Author:Segate, Riccardo Vecellio

Musical instalments occupy a unique place in the cultural heritage constellation, and yet, neither scholarly literature nor legislative texts take account of this unique status. In particular, movable instruments are considered as a stand-alone category for export purposes, whereas a fairer approach would call into consideration their performative potential and artistic history. A violin which is not played is worth only part of its artistic potential, and along analogous lines, a violin which is played in a decontextualised manner does not fulfil the promises it was crafted for. An instrument's links to its reference community of composers, interpreters, listeners, artisans and intellectuals should be factored in when it comes to deciding whether a musical treasure is worth more leaving a country or remaining therein. On top of this, the law should refrain from perpetuating a dichotomy--that between tangible and intangible heritage--which is at best simplistic and, regarding music, decidedly unhelpful. The more the link of a musical treasure to a country is genuine and time-proof, and the more precious and playable that instrument is, the more such a treasure should be allowed to circulate, by reason of joint cultural and economic arguments. The true specificity of this cultural heritage category should be met with policy special care in all relevant scenarios, including appropriation by former colonies and regime conflicts with, for example, environmental or private property law.


    Before being hosted within [a] museum, [the Stradivari violin] travelled all around Europe. [It] was once played: the few privileged virtuosos who did so, left enthusiastic memories about it. We must trust them; if a violinist were to try today, the so-called 'Messiah'would not bear the pressure, its wooden fibres would crack down broken, fadingforever. Messiah's value? Unconceivable, and zero; indeed, a musical instrument which cannot play music remains merely a beautiful piece of wood. (1)

    Paintings and sculptures feature in the large majority of disputes arising from the definitional scope of the expression 'national treasure' and limitations thereto, (2) while virtually no attention has been paid to musical heritage as a national treasure. This article starts to fill this lacuna, by making the case for adopting a radical change of mindset in the field of art export control, as far as musical instruments are concerned. The starting point {Section 2} of the suggested reasoning is that non-digital musical instruments differ from any other kind of cultural heritage, in that their 'object-activity' rationale resides in their 'ability' to be played, transforming themselves into 'performative agents' which transcend (yet magnify) their historicity. As such, it will be argued that this 'performativity' should be deemed relevant and factored in when it comes to assessing whether or not musical instruments should come within the disputed label of 'national treasure'. Following a conceptualisation of music as heritage {Section 3} and a brief recapitulation of what national treasures are {Section 4}, a few adjustments will be proposed to the main legal instruments pertaining to the EU, Italian and global legal frameworks, in order to make them sensitive to the aforementioned uniqueness.

    Generally placing an emphasis on functionality, performativity, and instrumentality, it will be argued {Sections 5-10} that:

  2. Public institutions have a moral duty to keep alive and pass on to the next generations the highest possible value of musical legacy, without impairing any of its possible 'operationalisations'. This transmission features a material and a spiritual side, undiscernible one from the other: musical instruments are art themselves, but such an art is not wholly 'realised' without its related performance; the art of a musical instrument which no longer produces sounds is only half concretised and--in its most positive meaning--commercially exploited. For these reasons, national and international legislators should escape the tangible/intangible polarisation, which hardens the possibility to fully realise musical instruments' potential.

  3. Traditional (here in the wider sense of 'acoustic', 'non-digital') musical instruments are linkable to specific repertoires which were conceived on them and for them, representing an unicum together with 'their' instruments themselves. This means that what repertoire players are going to perform with them is a relevant and even necessary consideration to assess export convenience and suitability; a stricter correlation is warranted between what is exported and why. If the export has performative rather than display purposes, export should be made easier (see point above) and most importantly, make sense of the instrument's artistic history.

