Thursday, January 30, 2014

To Be or Not:
Is “The Star-Spangled Banner” Really Based on an Old English Drinking Song?

by Mark Clague

As we approach the September 14, 2014, bicentennial of the United States national anthem, online resources about the anthem's history are multiplying. Such replication in the case of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is encouraging, but it also raises a concern when the sheer volume of information obscures reliable information.<1> Francis Scott Key's lyric may well be the nation's most frequently performed song, yet the remarkable and rich detail of its history is largely forgotten.

An internet search of the phrase “the Star Spangled Banner is a drinking song” offers some 50,000+ hits. Such postings rehearse a fun but irreverent reputation and one that cuts along but—in my view at least—ultimately across historical evidence. Mythology is most resilient when it has a grain or two of truth, and that is indeed the case with the tale of alcohol and “The Anacreontic Song.”

The Banner-as-drinking-song claim is based on the notion that the melody used by Key<2> for his 1814 lyric is taken from the “old English drinking song” called “To Anacreon in Heaven” (AKA simply “Anacreon” and, most precisely, “The Anacreontic Song”). This was the “Constitutional Anthem” of  the Anacreontic Society, a convivial amateur music and supper club that operated in London from 1766 until the early 1790s.<3> Certainly club members drank at meetings, and jolly good fun was vital to the society's fellowship and success. Yet, the implication of this tale of a star-spangled drinking song is rather that “The Anacreontic Song” was sung in London and early American pubs by enthused collectives of inebriated vocalists hoisting tankards of ale. Such an image, although celebrated on YouTube by a few vocal comedy troupes, runs counter to historical evidence of origin and use, and dead against the musical evidence provided by the song itself.

If the question is whether or not the tune encouraged spirited fellowship accompanied by wine and stronger libations, then yes, “Anacreon” can be considered a drinking song. If the question is whether its ultimate purpose was to accompany the consumption of alcohol, then the answer is surely no. It was rather the gentleman's club anthem of an aspiring music-and-supper society dedicated to art and fellowship. (Harpsichord accompaniment simply doesn't sound to advantage in a pub, anyway.)

Anacreontic Society members were drawn from an aspiring class of London society who could afford dues and had the leisure to attend their gatherings. According to contemporary accounts, these meetings were meant to be impressive society events “conducted under the influence of the strictest propriety and decorum.”<4> They were sufficiently decorous to have welcomed Haydn, who was entertained in January 1791 at the beginning of his first London sojourn. According to the London Times:
Mr. Haydn, from Vienna, was introduced to the meeting, for the first time, and received by Mr. Hankey, the President, with great civility. On entering the Concert room he was greatly applauded, and the band very opportunely played one of his charming concertos.<5>
Anacreontic Society meetings began not with boisterous song but with a two-hour instrumental concert of symphonies and chamber music, performed by hired professional musicians. The concert was followed by dinner and then several hours of singing, when catches, glees, and other songs were offered by a mixture of the more skilled club members and professional ringers. Other members made up the audience, likely participating in choruses and humorous banter with those on stage. Certainly alcoholic drinks were served, and it was not uncommon for society members to remain past midnight. Only men were members, and while some of London's music clubs regularly included women (e.g., the Catch Club), the presence of women at the Anacreontic Society was controversial, likely because of the discipline their presence required.

As their anthem, “The Anacreontic Song” was performed after dinner at every meeting to inaugurate the vocal festivities. It was sung not by the collective, but by a single, skilled tenor soloist. Its 1779 sheet music imprint includes keyboard accompaniment, likely rendered on the harpsichord. The featured tenor was sometimes the club's president (in the event he possessed the requisite skill) or more typically one of the regular professionals. The melody was thus conjured by its composer to permit a trained solo voice to command and impress the crowd, justifying its wide melodic compass of a twelfth and the high key of C major. (Its ceremonial role further explains why the tune is so difficult for groups of amateurs to sing today, as it was never intended for mass singing, but rather to enable an exceptional vocalist to show off in heroic style.)

Remarkably, the individual renditions were not infrequently noted by such papers as the Times. The soloist could be criticized for over-dramatizing the words, which suggests both that a standard of decorum was in force but also that communicating the lyric to heighten the tale of the club’s patronage by the Greek poet Anacreon and the god of music Apollo in compelling fashion was vital to the performance aesthetic. Club members sang the chorus in four-part harmony, thus repeating the last line of each stanza, and joined “hand-in-hand” (likely while singing along) to emphasize their fellowship in the final stanza. Possibly referencing the choral traditions of Greek drama, the collective's commentary here repeated and affirmed the lyrics delivered by the club's president or his stand in.

Drawing upon the talents of our student vocalists at the University of Michigan, led by my colleague Jerry Blackstone, we recorded a version of “The Anacreontic Song” for Poets & Patriots: A Tuneful History of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

For comparison, here is our performance of the first sheet music imprint of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in an 1814 arrangement by Thomas Carr based closely on “The Anacreontic Song.”

With lyrics by Ralph Tomlinson (1744–78) and music by one of the Society’s hired keyboardists John Stafford Smith (1750–1836), at that time a young but already award-wining composer of popular song, “The Anacreontic Song” was greatly successful from the first. Its popularity grew with the club, such that meetings would soon be attended by upwards of 200 members and guests. This allowed the organization to move its meetings to a prestigious restaurant on the Strand, and the  lyrics were updated to reflect the change. The song also escaped the bounds of society meetings to be parodied in London’s theatres and to accrue dozens of new lyrics both in Britain and, soon after, in the new United States that were printed and reprinted in newspapers and anthologized in songsters.<6>

Whatever the source of Key’s knowledge of the tune, it is likely that he experienced the melody in Maryland and the environs of the District of Columbia as an American patriotic tune used with various alternative lyrics at least since 1793 to articulate partisan debates, presidential politics, mourn George Washington’s death, and celebrate the Fourth of July. It is certain that Key knew the tune before he wrote his famous text, as he had previously created words for one other patriotic song using the melody: in December 1805 he wrote and sang “When the Warrior Returns” for a dinner party honoring two naval heroes, Commodore Stephen Decatur and Lieutenant Charles Stewart.

The Gritty Details

Today's reputation of “To Anacreon in Heaven” as a drinking song, upon which the United States national anthem is based, results from six nuances:
1. The concluding text of the song's chorus that always includes the phrase “the Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus's Vine,” plus the song's sixth and final verse which contains a toast to the club's future: “While thus we agree, / Our Toast let it be: / May our Club flourish happy, united, and free! / And long may the Sons of Anacreon intwine / The Myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s Vine.”

2. The name of the later, prestigious restaurant at which the club met, “the Crown and Anchor Tavern on the Strand.” Initially the club met at the London Coffee-house.

3. Association with the often hedonistic poetry of Anacreon, at least as popularized in English, and the affiliated genre of light, humorous lyrics featuring women and wine, known generally as “Anacreontics.”

