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Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford


An artist recently lost a piece of artwork in the post. It had been commissioned as an illustration to a children's book for 3,000 euros, this judged by all concerned to be the right price for a piece of work from that particular artist. Compensation for the loss was claimed, but the postal authorities calculated the value of the artwork at 40 euros which, they claimed, covered a reasonable reimbursement for paper and colour materials. Fortunate perhaps, so the artist said, not to have been working on a computer, for then there would not even have been a material value.

In music it has been far more difficult to establish any sort of value for a product that cannot be seen or touched. The matter is made far easier once performers are involved, for there is quite evidently a practical skill to pay for, and the partial or complete loss of an ability to carry out the operation is clearly something to be interpreted in terms of compensation. The playing of, for instance, Tárrega's evocative guitar study Recuerdos de la Alhambra, is fascinating to watch, and it is not difficult to appreciate the material and technical value of the loss when the composer (who was a concert artist of renown) suddenly suffered a paralysis of the right side of his body in 1906 at the age of 54. But how would the loss of the manuscript of that piece have been valued before it became one of his most widely known gems?

Because music is such an abstract concept, it seems to have suffered an abstract attitude toward its value from those who listen and play, but still have no real understanding as to where it comes from and how its form materialises in a person's mind. Even those who can easily justify a good fee for preparing an extensive analysis of a substantial piece of music would be unable to calculate a basis upon which payment for the stimulus that precipitated the invention of the idea might be made.

The easiest solution is to pay for time -- either by the hours spent at the writing desk, which is how a teacher or a lawyer may be paid (though at vastly different rates!) or, far more usually and practically, by the minute duration of the end product. But is this a basis for the value of the product? It seems necessary to relate the illusive concept of value to something material, and that in turn depends on how society has decided to evaluate the creator.

The manuscript of a symphony by an unknown, undocumented 18th century composer would be valued as paper -- unless someone discovered it to be in Haydn's hand. But even if that was not so, it would still have more than paper value for the imaginative mind that created its ideas.

Copyright © 27 September 2005 Patric Standford, Wakefield, UK




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