The other day I went to the Bridget Riley exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery. In one room, there was a large Riley painting, painted directly onto a white wall. I stepped forward to read the plaque. It said the painting was owned by a gallery in Germany. How could it get to Edinburgh, then? Was the whole wall somehow cut out and transported?
Someone explained to me that in fact the artist’s ‘team’ would have come and painted the design on to the wall in Edinburgh, freehand but closely following her specifications. When the exhibition ends, the wallpainting will be painted over or erased in some way.
Many of the works in the exhibition, I was told, would have been painted by Team Riley. She originates the design and works out how it is to be realised, specifying everything from the precise colour of the white wall to the particular shades and densities of colour. The actual realisation is done by a dedicated and specialist band of ‘interpreters’.
‘Is there anything equivalent in music?’ I wondered.
In classical music, the composer is the originator of the idea, but we performing musicians are the ones who actually turn it into sound. After all, the musical score is silent. It has potential power, but musicians give it kinetic power – painting it freehand onto the wall, if you like, to enable others to perceive it. Because this is felt to be a collaboration between composer and performer, we do put our names to these ‘interpretations’ and hope to get some credit for them.
Music is different, though, because it is transient. It doesn’t stay painted onto the wall. (There are recordings, of course, but that’s a whole different story.) It vanishes as soon as it’s over, and has to be created anew. No matter how closely I think I’m following the composer’s instructions, my ‘freehand version’ will probably be slightly different from what they imagined, and it will also be different from the next pianist’s, and the next’s. But I suppose in our own way we are all Team Mozart.