4. Other parody lyrics used for the tune, including “The New Bibo” and “Jack Oakum in the Suds,” both of which feature the cliché of a drunken sailor.

5. The 1920s debate over whether or not “The Star-Spangled Banner” should be named the country's official national anthem. Any association with alcohol was particularly damaging to the song's candidacy during this America’s prohibition era (1920–33), precisely when legislation naming the Banner the official United States anthem was being considered. Those against Key's song as anthem celebrated its “drinking song” ancestry.

6. The Internet's ability to share, repeat, and reinforce this reputation.
1. Rather than a pub, the Crown and Anchor Tavern on the Strand was a fashionable restaurant with a large ballroom that entertained many of London's leading clubs and political associations. The prestige of the venue was such that the Society printed the restaurant's name on the 1779 souvenir sheet music imprint of its anthem, while the name of the composer was left off (presumably because he was a hired hand and not a member). The size and scale of the meetings required a large venue accustomed to hosting sizable gatherings and with felicitous acoustics, such that a ballroom could be set for an orchestral concert, with attendees retiring to another room for supper, while the main room was reset for an evening of song. Such a venue is a far cry from a pub.

2. In both musical style and lyrical content “Anacreontics” were meant to be enjoyable to sing and entertaining for listeners. Yet they aimed at convivial fellowship among an aspiring class consciousness, centered on the many musical clubs in London and beyond. Offshoots included Anacreontic Societies in New York and Baltimore. Anacreontics frequently invoke wine, but rarely grog or beer, and they recite literary elements of classical myth. Songs were first performed from manuscript and transmitted through a print culture of notated music and lyrics. Published in 1804 and 1805, the Baltimore Musical Miscellany was one such vehicle. It includes a parody of the “To Anacreon in Heaven” melody under the title “The Social Club.” First published in Edinburgh in 1792, the lyric is a celebration of self-improvement through musical fellowship. Like “The Anacreontic Song” its narrative takes place on Mount Olympus where Mercury reports on the activities of a singing society. Jove after viewing their work from above, offers this verse (which, of course, can be sung to the melody we now know as “The Star-Spangled Banner.):
Well pleas’d with the prospect thus spake mighty Jove—
“View you little band! link’d by friendship’s strong chain,
“Such merit assistance requires from above,
“Celestials!—your gifts they deserve to obtain;
“Let each god bestow,
“On these mortals below,
“The virtues most suitable for them to know,
“That, improving in knowledge, they at length may unite
“The study of wisdom with social delight.”<7>
3. The earliest references in print that I have found to the tune Anacreon as a drinking song do not appear until the later 19th c. and invoke not “The Anacreontic Song,” but two other 18th-century parodies of the melody that spoof military heroism: “Jack Oakum in the Suds” and the earlier and more frequently anthologized song “The New Bibo” (1789). While their humorous intent is clear, within the context of club meetings they may have functioned less as “drinking songs” than morality tales urging moderation. In each a British sailor dies from over indulgence and is propelled to the banks of the River Styx, where he encounters the ferryman Charon. Hijinx ensue, and in the case of Jack Oakum, the “old seaman” assumes Charon's job but requires payment in grog.
4. Temperance songsters from the 1840s through '60s, use the melody (referenced as “The Star Spangled Banner,” not “Anacreon”) for lyrics describing the social cost of drunkenness and, by implication, arguing by means of patriotic melody that the United States should ban alcohol. While it is possible temperance activists had a wicked sense of humor, it is more likely that they knew nothing of the melody's connections with alcohol.
More compelling than the question about whether the label “drinking song” is or is not accurately connected with “The Star-Spangled Banner” is the question of why the idea is so persistent and popular, especially today. Certainly the Internet facilitates the claim, but it's intriguing to consider that the idea is attractive because it reinforces aspects of American ideology while also counteracting certain troubling components of national identity. The notion of a populist drinking song transformed into the official national anthem of a global military, economic, and cultural Superpower fulfills desires of our national narrative—that an upstart and democratic people with a can-do “Yankee Doodle” spirit could rise above their elite European ancestors to transform a ragtag colony into a nation due international respect. Similarly, the anthem as drinking song narrative offers the image of an always unified, sonorous, and fun-loving people as substitute for the nation's more discordant history of struggle to find community across boundaries of race, class, ethnicity, and gender. In actuality, the dozens upon dozens of forgotten lyrics of patriotism and protest fundamental to the journey of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and its melody from club anthem to patriotic victory song to national anthem tell a more motley, but engaging tale.
NOTE: Whether or not the average singer today might have better odds of hitting the Banner’s high notes after steeling him or herself with a brisk shot is a matter outside the bounds of this study.

Mark Clague is Associate Professor of Music, American Culture, and African American Studies at the University of Michigan, and editor-in-chief of the Gershwin Critical Edition.


1. See the online resources page of for informative links addressing the national anthem.

2. Another oft-repeated myth about the Banner is that someone other than Key matched the text of his “poem” to the Anacreontic melody. Research as well as common sense shows, however, that Key had the melody firmly in mind when he composed the text, which therefore should be considered at its inception to be a song lyric, not simply a poem. See the discussion of “When the Warrior Returns” below.

3. A detailed and thoroughly researched account of The Anacreontic Society is found in William Lichtenwanger’s The Music of 'The Star-Spangled Banner: From Ludgate Hill to Capitol Hill (Library of Congress, 1977); reprinted from the July 1977 issue of the Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress. Details throughout this essay are taken from Lichtenwanger, and it is this article that firmly establishes John Stafford Smith as the composer of “The Anacreontic Song.”

4. Lichtenwanger, p. 5, quoting Charles Morris et al., The Festival of Anacreon ... (7th edn., London: George Peacock, [1787]), pt. 1, pp. 6–7.

5. London Times, 24 January 1791, p. 2.

6. Richard S. Hill traces 85 lyrics using the melody of “The Anacreontic Song” in his 1951 article “The Melody of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ in the United States before 1820,” in Essays Honoring Lawrence C. Wroth (Portland, ME: The Anthoensen Press, 1951), pp. 151–93. Hill limits his exploration to songsters and thus misses examples printed only in newspapers. A definitive study tracing lyrics to the melody since 1820 remains to be completed.

7. “The Social Club” in the Baltimore Musical Miscellany, or, Columbian Songster (Baltimore: Cole and Hewes for S. Butler, 1805), Vol. 2, pp. 158–60.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Conference Report: Video Game Music

by Ryan Thompson

I enjoyed speaking at the inaugural North American Conference on Video Game Music, which took place at Youngstown State University during the holiday weekend of January 17–20. Conference organizer Steven Reale and his program committee, chaired by William Gibbons, showed, indisputably, how the small research conference—I'm carefully avoiding the word “niche”—remains a critical venue in our field. One especially nice touch was the art exhibit by the gathering space: brief videos showed the faces of game players as they worked through a first-person-shooter.

