Friday, November 29, 2013

Schütz as 20th-Century Invention

by Bettina Varwig

Of course Heinrich Schütz was born in the late sixteenth century and died 87 years later in the seventeenth: 1585–1672, to be precise. But the Schütz familiar from our standard history books is very much a twentieth-century creature.

After all, it was only in the 1920s and 30s that Schütz’s music became fully “domesticated” among amateurs and musicologists (who found each other in the Singbewegung—the “movement” that sought to encourage a rebirth of German culture through group singing), attaining a popularity that his elitist output had never seen during his lifetime. And contrary to the nineteenth-century vision of Schütz as a consummate musical dramatist, the early twentieth-century liturgical renewal movement produced the enduring image of the composer as a Lutheran preacher figure.

His appropriation into the Weimar-era Hausmusik scene and his supposed exclusive dedication to Luther’s Word both allowed Schütz’s music to be distanced from conventional concert culture and any “merely” aesthetic appreciation of his works. The Neue Schütz-Gesellschaft, established in 1930 to replace a defunct earlier organization, eagerly embraced this liturgical agenda, and the journal Musik und Kirche, founded the year before, quickly became a leading forum for Schütz scholarship and advocacy. The fact that no instrumental music by Schütz survived was taken as further proof of his sole concern for Lutheran dogma; his secular works, on the other hand, faded into the background as a necessary evil brought about by his court employment.

The determination with which Schütz was refashioned into a musical herald of Lutheranism far exceeded the similar treatment accorded to his Protestant heir Johann Sebastian Bach, whose music was by this time too firmly established in secular concert life. The conspicuous lack of chorale settings in Schütz’s output compared with Bach (a total of about 40 melodies or fragments in an œuvre of over 500 items) was breezily overlooked; so too was the fact that prominent collections such as his Psalmen Davids (1619) contained large-scale pieces whose stately splendor patently did not mesh with the Protestant cantor fiction. Critics summarily dismissed these works as focused on mere sensuous beauty and grandeur of sound—though the Nazis subsequently came to appreciate those same characteristics, allowing them to claim Schütz as a monumental Northern German hero while playing down any unwelcome religious content.

The Lutheran-preacher image instead worked best for few-voiced works such as the Kleine geistliche Konzerte (1636, 1639) or the Geistliche Chormusik (1648). It was further consolidated in the 1940s by the “discovery” of musical rhetoric, in particular the so-called “doctrine of figures,” which seemed to provide a key to understand meaning in Schütz’s music. In offering an apparently historical foundation for the notion of Schütz as scriptural interpreter, rhetoric became an almost compulsory preoccupation for post-war scholars. As an analytical method, it allowed them to explicate and thereby valorize a repertoire whose structures resisted standard categorization. Moreover, the topic of rhetoric could give the appearance of a relatively neutral ideology, even if the idea of Schütz as musical orator remained closely bound up with claims about his national identity and special affinity with the German language.

All this is not to suggest that text painting never played a role in Schütz’s choice of musical gestures. To take a single example, in the motet “Ich bin eine rufende Stimme” (SWV 383), a setting of Mark 1:3 from the Geistliche Chormusik, the melismas from m. 29 might well illustrate the word “Weg” (path), as rough and bumpy as the melodic contour. But such a reading only considers the shape of individual lines, while missing the broader process of intensification created by their successive combination (first three, then six “bumping along” together), and the later fracturing of the motive into breathless reiterations (e. g., in the alto from m. 38).
Focusing on the treatment of a single word thus inhibits any sense of enjoyment from the gradual amplification of sound, from the virtuosity of the outburst, or from the rhythmic excitement after the placid preceding section. Moreover, the subsequent passage in the piece presents a varied version of its opening point of imitation, now underlaid with a different text—a striking double-exposition design that again makes most sense on a musical rather than a textual level.

A closer look at the theoretical sources of Schütz’s time—the celebrated musica poetica treatises of Joachim Burmeister and others—reveals that, contrary to the later near-exclusive concern with textual interpretation, these theorists indeed understood rhetoric primarily as a set of syntactic strategies for varying and amplifying musical ideas. The rhetorical terminology allowed them to categorize common procedures of musical design: the very first figure listed by Burmeister, “fuga realis,” simply described an imitative combination of subjects, of the sort used by Schütz for that exposition in SWV 383. Rhetorical labels hence performed an important role in conceptualizing techniques of phrase arrangement, but were not intrinsically tied to textual meaning. But the fallacy of this “doctrine of figures” as an interpretive system still underpins current perceptions of Schütz’s music as primarily a word-centered, sermonic art form.

And yet, even if the Lutheran-orator image can be thus discredited, we perhaps find ourselves no closer than those early twentieth-century critics to knowing what to do with a figure like Schütz. As musical canons continue to broaden and dissolve, his contributions may teeter ever closer to the edge of oblivion, making him an unlikely candidate for widespread musicological attention in years to come. One answer—if indeed we need one—might lie in recovering precisely that dimension of sounding beauty that Schütz and his listeners were so much more attuned to than our historical narratives have tended to assume. If nothing else, such a shift in perspective may allow us to envisage a more plausible, twenty-first-century version of the man and his sound world.