  4. Instruments and the context-specific performances they allow for should be regulated jointly, 'as a whole'. This calls for limiting artistic alienation, whilst strengthening references to an instrument's individual history, including its relationship with specific interpreters, territories, artisanal know-how, and even audiences and artistic/intellectual movements. Ephemeral technologies of dubious applicability should be rejected, whenever they decontextualise, mechanise and synthetise sounds through pretentious protection aims. Musical instruments engender a record of belongings which may still contribute to the genius loci of entire communities and civilisations.

  5. The just-illustrated 'subjectivity' might sound frictional with an interpretation of musical instruments as commons, whereas in fact the two understandings are in fact complementary. Relaxing the rules for the export of instruments for performance purposes (and preferring it over museal exhibition) bears cosmopolitan connotations as well, in that it enhances musical fruition without contrasting with employing instruments and their 'related music ' as a powerful territory's 'ambassadors' of beauty and culture.

  6. If anything, the possible normative tension is twofold and concerns the commons vs property paradigm, as well as the culture vs environment one. The first balances the right to access musical culture comprehensively with the private right to possess and protect musical instruments; the second sees environmental preservation exceptions trumping cultural rights. In open disagreement, it will rather be suggested that music's contribution to sustainable development is under-researched and underrated; moreover, there is no reason why environmental arguments should necessarily trump cultural ones when it comes to export control.

  7. Economically and ideally, it just makes more sense to lessen export requirements for musical instruments, especially for performative purposes, and provided the utilisers keep track of their history and artistical roots. Similarly, State appropriation of musical instruments should be appraised against the performativity history of those instruments, never nominally; and when they are post-colonially 'adopted', they should continue to be performed, thus--apologies for the pun!--played rather than displayed. This also helps avoid low-profile 'art touristicisation'. Tangentially, no leasing that hampers the meaningfulness of their performativity should be permitted.

    Brief concluding thoughts {Section 11} will recap the main arguments and exemplify their possible application by providing a simple and abstract scheme susceptible to adaptation to national legal orders.

  8. Musical Instruments as Performative Cultural Heritage

    Evidemment, ce n 'est que de I 'art qui s'incarne dans la chose materielle, ou de l'objet materiel transforme lui-meme en oeuvre d'art par la creation artistique, autrement dit ce n 'est que des arts plastiques, que nous devons nous occuper ici. Dans les cas de la litterature et de la musique, par exemple, les objets (les livres, les partitions) ne sont que des supports ou des moyens de conservation de l'oeuvre de creation et non la creation spirituelle (ou l'incarnation) elle-meme. L'oeuvre d'art musicale n 'est pas la partition, qui ne sert qu 'a la perpetuer, mais elle est (re) creee par l'interprete a chaque execution. De meme, l'oeuvre d'art litteraire ne s'identifie pas du tout avec le manuscrit ou le texte imprime, qui en est seulement le support materiel. (3) Listeners, viewers and readers alike are emotionally 'moved' by cultural heritage, (4) yet music can be said to proceed well beyond: it is the most sophisticated human emotional language. (5) Academics have posited that "[u]nlike literary writing, painting, or other aesthetic practices, music leaves behind no immediate material traces. Rather, it is coextensive with its own performance". (6) However, what follows is not about musical expression as an intangible or absolute form of art, but rather, about instruments as its deliverer, as "carriers and modulators of musical practices and their transmission" (7) which were crafted in order to 'operationalise' the music conceived ex ante for their technical features. (8) For the point this paper puts forward, other objects related to musical performance are irrelevant; for instance, one does not play a musical score directly, one simply reads it in order to play; the 'performative moment' happens thanks to the score, but not through or on the score. Similarly, one may look at a painting, observe a sculpture or an architecture, admire an historical astronomical telescope, watch an independent movie, but will generally not perform, produce anything self-standingly meaningful through them or on them.

    The only 'bug in the theory' could prima facie be the book as cultural heritage, which might be an antique and/or precious object for performativity (reading out loud). However, this parallelism seems to be more theoretical than practical: are books publicly read as much as instruments are publicly played? Are books as performative...

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