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Chamber Music and Social Norms

Matt Bodie calls this Times piece about the travails of the Audubon String Quartet “a great study on the travails of a small business” for business organization profs. I agree that it’s a great study — but not only for the corporate crowd. It’s law-and-social-norms on a real stage, with an obvious IP angle, a concept elegantly captured in Matt’s concluding quotation: “To take [this dispute] to the court system seems contrary to the spirit of chamber music.”

“The spirit of chamber music.” I suspect that the phrase means something to musicians. It means little to me. Should that matter? Is this a case of an oppressed (“corporate”) minority, who merely wants his rightful share of the goodwill that he helped to create? Perhaps then the majesty of the law should prevail. Or is it a case where the creative whole is what counts, and that whole is (in a non-legal sense) greater, and more important, than the sum of its financial parts? Is this where “the spirit of chamber music” should be the rule of decision, deferring to the wisdom of the artists?

Is the group’s goodwill capable of being quantified? That’s the part of the case that perplexed me, encouraging me to subscribe to the social-norms angle. But then which artists? The article makes it clear that the artistic community is divided, even deeply so, over what “the spirit of chamber music” means in this case. Perhaps the case study teaches only that the demise of a small company is inescapably tragic.

UPDATE: The Times carries an update.