The breadth of game and music repertoire explored at the conference dispelled any notion that the field is narrowly defined. Presenters employed a variety of approaches, including source studies (Dana Plank-Blasko’s paper revealed some missing accidentals in implementations of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565, while Eugene Belianski shared his work on the iMUSE engine, the interactive music system used in Monkey Island 2); Schenkerian and other methods of analysis (including a well-spoken presentation by an undergraduate student); semiotic domains (my own presentation on audio in “eSports” games); mismatched aesthetics (1912 arrangements of the Beach Boys and Cindi Lauper in Bioshock Infinite); connections between games and film in papers by Neil Lerner and Iain Hart; and the incorporation of gameplay themes into musical ones and vice versa (Steven Reale’s presentation on Portal 2).

League of Legends
which has 27 million daily players
Karen Collins’s keynote address noted a common problem faced by nascent research areas: since there are so few people studying video game music, there are by extension few peers to review our work adequately. Whereas a mistake in a Brahms biography is corrected immediately by other specialists, errors in video-game history are likely to go unnoticed—or, worse, be cited as fact is subsequent work. Collins, whose own research has documented the history of pinball machines and their mechanical predecessors, encouraged the adoption of a broad definition of “games,” and to tread carefully in creating canons. Canon formation, as important as it can be, also runs the risk of excluding wide swaths of potentially significant research materials. A cursory glance at the conference program reveals the many types of video games that remain in need of further study. Toys specifically designed for and marketed to children come to mind (like the Leapster line of products), as do slot machines and gambling devices of any sort, all of which fall under the wide umbrella of “video games.”

It was bracing that Steven Reale had invited so engaging a group of Youngstown State undergraduate students to attend the conference. Having an interested, participatory body of young college students was motivating (and a sign of good things to come for the future of musicology, video games aside). If the field at large learns one lesson from this event, I hope it is that energetic and enthusiastic students can powerfully transform a conference. I look forward to the work these scholars will accomplish, and of course to next year’s conference.

Ryan Thompson is a Ph.D. student in musicology at the University of Minnesota. His research focuses primarily on exploring relationships between audio and gameplay. He has previously presented on Left 4 Dead, Bastion, and Final Fantasy VI at the Music and the Moving Image conference held at New York University. In his spare time, Ryan contributes to video game music community OverClocked ReMix. When he is not spending time researching or playing with his one-year old son, he can be found online as @BardicKnowledge in various places around the web.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Gluck's Nationality

by Eric Schneeman
NOTE: 2014 marks the Gluck tercentenary and the bicentenary of The Star-Spangled Banner. We treat the latter in a forthcoming post.

In November 2013, I received a very nice letter from a student at the Staatliche Realschule in Berching, a town in the Upper Palatinate region of Bavaria, asking me to summarize my research on Gluck for a booklet celebrating the 300th anniversary of his birth on 2 July 1714. Erasbach, the village of his birth, is now a district of Berching. Berching’s website lists a number of Gluck-related events for the tercentenary celebration: visitors can see a multimedia presentation at the Gluck Museum and, similar to the Goethewanderweg in Thuringia, can walk a 6.5 km (two-hour) Gluck-Wanderweg past the Geburtshaus and baptismal church. It seems quite a production for a composer who lived there for only the first three years of his life. (The nearby village of Weidenwang, likewise a district of Berching, long claimed Gluck as its native son also: both places have a monument and a Geburtshaus.)

But was Gluck Bavarian or Bohemian?  

The confusion over his birthplace and national identity, as Daniel Heartz points out, comes from the fact that the Upper Palatinate originally belonged to Bohemia and was only awarded to Bavaria after the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, the year Gluck was born.<1> (His baptism was recorded in the shared parish register for Weidenwang and Erasbach.)<2> To add to the confusion, when Gluck married Maria Anna Bergin in 1750, the marriage certificate indicates the nearby town of Neumarkt as his birthplace.<3> The family moved to Reichstadt (now Liberec) in Bohemia when the composer was three, later relocating to several other villages in the region; finally his father, Alexander Johannes Gluck, moved the family to Eisenberg (Jezeří) to become the head forester for Prince Philipp Hyazinth von Lobkowitz. In their recent biography, Gerhard and Renate Croll note how the young Gluck was surrounded by Germans—his mother was definitely a German and his father was in daily contact with Germans and had to use German for official purposes—and the composer’s German letters have peculiarities of the Upper Palatinate dialect.<4> Yet his student Salieri said that Gluck spoke Czech.<5>

Gluck’s first biographer, Johann August Schmidt, noted Bavaria's claim <6>: in addition to the two monuments in Berching, there is also one in Munich (where he never spent much time).<7> On 15 October 1848, right in the middle of the revolution, Munich paused to unveil the statue and honor a composer whose works had revolutionized opera. Joseph Hartmann Stunz, the local Kapellmeister, composed a Festgesang celebrating the “German tone poet Gluck”:

Hail the dearest fatherland,
     Which in an age long since past
     As a pledge to its ancient powers
     Gave rise to men of immortality!
Men, whom a god protected
     Against saucy, degenerate art
     With the holy flaming sword
     Of the artist’s burning love:
Hail to him! who with strict rule
     Strove for the highest truth,
     To form the soul into being
     Through iron song!
As Orpheus brought
     His wife back to life from the night of Orcus,
     The master, with faithful striving,
Has brought art home to us.
     And in the kingdom of eternal beauty
     He came triumphantly, with the heroic Grecian sons,
     [He] drinks the German nectar of the gods;
For art firmly weaves around the races a holy band,
     And the furthermost gladiators for truth
     Offer each other a brotherly hand.
Heil dem theuern Vaterlande,
     Das in tief versunkner Zeit
     Zeugte, alter Kraft zum Pfande,
     Männer der Unsterblichkeit!
Männer, die ein Gott bewehrte
     Gegen freche Afterkunst
     Mit dem heil’gen Flammenschwerte
     Künstlerischer Liebesbrunst.
Heil ihm! der mit strengem Walten
     Nach der höchsten Wahrheit rang,
     Nur die Seele zu Gestalten
     Schuf in ehernem Gesang!
Wie die Gattin in das Leben
     Orpheus aus des Orkus Nacht,
     Hat die Kunst mit treuem Streben
     Uns der Meister heimgebracht.
Und im Reich des ewig Schönen
     Zog er triumphirend ein,
     Mit den griech’schen Heldensöhnen
     Trinkt der deutsche Götterwein;
     Denn es webt um die Geschlechter
Fest die Kunst ein heilig Band,
     Und der Wahrheit fernste
     Fechter Reichen sich die Bruderhand.<8>
This was performed by a male choir accompanied by a full wind ensemble with ophicleide, bass trumpet, and tuba.<9> (The statue initially stood at the Odeonsplatz but now resides in the Promenadeplatz next to the statue of the Franco-Flemish composer Orlando di Lasso.)

