Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Eastman Studies

by Ralph P. Locke

A recent post on this blog mentioned “the staggeringly weighty displays of recent books” at the annual meeting of the American Musical Society (Milwaukee, 6–9 November 2014). Throughout the Milwaukee conference I kept hearing praise for one such exhibit: that of the University of Rochester Press and its sister firm in the UK, Boydell and Brewer. As founding editor of the URP’s Eastman Studies in Music, I was then frequently asked how the press, a newish player in the field, became so prominent in the fields of historical musicology, ethnomusicology, and music theory. Here, then, an essay that I put together about how the Eastman Studies series has developed. (An earlier version of this history appeared in two parts in 2009, HERE and HERE.)

Music can be a problematic topic for a book. Unlike novels or poems, plays or paintings, musical works cannot easily be represented in words or visual images. Furthermore, musical notation and detailed technical description can feel opaque to many music lovers. The net result has been a looming gap, for centuries now, between music as it is understood by musicians and the often superficial ways in which it has tended to be written about in books, magazines, and newspapers.
In order to try to fill this gap, many academic and niche publishers have developed a music-centered series with a relatively narrow focus, such as opera, American music, or music in one century. When, in the early 1990s, University of Rochester Press asked me to help them start an Eastman Studies in Music series, I agreed but urged that it be kept broad in regard to chronology, repertory, and scholarly approach. The dozens of books that have resulted range from historical studies of Renaissance-era Christian chant to close analyses of pieces by Bach and Ravel and from primary source material on Debussy and more recent figures (such as Steve Reich, György Kurtág, and conductor Claudio Abbado) to detailed accounts of trends in music and musical life in North America, the Czech lands, or mid twentieth-century China.

By casting its net wide, the Eastman Studies in Music series provides a wide range of critical and nuanced perspectives on musical composition and performance, on close analysis of music’s formal and expressive qualities, on musical performance across the centuries and around the world, and on the many historical and cultural contexts that have shaped music and its meanings for those who make it and love it.

The Hundredth Title

In Fall 2013 the series published its hundredth title. The French Symphony at the Fin de Siècle: Style, Culture, and the Symphonic Tradition is a splendid monograph by Andrew Deruchie, a young Canadian scholar who holds the position of Lecturer in Music at Otago University (New Zealand). Deruchie’s book focuses on the special challenges that composers in France faced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when composing in a genre previously dominated by German-speaking composers (from Haydn to Brahms). Deruchie details the creative solutions to this dilemma that were adopted in one fascinating symphony after another by Camille Saint-Saëns, César Franck, Édouard Lalo, Vincent d’Indy, and Paul Dukas. (He had to leave out one of my favorite French symphonies: the Chausson. Perhaps he’ll write an article on it!) Outside reviewers praised Deruchie’s manuscript effusively, one noting that it offers “insights on every page.” The resulting book demonstrates the ongoing commitment of the University of Rochester Press to providing scholars and music lovers alike with books that add to previous knowledge about important topics yet also are engaging to read and attractive to the eye and in the hand.

The Advantages of a Broad Umbrella

The aim of the series—to select, develop, and produce books that would be varied yet of consistently high quality—was much easier to realize than I had expected: by coincidence, we seem to have started the series just when some major academic publishers were retrenching. As a result, manuscripts started arriving that often would have, a decade earlier, gone to a more established house, such as Yale University Press. Margaret G. Cobb, the doyenne of Debussy studies, contributed an urgently needed revised edition of her famous book The Poetic Debussy (1994). It went on to sell out in hard cover and paperback alike. (Like many URP books, it is now available again, thanks to advances made in the technology of on-demand reprinting.)

