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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Does creativity evolve?

I was thinking about this as I sat listening to the “Adagietto” movement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 during a concert I played tonight. I don’t play this movement so it’s nice to sit on stage and listen as it goes on around me. Mahler’s 5th is an expansive and difficult work, a staple of the repertoire. The Adagietto is the slow movement and it's beautiful -- at times tender, sometimes brooding, always poignantly expressive. I thought, how could anyone possibly improve on this? Some may say it's too stagnant, or have some other complaint, but no one can deny its inherent quality.

And what of that? When you think about it, the modern symphony orchestra isn’t exactly on the cutting edge of societal evolution, to quote Rush Limbaugh. Yes, there’s still quality music being written for the orchestra (and awful music too), but it still basically exists as a museum to showcase “old” music. (Never mind Pops concerts -- that’s a whole 'nother animal.)

It seems that the concept of evolution has pervaded every aspect of American thinking. If something changes, it evolves; if something develops or improves, it evolves, etc. We’re on a continual quest to “improve” everything: our lives, our houses, our tennis games, our bank accounts, etc. Not that improvement is always a bad thing, but as a goal it defines us culturally.

Does the fact that a creative artist’s work develops in a certain direction mean that only their later work is their best work? I think not. Mahler’s later works can be said to be overdone. They are probably more difficult to pull off successfully in performance.

Anyone who’s ever worked at a skill or created art knows that “progress” can ebb and flow, or, more specifically, certain elements are stronger at some times and other elements at other times. The creative process has its own sort of “punctuated equilibrium.”

The symphony orchestra itself is a creative phenomenon. Music is conceived and written for a range of musical instruments, each a unique invention in itself that utilizes the physics of sound. These instruments must then be mastered so that living music can be recreated from written notation, and all individual instrumental parts need to be played together properly to recreate the original conception of the composer. Amazing.

The Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th symphony is unique. It is unique in history, unique in personality. There never will be another "Adagietto," nor does there need to be. It cannot be improved upon.


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