Monday, June 30, 2014

Dear Abbé

Professional musicologists offer answers and advice. Free.


Anent the fracas in these pages on The Classical Style: were there musicologist-nerds before What's Up, Doc? (1972)?

                                                                 LUMIÈRE, aîné & cadet



Batman 149 (1962)

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Klinghoffer Controversy

by Charles T. Downey

The Metropolitan Opera and its General Manager, Peter Gelb, took a considerable risk by planning to mount John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer this coming fall. The furor generated by the work's U.S. premiere in 1991 convinced its librettist, Alice Goodman, that it was time to stop writing opera librettos. As expected, the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish groups have continued their objections, pressuring the Met to withdraw its production. Gelb instead offered the compromise of going ahead with the production but canceling the HD simulcast, planned for November 15, when audiences in movie theaters around the world could have seen the final performance of the run. 

For many opera fans who have never had the chance to see Klinghoffer live, myself included, the decision was disappointing. Even Gelb and Abraham Foxman, the national director of the ADL, admit that the opera is not anti-Semitic, but they fear that the opera might fan anti-Semitic sentiment in some countries. Robert Fink, in a systematic and thorough 2005 article (“Klinghoffer in Brooklyn Heights,” in Cambridge Opera Journal), focused especially on the portrayal of Jewish characters in Klinghoffer, putting to rest the idea that they are anti-Semitic caricatures. On the other hand, the Palestinian characters, few would argue, are grotesquely anti-Semitic and spout the rhetoric of hate: versions of the actual terrorists who perpetrated the cold-blooded murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an American tourist in a wheelchair, during their hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985. The opening night of the Met's production of the opera will coincide almost exactly with the anniversary of the date on which Klinghoffer's body was brought back to the United States.

Stephanie Friedman, mezzo-soprano, in the
teenaged terrorist Omar's act II aria (1991)

This is the real problem with The Death of Klinghoffer, pointed out in Richard Taruskin's trenchant analysis (“Music's Dangers And The Case For Control,” December 9, 2001) in the New York Times in the wake of the 9/11 attacks: “The Death of Klinghoffer trades in the tritest undergraduate fantasies. If the events of Sept. 11 could not jar some artists and critics out of their habit of romantically idealizing criminals, then nothing will.” Sadly, Taruskin was right. Is it really that difficult to understand how some people could be offended by the contextualization of Klinghoffer's murder within the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even if only in the minds of his killers? In the same way, some people would be offended if an opera about the kidnapping of girls in Nigeria opened with a chorus laying out the political and religious grievances of the Boko Haram militants, or if an opera about the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl opened with the history of the causes behind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's hatred of the United States.

Yet art can, and sometimes should, offend. It can make you angry and pose uncomfortable questions. Gelb's miscalculation in making this compromise was not to understand what every impresario at least since Sergei Diaghilev should know: scandal sells. Any staging of Klinghoffer courts controversy; not to take advantage of the full extent of that controversy, by canceling the biggest mass media exposure available to the Met, shows a lack of savvy. (Klinghoffer was commissioned for Brussels, after all, by the modern-day master of the succès de scandale, Gerard Mortier.)

The controversy over The Death of Klinghoffer probably enjoys greater notoriety than the opera itself: as Peter G. Davis noted of the U.S. premiere in New York Magazine, it is “more fun to talk about than to watch.” Without the perpetual polemical wars fueling its fame, Klinghoffer might have faded long ago. While I would not go as far as critic Kyle Gann, who once wrote that Philip Glass's Fall of the House of Usher “is the only opera I've ever seen worse than The Death of Klinghoffer,” the opera has some pronounced dramatic weaknesses. If the winds of controversy ever still, we may be able to assess the work on its merits, or lack thereof, but it is more likely that we will always judge Klinghoffer, at least partially, by the outrages it has provoked.

Should the Met have canceled the simulcast of The Death of Klinghoffer? No. At the same time, the chorus of hysterical reaction to the decision has reached the point of self-parody. “A chilling precedent [of] self-censorship,” fumes John van Rhein in the Chicago Tribune. “A dismaying artistic cave-in,” Anthony Tommasini writes in the New York Times. “The only anti-Semitism this work ... has ever engendered,” says Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times, “has been because of often successful pressure from Jewish groups” to ban it. Most hyperbolic of all is Robert Fink himself, in the New York Daily News, claiming that the Met's decision to cancel the Klinghoffer simulcast will “kill off ... American opera’s future." Goodness gracious: surely not even Peter Gelb imagined he held such power in his hands.

