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    Elias Canetti on conductors in Western classical music

    Quoted in Derek Bailey’s Improvisation:

    “In Crowds and Power Elias Canetti likened [the conductor] to a chief of police: ‘The immobility of the audience is as much a part of the conductor’s design as the obedience of the orchestra. They are under a compulsion to keep still. Until he appears they may move about and talk freely among themselves. The presence of the players disturbs no one; indeed they are scarcely noticed. Then the conductor appears and everyone becomes still. He mounts the rostrum, clears his throat, and raises his baton; silence falls. While he is conducting no one may move, and as soon as he finishes they must applaud. All their desire for movement, stimulated and heightened by the music, must be banked up until the end of the work and must then break loose…Presence of mind is among his essential attributes; law-breakers must be curbed instantly. The code of laws, in the form of the score, is in his hands. There are others who have it too and can check the way it is carried out, but the conductor alone decides what the law is and summarily punishes any breach of it…He is the living embodiment of the law, both positive and negative. His hands decree and prohibit. His ears search out profanation.’”