In the twenty-five years since the Press’s founding, the Eastman Studies series has published books on such varied topics as music publishing in sixteenth-century Venice, fugal theory in the Baroque era, the suites of Johann Sebastian Bach, and “the pleasure of modernist music” (e. g., Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Ligeti’s music in the film 2001). The initial decision not to narrow the focus of the series to one period or genre proved a big advantage: we could accept any book that was on an interesting and important topic, was engagingly written, and made a substantive contribution. The Eastman series has made available the first detailed studies of such important composers as Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Marianna Martines (whose works were performed publicly in Vienna during the Haydn-Mozart era), and, from the twentieth century, Dane Rudhyar, Luigi Dallapiccola, Leon Kirchner, Jean Barraqué, and Claude Vivier, plus three noted organist-composers: Charles-Marie Widor, Maurice Duruflé, and Pierre Cochereau.  Elliott Carter’s Collected Essays and Lectures (1996) quickly became one of the Press’s all-time best-sellers (in hard cover and paperback) and remains in print today.

Books You Can Hear

A book—like “the hills”—can be alive with the sound of music. The URP has provided CDs for Eastman Studies books on such topics as Indonesian music (The Gamelan Digul), the great Chinese erhu player Abing (Musical Creativity in Twentieth-Century China), and, more recently, some forgotten but charming—and socially revealing—German-language operettas composed in America (Music in German Immigrant Music Theater: New York City, 1840–1940). One title required two CDs and got them: Composing with Japanese Instruments, a practical guide (widely used in its original Japanese version) by the world-renowned composer Minoru Miki.

In recent years the series has released four books for which the author created a parallel website that contains additional musical examples (and sometimes audio versions thereof).  The combination of book and website seems the wave of the future, and the URP’s willingness to catch this wave has been welcomed by our authors.

Marks of Recognition

Our books have been extremely well received in the scholarly world as well as by reviewers in the general press (e.g., Times Literary Supplement and BBC Music Magazine). Numerous excerpts from reviews are collected on the page for the respective book at the Press’s website. Particularly heartening was this phrase from a review by James Garratt in Music and Letters of Scott Messing’s two-volume Schubert in the European Imagination, which, he said, “offers yet more evidence that the University of Rochester Press has become a highly significant player in the field.”  Several books have won nationwide prizes. A month ago, Drew Massey’s book John Kirkpatrick, American Music, and the Printed Page became the first winner of the ASCAP Virgil Thomson Award for Outstanding Music Criticism.

The URP/Boydell blog entitled From Beyond the Stave brought wide public attention to books in the Eastman Studies series.  The blog is now “frozen,” but all its posts can be read HERE. New books in the series are described in an electronic newsletter, The Posthorn. A substantial number of Eastman Studies books dealing with music in the United States have received a welcome subvention from the Howard Hanson Institute for American Music, thereby helping to lower the price to libraries and individual purchasers.

Toward Two Hundred

Eastman Studies continues to promote music scholarship written in a clear and engaging manner. The boards of the University of Rochester Press and of Boydell & Brewer anticipated the need for high-level books on music and appreciated that a series run by a team of scholars could meet that need. (I am assisted by an editorial board of six, including my Eastman colleagues Roger Freitas, Patrick Macey, and Robert Wason, plus Bonnie C. Wade, from the University of California, Berkeley, Sarah Fuller from SUNY Stony Brook, and William Caplin from McGill’s Schulich School of Music.) The work of the series is supported by URP’s alert editorial and production team. And I am delighted that URP two years ago established a parallel series under the direction of my Eastman colleague Ellen Koskoff: Eastman/Rochester Studies in Ethnomusicology.

In a time when funding for arts and humanities projects is under great strain, Boydell & Brewer and the University of Rochester Press are committed, in part through these two series—Eastman Studies and the new Ethnomusicology series—and also through Boydell’s own extensive music titles  to providing a forum for scholarly debate and research. Working together, Boydell—which likewise follows the model of the “broad umbrella” but, in addition, contains several more specialized series—and the University of Rochester Press demonstrate that serious research on music can still be published and at least break even for the publisher, even in the tight economic situation of the early twenty-first century.

Ralph P. Locke is Professor of Musicology at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. Winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for six of his articles, his most recent book is Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections (Cambridge UP, 2009). His “prequel” to that book is appearing in April 2015 (likewise from Cambridge): Music and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart.


  1. Eastman Studies continues to market music scholarship written in a very clear and engaging manner. The boards of the University of Rochester Press and of Boydell & Brewer anticipated the necessity for top-level books on music and appreciated that a series run by a team of scholars might meet that require.
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