Addendum on Musical Quality

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In my post on ‘What makes good music?’ earlier this month I forgot to mention another indicator of quality that I’ve been thinking about quite a lot lately. This is: really good music lifts and develops performers, and makes them sound better than they do when performing merely adequate music.

It’s not necessarily any more useful as a theory than any of the other measures I mentioned, since it relies on identifying quality post hoc – it lacks predictive power. (It could be seen as an instance of a benign unintended consequence, I suppose, though I suspect that for many composers the act of potentiating the performer is anything but unintended.) And of course it only applies to repertories in which there is a performance separate from the act of creation – it tells you nothing at all about the quality of electro-acoustic music, for instance.

But it’s still a useful quality to notice. The relationship between a composer’s imaginative product and the performer’s personal investment in bringing it to life is as strange and vexed a question in musical aesthetics as the basic one of what constitutes musical value – and I’m sure the two are related somehow.

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