Innovation and Sonata Form

Why not go brainstorming with Beethoven and follow his footsteps into the concert hall by revisiting the process of compositional mastery?

Everybody talks about innovation today and our organisations and society at large need to be able to cope better with novelty, implementing new ideas and creating change for the better. This is old news, of course. Throughout civilisation, the progress experienced can be described in terms of innovation, but to some extent the concept of innovation seems to have created a life of its own over the last decade: the more we focus on this notion and the search for the genuinely novel, the more it slips away or gets fleshed out as a series of meaningless buzzwords that surround the development of organisations and leadership.

Why not look back at some of the scripts of innovation in the history of the art and humanities? Inventions like the central perspective in the visual arts in the the Renaissance, the format of writing novels in the Age of Enlightenment or architectural philosophy in the early 20th century that have given the world so many great endeavours that we still value immensely. The result of the innovative process in these cases is not only great art, but a change of thinking which should serve as a role model for many other sectors in society. It makes sense to look more deeply into these scripts or models and turn them into contemporary social techniques based on our cultural heritage.

Innovation in the organisation

The notion of innovation in leadership could be condensed into the question of how to implement creativity in the organisational entity. Some of the tricky hurdles in implementing new ideas in any given organisation revolve around changing the consensus on certain behaviours and improving recognisable patterns to strategic advantage. We go brainstorming and set up idea-making sessions with the leading and most knowledgeable people in the organisation. But embedding the new great ideas in the mainstream organisational consciousness is difficult. What do we do after a lively and invigorating brainstorm when dull normality and business-as-usual kicks in?

The key concepts here are convergent and divergent thinking. We accept that the results of brainstorming are deliberately in opposition to the ruling order, which means that the consensus needs to move away from its organisational comfort zone to take them in, but not disappear. And in the same way the anarchy represented by the divergent thought must open up and accept its transformation into a current of mutual norms.

Scripts in the Performing Arts

It is very useful to look at this dualism of convergent and divergent ideas in a structured way. And pure formality helps after the wild and lively brainstorming sessions are over – just as the performing arts have been doing throughout the history of culture. You will find detailed and well-developed scripts in any performing art – ballet choreography, musical composition, screenplays etc. The strict rules put creative pressure on the performers while at the same time enhancing the need to embed novelty into known formats and norms of the art.

But can we go as far as to script and stage the facilitation of the necessary transition back from the intriguing divergent thought into the mainstream like the performing arts in an organisational entity? This is a really interesting and relevant question for any survey on how to use the arts for a set of reflective models of innovation in organisational environments. Many models have been tried out – the storytelling concept perhaps as one of the best known.

BeethovenSonata Form

In this context the format of classical music could offer some useful and richer environments – formal structure is combined with compositional mastery of transitions. Classical music is both abstract and concrete at the same time, and the ability to create deep transitions for the listeners and performers is very well developed.

In Exart Performances we are currently experimenting with the classical Sonata Form in a first attempt to script the innovation processes and create a long term effect of merging divergent thoughts with the mainstream. The beauty of this compositional principle are twofold; firstly much of the frequently performed repertoire in concert halls all over the world contains at least 2 or 3 movements written in the Sonata Form (all symphonies by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler contain Sonata Form movements), and through that the music speaks to us in this fashion; secondly the compositional mastery of transitions between themes and tonalities is extremely interesting to follow for those interested in innovation.

Why not go brainstorming with Beethoven and follow his footsteps into the concert hall by revisiting the process of compositional mastery?

If you are interested in following the process of investigating the Exart Performances’ Sonata Form, have a look at the blog from Peter’s Associate Fellow presentation in Oxford last year and sign up for the newsletter.

About author
Conductor, speaker and founder of Exart Performances. Associate Fellow at Oxford University - Saïd Business School
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