Charles T. Downey received his Ph.D. in musicology from the Catholic University of America. In addition to scholarly publications on Gregorian chant and French Baroque opera and court ballet, he writes freelance articles and reviews of classical music for the Washington Post and other publications. He also moderates the online magazine Ionarts, devoted to classical music and the arts in Washington, D.C.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Singing Jeremiah

by Robert Kendrick
NOTE: Singing Jeremiah: Music and Meaning in Holy Week (Indiana UP) appeared in April 2014. Here is an excerpt.
In the ritual year of early modern Catholics, the days before Easter represented the longest single commemoration, collective and personal, of the central events of salvation. Despite the survival or re-invention of historical Holy Week traditions today, it is still hard to imagine how much prayer and penitence were packed into the seventy-odd hours between the afternoons of Wednesday and Saturday. The three central days—the Triduum—recalling the Passion included the chanted words, participatory rites, and sonic behavior of liturgical Maundy Thursday (“Feria V in Coena Domini,” hereafter F5), Good Friday (“Feria VI in Parasceve,” hereafter F6), and Holy Saturday (“Sabbato Sancto,” hereafter SS). Beyond the structures of the Divine Office and Mass, there were community actions: processions, “entombments of Christ,” depositions from the Cross, ceremonies of mourning and weeping, and, less appealingly, group violence. The social re-enactment of Christ’s atonement went hand in hand with individual purging of sin via penance and often Confession. This dialectic between the audible expression of mourning and the internalization of remorse was vital for the Week’s meaning.

Sounds simple and complex projected the listing of human guilt, the recollection of the Passion in narration and allegory, and the meanings of liturgical action. In order to focus on allegory and narrative voice, this study considers largely the most renowned music of these days, the polyphony and chant for the Canonical Hours of Matins followed by Lauds, in the two centuries after 1550. These were combined as a single service in Catholic continental Europe and its outposts. The Hours also drew lay participation, beyond the monks, nuns, or cathedral clergy who would have sung the texts.

From some point in the later Middle Ages onward, evidently first at the Papal court and then increasingly elsewhere, these services were in most places anticipated to the late afternoon of the day preceding their liturgical assignment. Thus the texts of liturgical Thursday were read or sung on late Wednesday afternoon, and similarly Friday’s Hours on Thursday and Saturday’s on Friday, each day as the natural light in churches waned. This ambient darkening was echoed and enhanced by the extinguishing of church lights as the service went on. Because of this interaction, the Hours were known as the Office of Tenebrae: darkness/shadows.

Although the action and texts of the services were highly determined, they conveyed not only emotion but social meaning. To consider simply the written musical documents leaves out essential if irrecoverable elements: vocal/musical execution; the prescribed gestures and movement; and the behavior of participants. Before reducing sound to breviary prescriptions or written scores—in the case of Lauds’ music, the level of improvised ornamentation suggests that much more was involved—we might take to heart Ernesto de Martino’s critique of text-centered approaches to personal and collective threnodies for deceased family members in modern southern Italy. For de Martino, neglecting performance meant missing major aspects of the rituals of lamenting.

Robert L. Kendrick is professor and chair of the Department of Music at the University of Chicago (webpage HERE).

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Jeremy Denk responds:

