In our profession, we prick up our ears each time we come across words like dictionary, terminology, thesaurus and the like. We have dozens of glossaries yet never have enough in our specialties. However, every now and then, there is also the unusual reference that comes out of the blue, the temptation of something remotely related to what we do for work. So we indulge ourselves, simply for enjoyment. In this context Nicolas Slonimsky’s Lexicon of Musical Invective could be a title impossible to resist, and a very welcome distraction.
This authentic lexicon was first published in 1953. It spans nearly two centuries and covers a few continents of merciless appraisers of contemporary composers. It is an astonishing and often hilarious collection of not-so-prophetic reviews about visionaries whose music today is widely played, taught, recorded and praised. Nevertheless, from Brahms to Sibelius or Chopin, no one is spared in this collection of disparaging, vehement, at times violent diatribes. Slonimsky even invented a splendid word to express how some critics can vesuviate their disapproval of novelty. Musician, musicologist, writer, and a composer himself, multitalented Nicolas Slonimsky also provides us with translations into English from German, Italian, and French of these international imprecations, and nearly 30 additional pages were needed to index those disagreements into a wailing Invecticon. Expressions like ‘disintegration of an Irish potato’ and ‘unkind aspersion of the devil’ force us to discover new horizons. And it is disconcerting to see which great composers attracted such final judgements about their creativity, and how futile these misgivings look today.
Maybe because these days we are continuously encountering the FIT17 slogan, Disruption and Diversification, it was tempting to see a parallel in reactions against change. The discontented critics in Slonimsky’s anthology may or may not have used the exact words of the FIT17 motto, although a few came close with ‘disturbing’ and ‘diversion’. All these composers displayed various levels of disruption ahead of their time and long before the time of the FIT17 Congress, but most of them no longer hurt anybody’s feelings today – quite the contrary. We remain humble, however: it is not about pretending there is a parallel on a grand scale between the evolution of different ways of composing music and the multiple aspects of translation and interpreting, but rather a question about change, about our resilience as our practices evolve. Our professions are facing a massive and disruptive turmoil, a symphony of diverse technologies, of new instruments, of new alliances. Our Congress plans to offer some food for thought with its slogan not too far from the subtitle of Slonimsky’s foreword: the Non-acceptance of the unfamiliar.
Not so long ago, at the onset of the email era, very large organisations almost overnight started installing a workstation on the desk of every single member of staff. This really disruptive move generated very diverse reactions, as roles, hierarchies and perspectives were seriously turned upside down. Yet could we imagine not seeing a computer in an office today? Or, to be more precise: for the time being?
See you in Brisbane!