance. Again, I said no. After some seconds of silence he suddenly asked if I wanted to ridicule Beethoven.

My idea of going into the piece itself and changing the ‘text’ appeared to be a somewhat blasphemous act. This suggests that there is still cultural and philosophical petrifaction and fundamentalism around the interpretation of classical music. Above all, this points to a lack of practise when it comes to thinking about new ways of telling the musical story outlined by the composer. Once again, in theatre this re-interpretation of classical pieces has been going on for about half a century and it is time also for the musical world to widen its horizon and let go of the idea that the score is the one and only authentic version of inherent musical ideas. This is of course not an object in itself but something that is being artistically called on, if we want to enhance and widen the artistic scope of musical interpretation.

“Real art has the capacity to make us nervous.” (Sontag 1966, 99)

As for the social construction around the making of an artwork, in the 1960s Pierre Bourdieu asked “who creates the creator?” (Bourdieu,1993, 158) Which leads me to ask: in whose interest is the present interpretational tradition upheld? Is it for the sake of the art object or just for upholding the business around virtuosity and genius? Is it that concert halls thrive on this elevated sense of ‘going to church’ to meet the icons of classical music and thereby fear the liberation of the musical artwork? Bourdieu makes a point regarding art institutions which might equally be applied to concert halls:

“The art market or the art institution does not only consecrate the individual work of art, but also the institution itself is of course receiving a higher value by this act.”

Idealistic metaphysics can be good business.

Pierre Bourdieu
Photo: Remy de la Mauviniere/AP

construction – deconstruction
…and the struggle against meaning…


If we take a quick look around the cultural landscape we can find at least two major strategies in handling 'iconic' artworks coming from within the cultural canon. In the institutional art world deconstruction seems to be the major path to tread. In the world of popular culture there seems, on the other hand, to be a more assimilative process, where one brings out some of the central constructive parts of the artwork and re-establishes them within a popular context.

Below are examples of each strategy in the form of William Anastasi’s installation and Håkan Lidbo’s musical remix. If you see the cultural icon as constituting too high a wall to climb, you either have to tear it down in a deconstructive act (Anastasi) or, in a more easy-going way, just take out some parts of it (Lidbo) and pass by on the side.

William Anastasi, “Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony” (1965/2006).
Videotape, nails, dimensions variable.

An example of a re-mix that takes some of the basic musical material of the piece and puts it into the minimalistic ’sequencer-mixer'.

Håkan Lidbo, Excerpt from re-mix of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony

Susan Sontag writes in her article ‘Against Interpretation’: “In some cultural contexts, interpretation is a liberating act. It is a means of revising, of transvaluing, of escaping the dead past. In other cultural contexts, it is reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling.”
 (Sontag, 1966, 98)

“In a culture whose already classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.” (Ibid.))

The new settings I propose are a not intended to remould the music. They don’t want to tell a completely new story. It is more a case of telling the underlying story to today’s audience by changing some of the musical architecture in comparison with the original material.

The re-setting of the two pieces has little or nothing to do with the current trend of re-mixing. One could say that the re-mix is more like the cuckoo taking over another bird’s nest. This strategy can sometimes become an art object of some stature, but seldom has anything to do with the deeper layers of the original material. Often when these strategies are being used within the art-music field it just adds some perfume to an otherwise fixed tradition. I think it is crucial that we find some other ways to re-interpret the canon in our classical ‘museum’.

Why is it that musical performance is so strongly connected to the view of absolute completeness in the execution of the score? Sometimes it appears as if we were to take away a single bar of, for instance, a Beethoven piano sonata, the piece would not exist anymore. It is as if its existence as an art object is dependent on the fact that nothing is changed or left out.

In connection to this it is interesting to notice the fact that this seems to be a problem only within the concert institution. In other venues like city parks, private homes and amusement parks everyone seems to have a much more liberal attitude towards different ways of interpreting a piece of music. It is, of course, in this popular tradition that modern electronic versions of such pieces appear in the form of re-mixing.

Audible examples: the first minute of the two pieces.

I would argue that one of the crucial differences between the remix and a new staging is a matter of time perception; a re-mix recollects the memory of a piece of music whereas a new setting puts itself in the now – in the space of real lived time. This is often valid also when discussing the quality of different (traditional) interpretations, raising the question: is the performance bringing out the inner musical logic or is it just recreating the outer gestures of the piece?