Bettina Varwig is Senior Lecturer in Music at King’s College London. Her book Histories of Heinrich Schütz was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Anne of Green Gables and the Lost Art of Recitation

by Marian Wilson Kimber

In the much-loved Anne of Green Gables, the students of Miss Stacey “get up a concert.” The “concert” in the 1908 novel by L. M. Montgomery consists of more than just music—it also features spoken poetry. The poetry is especially exciting for the young heroine, Anne Shirley, who plans to “groan heartrendingly” in her recitation. “It’s really hard to get up a good artistic groan,” she confides. Later in the novel, a more accomplished Anne recites at a hotel concert. Hearing a professional elocutionist momentarily undermines her confidence, but she recovers, “her clear, sweet voice reaching to the farthest corner of the room without a tremor or break.”

Anne Shirley, played by Megan Follows, recites at the hotel concert 
in the 1985 television mini-series version of Anne of Green Gables

Today the spoken word is not usually found in concerts; however, the fictional settings for Anne’s poetic effusions were typical in Montgomery’s era. As surviving programs from the long nineteenth century attest, period audiences found nothing unusual in the appearance of speech between musical compositions. In a more oratorical age, children were educated through vocal repetition and adults entertained one another by reading aloud. Elocution lessons were widely available in schools and music conservatories. Major cities had elocution schools, some of which developed into colleges, for example, Emerson College and Curry College in Boston, and Chicago’s Columbia College. While a few graduates became theatrical professionals, most had careers as platform soloists or teachers. In Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon, Ilse Burnley, an aspiring performer herself, defines elocutionist as “a woman who recites at concerts.” Female elocutionists came to dominate the profession, making up three-quarters of the attendees at the first meeting of the National Association of Elocutionists in New York City in 1893.

The sheer number of cultural events at which speech and music alternated makes them virtually impossible to summarize: graduations, patriotic celebrations, oratory contests, and holiday and religious events. Chamber groups known as “concert companies” regularly included a “reader” in their ensembles. Orchestras featured an actress performing a solo rendition of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, accompanied by Felix Mendelssohn’s incidental music for the play. Musical selections were an expected part of literary settings such as the meetings of women’s clubs common to the Progressive era. In “musical and literary entertainments,” music was interspersed with everything from the poetry of Longfellow and Tennyson to comedic monologues such as “Aunt Doleful’s Visit.” Audiences enjoyed the variety, and elocutionists became known for their interpretations of a particular poem, in the same way that a singer might shape an individual rendition of a song.

Flier for the Oriole Concert Company, ca. 1910,
featuring reader Hazel Kepford (upper left),
along with a violinist, cellist, and pianist. **

Likewise, listeners found that “accompanied recitations” made some performances distinctive, for music enhanced the emotional impact of spoken text on listeners, just as film scores do today. Performers added music as a quiet background for a poem or inserted a popular song mentioned in the text. Songs could also be recited to their accompaniments instead of sung. “Melodramas,” pieces consisting of speech and music, were produced by many composers, both well known (Robert Schumann, Franz Liszt, Richard Strauss, Edvard Grieg) and less familiar (Stanley Hawley, Rosseter G. Cole, Max Heinrich, Phyllis Fergus, Frieda Peyke, and many others).

Ultimately, the popularity of elocution faded when radio and movies brought music and speech to audiences in a new way. Elocution’s fall from our cultural memory stems in part from modernist rejection of its stylized performance practices and undeniable sentimental excesses. However, when the anti-Victorian reaction against elocution swung into full force after World War I, it was also a reaction against its professionalization of women. The habitually derogatory remarks about elocutionists were complaints about the period’s “elocution ladies.” The word “elocution” now called up visions of antiquated, amateurish performances by women and children. When the aging opera singer David Bispham turned to reciting, he was criticized for his “musical and literary entertainment such as is still given in the lecture room of the Keokuk [Iowa] Congregational Church, the proceeds of which are usually expended on a new church carpet.”

Yet for decades, elocution was a significant part of concerts. In our own time, when some audience members find the ritualistic silences surrounding the pieces on classical concerts stultifying, and not even conductors venture to speak to their audiences, perhaps we should reconsider a practice that once permeated our cultural life.
** Image Courtesy of Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa Digital Library

Marian Wilson Kimber is Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Iowa. She is currently writing a book entitled, Feminine Entertainments: Women, Music, and the Spoken Word. Find out more about the history of elocution on her tumblr, Elocutionary Arts.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

For Benjamin Britten, Upon the Centenary of His Birth

by Byron Adams

“Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions
To all musicians, appear and inspire . . .”

