Beware of musical critics!

There are some aspects of the musical criticism which are hard (for me) to accept. The one is the incredible ease and carelessness with which people borrow and use (and sometimes even worse– misuse) citations. We have already seen it with Kalkbrenner’s concerto.

Talking to various people I realized that the blind copying does not only exist in the musical world. Mikhail Simkin, the author of entertaining quizzes but also an author of many serious papers, has very enlightening conclusions on the subject. In “Copied citations create renowned papers” he writes: “Recently we discovered [5] that copying from the lists of references used in other papers is a major component of the citation dynamics in scientific publication. This way a paper that already was cited is likely to be cited again, and after it is cited again it is even more likely to be cited in the future. In other words, “unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance”[6], [7]. This phenomenon is known as “Matthew effect” [6], “cumulative advantage” [8], or “preferential attachment” [9].
And the abstract from his “Read before you cite!” says it clearly: “We report a method of estimating what percentage of people who cited a paper had actually read it. The method is based on a stochastic modeling of the citation process that explains empirical studies of misprint distributions in citations (which we show follows a Zipf law). Our estimate is only about 20% of citers read the original.

Or even less?

The other disturbing subject (for me) is the easy made and easy given negative opinions about the unknown, forgotten composers and their work. The less a composer is known, the less is the respect for him. The examples could fill a book – in all possible languages. From the French “Histoire da la musique” in 4 volumes, published by Gallimard: “A l’exemple de quelques pianistes d’Europe centrale, notamment de Steibelt, Dussek et Cramer, qui commencent à inonder le monde musical de leurs médiocres et insignifiantes compositions, nos auteurs recherchent de plus en plus l’écriture volubile”. (“Taking example from some pianists of central Europe, like Steibelt, Dussek and Cramer, who begin to flood the musical world with their mediocre and insignificant compositions, our (French) authors seek more and more a voluble way of writing.”) After such information I hardly can imagine the young music student running to the next library in search for Dussek or Cramer…

Larry Todd in his very detailed biography of Mendelssohn surprises with: “Berger composed not only piano sonatas and nondescript etudes reminiscent of Clementi…”. Ludwig Berger (1777-1839), a former student of Clementi and the teacher of Felix and Fanny was a well-known composer and pianist, his “nondescript” etudes, op.12 (1816) and op.22 (1822) were praised by not lesser than Robert Schumann: “… diese Studien die jeder Lernende auswendig wissen müsste”. („These studies (here about op.12), should be known by heart by every student”.) Sorry Mr. Todd, many of the studies are not at all reminiscent of Clementi, they anticipate Mendelssohn, Chopin and yes, even Brahms.

Not otherwise it is in Italy – Andrea Gherzi in his ”La sonata per pianoforte nel 1700 e 1800” affirms that: “Kalkbrenner si può considerare come uno Steibelt più romantico, ma ambedue furono mediocre architetti: le loro sonate mancano di senso dinamico e drammatico, di unitarietà”. (“Kalkbrenner can be condsiderated as more romantic than Steibelt, but both were mediocre architechts: their sonatas lack a dynamical and dramatical sense and unitarity.”)

How could I deprive you of one of the pearls from renowned “The sonata since Beethoven” by William Newman: „But the weak ideas , dull accompaniments, and lack of any compelling sense of form do not suggest that master nor explain the respect in which he was held by his young friend Chopin” – this is written about the first compositions (1805) of August Klengel (1785-1852). Now – can you see any link between the youth sonatas of the composer and the friendship the same shared with Chopin 25 years later? I can’t, but I see my respect for W. Newman drastically diminishing. How strong must have been his urge to deny the talent of a “third-rate” author which led him to such logical mistakes! But who cares?
Certainly we all like some composers more and reject others, but do not the readers of scientific researches deserve a professional, objective presentation instead of cock-and-bull stories wrapped up in scientific disguise?

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