NOTE: The librettist of The Classical Style—an Opera of Sorts here responds to Kristi Brown-Montesano's post just below, adding “I felt it was necessary to respond, even if only to allay the sense that I was attacking musicology as a discipline—seeing as I count a good number of musicologists as among the most inspiring people I have ever met.” 
I was saddened, and not a little astonished, to see this response to The Classical Style. After having written a libretto based on Charles Rosen’s music-analytical tome, arguably the nerdiest opera ever written, to be accused of “American anti-intellectualism” in the comments is … strange?
The author of this review ascribes to me a “hostility” to musicology, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. I am a huge musicology nerd, and fanboy. With alarming frequency, I read Taruskin, Kerman, McClary (among many others) for the sheer pleasure of their considerable insights. The opera was not in any way, or at any moment, intended as mean-spirited—I think I can speak for both myself and the composer. This review says the libretto “jeers in turn at gender studies, historical context, cultural studies, and other aspects of humanist musical inquiry.” “Jeers” seems to me a strong, even biased, choice of words. Everyone and everything in this opera of sorts comes in for some teasing, including the principles of harmony, the Big Three composers, the Tristan Chord, Sonata Form, and Charles Rosen himself—and I’d hoped that it was clear (comedy is tricky that way!) that this teasing includes affection. Everything in the piece is subject to exaggeration; it is often quite obviously unreal, making it hard to tell whether things are themselves or their caricatures. I’m not exactly sure why I would have to explain this? 

Snibblesworth’s deflating entrance is a comic effect (the librettist says, pedantically), not a serious statement on the nature of musicology. I invented a fake German monograph on “good melodic writing” for good measure, and did all sorts of things to make him funny—but also realized, as I was doing it, that he would become lovable and perhaps, to some extent, steal the show. He is indeed a strange, ineffectual, fun villain. When I was thinking how to transform all these concepts of music into opera buffa characters, I decided I need to find a defining (humanizing) foible for each:  Beethoven is ponderous and sanctimonious, Mozart is sex-obsessed, the Tristan Chord is decadent and dissolute. Finally, the foible of the musicologist is clear: everything exists in order to be analyzed. 

We were quite aware of choosing absurdly reductive gender stereotypes for the Tonic/Dominant/Subdominant, and in making Mozart a pants role (à la Cherubino), and other decisions, which were all undertaken with a twinkle in the eye, we hoped. 

I’m not sure I would have chosen dunce caps for the seminar—it was a way of making the participants more obviously the blithering Socratic stooges (teachers’ pets) that I had in mind. It’s true that the Sonata Form scene does not range far from music-appreciation notions of Sonata Form, but 1) the vast majority of the text is drawn from Rosen’s chapter, “Theories of Sonata Form;” 2) I’m not sure how a rhetorical Taruskin-Rosen feud, and its various parsings, would play to a more general audience (though it might indeed amuse an audience of AMS members.) We were hoping to give the uninitiated a bit of a form lesson in real time.

Your review ascribes a thesis to this opera: that Rosen’s “the music itself” musicology is preferable to the contextualization of Snibblesworth, Taruskin, et al.  The reflexive conversion of works of art into theses can be dangerous, and tiresome—in this case it seems to me a bit of projection?  Naturally, a work based on Charles’ book is partly a homage to him—and as such, in his book, in his world, he is the puppetmaster, and has the last word. But I certainly didn’t set out to demonstrate a thesis, and had no “real target,” other than an evening of stimulation, musical reflection, amusement, and, if all went well, hopefully some delight.  

The following sentence from the review seems diagnostic: 
Snibblesworth’s self-serving definition of classical music (“It’s music so beautiful that it has to be explained”) is played for laughs, but it’s hard to see how The Classical Style—both Rosen’s book and the opera—aren’t equally implicated.
Agh! How humorlessly this poor laugh line is treated. (I can’t believe we’re having an academic discussion of the voice of Snibblesworth, but here we go!) When Snibs says this, it is a followup to a moment in the first scene, a moment when the same question is uttered by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven: “What’s Classical Music?” It’s a running gag, if you will, about the undefinability of the unavoidable term. Barthes observes that certain lines in prose float free of any particular voice, and become the sort of generalized voice of the author, or even author-less—this is what I had in mind here, I suppose. And of course the opera and this librettist and Rosen’s book are implicated!  That’s the whole point. We’re all implicated. Snibblesworth is one of the least self-serving characters in this opera, anyway. 

I totally agree with you that opera is a “humanist genre,” and one of the great humanist gestures is to laugh at ourselves. I don’t think it’s a stretch, either, to imagine that Beethoven/Mozart/Haydn might be mystified by the current jargon of musicological discourse. 