Edward Benjamin Britten was born on 22 November 1913, a day remembered in Great Britain as a celebration of the wholly mythical patron saint of music, Saint Cecilia. His father was an unprepossessing dentist in Lowestoft, an unremarkable town in Sussex; his determined mother, however, believed from the beginning that her child was destined to be a great composer. So he was.

From the time he was a schoolboy, Britten had an uncanny knowledge of his enormous gifts and how best to cultivate them. The child composed incessantly: much of his supposed juvenilia is of more than merely academic interest. To read how this precocious boy maneuvered the adults around him in order to have lessons with Frank Bridge is to understand the insight and surety that he possessed at the age of eleven. He chose wisely, for Bridge, who had no previous experience teaching composition whatsoever, turned out to be the perfect mentor.

From such beginnings, Britten moved from strength to strength until he was a national figure in his twenties and an international figure by his thirties. By the time Britten was fifty, the émigré theorist Hans Keller was comparing him to Mozart. A more profitable comparison in this case might be with Saint-Saëns, another prodigy who fully realized his early promise and whose habits of clarity, professionalism, and unceasing industry enabled him to produce music like an apple tree produces apples. Like Saint-Saëns, Britten developed such an extraordinary level of musicianship—both were superb pianists—that he was accused of being merely “facile,” or, even more damning within the context of British society, “clever.” Despite such critical strictures, both composers contributed a large body of music to the repertory that remains firmly in place.

“Translated Daughter, come down and startle
Composing mortals with immortal fire.”

Toward the end of his life, Philip Brett had realized how much Britten owed to a British predecessor about whom he had little good to say, Ralph Vaughan Williams. Like Vaughan Williams, Britten arranged British folksongs. Vaughan Williams had co-founded the Leith Hill Festival near his birthplace in Surrey; Britten co-founded the Aldeburgh Festival near his birthplace in Sussex. Vaughan Williams composed music for children and amateurs, as did Britten, whose opera for children, Noye’s Fludde, is a perfect example of music that enthralls non-professional performers and listeners alike. For their devotion and generosity, both composers were awarded the highest honor offered by their nation, the Order of Merit.

While it is true that Vaughan Williams had his circle of admirers, he eschewed anyone or anything that smacked of hero-worship or sycophancy. Britten, on the other hand, needed constant reassurance on a scale not seen since the death of the narcissistic Edward Elgar. Britten’s early friend, the poet W. H. Auden, warned the young composer about his propensity to build “a warm nest of love” in order to protect himself from the battering of the world—unsurprisingly, Britten dropped Auden soon after. But Aldeburgh, however splendid, did in fact become a cocoon and a defense against the world: Felix Aprahamian, a distinguished music critic, had many stories of Britten’s thin-skinned overreaction to the mildest of critiques. The protective “court” at Aldeburgh, headed by Britten’s life partner, the great tenor Peter Pears, cannot be dismissed out-of-hand, however, for the very “nest of love” that insulated Britten against the world also made possible the ideal conditions that enabled the creation of his finest scores. In a very real and ongoing sense, the Aldeburgh Festival is one of the greatest gifts ever given by a composer to a nation.

“O weep, child weep, O weep away the stain,
Lost innocence who wished your lover dead,
Weep for the lives your wishes never led.”

Britten was a pacifist and a homosexual. This represented two strikes against him during the Second World War, although he and Pears, who shared his partner’s political views, performed recitals throughout Britain during the conflict, bringing a measure of beauty to factory workers, laborers, and prisoners. (One such prisoner was Michael Tippett, a more aggressive pacifist than either Britten or Pears, who was sentenced to several months in prison for refusing to do anything that could be construed as “war work.”) In such a brief celebratory prose fanfare as this, it is impossible to do full justice to Philip Brett’s extraordinary and nuanced explorations of the role that homosexuality played in Britten’s life and work. Brett’s essays on Britten are highly recommended, therefore, as is the splendid new biography by Paul Kildea, which is surely one of the most even-handed books written about a great twentieth century composer.

Britten’s homosexuality, which he never acknowledged publicly during his lifetime, was an “open secret,” as everybody “knew” but nobody said a word about it in public. This paradox, as well as the covert hostility leveled toward Britten during his lifetime, is exemplified neatly by an episode in the life of the decidedly heterosexual composer Gerald Finzi. During the interval of the BBC broadcast of the première of Britten’s Billy Budd, Finzi telephoned other envious heterosexual composers to deplore the use of such a patently “homosexual” topic as the basis for an opera.