The monuments in Bavaria and the Berching Gluckjahr festival bring to mind the ease with which later writers manipulated the composer’s biography to meet personal aesthetic, nationalistic, and political agendas. In the nineteenth century, Gluck’s identity was always changing: at one moment a dogmatic German fighting against the excesses of Italian and French opera; at another, a child of Nature, absorbing music from his Bohemian homeland.

For some, Gluck’s childhood evoked a Romantic, nostalgic image of a callow youth venturing through the untamed Bohemian countryside. The German painter Johann Christian von Mannlich, who shared lodgings with Gluck in Paris, recounted his anecdote of a back-road journey through Bohemia to Vienna:
Wanting to husband the little wealth I had, I approached a rustic cottage where the family were sitting down to eat. I took my Jew’s harp from my pocket and treated them to a few tunes. Seeing that I was decently dressed, they bade me enter and made room for me at their table. When night fell, I found myself in another village, where my Jew’s harp earned me eggs, bread, and cheese, which were given me at the windows of houses where I made myself heard.<10>
This account, certainly embellished by Mannlich, casts Bohemia as a rustic place of wandering artists and welcoming peasant homes.<11> In his Künstlernovelle Gluck in Paris (1836), Johann Peter Burmeister-Lyser has the old Gluck fondly tell young Méhul of finding his passion for music: 
When a boy, in my home, in lovely Bohemia, I heard her voice, as a divine voice, in all that surrounded me—in the dense forest, in the gloomy ravine, the romantic valley—on the bold, stark cliff—in the cheerful hunter’s call, or the hoarse song of stream and torrent, her voice thrilled to my heart, like a sweet and glorious prophecy. All was clear to my youthful vision.<12>
A. B. Marx mirrored these sentiments: “The youth could not think of Weidenwang or Neuschloss [two residences of Gluck’s childhood] as his home—it was the forest, the forest with its dreamy shadows and fantastic, flashing streaks of light.”<13> For Marx, these “sounds of nature” (Naturklänge) later manifested themselves in Orfeo and its successors.<14>

While Gluck the Bohemian indulged in flights of fancy into the Bohemian wilderness, Gluck the German fought tirelessly to upend Italian and French traditions. Watching rehearsals of Iphigénie en Aulide, Mannlich supposed “Gluck was also at war with the orchestra and the singers, who in his opinion, knew neither how to sing, nor to declaim, nor how to get the best out of their instruments. Their French vanity was sorely wounded to be taught all these things by a Teutonic master.”<15> In an 1806 review of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride and Armide, Johann Friedrich Reichardt described the supposed Piccinni-Gluck querelle as a battle between “the enjoyable Italian comedian [Comiker]” and “the tremendously huge German tragic poet [Tragiker].”<16> Though Gluck composed only a few German Lieder and his operas were in French or Italian, opera houses in the major German cities usually gave the operas in translation—a practice that led critics and audiences to perceive his works as relevant to the creation of a unified German opera in the nineteenth century.<17> In a review of the 1808 premiere of Orpheus und Eurydice at the Berlin Nationaltheater, for example, the critic for the Vossische Zeitung praised the opera as a monument to German art:
It does the directors the highest honor that they have erected for us these monuments of German art, which the German Orpheus, Gluck, created so powerfully and truly for us with the irresistible magic of his song, so that they will remain the admiration of posterity, with regard to drama, and the enjoyment of which we had been so long without on our stage—with the splendor and honor, which we owe to the memory of this great German artist.<18>
In the end it did not matter where the composer was born and where he grew up—nor even what language he may have first spoken. His nationality was most often derived by agenda. If you visit Berching to celebrate Gluck’s 300th birthday, then, you might want to think less about Germany, or Bavaria, Bohemia, and more about E. T. A. Hoffmann's evocation in his novella Ritter Gluck (1809): of Gluck as a wandering spirit whose sense of revolution transcended national borders.
Eric Schneeman earned the Ph.D. in 2013 from the University of Southern California for a dissertation entitled The German Reception of Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck in the Early 19th Century. His entry on Gluck appears in the Cambridge Wagner Encyclopedia (2013)


1. Daniel Heartz, “Coming of Age in Bohemia: The Musical Apprenticeships of Benda and Gluck,” Journal of Musicology 6, no. 4 (Autumn, 1988): 518. Additionally, Alexander Rehding notes the difficulty in placing Gluck in the German or the Austrian Denkmäler series, when they started in the 1890s (Music and Monumentality [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009], 142).    
2. Patricia Howard, Gluck: An Eighteenth-Century Portrait in Letters and Documents (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 1.
3. Ibid., 31
4. Gerhard and Renate Croll, Gluck: Sein Leben, seine Musik (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2010), 17. 
5. Ignaz Franz Edler von Mosel, Über das Leben und die Werke des Anton Salieri (Vienna, 1827), 93; translated in Howard, Gluck: An Eighteenth-Century Portrait, 238-39.  Salieri’s memory, however, was filtered through Mosel, and there are no correspondences from Gluck in Czech to back his claim.    
6. Anton Schmidt, Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck, dessen Leben und tonkünstlerisches Wirken (Leipzig: Friedrich Fleischer, 1854).
7. Gluck did stop at the Inn Zum goldenen Hirschen on his trips between Vienna and Paris; see Robert Münster, “Christoph Willibald Gluck und München: Aufenthalte und Aufführungen bis 1787,” in Festschrift Otto Biba zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. Ingrid Fuchs (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 2006), 71-72.    

