Tuesday, January 27, 2015

We Still Have Work To Do!

An Open Letter to Young Musicologists

by Amy C. Beal

Did positivism end before women really made it into the history books? I've been wondering that a lot lately.

Carla Bley (2012)
photo Michael Hoefner
A few years ago, while writing a book about the composer Carla Bley, I received from Norton a complimentary copy of the first edition of Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddins's new book titled Jazz (2009). Given my then-current research interests, I eagerly looked for Bley's name in the book's index. I did not find her there, despite the fact that she has been an important and prolific, internationally-recognized, prize-winning composer, arranger, and performer since about 1959. That's fifty-six years worth of innovative and influential work. Frustration and disappointment overwhelmed me. Bley has (to date) released 27 recordings under her own name, as well as many other recordings for which she served as the primary arranger, including the entire output of the late Charlie Haden's Liberation Music Orchestra. She has worked with some of the world's greatest musicians, many of whom have performed and recorded her compositions—including Gary Burton, Don Cherry, Art Farmer, Jimmy Giuffre, Charlie Haden, Keith Jarrett, Paul Motian, George Russell, and Tony Williams, all of whom do appear in the pages of Jazz.

It really made me wonder what one has to do in order to be included in the historical record represented with such authority by textbooks such as this. Later I found Bley hidden in a list appearing at the back of the book: selected "Composers/Arrangers/Leaders." Her birthdate was incorrect.

My agenda is not to pick on DeVeaux and Giddins, who are accomplished scholars, and I am aware that it is easy to identify and bemoan omissions in any survey. But it is worth noting that this invisibility and exclusion is not an anomaly.

My essay is not just a rant by an embittered author whose subject was unjustly excluded. Rather, it is a plea to younger musicologists to continue the work started by pioneering scholars like Adrienne Fried Block, Judith Tick, and many others—and younger scholars like Sherrie Tucker and Tammy Kernodle (and many others)—to document and narrate women's lives in music, and to continue getting them on the radar of our students, our colleagues, our editors and publishers, and our concert venues. We need to get as close to the facts as we can, so we can present their work next to the work of their well-documented brothers. We need to stop being lazy about canons. Maybe Johanna Beyer's dissonant counterpoint is more interesting than—or: just as interesting as—Henry Cowell's. Why is she not included in books on modern music theory? Questions like this are just small examples of a much larger problem. But we need to continue asking them, and reformulating our historical narratives. It's not revisionist history. It's history.

Yesterday I received in the mail from Norton a complimentary copy of the second edition of Jazz. (This unexpected, second confrontation with this particular book prompted me to finally put these thoughts into words.) Again, I turned to the index. Again, Bley was not to be found there. She still appears on the list of "Composers/Arrangers/Leaders." Her incorrect birthdate has not been corrected (she was born in 1936, not 1938), even though my biography on Bley was published nearly four years ago. There is still no mention of her formidable oeuvre in the book.

Myra Melford
photo Bryan Murray
And while we're at it, why include John Zorn on the list of "Composers/Arrangers/Leaders" but not Myra Melford, another award-winning, internationally-acclaimed composer-improviser? Why has Vijay Iyer entered the canon while Melford has not? Why guitarist Charlie Hunter and not guitarist Mary Halvorson? We need to answer these questions. We also need to move beyond entrenched biases in the discipline and take better care of the historical record. And all of this has been said before.

P.S.: An aspiring musicologist I supervise in the Ph.D. program at UC Santa Cruz, Madison Heying, has taken it upon herself to learn several computer programming languages in order to more deeply understand the music of women composers and performers who embrace technology (Maggi Payne, Carla Scaletti, Laurie Spiegel, others). This effort demonstrates a commitment to the work itself—a careful understanding of the composer's intentions, techniques, and methods. How do these composers answer the musical questions that interest them most? I think this deeper understanding is a path we should encourage our students to take—in the study of all music, but especially in pioneering attempts to document and explain yet-unexplored music by women.