Then there is Britten’s attraction to adolescent boys. This cannot be swept under the carpet, as the sufferings of boys provide a major theme that chimes throughout such works as Peter Grimes, Billy Budd, The Turn of the Screw, and Curlew River, as well as in religious works such as Saint Nicholas, with its recounting of a miracle in which the saint revives a hapless group of pickled boys. Quite a few of Britten’s listeners remain unsettled by his obsession with boys. Indeed, there are those listeners and performers who honestly cannot come to grips with the composer’s ephebophilia and so reject his work entirely.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that Benjamin Britten was never a sexual predator of children, as John Bridcut revealed clearly in a sensitive documentary and book, both entitled Britten’s Children. At the same time, Britten suffered intensely from his attraction to boys. Ronald Duncan, librettist of Britten’s chamber opera The Rape of Lucretia, aptly called the composer a “reluctant homosexual.” It would be a dire mistake to revise history and claim in rosy hindsight that the composer was either a precursor of “gay liberation” or a positive role model for anyone in the LGBT community.  He was repressed; he often felt guilty; he suffered unimaginable torment at times.

“O wear your tribulation like a rose.”

What Britten never did was to falter in the full realization of his gifts as a composer. In this, certainly, he is a role model: he learned his craft completely; he practiced it daily; he aimed at excellence; and he gave of himself until the end. Britten literally worked himself to death. His accomplishment is unique and precious. Britten was a great British composer who reached an international audience: he is the heir to Dunstable, Byrd, Purcell, Elgar, Holst, and Vaughan Williams, among others. The Aldeburgh Festival continues today, a benefice to Sussex, to Britain, and to the world.

Each section of this centenary appreciation has been headed by quotations from Auden’s “Song for St. Cecilia’s Day,” which was set by Britten as his Hymn to Saint Cecilia, op. 27,  premiered on the composer’s birthday, 22 November 1942, during the darkest days of the Second World War. It is fitting, therefore, that Auden should have the final word, not from this radiant poem to a legendary saint, but through lines drawn from a poem that may well have been inspired by Britten himself, “The Composer”:

“Only your notes are pure contraption,
Only your song is an absolute gift.

Pour out your presence, O delight, cascading
The falls of the knee and the weirs of the spine,
Our climate of silence and doubt invading:
You, alone, alone, O imaginary song,
Are unable to say an existence is wrong,
And pour out your forgiveness like a wine.”

Byron Adams is Professor of Musicology in the Department of Music at the University of California, Riverside. He is editor of Edward Elgar and His World, the scholarly volume that appeared in conjunction with the Bard Music Festival (Princeton University Press, 2011).

Friday, November 22, 2013

Benjamin Britten:
Centenary Reflections (1)

by Paul Banks
NOTE: Byron Adams's “For Benjamin Britten, Upon the Centenary of His Birth,” will appear next in this series.
Ben and Peter. And Aaron.

As we celebrate the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten (22 November 1913), the place of his music in the canon of the Anglophone world and beyond seems secure and relatively unproblematic (as the Britten 100 site demonstrates). Many of the vocal works, particularly the operas, are now often performed and recorded; that they were tailored with care for the gifts of very different types of singers—from Sophie Wyss to Galina Vishnevskaya, Kathleen Ferrier to Janet Baker, and for the wholly individual vocal talent of his partner, Peter Pears—has not discouraged later generations of singers from taking Britten’s works into their repertoire. The fact that his idiom remained, for the most part, accessible and deeply rooted in the traditions of his immediate predecessors is no longer a source of anxiety.

Sixty years ago, however, the situation was rather more complex. In England, a number of influential critics still found his music too modern and challenging, while younger colleagues with modernist leanings such as Donald Mitchell, Hans Keller, and Paul Hamburger sought to validate Britten’s achievement by asserting his connections to tradition, thereby securing his place in a monolithic and teleological view of music history. In fact Britten appropriated techniques and sounds not only from Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Berg, but also from the traditions of Balinese gamelan and the Japanese Noh. Moreover, such acquisitions did not supplant existing components in his repertoire of musical resources, but co-existed with them. It is wholly characteristic of Britten that two instrumental works—Lachrymae (viola and piano, 1950) and Nocturnal (guitar, 1963)—which are radical in their transformation of melodic patterns into harmonic elements, were based on songs by English Renaissance composer John Dowland.

In the early 1950s, Britten himself seemed rather unconcerned about his place within larger patterns of musical history. Ten years later, in one of his rare excursions into extended prose, On Receiving the First Aspen Award (1964), he showed a rare insight into the dilemma faced by many composers in the immediate post-war years: 
There are many dangers which hedge round the unfortunate composer: pressure groups which demand true proletarian music, snobs who demand the latest avant-garde tricks; critics who are already trying to document today for tomorrow . . . . These people are dangerous—not because they are necessarily of any importance in themselves, but because they make the composer, above all the young composer, self-conscious, and instead of writing his own music, music which springs naturally from his gift and personality, he may be frightened into writing pretentious nonsense or deliberate obscurity.
That Britten articulated his sentiments in a speech delivered at Aspen seems particularly apt: his years in Canada and the USA (1939–42) coincided with a crucial stage in his evolution as a composer. Moving away from relatively overt references to continental modernism that characterized his works in the early- to mid-1930s, Britten embraced a more communicative style in such works as the concluding passacaglia of the Violin Concerto (1939) and the Sinfonia da requiem (1940). This stylistic shift allowed the composer to work on a larger scale and to invest his music with greater musical and emotional richness. His friendship with Aaron Copland (from 1938) undoubtedly contributed to this development. Works by the American composer such as The Second Hurricane and El Salón México made a profound impression; after hearing the latter at the 1938 ISCM Festival in London, Britten wrote to Lennox Berkeley, “it’s a grand piece: . . . what a relief it was . . . after all that pretentious balderdash we had to listen to.” Copland’s conviction that “simplicity was the way out of isolation for the contemporary composer” undoubtedly struck a chord with Britten on an artistic level, especially since for him (as for Copland) that sense of isolation was reinforced by social and legal responses to other aspects of his life: his sexuality and his politics.