8. Joseph Hartmann Stuntz, “Dem deutschen Tondichter Gluck. Geb. den 4. Juli 1714 in der Oberpfalz, gest. den 17. Nov. 1787 zu Wien, Festgesang bei der Enthüllungs-Feier sei[n] es Denkmals zu München den 15. Oktober 1848.”  The text for Stuntz’s Festgesang has been made available through the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek website HERE.
9. The score (Mus. ms. 4037) and parts (Mus. ms. 4038) are located at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. A description of the event is in -f-, “Das Glucksdenkmal zu München,” Neue-Illustrirte Zeitschrift für Bayern 5, no.1 (1849): 5. Apparently, due to the civil unrest of the 1848 Revolution, the unveiling was not well attended. 
10. This account is found in Johann Christian von Mannlich’s memoirs, Histoire de ma vie, which circulated in manuscript form throughout the nineteenth century (Howard, Gluck: An Eighteenth-Century Portrait, viii). Parts of Mannlich’s account were excerpted for the article “Gluck à Paris en 1774,” in La Revue musicale (1934); selections have been reprinted and translated by Daniel Heartz, “Coming of Age in Bohemia,” 521, and Patricia Howard, Gluck: An Eighteenth-Century Portrait, 3.   
11. Both Howard and Heartz note certain inconsistencies in Mannlich’s account. In her article “The Wandering Minstrel: An Eighteenth-Century Fiction?” (Eighteenth-Century Fiction 13, no. 1 [2000]: 41-52), Howard observes the similarity between some of Mannlich’s narrative and popular “wandering minstrel” narratives from the eighteenth century.
12. “Gluck in Paris” first appeared in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, as J. Burmeister-Lyser,  “Gluck in Paris: vom Verfasser des ‘Vater Doles’ etc.” 5, nos. 45-49 (December 1836): 179-80, 183-84, 187-89, 191-92, 195-96.  It was later republished in the second volume of Lyser’s collection Neue Kunst-Novelle (Frankfurt am Main: Johann David Sauerländer, 1837), 77-114.  Translations of Lyser’s novella come from Elizabeth Fries Ellet’s Nouvellettes of the Musicians (New York: Cornish, Lamport & Co., 1851), 184-200.  The novella was translated into French for the Belgian journal La Renaissance: Chronique des arts et de la littérature 1 (1839-40): 145-50.  Lyser, along with many other 19th-century writers, believed that Gluck was Méhul’s teacher.   
13. “Nicht Weidenwang, nicht Neuschloss konnte der Kleine als seine Heimath empfinden lernen; der Wald war es, der Wald mit seinen träumerischen Schatten, mit den märchenhaft durchzitternden Streiflichten”; A. B. Marx, Gluck und die Oper (Berlin: Otto Janke, 1863, reprint, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1980), 14. 
14. Marx, Gluck und die Oper, 15. 
15. Howard, Gluck: An Eighteenth-Century Portrait, 109. 
16. “Etwas über Glucks Iphigenia in Tauris und dessen Armide,Berlinische Musikalische Zeitung 2, no. 15 (1806): 58.  Reichardt’s use of the word “Comedian” here was likely an allusion to Piccinni’s wonderful contribution to the opera buffa tradition.
17. 18th- and 19th-century writers often emphasized Gluck’s interactions with other 18th-century German intellectuals to suggest that Gluck planned on composing a German opera and other works for the German-speaking public. Carl Friedrich Cramer published an anecdote in his Magazin der Musik in 1783 describing Gluck and Klopstock’s meeting at the court of the Margrave of Baden, where the composer and his niece sang the Odes to the poet. For Christoph Martin Wieland’s Teutscher Merkur (Weimar, 1776), Philip Kayser wrote “Empfindungen eines Jüngers in der Kunst vor Ritter Glucks Bildniße,” in which the narrator describes to the bust of Gluck the overwhelming emotional sensations he receives when hearing and playing his Odes. Howard has reprinted Gluck’s letter to Klopstock stating his intention to compose Hermannsschlacht, in Gluck: An Eighteenth-Century Portrait, 215. Visitors to Gluck’s house claimed they heard him perform the work from memory. See Howard, Gluck: An Eighteenth-Century Portrait, 234-35 for translations of Joseph Martin Kraus’s account of hearing Gluck perform Hermannsschlacht.  Gluck’s plan for Hermannsschlacht was first made public by Friedrich Rochlitz in “Glucks letzte Plane [sic] und Arbeiten,” Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 11, no. 25 (22 March 1809): 387-90 written as a statement from the composer’s student, Salieri.  Additionally, Gluck himself oversaw the German translation of Iphigénie en Tauride by Johann Baptist Alxinger for the 1781 visit to Vienna of the Russian Grand Duke, which famously delayed Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail. 
18. “Es gereicht der Direction zu hohen Ehre, daß sie uns diese Monumente deutscher Kunst, die der deutsche Orpheus Gluck mit dem unwiderstehlichen Zauber seine Gesanges, so kraftvoll und wahr schuf, daß sie die Bewunderung der Nachwelt in dramatischer Hinsicht bleiben werden, und deren Genuß wir so lange haben entbehren müssen––mit der Pracht und der Würde auf unserer Bühne aufstellt, die wir dem Andenken dieses großen deutschen Künstlers schuldig sind.” Review of Orpheus by Christoph Gluck (Nationaltheater, Berlin), 23 April 1808, in the Vossische Zeitung.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dear Abbé

Professional musicologists offer answers and advice. Free.


What does the W. W. stand for, and who was this M. D. Herter Norton, anyway?

                                                H. M. ODHECATON


Passing this along to Michael Ochs, who was to the manor born.  Siehe nachfolgend. 


Who Was M. D. Herter Norton?

by Michael Ochs

Every musicologist is familiar with the firm of W. W. Norton, publisher of the time-honored Music in Western Civilization by Paul Henry Lang, published in 1941 and actively in print for 65 years; Donald J. Grout’s 1960 History of Western Music, whose ninth edition is due this spring; The Enjoyment of Music by Joseph Machlis (whose immigrant father was a typesetter for a Yiddish newspaper), published in 1955 and now in its eleventh edition; Nicolas Slonimsky’s first book, Music Since 1900, a tome of some 600 pages whose sixth edition of 2001 (published by Schirmer Reference) had doubled in length; and the eminent period histories of Western music begun in 1940 with Gustave Reese’s Music in the Middle Ages and concluded 69 years later by Daniel Heartz’s classical-era trilogy covering 1720 to 1802.

But how did the firm named for its co-founder, William Warder Norton, ever get into the business of publishing such “books that live in music,” a phrase the company used for many years? The dedication in my well-worn copy of Reese’s Music in the Renaissance provides a clue: “To M. D. Herter Norton, who prompted the writing of this book and its predecessor.” So who was this M. D. Herter Norton anyway, W. W.’s father? brother? son? As it turns out, “M. D.” was a fine violinist, a respected translator, and the co-founder of W. W. Norton & Company. Known to her friends as Polly, Margaret Dows Herter Norton was also W. W.’s wife.

Warder and Polly Norton
(W. W. Norton & Co.)
The Nortons established the company in 1923, and in fall 1926 issued “A First Catalogue of Books,” listing all their thirteen titles, including The Meaning of a Liberal Education; Psychology; Behaviorism; and Industrial Psychology. Several books were aimed at “busy people today, with limited time for reading, [who] want their information in as concise a form as possible.” The books were said to “slip conveniently into the pocket and . . . may be had for only a dollar a volume.” By this time, Polly had already published The Art of String Quartet Playing with Carl Fischer, Inc., prompting words of praise from H. L. Mencken, among others.

The company’s first music book appeared in 1927, a translation by Polly and Alice Plaut Kortschak of Paul Bekker’s The Story of Music: An Historical Sketch of the Changes in Musical Form. Bekker was an important German music critic, and Norton later published his The Story of the Orchestra. Alfred J. Swan, whose field was ancient Russian Orthodox chant, contributed Music 1900–1930, whose last chapter must have been written with great prescience given that the book came out in 1929. The 1930s saw three books by pianist Olga Samaroff Stokowski, the first woman to debut at Carnegie Hall, performing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. (The colorful Samaroff, born Lucy Mary Agnes Hickenlooper in San Antonio, Texas, was divorced from her second husband, Leopold Stokowski, in 1923.)

