Category Archives: Medieval Compilers

Originality

My most special creative experience I had together with a friend when I was seventeen years old and we wrote a composition for the oboe and the clarinet together. The two of us created something in many free hours, a lot of evenings and some weekends. The time we spent creating it cannot really be put into words for many reasons. I’m still proud of the result, but maybe even happier with the experience of this shared creative process. This process got for the most part detached from the school project it originally was and became significant for us in itself. We did not really care anymore what our music teacher thought about the sometimes very strange harmonies we wrote, which I think was not just a sign of our stubbornness, but also a sign that things were going really well.

When it comes to creativity, this kind of experience is not valued very highly in our modern society, except maybe in pop music or when writing the scripts for films or television series. A ‘classical’ author or composer who says he or she needs others to be able to write is however a bit of a ‘loser’. Real authors should write their works on their own, or at least pretend that they isolate themselves from others to be able to write (because, of course, in a world where publishers and editors have all the power, published authors are never really autonomous).

I think about these attitudes to originality often when I try to understand the work of our medieval compilers. They were involved readers who, by compiling, but also by adapting, selecting, translating and adding to the texts of others, worked ‘together’ with the authors of their source texts (even if these authors did not know anything about that), to create something new across boundaries of space and time. That medieval compilers do not work in isolation, but openly used the work of others, does not mean their texts are not interesting, original or creative.

My friend and I finished our composition and passed our school project as well as our other final exams. After the graduation ceremony we sneaked through the dark corridors of the school down to the music room where we spent all those hours composing. While we could still faintly hear the celebrations, we secretly left our initials on the wall of the music room. I wonder if they are still there.