Amy C. Beal is Professor of Music at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is the author of three books: New Music, New Allies: American Experimental Music in West Germany from the Zero Hour to Reunification (UC Press, 2006); Carla Bley (Illinois, 2011); and Johanna Beyer (Illinois, 2015). She serves on the boards of the AMS Committee on the Publication of American Music, New World Records, and Tempo magazine.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Dear Abbé

Professional musicologists offer answers and advice. Free.


The first photograph is of Claude Palisca, a former president of the American Musicological Society. It appeared in the Kentucky Kernel, 5 May 1959, in an item publicizing his paper to be presented that evening to the University of Kentucky Humanities Club: “Jean Taisnier and Crisis of Sixteenth-Century Music.” Palisca was at the time teaching at the University of Illinois; he moved to Yale that autumn.

The other is of Donald Jay Grout, who presumably needs even less introduction than Palisca.The photograph is by the late Otis A. Arnts. We are grateful to the libraries of the University of Kentucky and Cornell University for authorization to reproduce these images here.

Which brings us to the point of this exercise: the American Musicological is always grateful to know of portrait-quality images of its avatars (for another instance, that photograph of Waldo Selden Pratt in the practice room at Williams College). Contact Bob J. in Brunswick.


Claude V. Palisca in 1959
University of Kentucky Library
Portrait Print Collection
box: 38, item: 3397

Donald J. Grout
Cornell University
Carl A. Kroch Library
Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
Faculty Biographical Files 47-10-3394.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Dear Abbé

Professional musicologists offer answers and advice. Free.


Do you know who these gentlemen are?

                                                          BOB J. IN BRUNSWICK 


Yes. Do you?

Answers (and source citations) tomorrow.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Figuring Rameau

by Thomas Christensen

2014, as Gina Rivera reminds us in her posting from November 2014, was the year Jean-Philippe Rameau got his turn in the recent spate of composer celebrations. The 250th anniversary of his death spawned a number of musicology conferences in Europe (though none in the United States that I heard of) in which scholars and musicians had an opportunity to take stock of the composer/theorist—or more accurately, to take stock of the state of research on Rameau. 
Not that Rameau had not been honored before. In 1983, the tercentennial of his birth, French colleagues threw a very nice party, by all evidence, in his home city of Dijon. The collected papers from that conference still make for informative reading regarding all aspects of his operatic life:  influences upon his style, sources for his operas, his librettists and collaborators, singers, performance practice, staging and dance.<1> Tucked away in a session or two were a few interesting papers on Rameau’s music theory and aesthetics.  But by the apologetic tone of some of the papers (one, for instance, was entitled, “Rameau et l’harmonie:  comment avoir raison de la musique?”) it did seem as if musicologists were still figuring out how Rameau’s activities as theorist/philosophe fit together with his better known work as a stage composer. 
It was thus something of a relief for me to see that many of the conferences organized for Rameau this time around gave a more central place to his music theories. Indeed in two of them, it was exclusively Rameau the theorist who was discussed.  Of course I am biased. I published my first scholarly book on Rameau and his theoretical writings in 1993, and I have long argued that his work as a theorist surely is as historically important as his creative work for the stage.<2> 

It was thus a great pleasure for me to be invited to speak at four of these conferences. It was really something of a surprise, too, for I had long thought in some of my less charitable moods that no one in Europe really gave a hoot about my book; it had never received any reviews or commentary that I knew of from across the Atlantic. Naturally I was inclined to attribute this to the widely-voiced prejudice that most continental musicologists just did not read much American literature. So it was something of a jolt, and perhaps a consolation, that twenty years later I received the most complimentary invitations from European colleagues, each assuring me that not only had they all read and deeply admire my book on Rameau, they were eager to have me participate in their conferences. How could I say no?

Of course it was a risk to accept all four invitations, each arriving within a few months of each other.  It had been, after all, twenty years since I’d been actively working in the area of Rameau. Since then, my research had taken me in many other directions. Would I have anything more to say that I had not already put into my book? But there was an even worse problem. We all know that European academics have this infuriating habit of publishing just about all the proceedings of any conference, whether or not the individual contributions merit such publication. I realized quickly on that I could not get through the Rameau year by simply recycling the same talk four different times. I had really better come up with four decent papers that could stand exposure to the sun. So I spent a busy summer in 2013 reviewing many of my old yellowed notes from twenty years ago that still might be gleaned for a paper or two. I also used the time to catch up on the latest research on Rameau. There was a lot more out there than I had realized. 