All the above being said, I hate to contribute to a sense of musicology’s persecution, and I don’t understand the phenomenon of perfomers’ hostility to musicological insight. My classes with James Hepokoski, for instance, at Oberlin, were among the greatest inspirations of my life, and I sat and drank in the wonders of Mahler, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Schoenberg … a lot of music I had no patience for as an idiotic teenager, suddenly filled with meaning through his inspired contextualizing lecturing. So, too, my classes with Jane Fulcher (French opera) and J. Peter Burkholder (Ives and Monteverdi) at Indiana, and I could go on. I was very unhappy when I saw certain musicians disdaining musicologists at the Marlboro Festival. So please accept apologies for offenses caused.
MORE NOTE: Brown-Montesano reponds: “Well, not that funny." Meanwhile, more press (from the Ojai North performance, Berkeley):

Jeremy Denk, noted pianist and essayist, is a 2013 MacArthur Fellow (video HERE). His blog, Think Denk, is widely followed and consistently provocative; his “life in piano lessons” was treated in the New Yorker in April 2013 (video HERE).

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Classical Style, of sorts

by Kristi Brown-Montesano

One year, during the opening Dean’s Welcome at the conservatory where I teach, the head of the violin studio addressed the students, faculty, and staff, extolling the school’s focus on performance training. Pointing offstage, he announced dramatically, “So, if you want to be a musicologist, there’s the door.

This was an awkward moment for me, as the only full-time musicologist at the school. (I briefly considered making an even more theatrical exit right out the indicated door.) One tires of this false “musician vs. musicologist” opposition, so perniciously entrenched in the world of classical music, its academies, and—sadly—even one of its newest operas.

The Classical Style—An Opera (of Sorts), featuring music by Steven Stucky to a libretto by pianist and MacArthur Fellow Jeremy Denk, had its world premiere at the Ojai Music Festival on June 13. Denk described the work as “possibly the first and last opera written about musical analysis,” but the work tries to be many things: an opera buffa-style musical pastiche (kudos here to Stucky’s clever score); a philosophical reflection on old musical styles in a contemporary world; a farcical dramatization of basic structural processes in Viennese Classicism; and an homage to Charles Rosen and his award-winning 1977 study.

  • Streaming HERE (starts at 1:04:00).
The whole crazy idea might have worked, had Denk—a skilled prose stylist but a first-time librettist—resisted the temptation to dramatize his own hostile feelings toward “musicology,” with about as much subtlety as my violinist colleague. Denk’s antagonism towards Richard Taruskin comes through clearly in the libretto for The Classical Style; the supposed “villain” of the story, Henry Snibblesworth, introduces himself (twice) as “a musicology Ph.D. student, working with Richard Taruskin at the University of California, Berkeley.”

But Snibblesworth makes a pretty pathetic antagonist. Dressed in an argyle sweater and Dockers, four-eyed and singing in a prissy, nasal style, he seems more Howard Bannister in What's Up Doc? than Dr. Evil in training. True, his analytical intervention causes Don Giovanni to lose his mojo while attempting to ravish Donna Anna, but this outcome is unintentional. Ultimately, Snibblesworth—a lowly grad student, after all—comes off as a fan boy, not a scholarly provocateur. He doesn’t even dare to bad-mouth Charles Rosen, the opera’s philosophical hero.

Actually, a staged rhetorical feud between Taruskin and Rosen might have been more interesting— and funnier, too. Instead, Denk employs Snibbleworth as a dim foil for Rosen’s more, um, penetrating analytical skills. The only musicology we hear at the opera’s fictional scholarly symposium is a music-appreciation level explanation of sonata form set to a textbook example by Stucky. The attendees wear party hats that look like mini dunce caps. When Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven turn up looking for Rosen, they quickly grow bored, begging, “Charles you must help us! You must remind us of what we once were!”

Snibblesworth’s self-serving definition of classical music (“It’s music so beautiful that it has to be explained”) is played for laughs, but it’s hard to see how The Classical Style—both Rosen’s book and the opera—aren’t equally implicated. As it turns out, the overly earnest Snibblesworth and the tedious symposium are there to distract us from the opera’s real target, the kind of scholarship for which Taruskin and Susan McClary (She Who Must Not Be Named But Only Mocked in The Classical Style) have become known. As Denk’s libretto jeers in turn at gender studies, historical context, cultural studies, and other aspects of humanist musical inquiry, one can only suppose that Rosen’s take on sonata form is superior because it (mostly) sticks to the notes and is informed by that special connection to music that only performing artists enjoy. Woe to the musicologists who deny “the music itself” is all that really matters; they will, like the unfortunate Henry Snibblesworth, be cast down through the trap-door to operatic Hell.