Other Norton writers from the 1930s include Carlos Chávez and Herbert Weinstock, co-authors of the curiously titled Toward a New Music: Music and Electricity; David Mannes, co-founder of the eponymous College of Music; David Ewen; Douglas Moore; Ernst Krenek; and ethnomusicologist Helen H. Roberts, who wrote on ancient Southern California Indian songs. The Young Cosima, a novel about the daughter of Franz Liszt and second wife of Richard Wagner, was the product of “Henry Handel Richardson,” pen name of the successful writer Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson. That five music books from this fledgling publisher were written by women can surely be attributed to the influence of Polly Norton.

But Polly Norton’s publishing of other people’s books was only one part of this multifaceted woman’s accomplishments. Beginning with Stories of God in 1932, she herself translated and published, under Norton’s imprint, nine volumes of works and letters by Rainer Maria Rilke. (Her Rilke translations have been set to music by George Perle, David Diamond, and others.) She also translated Walter Wiora’s The Four Ages of Music, two books containing MGG (Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart) articles on historical eras by Friedrich Blume, and several non-music books. And she teamed up with composer Roy Harris to arrange Bach’s Kunst der Fuge for string quartet, first recorded by the Roth Quartet in 1935.

Less well known is her involvement in the early years of the American Musicological Society. She wrote about the founding of the Society in the first issue of its Bulletin, whose entire run from 1936 to 1948 she edited. She then served for ten years on the editorial board of its successor, the Journal of the American Musicological Society, writing the journal’s very first review. (All the other original board members have highly recognizable names: Strunk, Broder, Coopersmith, Einstein, Grout, Kinkeldey, and Sachs.) All the while, she co-authored, edited, or translated articles for the The Musical Quarterly by such luminaries as Marc Pincherle, Georges de Saint-Foix, Henri Prunières, Willi Reich, Karl Geiringer, Arthur Mendel, and Hans David.

Warder Norton died in 1945 at the age of 54. Polly later remarried, and in the 1950s generously transferred control of W. W. Norton & Company to its employees, who must surrender their stock when they retire or leave. Now in its 91st year with a staff of four hundred, the firm stands as the largest and oldest publishing house owned wholly by its employees. It lists some 250 music books in print or forthcoming, from Walter Piston’s Counterpoint (1944) to Liel Leibovitz’s A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen (April 2014). More about Norton’s history may be found HERE

Michael Ochs is former Richard F. French Librarian at Harvard and past music editor at W. W. Norton & Company. He recently completed a piano-vocal score of Di goldene kale (The Golden Bride), a 1923 Yiddish-American operetta, for a concert performance by the National Yiddish Theater–Folksbiene in May. A critical edition of the full score will be published in the MUSA series: Music of the United States of America.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Publisher's Corner: In Praise of the Elevator Pitch

by Mary C. Francis

Scholars, why is your writing and research important to your readers?

If you can’t answer that question with conviction, in two sentences or less, I hope this post will persuade you to adopt a professional New Year’s resolution: devise an elevator pitch for whatever project you are working on now. My work involves reading and hearing a lot of pitches, so I value concise, intriguing descriptions of projects. But a strong elevator pitch isn’t only about trying to get published. (Though it definitely helps!) Being able to communicate clearly to any interested listener is part of keeping musicology alive and intriguing to colleagues outside the academy, as well as those inside.

I work for a university press with a strong musicology list, so I get to read, think, write, and talk about musicology every day. But the day-to-day texture of my job is more like being a movie producer than being a scholar. I spend the majority of my time reading, thinking, writing, and talking about budgets, marketing plans, and business models that will enable the University of California Press to get the best scholarship into the hands of readers who need it. Selecting the projects to publish is the first step, and as with any other situation you could name, first impressions are crucial.

The two-sentence pitch is an art form that all scholars, at every stage of their career, ought to master. I read and hear a lot of project descriptions that carry on for two paragraphs, two pages…longer…..without ever presenting a clear statement of the thesis and why it matters. What is the argument? Why is it important to readers? Two important questions, two sentences to answer them: that’s an effective pitch. Whatever details are supplied, I probably won’t be engaged enough to seek them out if the answer to those two questions isn’t clear immediately.

Why the rush? The elevator pitch isn’t about speed. It is about giving your ideas their greatest possible chance to make a strong first impression. A concise, clear statement of the goals of your scholarly work is the intellectual Swiss army knife you need to write job letters, create grant applications, make strong conference presentations, impress your dean, and have the kind of coherent exchanges with other academics that can lead to interdisciplinary dialog. Not to mention stimulating discussions with your in-laws, neighbors, and the people who have season tickets next to you. You are probably the only musicologist they will ever meet: think of it as a way to make a good impression on behalf of the profession as a whole. Higher education, and the humanities in particular, are the focus of an enormous amount of public scrutiny these days. A coherent and appealing presentation of your ideas is one of the most effective ways to show non-musicologists that what we do is interesting and valuable.

The first step to crafting a sure-fire elevator pitch is to take a step back from the daily work of researching, analyzing, writing, and teaching and ask yourself: why is this material important to my readers? Writing is solitary and difficult work, and a major project can take years to bring to the point where it is ready to be published. No one in their right mind undertakes an intellectual effort on that scale if they don’t believe what they are doing is important. A project becomes important to a scholar because she is fascinated by it, and in time, the fascinating aspects become so self-evident that she no longer perceives the need to articulate why the project might be important to others. This is every writer’s challenge and responsibility: explain to your audience why something they don’t yet understand, or even know about, is significant and should change how they think.

A strong pitch can and should be refined to suit different audiences. A job interview committee will respond to a pitch that relates clearly to the teaching they want you to do, while a publisher will be looking for signs that you understand how your work goes beyond what has already been published in your area. (The same goes for practicing delivering the pitch. Yes, you are going to practice giving your pitch before you go to the AMS conference, the job interview, the coffee date with the editor, your spouse’s company’s holiday cocktail party.) But regardless of the audience a strong pitch sticks to basics: be specific, be concise, be clear, don’t assume that the significance of what you are doing is self-explanatory. Don’t forget to offer palpable signs of why you believe in the work you do. Take it from someone who has heard of lot of pitches: clarity paired with enthusiasm is hard to beat.

Mary C. Francis is Executive Editor at the University of California Press, where she acquires projects in music, cinema and media studies. She worked at Yale University Press, Oxford University Press, and Mayfield Publishing before joining the University of California Press in 1999.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Composers’ Forum: Favorite Moments

by Melissa J. de Graaf

The Composers’ Forum was a weekly series of new and contemporary music concerts sponsored by the Federal Music Project and Works Progress Administration (WPA). It showcased such diverse composers as Aaron Copland, Amy Beach, Henry Cowell, and Ruth Crawford Seeger. Q&A sessions between composers and audiences followed the concerts, prompting discussions, arguments, and sometimes even riots, documented in nearly complete transcripts.

