All of this is very interesting, but I'm interested in a different sort of imaginary museum. Goehr's museum contains Platonic ideal constructions of pieces of music that actually exist; mine contains works that were never actually composed, and have been called into a sort of half-life by mistake.
Such works include:
- Brahms's cello concerto
- Pachelbel's Canon, by Vivaldi
- The symphonies of Chopin
- a [Name of Genre] by [Famous Person]
- a sonnet by Shakespeare
- a novel by Dickens
- a painting by Monet
- a sculpture by Michelangelo
- a play by Ibsen
- a piano concerto by Palestrina
The problem is that, while most educated people know that Shakespeare wasn't a novelist and that Monet wasn't an architect, a relatively small number are familiar with the generic conventions and history of Western classical music. So we musicians are left with an impressive and growing repertory of hypothetical works, the thought of which is alternately fascinating and repellent. (Based on the starchy orchestration in his piano concerti, I'll pass on hearing a Chopin symphony - but I'd be fascinated to hear a clever composer take on the task of constructing a piano concerto based on Palestrina motets. I wouldn't be surprised to find out that such a composition has already been written, probably by someone like Casella.)
For a typical example, here's Robertson Davies in an otherwise excellent book of published lectures:
Literature is an art, and reading is also an art, and unless you recognize and develop your qualities as an interpretive artist you are not getting the best from your reading. You do not play a Bach concerto for the solo cello on a musical saw, and you should not read a play of Shakespeare in the voice of an auctioneer selling tobacco.Reading and Writing, 18.
Now, I have an immense admiration for Robertson Davies, who was a wonderful novelist and an incisive and humane literary critic; his well-conceived allusions to musical topics in his novels and his activity as an opera librettist demonstrate that his musical knowledge was far above average. But the mistake above is pretty well the most typical example possible of the phenomenon I'm describing. To a lay audience, Bach signifies the apex of musical profundity, the cello represents an Especially Profound Instrument (blame the Romantics for that one), and the concerto represents a Significant Musical Genre. It seems only natural to combine the three things, and it's a shame that Bach never actually wrote a concerto for the solo cello. A disproportionate number of imaginary compositions are cello concerti (in the last two months I have heard cello concerti attributed to Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, none of whom wrote one), and a large proportion are by Bach, which confirms my suspicion that words like "Bach" and "cello" are rhetorical signifiers, and are not intended to allude to actual musical works (the kind with notes and things).
I am not just making fun. I'm genuinely fascinated by the thought of all of these hypothetical pieces - what would Beethoven's Requiem be like? Why didn't Brahms write a cello concerto?
One doesn't often encounter imaginary composers, however, and so I took particular delight in a conversation with a gentleman parishioner who expressed his skepticism to me about atonal modern music. He was particularly mistrustful of a German composer by the name of Spengler, and his even more unlistenable student, Max Weber. Of course he meant Schoenberg and Webern, but what sort of music would the author of The Decline of the West possibly compose? The mind reels.