Britten's strong desire for belonging lay behind the most familiar facet of his discussion of the composer’s role in the Aspen address:
I want my music to be of use to people, to please them, to ‘enhance their lives’ (to use Berenson’s phrase). I do not write for posterity. . . . I write music, now, in Aldeburgh, for people living there, and further afield, indeed for anyone who cares to play it or listen to it. But my music now has its roots in where I live and work. And I only came to realise that in California in 1941.
That Britten defined his usefulness solely in terms of his creative work is understandable. Indeed, his conviction that composing formed the central part of his life formed at an early age:
At a tennis party in my youth I was asked what I was going to do when I grew up—what job I was aiming at. “I am going to be a composer,” I said. “Yes, but what else?” was the answer.
Britten was right: he did become a composer, and one whose music shows every sign of continuing to connect with audiences; unwittingly, so was his interlocutor, because Britten became much else as well. By the early 1940s, it was clear that he was an exceptional accompanist, and in the 1950s he emerged as a conductor of rare insight. However, these talents clearly grew out of Britten’s innate musical aptitude: less expected was his skill as a leader. Naturally shy, even reserved, Britten nevertheless inspired great loyalty from some colleagues, and with their aid he founded an opera company, the English Opera Group (1947–80) and a festival at Aldeburgh (1948– ). Other endeavors included the construction of a concert hall at Snape, near Aldeburgh (1967) and the provision of crucial start-up funding for Faber Music (1964– ). Not a teacher in any formal sense—although composers and performers such as Robert Saxton and Graham Johnson have acknowledged the value of the informal advice he offered—Britten encouraged various educational programs, not least the formation in 1948 of the Opera Studio under the auspices of the English Opera Group, and the masterclasses by Peter Pears that evolved into the Britten-Pears School for Advanced Musical Studies (now the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme). These and many other initiatives supplemented Britten’s creative output, forming one of the most diverse, substantial, and internationally significant legacies of any British composer.

Paul Banks is Professor of Historical Musicology and Head of Special Collections at the Royal College of Music, London. Between 1989 and 1998 he was Librarian at the Britten-Pears Library, and has published on Busoni, Britten, Berlioz, Mahler, and Hans Rott.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Editor's note: November 22 this year is Benjamin Britten’s 100th birthday, to be commemorated in a series of posts beginning tomorrow. For people of my generation—60-somethings—that date has another, indelible, meaning, since the day 50 years ago when school was interrupted by principals announcing the news, followed by a seemingly endless week of uncomprehending Americans glued to their (black-and-white) tvs. I’d rather remember the thrill.
Chill already. The yes-but essays on the Kennedys' Camelot  (ex. 1, ex. 2, ex. 3) wrongfully deny the aptness of a rather touching metaphor in which we would do far better simply to delight. Mrs. Kennedy famously developed the notion of Camelot in an interview she gave Theodore White, just after returning to Hyannis from the funeral, for the December 6 issue of Life magazine. Kennedy had known Alan Jay Lerner at Harvard; the 1960 Broadway show had opened in Washington just as he was being sworn in. And, she said, they enjoyed listening to the record before bed. She said her husband was especially fond of the closing line, with its reference to “one brief, shining moment.” “There will be great presidents again,” she told White, “but there will never be another Camelot.” Good writing all around, I say: her construction had everything, including a title song.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
But it was not so much the Arthurian implications that had already seized my generation’s spirits many months before, nor (by then) the awful brevity of it, but the seemingly inexhaustible flood of good ideas emanating from the First Family, especially where it came to good music (and writing, and art). Our Washington, a rather dingy destination for field trips, suddenly seemed tasteful, upscale, fascinating. Both Kennedys were articulate, often elegantly expressed. High musical culture seemed something to aspire to, a notion being reinforced on television every week by another of our generation's icons, Leonard Bernstein. We wanted to sign up.

