Caveat lector

I was thinking over the weekend about the latest Internet hoax, the one where an Irish college student inserted a fake quote into Maurice Jarre‘s Wikipedia page just after Jarre’s death, and the quote was duly featured in a number of newspaper obituaries. Though I was disappointed in the student’s attempt to explain the hoax as some sort of sociological experiment—it was a prank, enjoy it and stop trying to puff yourself up—kudos nevertheless for coming up with material that would irresistibly play into the persistently Romantic impression of composing among the laity:

“When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear.”

How much traction would this particular hoax have gotten with a more realistic quote? Something like—

“When I die, I’ll be busy re-voicing the harmonies in the accompaniment so the clarinets aren’t arpeggiating across their break.”

The hoax has predictably engendered another round of hemming and hawing about Wikipedia, which I suppose is useful for dispelling any lingering impression that Wikipedia is a court of last intellectual resort. (To me, it’s rather like taking a subway map to task for not being a topographical atlas.) Then again, the alternative has its own issues. Surfing the edges of this story, I learned a nice bit of trivia: the first article to make it through the peer-review process of Nupedia, Wikipedia’s expert-only ancestor, was musicologist Christoph Hust’s entry for “Atonality.” You can still read that first entry at the Internet Archive. Here’s how it starts:

Atonality in a general sense describes music that departs from the system of tonal hierarchies that characterized the sound of classical European music from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries (please see the longer article “tonality” for further explanation). Currently, the term is used primarily to describe compositions written approximately 1900 to 1930, in which tonal centers that had been fundamental to most European music since about 1600 are abandoned.

1930? Really? What would that make the technical term for, say, Jean Barraqué’s musical vocabulary? Très piquant? Skepticism is a 24/7 job.

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