“An imitator shares his crown, if he has one, with the chosen object of his imitation,” the poet Edward Young declared in 1759, “an original enjoys an undivided applause.” But just where does one locate originality, and how does one determine its relationship to artistic merit and value? Over the past few decades, several developments have called the very notion of originality into question. Postmodern thought has relegated it to one among many creative paradigms — think only of the practices of interpreting Jazz standards and of sampling. Moreover, there is the stockpile of knowledge (two centuries of critical editions, often state-supported) and its explosion into the everyman’s land of Google. In moving books and manuscripts into an endlessly searchable, domestic platform, the digital revolution has likewise created new forms of knowledge and expertise. This proliferation has created brought forth “algorithmic divination,” (Freedgood), i.e. new forms of reading and other scholarly practices that unearth various unsuspected lineages of, and connections between, works. Indeed, modern scholars frequently have access to a richer and deeper range of primary sources than would the authors have had themselves. Taking these materials and tools into consideration thus offers a prime opportunity for a reassessment of musical creation and creativity in the distant past.
This panel examines originalities in musical cultures from the fourteenth through eighteenth centuries, while turning a critical eye from the dawn of the digital age toward scholarly creations of musical pasts. Each contribution opens questions about the paradox of modern musicology, at a moment when it has become possible for scholars to establish more thorough textual contents than might even have been available--or even desirable--to the creators whom they study. Eric Bianchi (Fordham) will examine Charles Burney’s writings on musical borrowing against the tension between his own covert indulgence in textual borrowing and careful cultivation of his literary reputation; Ellen Rosand (Yale) will consider Francesco Cavalli’s self-borrowings and the distorting effects of too much scholarly knowledge, and Michael Cuthbert (MIT) will discuss how new digital tools can uncover patterns of transmission and borrowing in medieval music.