Our reverence for the musical text has, until now, been a hindrance in visualizing alternative productions of musical scores. This is of course due to our, in many ways petrified, way of thinking around musical performance. It’s time to raise the temperature in the continuous dialogue between the musical score and the performer, and acknowledge the fact that music is created in the translational act of performance. As Nicholas Cook concludes in his article ‘Analysing performance, Performing analysis’:

“Avoiding fundamentalism in talking about music does not mean that we have to get away from representation; indeed we can not, because our language for music is a language of representation. What it means is recognizing that our language for music is not monolithic, but draws its signification from any number of alternative representations of music, each of which constitutes sound as a different intentional object. Each ‘music view’, as it might be called, captures different aspects of actual or potential experience; each allows generalization across a different range of contexts. If we have a problem with this linguistic pluralism, it arises from the general tendency to identify the representation with what is represented – in short, the tendency towards fundamentalism.” (Cook 2010, 257-258)

“I’m for the birds, not the cages that people put them in…” (Cage 1981)

There is a tale concerning the main motif in the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth symphony; the version given here is from Antony Hopkins’ description of the symphony. Beethoven’s pupil Carl Czerny, who also premiered the Emperor Concerto, claimed that “the little pattern of notes had come to Beethoven from a yellow-hammer’s song, heard as he walked in the Prater-park in Vienna.” Hopkins further remarks that “given the choice between a yellow-hammer and Fate-at-the-door, the public has preferred the more dramatic myth, although Czerny’s account is too unlikely to have been invented.” (Hopkins 1977)

Let the birds fly freely (Cage) and don't put them in cages full of meaning (Sontag). As mentioned earlier the interpretations in this production takes the music as the point of departure, and not the different extra-musical layers that has been attached to the musical text over the years. Or as I remember Peter Brooks saying in a newspaper interview; “One should not conceal or modernize, but make things visible.”

Yellow Hammer

A theatre director can change, or completely remove, a sentence that appears to be old-fashioned in an actor’s utterance. The director can even cancel a whole scene without disappointing the audience. But all of this is true only if the essence of the play is in some way kept intact, both in respect to the new staging and in relation to the central ideas in the original text. I see no reason why this should not be applicable to the musical score as well. Absolute music is also built around some kind of narrative idea, which evolves through the staging of the central musical ideas. Form and content is of course closely connected, but that does not have to mean that there is one, and only one, solution to the final setting of the music.

If we now have found out ‘what makes it tick’ it seems reasonable also to get some ideas around new ways of interpreting what we have seen. "Similarly, there is no reason to believe that the ‘larger design’, and functional parts of a work of absolute music, cannot support more than one interpretation: more than one story about ‘what makes it tick’." (Kivy 2006, 119)

(Kivy continues…) Is Liszt’s piano version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony a version of the work, in a strong sense, or a new work, closely based on it? Is a performance of Richard III, in modern dress, with tanks and machine-guns, a version of the work, in a strong sense, or a new work based closely on Shakespeare’s play?

One might be inclined to say that Liszt’s version of Beethoven is another work. But I think it would come as a great surprise to working people in the theatre to be told… that their production of Richard III was not a production of the Bard’s play, even though Shakespeare could not possibly have envisioned such a performance plan.” (Kivy 2009, 129)


Albinoni, T. (date unknown) Adagio in G minor by, arranged by Giazotto, different notated and recorded versions.

Bar-Elli,G. (2002) Ideal Performance. In: British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 42. No. 47.

Beethoven, L v. (1807) Symphony No 5.  Eulenburg Partitur and CD (1986).

Bourdieu, P (1993) The Production of Belief, Stockholm, Kultur Sociologiska texter, Brutus Östlings bokförlag.
(Original: La production de la croyance. Contribution à une economie des biens symboliques. Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, III, 13, 1977, pp 3-43)

Cage, J. (1981) For the Birds. Boston, Marion Boyars.

Carlshamre, S. (2010) Strukturalism, Semiologi & Narratologi. Stockholm, Stockholm University.

Chua, D. (2009) Beethoven’s other Humanism. In: Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 62, No. 3.

Cook, N & Everist, M. eds. (2010) Rethinking Music. Oxford. Oxford University Press.

Hopkins, A. (1977) The Nine Symphonies of Beethoven. Aldershot, Scolar Press.

Jakobson, R. (1956) Two aspects of language and two types of aphasic disturbances. In: Fundamentals of language, Janua Linguarum nr 1. The Hague & Paris.

Johannisson, K. (2009) Melankoliska rum (Eng. Melancholic rooms). Bonniers förlag.

Kandinsky, W. (1986) Punkt und Linie zu Fläche, Bern: Benteli Verlag.

Kivy, P. (2006) Ars perfecta: Toward perfection in musical performance. In: British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 46, No. 2.
p. 119, 124-125, 129

Kivy, P. (2001) Note-for-Note: Work, Performance and Early Notation, In: New Essays on Musical Understanding. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Sontag, S. (1966) Against interpretation and Other Essays. New York. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Swedish National Encyclopaedia, (1994) Paradigmatisk (Eng. Paradigmatic) Bokförlaget Bra böcker AB Höganäs.

This project is part of ‘Towards an Expanded Field of Art Music’, an artistic research and development project funded by the Swedish National Research Council. Project team: Ole Lutzow-Holm, Anna Lindal, Magnus Haglund, Anders Hultqvist, Chaya Czernowin and Henrik Hellstenius.

