Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Great Dispute

We have reached the 50th anniversary of a memorable dialogue on the nature of American musicology. It began with Joseph Kerman's “A Profile for American Musicology” as delivered at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, 27 December 1964, and continued through volume 18 of the Society's Journal. Its repercussions in the profession are legion.
The opening round was 50 years + 6 months + 20-odd days, ago, recalls Craig Wright in the following reminiscence:
In thinking back on this event more than fifty years ago, I realize how little of substance I remember—more like reminiscences of a child. I was barely out of high school, at which point I was uncertain as to whether to take a golf scholarship to the University of Maryland or one in piano to Eastman—turned out I wasn't any good at either activity.   But there I was at Eastman, realizing that I wasn't about to make a dime as a concert pianist, casting about for another line of work. My teacher in a music history course, the late Charles Warren Fox, kindly inquired what I was doing over holiday break: “Going home to Washington, D.C.,” said I.  Replied he, “Well, while you're there, why not look in on the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society.” And so I did, and the experience changed my life.

I remember almost nothing about what I am supposed to have remembered—the emerging rift between old-line positivist musicology and the newer more critical orientation that led to “the new musicology”; nor do I remember anything about the implicit criticism of Germany and the Germans and their source-oriented mode of thinking as opposed to what we Americans were supposed to think. What I saw and remember from my vantage point at the back rows (I didn't have the courage to sit up front) was the following: a room filled to the brim with white middle-aged-to-elderly men (where were the women?), no one told any jokes (musicology business was very serious), everyone wore heavy tweed suits or coats (clearly this was not a profession for snappy dressers), and the proceedings resembled a baseball game (long periods of intense boredom and then all hell would break loose).
The hell broke loose in particular after this one curly-haired fellow (turns out his name was Kerman) stopped talking and this other bald guy (turns out his name was Lowinsky) lit into him, and then they went at it, yelling at each other! That's all I remember of that day, except for one other thing. As I walked away I said to myself:  “Craig, this is good. As a profession this will work: Musicology is a blood sport.”

This is the first of several reflections on Kerman / Lowinsky that we plan to publish. 

Joseph Kerman (1924–2014) spent his career at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, with a brief stint as Professor of Music at Oxford. He was named an Honorary Member of the American Musicological Society in 1995, and twice won the Otto Kinkeldey Award: in 1971 for Ludwig van Beethoven, Autograph Miscellany from ca. 1786 to 1799. British Museum add. ms. 19801 (The ‘Kafka Sketchbook’) (Oxford UP, 1970), and in 1982 for The Masses and Motets of William Byrd (University of California Press, 1981).

Edward Lowinsky (1908–85) taught, after his emigration to the United States in 1940, at Black Mountain College in North Carolina (1942–47), Queens College, New York (1947–56), and the University of California, Berkeley (1956–61). From 1961 he taught at the University of Chicago. He won the Kindeldey Award in 1969 for The Medici Codex of 1518 (University of Chicago Press, 1968) and was named Honorary Member of the Society in 1975.

Craig Wright is Henry L. and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Music at Yale University. He was 1990 winner of the Kinkeldey Award, for Music and Ceremony at Notre Dame of Paris, 500–1550 (Cambridge UP, 1989); in 2013 he was named Honorary Member of the Society. 

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