oral transmission: motivation and memorization

gldnreef at primenet.com gldnreef at primenet.com
Sat Jun 14 15:23:17 UTC 1997

At 10:07 AM 6/14/97 BST, Lars Martin Fosse wrote:

>As for music: Mozart reportedly heard a mass in the Vatican that was treated
>as a "trade secret", so that the notes were not available to the public.
>Mozart went home after hearing the mass and wrote it all down from memory.
>He went back the next day to hear it once more, and discovered to his
>chagrin that he had gotten one note wrong!
To be a be a bit of a pedant, this myth about Mozart is not entirely true.
During, I think, the lenten Penetential Mass, the beautiful __Miserere__ of
Gregorio Allegri was performed in the Sistene Chapel.  This agnst-ridden
music brought many to tears and even swooning, as I think John Ruskin
reported.  For this reason since the C. XVII the Vatican never released the
score. The gorgeous simplicity of the piece made this example of Mozart's
memory less impressive than some others.  Because of the repeats in the
music, Mozart could not have made the mistake of one note.  I have heard
many stories of "feats of memory," they often rely on the missing of one
letter, forgetting one note.
I think this is because it makes us think of the vast number of particulars
that are really the result of memorizing the form.  The __Miserere__ is
essentially a I-V cadence, a missing note would not make sense.  I don't
think the example of Truman Capote's photographic memory is comparable to
the memorization of musical or poetic forms.  As anyone who has memorized a
piece of music or a long poem knows, the joy, satisfaction, and accuracy of
performace comes from the understanding of the text as a whole -- like
spho.ta theory in a sense.  Why else would we have vyaakara.na from such an
early period, but to memorize _forms_ as illustrated in the story about
B.rhaspati in the Mahaabhaa.sya?

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