Sunday, January 09, 2005

Same, but not the same, Part I

I’ve been thinking about the relationship between two similar but distinctly different categories, standard repertory and canon. I think that there is something very peculiar and interesting in their relationship to one another that often goes unconsidered. At least it wasn’t a topic for discussion in any of the academic environments that I’ve been a part of. I’ll start with the definitions provided in Grove. (The entry for canon is lengthy; this is just the first paragraph.)

Standard Repertory
The term ‘standard repertory’ describes the collection of works commonly found in the programmes of Western-style orchestras, choirs and opera companies (and to a lesser extent ensembles and recital artists), containing selected works of the period roughly from Haydn to Richard Strauss and Debussy.

A term used to describe a list of composers or works assigned value and greatness by consensus. The derivation is ecclesiastical, referring to those biblical books and patristic writings deemed worthy of preservation in that they express the fundamental truths of Christianity. Some connotative values associated with this derivation, notably claims for ethical qualities and a universal status, occasionally cling to the term in its aesthetic applications.

The canon, as a concept, has received intense scrutiny at the hands of musicological examination. In contrast, ‘standard repertory’ while being an ambiguous moving target, hard to trace, hasn’t been as embattled. If you drew circles to represent both, they would be mostly (not entirely) overlapping and the circle that represents canon would be dramatically larger than the one for standard repertory.

The canon, in its problematic existence, is rather fixed with occasional additions here and there. The ‘standard repertory’ is ever changing at the whim of conductors, performers, and audiences and is presently shrinking.

Tomorrow I’ll delve deeper.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciated seeing the two definitions from Groves! And I do agree with your further despcriptions (eg. overlapping, size relationship, etc.) of the terms.

here I quote the Living Composer --
...The ‘standard repertory’ is ever changing at the whim of conductors,
performers, and audiences and is presently shrinking.

This caused a bit of a canondrum (hehe) for me. If the standard repertory is ever changing (which I do believe it is), and if with each decade that passes there are 1000's of new works written (aside from whether they're included in the SR or not), then how in the world is the SR shrinking? I believe the only way the SR could be shrinking is if orchestras were now regularly repeating exactly the same works within the concert season. I'm sure this happens, however, this has happened since the beginning of organised performance. Is SR not simply a catalogued collection/list of the repertoire performed by Western-style performance bodies?

by definition from Grove: ...collection of works COMMONLY found in the programmes ...etc.

Well, there may be this waning of common repertoire on programs, however, I think that if there's any reason for a shrinking SR it lies fixed in the shrinking of this country's cultural arts budget.

Yes, 80 years ago perhaps a work commonly found on US orchestral programs was Kubla Khan by C.T. Griffes or Aus Italian by R. Strauss. Not today, however, sooooo much music has burst forth since then and has added itself into the SR.

Apologies for the muddled maze of thoughts here. I like this particular Blog on the net!

6:40 AM  
Blogger The Living Composer said...

Dear Anon,

I’m glad that you are enjoying the blog. Please spread the word. The more discussion that develops, the better the blog can be.

Your point is well taken. Everything depends on the word ‘commonly.’ Programming has experienced an increase in variety in the recent past. Of personal interest has been the proliferation of works by living composers. Unfortunately, very few of these pieces gain enough momentum to join the SR based upon my concept of ‘commonly.’ Again, it is a matter of definition.

When you mention shrinking arts budgets as a source of a downward turn, I think you are right on the money! My main reason for believing that the SR is presently shrinking has to do with the tendency of orchestras to ride ‘warhorses’ to bring in needed revenue during tough times. I’ve even read articles concerned with these warhorses giving out if over used. The tendency is to go conservative when times are tough.

One way to track this has been with the American Symphony Orchestra Leagues’ annual report on repertoire performed. There’s a lot of glomming on to certain pieces, and more repetition from year to year of certain works. For a while, it seemed that every orchestra in the US had Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances (still one of my favorites) on their schedule within a three-year period. But there are lots of interesting blips too. Pieces just appear and disappear.

In the larger scheme of things the SR probably is larger. The trend I’m noticing is post 90s boom. And then there are the other SRs that I’m not talking about (European, Choral, Chamber, etc.).

6:15 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home