The exact nature of the relation in classical music between composition and performance remains at best confused and paradoxical. On the simplest level, music can hardly exist without performance; those gifted enough to “hear” music directly from a reading of the score are few, and even those fortunate individuals would doubtless admit even their talents are hardly able to do more than present a schematic, rather than a definitive, picture of the composer’s intentions. On the other hand, a musical composition can live in many realizations that differ widely in conception, quality, and competence of execution.

Furthermore, the balance between composition and performance changes for different kinds of music. Great music, as the pianist Artur Schnabel pointed out, is greater than its performers. It is difficult to think of the most cerebral works, like Bach’s Art of Fugue...


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