The kickoff to the Rameau celebrations actually started earlier than 2014. In September 2013, colleagues at the University of Mainz hosted a small conference on the reception of Rameau’s music theory in Germany.<3> It’s not as esoteric a topic as one might first think. For it was German theorists in the late 18th and 19th centuries perhaps more than anyone else who absorbed and developed many of Rameau’s most pregnant theoretical ideas: the fundamental bass, the functional theory of the triple progression, and his adumbrations of harmonic dualism. Scholars from Germany, France and North America came together and presented a motley roster of papers dealing with various esoterica of French and German music theory, all sutured together by the writings of Rameau. There is no doubt this was perhaps the most specialized of the conferences. But almost for that reason, I think it ended up being the most coherent in retrospect. For my own paper, I was able to salvage a huge notebook of notes I had taken while writing my Rameau book on the writings of several Berlin-based music theorists who seemed to have digested a fair amount of Rameau’s writings: Nichelmann, Adlung, Marpurg, Kirnberger, and even C.P.E. Bach. I’m glad I trusted my instinct not to force that material into my book back then, even if it took two more decades to see it all in print. Material left on the scholar’s cutting table still may find an afterlife. 

In March 2014, our French colleagues got going with their own three-day conference taking place in Paris (and for one lovely day in between at the Fondation Royaumont in Asnières-sur-Oise).<4> This was, I suppose, the “official” French conference, given its broad scope and representation. The leading French Ramists were there, and it was a pleasure for this American to see the likes of Sylvie Bouisseou, Jean Duron, Catherine Kintzler, and Beatrice Didier all in one place. But Americans were well represented, too, with Cynthia Verba, Charles Dill, Rebecca Harris-Warrick, and myself keeping the stars-and-stripes flying high. We were treated over the three days of the conference to a lovely mix of papers on Rameau’s creative work—both compositional and theoretical. Here it seemed no one felt the need to begin their talk about Rameau’s theoretical work with an apology. The conference was capped off by some memorable performances of Rameau’s music: a lovely harpsichord recital at Royaumont, and on the final night, a rollicking performance of Platée, directed by William Christie at the Opéra-Comique. 

I must admit that I really did have to adjust my old uncharitable prejudice that French scholars simply did not read any English literature (let alone speak the language). Many of the younger French musicologists who attended and even spoke at the conference clearly knew about much of the work going on over here, at least based on my own conversations with them. I think when the proceedings of the Paris conference are eventually published, we’ll be able to compare favorably the state of Rameau research in France. No musicologist reading this blog will be surprised to hear that the amount of published research on Rameau has multiplied immensely in the three decades since the 1983 conference, what with a whole new edition of Rameau’s complete oeuvre well under way, along with wholesale revisions of his place in the history of opera and the Enlightenment. 

In August, yet another large Rameau conference was held at Oxford University, under the direction of the ever amiable Graham Sadler.<5> In the pleasant confines of St. Hilda’s College, some forty historians, theorists, and musicians gathered to talk more Rameau—this time all in English.  Even though the Oxford conference was larger than the one in Paris, it somehow seemed more laid back to me.  I’m not sure there was too much difference in thematic coverage;  there were the papers on editorial issues in his operas, dramaturgical questions about staging, dance, and singing, and—of course—exegeses of his theoretical writings. Concerts, too, were a part of the fun, with a memorable evening of harpsichord music performed by Davitt Moroney. But without the distractions of Paris, the whole event seemed so much more intimate. Given that a many of us had already overlapped in the earlier conferences, we were by now feeling like old friends. 

