"I Second That Emotion" the Second

As I work and study here in Budapest in the hopes of encouraging others to consume the Hungarian operas I have come to know and love, I struggle at times with the task before me. How can I adequately inspire audiences to appreciate a work in one hearing that took me often several listens and lots of study? I am allocated time and space to grapple with these operas, but I am probably the only one on the planet that has that luxury with this repertoire. So what am I doing with it?

One of my great joys and indispensable to my research is to study a score, both in silence and to listen while following along. In this way I can watch the score unfold in real time and appreciate even more the monumental task of writing an opera. I see connections that I would not have been able to hear – for example a fugue in the finale of an opera that I saw in the score before it happened, but never would have noticed without it, which completely changed my understanding of that scene. I can see the score as a work of art in and of itself, as so many are beautifully laid out (see photos of Balassa scores). Even more enjoyable for me is to look at manuscripts and see the composer’s own hand at work, although at times hard to read. Yet most people do not have the chance to spend a day listening to LPs with score in lap scanning for details, finding connections and analyzing motives or tone rows.

All of this speaks to the power of observation, which in the realm of physics is paramount in the act of creation. For only through observation can the true potential of an object be known. A musicologist opens the proverbial steel chamber to see what became of Schrödinger’s cat. My job, then, is first to observe, and observe in as many ways as I can conceive, then encapsulate those observations in some meaningful way that not only provides information, but enjoyment in the reading as well. Just because there is an ‘ology’ attached to our field, doesn’t mean we’re not still talking about art, and hopefully there is some art in the presentation of our findings.

The catch is that people have to read it. Otherwise we are just flailing our arms while the music continues unaffected by our histrionics. I am reminded of a conversation I had with venerated musicologist Peter Burkholder in which he told me, when discussing the role of a musicologist in the world, that he sees our work as an expression of hope: hope for a world that will have the wherewithal to appreciate music more deeply and that will look to musicologists as guides in that beautiful journey. I hope that, too. I hope that more and more will see musicology as a vital part of the musical experience, not merely academic gymnastics. I hope that every day that I can live up to the responsibility given to me. I hope that as I continue to open up these musical steel boxes, I’ll find Schrödinger’s cat alive and well and ready for my next musico-gedankenexperiment. And I hope that my work as a Fulbright Fellow and our work at CDI will add meaningfully to people’s lives and tie us even deeper into the fabric of our shared humanity.


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