One of the most unintentionally amusing aspects of The Classical Style is how the opera ends up demonstrating the continued relevance of new musicology’s gendered critique of its subject matter. Denk’s version of Da Ponte’s “Catalogue Aria,” as sung by Snibblesworth, rewrites its punch line as “But in Berkeley, 3000 essays on gender constructs.” But didn’t anyone notice how much the opera’s allegorical presentation of Classical tonality as a “codependent love triangle” relies on those same old gender stereotypes? Tonic (virile, bass singer), Dominant (neurotic soprano longing for Tonic), and Subdominant (sensual femme who flirts with everyone) play out the precise roles assigned for them by McClary in Feminine Endings! Even the characterization of the Great Composers perpetuates gendered clichés associated with their subsequent reception: Beethoven is a muscular bass who thinks all the time, while Mozart is … wait for it ... played by a girl.

Ultimately, denouncing humanist musicology in an opera betrays the origins and nature of opera itself. In “Taking on Taruskin,” Denk remarks that “I don’t think thought and music are enemies, obviously … but they are complicated friends. We can only keep Don Giovanni alive by playing it, thinking about it, writing about it, talking about it. But in a sense we also keep burying it under our interpretations, and we have to keep digging it out again. It never stops.” Denk is right to note that the operatic canon cannot escape from history, not least because it depends on a constantly changing and expanding tradition of production. Don Giovanni not only carries traces of Mozart’s world (whether you know that or not), but must also inspire—through words as well as music—connections to our own.

This intertextual dynamic is inherent to opera, or at least to operas like Don Giovanni that still provoke musicological argument and inquiry. Opera is about thought and music together, about ideas and music together, about words and music together. It is the original humanist genre, harnessing abstract thought in musical form to emotionally moving narratives about human society and psychology. The Classical Style—An Opera (of Sorts) might have offered a more humane defense of the prerogatives of music and musicians. I would have welcomed a concluding Mozartian gesture of conciliation in the current ideological querelle des bouffons, but, unhappily, only harmonic tensions were resolved.

Kristi Brown-Montesano, a faculty member at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles since 2003, is currently Chair of Music History there. A trained soprano, she received her Ph.D. in musicology from UC Berkeley, with a specialization in 18th-century western European music. Her book The Women of Mozart’s Operas (Univ . of California Press, 2007) offers a detailed study of the female characters of the Da Ponte operas and Die Zauberflöte, evaluating the original works as well as the reception history of these characters. Brown-Montesano has presented and published essays on opera, film music, opera education, and trends in marketing classical music to children.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Washington Post

Today is the 125th anniversary of The Washington Post march, premiered June 15, 1889, at the award ceremony for the Post's essay competition that year.

John Kelly retells the story in today's Post.

The Washington Post is the first of the six marches that constitute vol. 21 of Music of the United States of America (ed. Patrick Warfield, 2010). MUSA is a project of the American Musicological Society. Follow the link for more on the publicaiton.

And, here, the United States Marine Band's own version of the story:

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Seeing a 17th-Century Motet

by Robert L. Kendrick
NOTE: Kendrick's Franke Forum at the University of Chicago occurred on October 13, 2013. The free lectures of the Chicago Humanities Forum seek to allow a larger audience exposure to the work of that university's leading scholars. Read more about the Franke Institute for the Humanities (named for supporters Barbara E. and Richard J. Franke) HERE.

Audio only HERE.

Robert L. Kendrick is professor and chair of the Department of Music at the University of Chicago (webpage HERE). His Singing Jeremiah: Music and Meaning in Holy Week has just appeared (Indiana UP) and is the subject of a forthcoming post at Musicology Now.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

There is Hope for Europe

The Grand Finale of the Eurovision Song Contest

By Philip V. Bohlman
NOTE: This article originally appeared on the OUP blog on 13 May 2014 and is reposted here by kind permission.

