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It is clear from these examples, which could be countlessly multiplied, that classical composers often regarded their creations as in some sense provisional, or as not the only way in which the underlying truth of the piece could be pursued or realised. However, it is axiomatic that this does not provide a pretext for others’ interference. The composer’s liberty is not anybody else’s. Unless the manuscript contains what may on reasonable grounds be regarded as an error (there is a clear case of a mistakenly omitted double appoggiatura in the andante of the Schubert E flat piano trio), performers should recognise that they do indeed occupy a position of necessary subordination: as translators, they have poetic licence in terms of how they realise the original, but no licence to depart from it.

Why then do some presenters of classical plays feel no such inhibition? Can part of the reason simply lie in human vanity? Though there are charlatans and egoists in the music world as there are elsewhere, the mature concert artist feels no need to impose himself on the audience by an assertion of his will in opposition to the composer’s; he is there on stage, a visible intermediary filling the ears of the audience with sound, acting simply and sufficiently as a conduit who allows the freest flow of the original work into the hearts and minds of those who listen. The director by contrast is not before the eyes of the audience in person. Too many in the theatrical mainstream feel the need to be noticed — to be admired for creating something original — and claim the right to appropriate the text of the play to this greater purpose. Not satisfied with all the opportunities provided by inherent textual ambiguity, costume, scenery, lighting, movement and the rest of the legitimate domain of the director, they must go further. The present conventions of the theatre permit and reward this approach: a cheap laugh garnered from the interpolation of a debunking modernism is seen as a justification for the subversion of the original. The idea of a reverence for the text is as unfashionable as the word itself.

Yet when we consider that the visitor to an art gallery does not wish to experience the curator’s improvements to a Velázquez portrait, nor the reader of a Flaubert novel the translator’s modish departures from the author’s sense and spirit, we may recall Lily Briscoe’s vision in To the Lighthouse: “Nothing stays; all changes; but not words, not paint.” In adding music to the categories of the changeless, one might conclude that it is not the classical musician’s respect for the original which is out of line with aesthetic principle; it is rather the lack of true imagination shown by those in the theatre who presume to place themselves between audiences and the text of the plays which they direct or translate — plays which have endured over decades or centuries, precisely because they are what they always were.

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