Towards the end of his life, around the year 427, Augustine of Hippo set out not only to catalogue all his works (in total more than five million words), but also to revise, correct, amend and even reconsider them. In addition, he described some of the circumstances in which he worked, making the Retractationes one of the earliest testimonies of – dare I say – an artistic research, in the sense of a deep and self-aware reflection on one’s own practice: „Let those, therefore, who are going to read this book not imitate me when I err, but rather when I progress toward the better. For, perhaps, one who reads my works in the order in which they were written will find out how I progressed while writing. In order that this be possible, I shall take care, insofar as I can in this work, to acquaint him with this order.“ (Augustine [ca. 427] 1968: 5)
It is this idea of the reiteration, revision and reconsideration of earlier works, thoughts or opinions that I want to explore in these contributions. Augustine’s re-thinking and even re-writing of texts reflect the typical workings of an agile mind. Likewise, every musical performance can be anything between the reiteration and the reconsideration of the composer’s original idea, of the performance itself, of the performer himself or herself. The act of reconsideration is natural and vital to the creative performer, who may constantly have second thoughts, develop new insights, change habits and rephrase opinions.
In a way, the whole music business bulks large in reiterations and reconsiderations. In pop music, everyone wants to reinvent a Beatles-song. In jazz, most performers acquire fame with the interpretation of standards. In classical music warhorses are constantly revisited.
David Bowie wrote ‘Disco King’ in 1992, but it took the song eleven years, a thorough retractatione and performance at half the original tempo for it to be included in the studio album Reality (2003), where the radiant handling of jazz chords by master pianist Mike Garson ‘reconsiders’ the song from what originally must have been some kind of disco-pastiche into a crooning statement, expressing a complex relationship between the performers and their work, and with the repertoire on which the song becomes a commentary.
On another scale and in a totally different context, the early music business has made of repetition, reiteration and reconsideration one of its core trade marks: always re-doing, re-considering, re-creating music in specific sources, or the same music in alternative sources, gaining new insights from constant repetition, recapitulation, revival, reliving. Developing new views on historical idioms, with novel thoughts about techniques and practices of bygone eras arising from daily practice.