A storyteller at heart, I am fascinated by the stories history has to tell—particularly the period encompassing the New Deal. When I first discovered the transcripts of the Composers’ Forum in the bowels of the National Archives II, it took only moments for my interest to be piqued. Here were stories! Untold stories! I dove into the transcripts and emerged, my head reeling with discoveries. From there I embarked on my project, the telling of the little known history of the Composers’ Forum. I was overwhelmed by the diversity of composers and musical styles represented, and I particularly wanted to talk about the composers who have since been forgotten. Following the most prominent and vigorous threads of dialogue, I delved into a vast array of composers, transcripts, and topics, in search of the political and artistic trends that affected the composers, their music, and the responses to their music.

Transcripts of the discussions contain a trove of information about composers’ and listeners’ attitudes toward modernism, politics, gender, race, and American identity. “Modern” music in the 1930s comprised far more diverse styles, composers, and works than we imagine today. The diversity of aesthetics and thought make the Composers’ Forum unique among contemporaneous institutions. As in any period, many now-“lost” composers made important contributions. I have selected eight gems to share, in the hope that they will lure you into the greater story of the Composers’ Forum…

1. A listener at Howard Hanson, commenting on jazz, declared to the assembly, “Down with sophisticated snobbism, down with commercialized jazz!” (Composers’ Forum transcript, March 17, 1937)
2. Donald Tweedy spoke on his use of folk music, cautioning that it was not enough to study a certain body of music: “I don’t think you can go to a library and get a book on folk music and turn over the pages and come to one you like. I should say if your mother sang them to you when you were a baby, you have a much better chance than if you look them up in the library.” He had studied English folk music extensively, but moreover, was an active participant in it: “I have not only studied it but lived it and even danced it to a certain extent. In spite of my tremendous weight and size (laughter), I like to do English folk dancing and that is possibly the reason it is discernible in my music. In fact, I advise you all to do lots of dancing. It’s lots of fun.” (Composers’ Forum transcript, November 11, 1936)
3. Roy Harris articulated the unique qualities that set the American composer apart from his European contemporary: “We have a different speed of doing things, we have a different tempo of living. Our great fertile plains reaching westward, our great factories, the turmoil of our great cities, the vastness of it all is American, American to the core, and out of it should come a very great virile music…” (Excerpt from an address, October 30, 1935)
4. At Johanna Beyer’s first concert, nearly every comment leveled at her was a criticism against her modernist tendencies. Her music was described as chaotic and weird, containing “pathological sounds and noises.” The final question brought gender tensions to the surface: “Miss Beyer, you seem to have gone your male preceptors one better in search for strange and ineffective tonal combinations. Have you consciously adopted Rudyard Kipling’s statement, ‘The female of the species is deadlier than the male’ as a guiding principle in your composition?’” (Composers’ Forum transcript, May 20, 1936)
5. No less barbed, a listener suggested that Jessie Baetz’s compositions for Violin and Piano “could very well do without the Piano and might do without the Violin as well.” (Composers’ Forum transcript, December 15, 1937)
6. Henry Holden Huss was asked why he so tenaciously hung on to the “major triad formula.” He commented on the need for glorifying the beautiful and described “good” modernists and “bad” modernists. Huss identified himself as a “good modernist”: “The good modernists believe in beautifying works and bringing the sun to shine through the clouds in this bad life. The bad modernists are not able to write melodiously and do not indulge in any beauty, and they will be forgotten—and I hope they will be! . . . The man who does not believe in the major triad does not believe in mother-love, does not believe in sunshine, does not believe in God, does not believe in fidelity, does not believe in truth. He should then stop writing.” (Composers’ Forum transcript, June 2, 1937)
7. Huss’s diatribes did not go without comment, however. They certainly lingered in the mind of composer Jacob Weinberg, who recalled almost a year after Huss’s first appearance the composer’s “major triad” and “God” references: “I remember a composer here explained in the Composers’ Forum-Laboratory that those who don’t believe in the major triad don’t believe in sunshine . . . didn’t believe in God and I feel certainly very differently. . . . I remember a phrase from Mme. [Olga] Samaroff’s book [The Listener’s Music Book]: ‘every generation has modern music of its own.’ Certainly our generation also. We like sunshine and we believe in God but we express our beliefs and disbeliefs not by means of major triads. I believe our God is not diatonically–minded.” (Composers’ Forum transcript, April 14, 1937)
8. In the most extreme cases, the question–and–answer sessions erupted into violence. Henry Brant recalled a post–concert clash between fans and detractors of his music, exacerbated by the supporters of Paul Creston, the other composer on that evening’s program, who came in on the antimodernist, anti-Brant side of the dispute. According to Brant, not only did the Forum audience riot, “they broke into two factions: one supported my music and the other was against it. They started arguing with each other.”(Henry Brant, interview by the author)

Melissa J. de Graaf is Associate Professor of Musicology at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. Her book The New York Composers’ Forum Concerts, 1935-1940 was awarded the H. Earle Johnson Book Publication Subvention by the Society for American Music in 2013. She is currently working on her second book, Stars, Suns, Moons, and Mountains: Nature, Gender, and the Ultramodernists.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Rapper's Delight

by Loren Kajikawa

Editor's note: Loren Kajikawa's lecture “Before Rap: DJs, MCs, and Pre-1979 Hip Hop Performances” was delivered on 25 September, 2013 as part of the AMS / Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Lecture Series. Video recordings of previous AMS / RRHOFM lectures are available here

“Rapper’s Delight,” the multi-platinum single that propelled The Sugarhill Gang into the national spotlight late in 1979, effectively launched a new genre called “rap music.” For those at the center of New York’s hip hop scene, however, the sudden rise of The Sugarhill Gang—a group that had never performed together live until after they had a hit record—came as a shock. The group’s many critics have emphasized their lack of credibility as live performers, their stealing of other MCs’ rhymes, and the way their hit song emphasized the MC at the expense of the DJ. Yet this focus on the inauthenticity of “Rapper’s Delight” has shielded from view a profound shift in form that accompanied hip hop’s translation from live performance to recorded rap. Fortunately, the world of hip-hop music before “Rapper’s Delight” is not completely lost to us. In addition to oral histories and autobiographies describing the era, a trove of pre-1979 bootleg recordings provides us with valuable documentation of this bygone era.

My lecture focuses on two of the best preserved of these tapes, featuring Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees DJ Grandmaster Flash and The 4 MCs (before they added Rahiem and became the Furious Five). I rely on close listening and an original approach to transcription that highlights the expressive practices and artistic priorities of hip hop’s first DJs and MCs. Although we hear something that resembles later music—namely MCs rapping over beats—these recordings feature a sense of musical spontaneity that distinguishes them from later studio-produced music. By paying closer attention to pre-1979 hip hop on its own terms, I seek a greater understanding and appreciation for the work of pioneering DJs and MCs, and I hope to demonstrate how formal analysis and questions related to historical performance practice can serve to generate new knowledge in popular music research.