4–10 May 2014. The annual Eurovision week offers Europeans a chance to put aside their differences and celebrate, nation against nation, the many ways in which music unites them. Each nation has the same opportunity—a “Eurosong” of exactly three minutes, performed by no more than six musicians or dancers, in the language of their choice, national or international—to represent Europe for a year. Since its founding in 1956, one of the deepest moments of the Cold War, as Soviet tanks prepared to enter Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) has provided a counterpoint to European politics, providing a moment when Europeans witnessed claims to a common Europeanness.

In early spring 2014, however, as the Ukraine crisis unfolded, the ESC seemed deaf to the deterioration of European politics. A few songs expressed soft nationalism; hardly any made more than a mild gesture toward human rights. Granted, the competitive run of most national entries—through local, regional, and then national competitions—began before the Ukraine crisis, before the occupation of the Maidan in Kyiv, the Russian annexation of the Crimea, and the violent turn of separatism in Eastern Ukraine. The Eurovision Song Contest, nonetheless, had lost its moral compass. It was veering dangerously close to irrelevance for a Europe in crisis.

All that changed during Eurovision week. Though Austria’s Conchita Wurst, the female persona of 25-year-old singer Tom Neuwirth, had captured the attention of many with her sincere flamboyance, she was favored by few and shunned by many, particularly the countries of Eastern Europe. As the evening of the Grand Finale arrived, however, few doubted that Conchita Wurst would emerge victorious, and many realized that their worst fears were about to be realized. Europe had found Conchita’s voice, and she truly did “Rise Like a Phoenix” from the stage of the Copenhagen Eurovision stage.

As I write this blogpost in the immediate wake of the Grand Finale, the explanations and evaluations of Conchita Wurst’s victory at the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest spread across the European media and beyond. Standing on stage in a gown bathed in golden glitter, the bearded Conchita sang powerfully and with full conviction that there was more at stake than finding the right formula for the winning song. “This night is dedicated to all who believe in peace and freedom,” she proclaimed upon receiving the trophy. Supporters and detractors alike saw the moment as evidence that the queering of the ESC had finally and fully come of age. Eurovision historian, Jan Feddersen, had predicted as much in the Berlin liberal newspaper, tageszeitung, the day before. The queering of the ESC had given common meaning to Europe. Feddersen writes: “One communicates throughout the year. What could be a greater cultural flow of Europeanness, even independent of the borders of the European Union” (taz.europa, 9 May 2014, p. 9).

The political and aesthetic trajectory of queering, of course, is precisely not to come of age, rather to engender and regender critical questions of identity and ideology. It is this moving with and beyond queering that Conchita Wurst’s victory signals. The winning song, “Rise Like a Phoenix,” provides, thus, an anthem of a Europe of post-queerness. The Eurosong and the tens of millions who embrace it as their own enter a European space opened by diversity.

In the months and years before Conchita Wurst’s victory on Saturday night, there were probably few grounds that would lead one to predict a winning song for Austria. The self-styled “Land of Music,” Austria simply could not figure out the Eurovision Song Contest. In recent years, it had sent wacky folk-like music and banal power ballads, only occasionally passing beyond the semi-final competitions. For much of the 2000s, Austria sent no entry at all. If Austria was perplexed about its musical presence in the ESC, Conchita Wurst was not. Born in Styria, Tom Neuwirth dedicated himself to a music of difference, a music that provoked, and a music that did political work. As the drag queen, Conchita Wurst (most readers will recognize “Wurst” as the German word for sausage, but in Austria, it is also commonly used in the phrase, “es ist mir wurst,” meaning “it’s all the same to me”), performs songs of action, directed against prejudice and mustered for diversity. There is no contradiction when queerness and nationalism occupy common ground, all the more in an Austria that provides shelter to a higher percentage of refugees than any other European nation. When Conchita remarked upon qualifying after the second semi-final on May 8, announcing proudly that “I’m going to do all I can for my country,” there was no irony.

The Eurovision Song Contest 2014 had found its voice. The ESC had returned to Europe. At a critical moment of struggle in Ukraine, when right-wing European political parties on the eve of European parliamentary elections are calling for their nations to retreat from Europe, the ESC has reclaimed its relevance, and it has done so by recognizing its historical foundations. In many ways, Conchita Wurst, performing as a transvestite, offers a less provocative stage presence than the transsexual Dana International, who won for Israel in 1998 and competed again in 2011. ESC queerness begins to demonstrate the attributes of a historical longue durée, and it is for these reasons that it elevates a music competition to a European level on which it is one of the most visible targets for official Russian homophobia and the violation of human rights elsewhere in Europe. It is a return to that history that “Rise Like a Phoenix” so powerfully signifies.