Some e-mail correspondence on the path towards the production of new settings of L van Beethovens Symphony No5 and ’Albinonis’ Adagio:


Skickat to 2009-02-19 12:27  

Till Hultqvist Anders <>

Ärende late thanks


Dear Anders,

Thank you for taking the time and trouble to come to Helsingborg last week. Sorry it took me a long time to say this. I am just getting ready to go away for a week for Bach, Purcell, Birtwhistle and Maxwell Davies, so my head has been rather full. I did find our conversation very stimulating. I still don't know quite what I think of your Beethoven 5 idea - I cannot get over how brave you are! – but feel that it is an experiment well worth making. Where do we go from here? Shall I contact Ed or are you in touch with him?


With very best wishes,


On 20 Feb 2009, at 09:10, Anders Hultqvist wrote:

Dear Andrew,

thanks for listening to my idea. After our talk I felt even more reasured that it's a sort of work no one has really done before. As we said there has been a lot of new stagings of different works but not really in this way. I'm involved in a artistic researchproject (funded by the National research council) dealing with the question of interpretation and composition and I think it would be interesting to bring this 'project' into that realm. I would really want to get back to you about that...


Best wishes


Dear Ed and Anders,

Let's meet after the concert (which starts at 18.30) in the concert hall's Markelius Barand by then I will have worked out whether there is anywhere else we can go so late(!) on a Sunday.

I shall make sure there are tickets for you both.




A friendly and spiritual meeting was held after the concert. After a while the ideas became clearer and, standing in the Markelius bar, hands were shaken... Here we go… (my own comment...)

Hello Anders,

Here are my suggestions for some adjustments of your text...

In the part about your composition around Albinoni’s Adagio (third paragraph) you write in the third sentence; ‘To get to listen to the strong melodies beyond all the superimposed layers of petrified kitsh’. I suggest that you cut out the three last words and end the sentence with ‘layers’.

In the last section starting with ‘A concert hall is built…’ you write in the third to last sentence that ‘reproducible readings of the classical repertoire has made the music static’. I suggest that you formulate it; ‘…runs the risk of becoming static’.

I suggest that you entirely cut out your last section about the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra’s role in the musical discourse.

All the best


Helena Wessman Managing and Artistic Director

GöteborgsSymfoniker AB  +46 31-726 53 04, +46 70-311 6474

On 22 Jun 2010, at 08:31, Helena Wessman wrote:

Dear Andrew and Anders,

Last week Anders met the program board in order to introduce the Albinoni and Beethoven project.The discussion afterwards was positive and I now consider the collaboration having the support needed to move on. The next step is an introduction to the entire orchestra and the GSO staff on a conference on August 24th. Iwould be delighted if you could both participate as it’s important to have the conductors point of view as well as the composers. Is that possible?

The conferencewill be hold close to Gothenburg central 23-24th of August. If 24th is impossible for you to come I can rearrange the schedule so you could give your lecture on the 23rd.

Later today Iwill leave for holiday, but please feel free to call me if you have anyquestions. My mobile phone will be open all summer.

All the best!

/ Helena

Dear Helena,

Thanks for the progress report. Once again I am not able to fit in with your schedule since I will be recording Brahms in Helsingborg on August 23 and 24. Luckily, the most important thing is for Anders to present the idea to the orchestra. 

While the musical idea is progressing, have you done anything about finding a date for this project? My 2011-12 season is very booked up. May I suggest you contact Bridget Emmerson about dates rather urgently? Even today?!

If you need input from me at your August conference, maybe these words are useful (an edited version of what I sent before):

I have had a good look at the draft of Anders' Beethoven score and have enjoyed several long conversations with Anders, so I can understand the rationale behind his piece, even though his work is perhaps not yet finished. Although I personally have some difficulties with the whole idea of rewriting a masterpiece, the personal reactions of one person, even the conductor, should not prevent the idea being tried out as well as possible in concert.

My one strong reservation is that I believe the audience should be told clearly that this is not a 'normal' Beethoven symphony by means of a cautionary, this-may-contain-nuts style title, just as a theatre/opera audience is well aware, often from pre-publicity, programme notes or arresting stage decoration/action, that a work is being presented within the context of the producer's personal views about the piece.

Musical history is littered with hasty, incorrect judgements (Weber and Spohr on lateBeethoven, Clara Schumann on her husband's last works etc). It is only after a high quality performance that a new idea or work can be fairly assessed and, if the GSO decides to programme Ander's piece, I would do my best to give it such a performance.


Have a good summer!

With best wishes,



Warm thanks for your talk yesterday! A lot of people came up to me after words and were inspired, and even more commented on how brave you are standing so cool in front of an orchestra who is so charged. Some are surely furious but they will have to start chewing it all. I think this is VERY EXCITING and I hope that you can feel my support, even if I might be expressing myself in a clumsy or provocative way during the presentations.

Manze is booked for a first performance in week 40, 2011…

About the contract it is okay with delivery on the 31 of March. What do you mean with ‘complete condition’? It might be good if we could put in writing something about that you are able to use the orchestra’s ordinary instrument setup, and not saxophones etc…


Best wishes!



Helena Wessman Managing and Artistic Director

GöteborgsSymfoniker AB  +46 31-726 53 04, +46 70-311 6474