The last major conference for Rameau returned me to Paris in December, where Rémy Campos and Nicolas Donin had organized a two-day conference that took place at IRCAM.<6> This was perhaps the most unusual conference of the Rameau year in that the organizers had the inspired idea to ask what lessons might be learned from Rameau’s dual activities as composer and theorist for contemporary music. It’s not like we haven’t seen examples of composer/theorists in our own lifetime among countless colleagues. But the charge of the conference committee seemed more specific. Was there anything in Rameau’s own project of theory and its relation to his compositional work that could be suggestive for our understanding of contemporary music today? And what better a place to ask this than the Mecca of modernist music in Europe: IRCAM? I have to confess that as happy a question as it all seemed, the payoff at the conference was mixed at best. The participants seemed to be divided between two groups: historians who knew something of Rameau’s music theory and music, but not a huge amount about contemporary music; and composers who knew a good deal about contemporary music, but less about Rameau’s. Thus the varied papers we heard over two days in the bowels of that iron cavern at Bourbourg had a Janus-like feel, some looking backwards and some forwards;  but rarely did any of them meet up. 

It was still a delightful two days. But at the end, I found myself asking if the initial question of the conference might not be misplaced. Why do we presume that Rameau the theorist necessarily has something to say about Rameau the composer—let alone to help us understand what composers today might be doing? For sure, both his operas and treatises were written with the same quill pen. But each was written for a specific audience with very differing aims using almost irreconcilable media. It’s nice for us to think of ourselves as organic wholes, with our lives and actions following coherent and inter-related paths. But in fact is that how we really work?  As I left IRCAM after the final session and walked across that grand plaza in front of the Centre Georges Pompidou, full of noisy buskers, jongleurs, jugglers, sketch artists, mimes, pan-handlers, hawkers, and hucksters, not to mention all the hundreds of gawking passer-byers, it seemed so clear to me that we all can wear many differing hats, and our various personae may not always have to be in close collaboration. Maybe that was the case of Rameau. 2014 opened many wonderful and fascinating windows onto this remarkable artist from the 18th century. But at the end, I still think he survives as a complex, enigmatic, individual with many sides, perhaps not unlike the mashup of music, drama,  dance, poetry, and machinery that comprise so many of his operatic spectacles. (Not for nothing did Charlie Dill title his marvelous study of Rameau’s lyric tragedies “monstrous opera.”) 

Gina Rivera ended her meditative essay on the Rameau year by bidding adieu to the many faded pastel portraits musicologists have long drawn of our friend from Dijon.  But I’ll turn this around and suggest we might gaze now at a newer (post-modern?) picture of Rameau that we can greet with a hearty “bonjour.”  For all our intensive musicological forensics over the past decades, Rameau has entered the 21st century as even a more complicated, more challenging and more wonderful figure than ever. Today music historians and music theorists now cohabit many of the same departments, conferences, and journal pages with most of the suspicions and animosities that characterized our relation in the past long faded. But if we still occasionally scratch our heads wondering just what it is we have to say to one another, I don’t think there is a more timely figure to turn to and ask than Jean-Philippe Rameau. Just don’t expect a clear answer. 
Thomas Christensen is Avalon Foundation Professor of Music and the Humanities at the University of Chicago (webpage HERE). He is editor of the Cambridge History of Western Music Theory (Cambridge UP, 2002, paperback 2005) and several forthcoming volumes.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Where's Waldo?

More on Waldo Selden Pratt . . .