On Saturday night, there were other entries that took their place in the more diverse, post-queer
Europe given new and different meaning by Conchita Wurst. Political meaning accrued to songs in which it had previously remained neutral (e.g., Pollapönk’s “No Prejudice” for Iceland, and Molly’s “Children of the Universe” for the United Kingdom). Several quite outstanding songs came to envoice a fragile Europe in need of change (e.g., Elaiza’s mixture of cabaret and klezmer in “Is It Right” for Germany, and András Kállay-Saunders’s “Running” for Hungary). Kállay-Saunders transformed the narrative of an abused child to a call for action in European human rights. The son of Fernando Saunders, Kállay-Saunders is a stunning presence on stage, an African American Hungarian, calling attention to the violation of human rights while representing a nation sliding to the right, so much so that many Hungarian artists, musicians, and intellectuals (e.g., András Schiff) will not enter their homeland.

On Sunday morning, 11 May, the Berlin tageszeitung opened its lead article on the Eurovision Song Contest with the celebratory claim, “there is hope for Europe.” It is perhaps too early to claim that we are witnessing music and nationalism in a new key. From early April until the Grand Finale, I gave a regular series of newspaper, radio, and television interviews in Germany, where I currently teach as Franz Rosenzweig Professor at the University of Kassel, and I realize only now that my own observations about nationalism and the ESC underwent radical change, all the more as Conchita Wurst brought a new Europe into focus (see, e.g., the interview with the Austrian-German-Swiss network, 3sat, just before the Grand Finale). The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) itself had predicted 120 million viewers, but estimates the day after the Grand Finale raised the number to 180 million, a fifty-percent increase. Nationalisms proliferate often; rarely do they subside. In the Ukraine crisis, each side accuses the other of being nationalistic, laying claim to their own right to be nationalistic. These are the nationalisms in the old key, collapsing in upon themselves. In contrast it may be a quality of a post-queer Eurovision Song Contest that it can foster a nationalism of tolerance and diversity, and that its song for Europe truly rises like a phoenix, enjoining the many rather than the few to join the chorus.

Philip V. Bohlman is the Mary Werkman Distinguished Service Professor of Music and the Humanities at the University of Chicago and presently Franz Rosenweig Guest Professor at the University of Kassel. He is editor of the Cambridge History of World Music (Cambridge UP, 2014). University of Chicago webpage HERE; Wikipedia HERE.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

That Mozart Autograph . . .

... fetched almost $1 million (£578,500 = $972,285, hammer price plus buyer premiums) at the Sotheby's sale in London on 20 May 2014.

In the same sale, the autograph of Rimsky-Korsakov's Second Symphony sold for over $2 million (£1,202,500 = $2,021,042).

The Mozart manuscript, five pages containing 49 bars of a Kyrie in C, K. Anh. 18 (166F), written when he was 16, comes with proper intrigue, having not been widely seen since it was smuggled away from Germany by its owner in 1938; the titled wrapper, sent with the family furniture in 1939, was lost when the freighter was torpedoed and sank.

The presumed economic effect of the semi-frenzy in the press—that the price would be driven wildly up and the document subsequently sequestered by a private collector—became the subject of colloquy among professional musicologists, prompting an essay by Jonathan Bellman where he concludes: “I don’t see an ethical issue with the discussion of a newly emerged, long-lost manuscript. ... “Besides, I find the ethical issues involved in expecting people to muzzle themselves about important discoveries to be far more problematic.”  


 And in other (frenzied) news . . .

So much for light beach reading.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Die goldene kale in New York

by Michael Ochs

NOTE:  Di goldene kale (The Golden Bride), a 1923 Yiddish-American operetta by Joseph Rumshinsky (1881–1956), was presented in a concert version with piano by the National Yiddish Theater–Folksbiene on 27 May 2014 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The performance, in Yiddish with English and Russian supertitles, used a score prepared by Michael Ochs in conjunction with his critical edition forthcoming in Music of the United States of America (MUSA). The MUSA volume will include the full score, lyrics, and libretto in transliterated Yiddish, together with an English translation. This work will be the first from the entire Yiddish-American musical stage to appear in print in any form other than vocal scores of individual songs.