Loren Kajikawa is an Assistant Professor at the University of Oregon’s School of Music and Dance. He is currently working on a book entitled Sounding Race in Rap Songs, which explores the relationship between rap music’s backing tracks and racial representation.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

How I Got Over

by Robert Fink

A complicated skirmish over musical form under capitalism appears to have broken out recently amongst the leftist intelligentsia. The opening provocation, from The New Republic, was an attack by Mark Oppenheimer on the social-climbing strain of current arts education. Opposing the legions of Brooklyn Tiger Moms, this mellow Alterna-Dad prefers to take his varied aesthetic pleasures, as did Kant, without conspicuous utilitarianism, and sees no reason other than pure elitism to prefer classical arts training as enrichment. (“I don’t need a violin-playing daughter to cement my class status. Look, I love the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, but one could make the argument that Rebekah would be better off learning to play the Lumineers’ ‘Ho Hey’ on guitar. That skill would certainly be more of an asset at summer camp.”)

To anyone watching the spread of Venezuela’s El Sistema model, which proposes group instruction in classical orchestral music as a panacea for all the world’s ills, this seems like a gentle and salutary reminder. There is nothing that special about classical music, is there?

Ker-POW! The swift, sharp counterattack came, not from the right, where one might expect a defense of traditional culture, but from the left, from a new magazine that clearly seeks to earn its rather alarming title, The Jacobin. In it, John Halle, a composer and professor at Bard College, unleashes a sort of Red Terror on behalf of classical music. Oppenheimer’s cultural slackness is a symptom of the “rot” creeping down from the 1%, from those self-satisfied members of the plutocracy who have abandoned all sense of noblesse oblige, who no longer even pretend that they feel an obligation to provide philanthropic support for non-commercial art and music. (He is thus complicit with the slow death by lock-out going on at the Minnesota Orchestra.) The neoliberal emphasis on “fun”the scare quotes are Halle’s, worthy of the ascetic Robespierre himselfshows the corrosive triumph of hip consumerism and instant gratification even within the professional classes. Let the little kids “jettison instruction in Mozart sonatas in favor of the three-minute rock tune, campfire singing and ukelele strumming.” Après nous, le déluge!

Having kicked the hornet’s nest, Halle and his editors no doubt enjoyed the ensuing swarm of splenetic comments, which largely boiled down to impassioned defenses of various Afro-diasporic musics and angry denunciations of Halle as a racist who championed “old white people’s music.” He had no problem swatting these away; as he noted, not one commenter had engaged with the central claim of his piece, which was that Western classical music was not just a different style of music, but a completely different medium than popular music, characterized by its literate infrastructure and a unique extensional concept of form:

These are works of “pure” music which cohere, not by a text with its own self-contained expressive content and narrative logic, but by a logic entirely based on the abstract relationships inherent in the pitches and rhythms. They are composed within abstract forms, large-scale plans dictating their unfolding in time of which at least an intuitive awareness is required for them to be fully appreciated by audiences.

This is an old, old claim about the “great works” of classical music: it is no doubt congenial to a socialist critic because it springs from the same Hegelian worship of telos, the quality of goal-direction, that gave rise to Marxist theories of class struggle. This is the basic ideology of nineteenth-century theories of musical structure, from Hanslick’s “tonally moving forms” to what influential theorist Heinrich Schenker later worshipped as the Tonwille, the “will of the tones” traced out by the progress of an organic masterwork. It was still in force in 1959 when Leonard Meyer argued that all great music was a complex play of information, of expectations interlocking with gratificationsand that the best music, like the highest civilization, was that which delayed gratification the most. (Thus Beethoven was better than Debussy; and Debussy infinitely better than, say, “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers.)

Halle can attack me as a traitor to the working classand to the goal-directed mythologies of my own professional classbut as a working musicologist, I no longer steer by this myth about the special nature of Western art music. Let me be very clear, so that the Jacobins among my readers can relax: I’m not thereby placing musicology in service to the position that goal-direction is culturally oppressive, like the “petit bourgeois moralism” that the Man uses to keep us all down.

That would be falling in line with what Alex Ross rightly dismisses as “pop triumphalism.” The reality is less triumphant, but more disorienting:  if classical music is equated, as in Halle’s argument, with the entire literate musical tradition of the West, then, after some decades of looking, I can find no special musicological correlation between classical music and some essential quality of having goal-direction. And popular music, in all its complexity, is not reducible to some vast, formless plateau of present-ness, either. The perception of goal direction in music and musicians is a contingent, multifarious, culturally-specific phenomenon, and it does not, to put it bluntly, track with the presence or absence of melanin or the possession of a No. 2 pencil and some five-lined paper.

Music historians know that the Western literate tradition is filled with three-to-five-minute songs, mostly religious ones but some about love, from Dufay to Duke Ellington. The idea that there was some meaning in music alone just because it was written down would have been ridiculed by most Western intellectuals before the late eighteenth century; they considered the patterns of instrumental music as pretty interior decoration, no more readable by listeners than a Paisley tie. The American popular music tradition bears the deep imprint of African-American slave religion, especially its coded musical language of spirituals, hymns, jubilee singing, and gospel. It is thus pervaded by the teleological drive for salvation as liberation, “How I Got Over” its most important lesson, right behind “You Can’t Always Get What You Want (But Sometimes You Get What You Need).”

The game is almost too easy: a fifteenth-century motet by Ockeghem is goal-directed, but the ensemble rocking a twentieth-century Pentecostal church service is not? The gospel choir will sing longer, stronger, and build to a musical climax that will take your head off. (And drive you to put $20 in the collection plate.) John Cage, because he wrote his music down, is a carrier of middle-class values, while John Coltrane, who practiced scale exercisesfrom a bookfor hours at a stretch, is not?

Huge swaths of so-called classical music are less goal-directed than the typical pop song; plenty of so-called popular music has no words, and is carefully constructed in performance to build musical tension and release over spans longer than the typical romantic symphony movement. The visualization of evolving sound forms that once demanded four years of music theory, or an engineering degree, can now be achieved by a curious teenager with freeware apps on her iPhone.

So here is a musicological PSA: be immediately suspicious of any musical insider who informs you that he can reveal to you the deep structural “secret” that makes one kind of sonic experience, one kind of music making, absolutely different from all the others. There is no such secret. Anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something. (Oh, and by the way, this Secret isn’t real, either.)

I am not a pop triumphalist, but I recognize the real danger in making cultural arguments for art music that depend on the claim of absolute structural difference between popular and classical repertoires. These arguments, the people who make them, and, unfortunately, even people who try to invert them, reproduce the basic logic of the “one drop” rule: they convert a spectrum of analytical browns into a false binarism of black and white, in order to privilege one term over the other. However strategic it may seem in the heat of argument, this teleological essentialism is not a functional defense of anyone’s music.

Robert Fink is Professor of Music at UCLA, where his work examines music since 1965. A popular lecturer on campus and off, he is author of a study of minimalism called  Repeating Ourselves (University of California Press, 2005). The—wonderful—working title of his next book is Beethoven at the 7-11: Classical Music in a Post-Classical World.