6 Further WCM delusions
6.4 Current performances offer the best solutions
This is self-evidently taken for granted, and the profession organised around it, because ‘the best for us’ (which is perfectly reasonable: current performance should reflect current values) is unthinkingly assumed to be equivalent to ‘the best’ tout court. Most generations have probably thought that their own performances were better than those of their predecessors or their younger followers. Performance style changes, and so the past always seems a little quaint and the younger generation misguided. It’s just that now that we have recordings and know how much style changes it’s become unreasonable not to be aware of those tendencies and to be more modest in claims for one’s own generation’s correctness. The confusion is assisted by the belief, which may have some truth in it, that current standards of technique are, in general, higher than they have ever been. If that’s true we have recording to thank for it. The ability of every player to hear the work of every other online is only an extreme form of a tendency that’s been intensifying since commercial recording began. You can’t expect to get work if you don’t play as accurately as the others that potential employers can easily hear: dissemination through recording forces competition on those who wish to make careers; and so there is inflation.
One might expect that along with this would go competition to be more interesting and thus for performances to diversify. But that seems not to happen, or only within such narrow limits that it hardly amounts to diversification. The reasons why are many, but in brief one could list pressure to do what teachers, exams, competitions, and potential employers expect, not to challenge the identities that have been constructed around standard readings of scores lest one be accused of ignorance or deviance (“that isn’t Brahms”); in other words, the sorts of things we’ve begun to look at and will examine more closely and critically as we go along. Above all, because all this belongs within a self-replicating system (which we’ll model in Chapter 7), performers are forced to sound the values of the musical State, with the most successful being those who do it most persuasively. Current performance thus has to be believed to be the best possible performance, because the State is the best possible state.