By all accounts the evening was a resounding success. The hall was filled to capacity—some 220 seats—and the audience was genuinely (dare I say wildly?) enthusiastic, laughing at all the right places and hanging around afterwards not wanting to leave. The cast of twelve sang beautifully under Zalmen Mlotek's musical direction, and director Motl Didner expertly introduced enough bits of acting to bring out the work's comic and poignant moments. (And I had a walk-on—my stage debut at age 77!)

Joseph Rumshinsky
photo Ivan Busatt
Museum of the City of New York
There has already been a serious inquiry from a nearby college for a repeat performance next summer, and some other possible presentations are contemplated. My dream is to see a fully staged production that would spark a revival of interest in the Yiddish-American musical theater, which played an important role in the development of the American musical. Irving Berlin, Yip Harburg, and the Gershwins, among many other Broadway and Tin Pan Alley personalities, regularly attended Yiddish theater shows.

A staged performance with orchestra, sets, costumes, lighting, etc., etc., would require some hefty financial support. I'm hoping to turn to foundations and individual donors that might be interested in underwriting such a venture, so any help in the form of ideas and, especially, personal connections along those lines would be much appreciated.

Michael Ochs is former Richard F. French Librarian at Harvard and past music editor at W. W. Norton & Company.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The JAMS Experience

As promised here, volume 67, no. 1 of the Journal of the American Musicological Society (Spring 2014), has appeared online at JSTOR with color images and embedded video and audio. The enhanced contributions are flagged, on the title page,

To demonstrate these new features, the publishers have graciously made two articles, marked FREE, available to the public at large.

Have a look:
Le Russe prenant une Leçon de Grace à Paris
Paris: Paul André Basset, 1815
Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library

Monday, June 2, 2014


Speaking of visuals (see previous blogpost) . . .

Hans Ruckers the Elder
Double Virginal, 1581
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Permalink HERE

Most every scholar who has ever published material with illustrations can regale you with sagas of work held up for months or years—to say nothing of delayed advancements—waiting for the necessary permissions and clearances to arrive. No one wants to be overtly illegal, but we do need to get on with the tasks at hand. Of late, notions of fair use for scholarly product appear to be becoming more liberal, and at least some rights-holders have simplified their processes and structures.  

Orpheus among the Thracians
Terra-cotta crater, c. 440 BC

Last week's announcement by the Metropolitan Museum of Art of Open Access for Scholarly Content (OASC) of some 400,000 images is welcome news indeed. Through OASC, artworks in the Collection section of the website which the Museum believes to be in the public domain and free of other known restrictions have been identified by an icon,
 Open Access for Scholarly Content (OASC) Icon
and images associated with these artworks can be downloaded for license- and cost-free scholarly and academic publication, according to the Terms and Conditions. To learn more about how to identify, access, and use OASC, see Frequently Asked Questions: Open Access for Scholarly Content (OASC). Here you will find admirably lucid explanation and sensible definitions. Hooray.

Édouard Manet:
the great baritone Jean-Baptiste Faure (1830–1914),
c. 1882–83—among Manet's last works

Permalink HERE

In fact the Internet may be doing for visuals roughly what bathtub gin did for Prohibition and the office Xerox machine did for the periodical literature. In early March 2014, for instance, Getty Images, proprietor of such major historical collections as the Hulton Archive (and not widely reputed for easing scholarly paths), introduced its embedding feature, which allows users to post material from their collection—said to number 35 million images newly available—anywhere HTML is supported.

To embed, visit, hover over an image in the search results or on the image detail page, and click the embed icon (</>).The embedded images will be hosted on the site, but they will appear in the context of the viewer on the site where they are embedded. The viewer includes the name of the photographer and image collection, and a link back to the image page on where people can license it for commercial use.

 “You have to adapt to survive,” said a Getty spokesman (at last). 

  • Getty Images press release, early March 2014.

  • Leopold Mozart (1719–87)
    Etching by Jacob Andreas Fridrich after a painting by G. Eichler, 1756.
    Photo by Imagno/Getty Images.