Especially, it was a matter of the concerts. The now-legendary concert by Pablo Casals, nearly 85, came in the first year, on November 13, 1961. (He had visited once before, in 1904, during the Theodore Roosevelt administration.) Coaxing him to Washington (despite the formal alliance of the US and Francoist Spain) was widely understood to have been the personal work of President Kennedy, whose remarks that night included specific welcome to representatives of what he called the world of Music and went on to resonate widely. “I think it is most important not that we regard artistic achievement and action as a part of our armor in these difficult days, but rather as an integral part of our free society.” Little matter that the president had needed coaching on exactly who Casals was (and Samuel Barber, and Aaron Copland).

Robert Knudson, White House Photographs
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Musuem

Grace Bumbry's turn at the White House came on February 20, 1962, just after her dramatic debut, and 42 curtain calls, at Bayreuth as Venus in Wieland Wagner's production of Tannhäuser. She had not yet appeared professionally in the US. Originally, the press breathlessly reported, she had declined to appear at the preceding formal dinner for Vice President and Mrs. Johnson, for fear of affecting her singing later on, but photographs of the receiving line prove she showed up and enjoyed herself anyway. Progressive households in my part of the South were captivated by this turn of events, and stayed that way for a long time: I remember the family guffaw when she suggested to the press that at the end of her “Dance of the Seven Veils” at Covent Garden (1970) she would be wearing nothing but jewels and perfume.

A year after Casals, on November 19, 1962, the Paul Winter Sextet, fresh from its State Department tour to South America, brought jazz (and bossa nova) to the White House.

“Simply wonderful,” says Mrs. K. “There has never been anything like it here before.”

And so much more. Dinner for Stravinsky (January 18, 1962). A lawn concert by the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra (April 16, 1962, in the cold, with the “New World” Symphony). The enabling legislation for the National Endowment for the Arts and what became the Kennedy Center. And the first class awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, shortly after the events in Dallas, which included Marian Anderson, Casals, and Rudolf Serkin.

It’s a legacy not soon forgotten. The Kennedy Center's retrospective, “The Presidency of John F. Kennedy: A 50th Anniversary Celebration,” included tributes to the Casals concert (Yo-Yo Ma and Emanuel Ax; January 25, 2011) and that of Grace Bumbry (Denyce Graves; February 1, 2011). The good-music stations have done well. There have also been live performances of Roger Sessions’s commemorative Third Piano Sonata (1965) and at least one of Bernstein’s Third Symphony, “Kaddish,” with its loving dedication to the late president (Baltimore SO / Alsop / September 2012).  Among the events in Dallas was a concert on November 3, 2013, by the University of North Texas College of Music, again referencing the Casals, Bumbry, and Paul Winter concerts at the White House.

For those of us who lived nearto, the Kennedys’ Camelot, where it came to good music, is as clear and true a memory as Leonard Bernstein and the Young People’s Concerts. A fond recollection of national intelligence and taste and beauty—yes, glamor. Something, indeed, of lasting consolation.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Now Available: the NYNME Archive

Peter Maxwell Davies:
Eight Songs for a Mad King

Jayn Rosenfeld, flute
Jean Kopperud, clarinet
Linda Quan, violin
Haleh Abgari, singer/shrieker

The New York New Music Ensemble, established 1976, has made available its extensive archive, including communications with composers, presenters, recording companies, and funders both public and private. There is also a voluminous library of scores, including many commissions. In opening the archive to scholars, it is NYNME's hope to stimulate research, not only into the organization's own activities, but into broader questions about New York's late 20th-century new music scene, the history of contemporary performance practices, patterns of commission and recording, and audience reception.

Contact: Jayn Rosenfeld, former executive director and flutist with the ensemble.

Chou Wen-chung:
Ode to Eternal Pine
commissioned by NYNME and dedicated to Elliott Carter

marked conductors score

Friday, November 15, 2013

Public Musicology . . . 1939

by Carol A. Hess

The questions explored at the session on “Public Musicology” during the American Musicological Society's recent meeting in Pittsburgh were hardly new. At least in the United States, we musicologists have had to sell our discipline to skeptics, or at least explain exactly what it is we do. Charles Seeger, who taught the first course in musicology at Berkeley in 1916, later recalled, “the head of the department of music in one of the greatest of our universities wrote to me in 1917: ‘Our faculty has discussed musicology and we do not think much of it.’” In the aftermath of World War I, many in the general public doubted that it was possible to write about music at all. Henry Blackman Sell of the Chicago Daily News complained of “the tangled sobriety” of most books on music, and
H. L. Mencken referred to “the fewness of [books on music] and the intolerable dullness of that few.” Carl Engel wondered in the Musical Quarterly if a perfectly good word such as “music” could be susceptible to “-ologizing” without coming off as pretentious.

As musicology was getting off the ground in the United States, it became increasingly necessary to clarify its priorities. In the fall of 1939, days after Hitler invaded Poland, an International Congress of the American Musicological Society took place in New York City, an event that was surely a source of pride for the fledgling organization.
Musicologists at the 1939 Congress, New York
Carlton Sprague Smith seated 2nd from L

Standing: Harold Spivacke, Otto Kinkeldey, Otto Gombosi, Knud Jeppesen, Fernando Liuzzi, Gustave Reese.
Seated: Edward J. Dent, Smith, Curt Sachs, Alfred Einstein, Dayton C. Miller.

