Artefacts in research

I was reminded quite recently of the auction of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. It brought me back to thinking about the role of artefacts in my research practice. Over the past decade, I have done extensive archival research into Prokofiev as well as the music of Stravinsky, and that of Alexander Tcherepnin. I’ve spent countless hours looking over faded manuscripts, annotated sketches, barely legible letters, newspaper cuttings over a hundred years old, photos – to what end?

There is something undeniable powerful about holding such an artefact in your hands and looking at it without a medium. The most fascinating part of it all for me is that the manuscript tells the story of a very human process. (I’m sure this applies to any manuscript, not just music manuscripts.) For musicologists like myself, the possibilities implied by the crossed out motifs, the alternative deleted orchestration and the marginalia are suggestive not simply of what a composer was hoping to achieve, but also what might have been. This ‘what if?’ question consistently underlies my research; in my view, without curiosity and awkward questions, research cannot be creative.

Rachmaninov manuscript goes to auction

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