Archive of the American Musicological Society

 It was also an opportunity to explain musicology. In his opening address, AMS President Carleton Sprague Smith acknowledged some confusion on that point. “Many people,” he observed, “have asked what musicology means.” His answer was succinct: “It is primarily the scientific study of music.” Pursuing the scientific model, Smith neatly distanced musicology from what Virgil Thomson tagged “the appreciation racket.” “Can anyone imagine,” Smith demanded, “a professor teaching ‘The Appreciation of Chemistry?”” Significantly, he added one more requirement for the burgeoning field: musicologists should “impart [their findings] to others.”

Throughout the 1939 meeting, Smith and his colleagues offered a remarkably ecumenical vision of musicology. The six-day event featured presentations on topics within musicology’s traditional purview, including Renaissance polyphony, monody, and ancient Greek music. But what would shortly be known in the United States as ethno-musicology (later ethnomusicology) figured as well, as in George Pullen’s discussion of “enemies of folk-music in America” or the exploration of “modal and melodic structure in Anglo-American folk-music” by Annabel Morris Buchanan, the sole female presenter. Presenters also addressed music and science and music’s relationship to that then-controversial medium, radio. In his paper “Music and Government: Field for An Applied Musicology,” Seeger described to his colleagues the 68,000 4-H Clubs and 42,000 Home Demonstration Clubs supervised by the Department of Agriculture, all involving “part-time music activities” in which 2,000,000 members could participate. Musicology, he argued, was poised to document these activities, arrive at a “value theory,” and even predict musical behavior.

In a conspicuous foreshadowing of presenters Skyping in, composer Randall Thompson addressed the attendees in a radio broadcast from Boston. His topic? The need for musicology in U.S. musical life.

The press seemed to find musicology compelling enough. Several New York dailies reported on the event, relishing not only the congress’s musical activities but also covering the dinner of a group of delegates at the Brazilian pavilion, one of the architectural gems of the 1939 World’s Fair, launched the previous April. In Musical America, a young critic named Gilbert Chase dwelt on the live music that resounded throughout the congress—including in the papers by Dragan Plamenac and Knud Jeppesen (on sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Dalmatian music and Venetian folksongs of the Renaissance respectively), during which an ensemble known as The Madrigalists performed the musical examples. Six concerts took place throughout the city, including at the Cloisters and the auditorium of the New York Historical Society.

Both scholars and the general public were thus exposed to a wealth of unfamiliar music: Ambrosian chant, psalmody, songs by Alexander Reinagle, and unpublished works by Handel. President Smith himself played the flute part in Arthur Foote’s A Night Piece with the Roth String Quartet in the opening concert. In short, readers were given to understand that musicology was not confined to archives and libraries but was a living and breathing enterprise, a dynamic line of inquiry that embraces past, present, and future while enlightening the non-specialist public.

Another example of what is nowadays called “outreach” emerges in the conference proceedings: the fact that they were published at all was thanks to a subvention from the Music Educators National Conference (MENC), which occasionally collaborated with musicology during World War II but which has had little to do with the discipline since. Private and public entities also provided resources, such as the Carnegie Corporation and the Office of Inter-American Affairs (OIAA), the latter helping to bring delegates from Latin America to the conference.

How did musicology, so broadly defined in 1939, change to the point that we now feel compelled to distinguish “public musicology” from . . . what? Some other kind of musicology? Program notes, pre-concert talks, writing articles and blogs for lay audiences may well be the forms of public musicology most familiar to us. But curating, government work, archival work, and oral history are other possibilities that greet those trained in our discipline. Do we need a theoretical underpinning to pursue these interests? Have our activities become constricted over the years—frozen in the academy, as it were—or have they expanded, even in these challenging economic times? These questions, by no means resolved, carry as many practical implications for careers and allocation of energies as they did in the 1930s.

Excerpted in part from the inaugural issue of the recently resuscitated Revista de Musicología, projected for 2012 but which appeared in September 2013. Carol A. Hess, “‘De aspecto inglés pero de alma española’: Gilbert Chase, Spain, and Musicology in the United States.” Revista de Musicología 35, no. 2 (2012): 263–96.

Carol A. Hess is Professor of Music at the University of California, Davis. Her most recent book, Representing the Good Neighbor: Music, Difference, and the Pan American Dream, was published by Oxford University Press in fall 2013.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Gershwin′s “Clara” in Pittsburgh

Richard Crawford
A capacity audience of some 500 musicologists provided the final musical illustration of Richard Crawford′s plenary address to the American Musicological Society, “Mr. Gershwin′s Catfish Row Spirituals.” Reading from a handout that gave the 17-bar refrain, and forewarned by what Crawford called a “tenor alert” for the wacky voice-leading at the cadence, the membership gave a credible—by the second time through, a moving—rendition of Gershwin′s newly composed spiritual:
Clara, Clara, don′t you be downhearted,
Clara, don′t you be sad an′ lonesome.
Jesus is walkin′ on de water, rise up an′ follow Him home.
Oh Lawd, oh my Jesus, rise up an′ follow Him home.
(We will post the video as soon as it becomes available.)

The chorus from Porgy and Bess is a lament for Clara and Jake and others who have been lost in the hurricane that closed act II.

Crawford′s lecture focused on the implications of Gershwin′s decision, early on, to compose his own folk music to a folk tale for what he called his folk opera. “When I first began work on the music, I decided against the use of original folk material because I wanted the music to be all of one piece. Therefore I wrote my own spirituals and folk songs”—instead of preexistent oral and written sources. Seven spirituals resulted:    
“Gone, Gone, Gone, Gone” (act I, scene 2)
“Oh, We′re Leavin' for the Promised Lan′ ” (I, 2)
“It Take a Long Pull to Get There” (II, 1)
“Oh, de Lawd Shake de Heavens” (II, 4)
“Oh, Dere's Somebody Knockin' at the Do′ ” (II, 4)
“Clara” (III, 1)
“Oh Lawd, I'm on my Way” (III, 3)
The event was the first President's Endowed Plenary Lecture, concluding the first day of the Society's annual meeting.
All told, some 1,600 participated in the annual meeting: students, professors, free-lancers, foreign guests, exhibitors, and performers. Among these last was 80+ Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, who led the even more venerable Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (est. 1895) in a youthful, lush reading of Scheherazade that made one grateful for Old Warhorses in general. There were hot topics old and new (“public musicology,” for one): I learned the terms Alt-Ac (or #altac, the alternative academic movement) and JAMSy (in the highfalutin style of the Society's journal). All this, and more, to come.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Repeat from the Beginning!

In 1914, at the height of a successful career as concert pianist, Donald Francis Tovey (18751940) became the [John] Reid Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh. There he worked for the rest of his career, and his previous experience as full-time performing musician came to shape every aspect of his work: teaching, conducting the Reid Orchestra (which he founded in 1917), editing, and especially writing.

Tovey's serious, often lengthy program notes had been a hallmark of his concerts from the beginning (and in Edinburgh, program notes had been the tradition since the first Reid concerts in the 1840s). Reviews from his early career complain of their detail and high literary style. But he was resolute in his belief that followers of his piano concerts and, later, the faithful public of the Reid Orchestra might follow the arguments of classical music. What resulted, of course, were the Essays in Musical Analysis, six volumes of his program notes, collected and published 193539.

Frederick Hollyer:
Donald Francis Tovey and Sophie Weisse
Victoria & Albert Museum
No one could have found Tovey's decision to abandon his virtuoso career a more bitter pill than his piano teacher, Sophie Weisse (18511945). It was she who had provided the necessary introductions that led to Tovey′s important friendship with Joseph Joachim, and his appearance with the Joachim Quartet (1905, in the Brahms F-Minor Quintet). What became a family friendship led, in turn, to appearances of Joachim′s great nieces, the violinists Adila Fachiri and Jelly d′Aranyi, with the Reid Orchestra. And in 1927 (as electric recording was first achieving its stride), to her particular satisfaction, Fachiri and Tovey collaborated in a recording of Beethoven′s Violin Sonata in G Major, op. 96 (National Gramophonic Society 114, 115, 116, 117 [side one]). At the repeat in the first movement, Tovey famously barks: “Repeat from the Beginning! ... Second time. ... ”
  • Symposium 1312: The Great Violinists, vol. XIX (2004) at Amazon (2004).
  • At Spotify.
  • Track 11: “Repeat ... ” at Spotify.
In this most practical solution—pick up the needle and start over—to the space limits of early discs, we have a glimpse of how the experience of the listener was ever paramount among his concerns. (Most other early recordings just skip the repeat, as do many performers today, when disc space is no longer an issue.) That the listener hear the details on the musical surface mattered above all.

Not for Tovey the abstract notions of background. “Some day,” he writes of the Seventh Symphony, “an analyst may arise who will administer a drastic cure by persuading people to swallow the soul-stirring doctrine that every piece of music whatever is based on the one idea embodied in a figure of one single note.” Tovey′s most acerbic critic, BBC Radio 3′s program director Hans Keller, found his approach pandering—and to a provincial Edinburgh audience. That did not much stain the Essays and other writings that went on to give Tovey good name recognition, including in the United States. American writers of today admire both the insights and the iconoclasm, but also two very modern priorities: outreach and engagement.

Robert D. Pearson is Lecturer in Music History at the University of North Texas in Denton. His doctoral dissertation for Brandeis University (2011) concerned history, narrative, and analysis in Tovey′s writings.