In The Musical Times, September 1939 (no. 1159, p. 684)—

Percy A. Scholes notes his death:
WALDO SELDEN PRATT, on July 31 [1939], at the age of eighty-one. He began life as an Egyptologist. From 1880 to 1882 he was Assistant Director at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. From 1882 to 1917 he was Professor of Music and Hymnology at the Hartford Theological Seminary, Connecticut, holding also various other academic positions and organist-ships—really a very versatile man, as well as a sound and deep scholar. His History of Music is well known, as also his New Encyclopedia of Music and Musicians. With Dr. Charles N. Boyd as junior colleague he served as American Editor of Grove's Dictionary. On everything connected with hymnology he was an acknowledged authority, and his writings on Ainsworth's Book of Psalmes, 1612 (entitled The Music of the Pilgrims, Boston, 1921) and The Music of the French Psalter of 1562 (Columbia University Press, issued this year) are valuable and thorough studies. Probably few members of the Musical Association remember that forty-four years ago a special summer meeting was held (July 16, 1895) under the chairmanship of Sir John Stainer, as President, to receive a party of American musicians, and that the Proceedings of the Association for that year include a very thoughtful paper on “The Isolation of Music,” read by Prof. Pratt.
In The Musical Quarterly (again), an essay by Otto Kinkeldey—perhaps the longest obituary ever written about a musicologist. Two excerpts:
When Waldo Selden Pratt was called to his reward last July in his eighty-first year the community of scholars, particularly the fellowship of musicologists in America, was bereft of one of its proudest ornaments. The loss was so much more keenly felt as the length of his devoted service to the cause of music, of musical scholarship and music teaching exceeded that of his generation. He had outlived that little group of laborers in music's vineyard, who, at a time when thoughtful teachers of music were beginning to realize the need and the advantages of organized co-operation, dedicated the best efforts of their lives to making that co-operation fruitful. And he outlived that still smaller group which was the first in America to devote its joint labors to musical research, and which slowly but decisively convinced the musicians and the music-lovers of America that, in this field also, sincere and honest endeavor might bring forth fruits meet for grateful recognition and acceptance as true contributions to the musical heritage of the nation. 
These were activities which brought Pratt into contact with a wide general musical public and made his name known throughout the length and breadth of the land—known and respected and loved. But of this wide general public comparatively few knew of his long and continuous service of forty-three years as a teacher of church music, of hymnody and hymnology, of liturgics and of “public worship” at the Hartford (Conn.) Theological Seminary. No bright light of public attention streamed over these years of loving labor. But here his influence was more personal and direct. Here the steadfast, sincere, deeply religious nature of the man enabled him to sow seed whose perennial flowering will not fail for many years to come. 
Pratt's career was not like the well-planned conventional activity of the scholar, the artist or the professional man in any of the callings that have a well-recognized place in the professional or educational world, with a foundation and a background of long European and American standing, with a course of preparation and training crystallized through successive generations. In many of his activities he explored new territories-new at any rate for America. He opened new paths and kindled new beacons for his American contemporaries and his younger disciples. In the field of practical music he was to a great extent autodidact. And in scholarship his early training was not that of a musicologist, consciously striving towards a goal which he saw clearly from afar. He never had the advantage and the inspiration of even a few years of preparatory study in Europe, such as fell to the lot of so many American musicians and musicologists. He was truly a product of his native soil, and perhaps he brought more honor to his country than it bestowed upon him.
. . . ten rich pages later:
Pratt's last years were spent in quiet retirement but not in idleness. After the cessation of his active work at the Hartford Seminary he rarely left his Winter or his Summer residence. His time was spent at his home in Hartford, or, as soon as mild Spring weather made it possible, at the Inn in Pomfret Center, Connecticut. In Pomfret, General Israel Putnam of Revolutionary fame had had his home. And through his mother Pratt was related to the Putnams. Here he would do his reading, writing and proof- reading, and, until Winter threatened, would drive about in his old motor car for relaxation in the far-spread or gently rolling green fields of Windham County. The meetings of the M.TN.A. and other societies saw him no more, although he kept himself well-informed as to what was going on. In his later years he developed a kind of mild agoraphobia. He avoided carefully any situation in which he might find himself in a place where many people were gathered, particularly if he thought he would be expected to “make conversation” or indulge in idle social talk. 
This was particularly so after 1935 when he lost his beloved wife, whom, as Mary Elizabeth Smyly of New York, he had married in 1887. Theirs had been a happy union, although it was saddened by the early loss of their only child. Up to the very end his mental faculties remained alert and active, and even the ordinary physical burdens of old age seemed to rest not too heavily upon his shoulders. His last Summer was begun as usual at Pomfret. Shortly before the end of July he began to feel indisposed. He was taken back to Hartford where death came to him peacefully two days later on July 29, 1939. 
The quiet end rounded out a peaceful life. No startling brilliance marked his career. No modern notoriety ever threatened the dignity of his calling or the nobility of his living. The number of those who mourn his loss is, perhaps, greater for that very reason. If modesty, charity, kindliness and devout living are the marks of a great soul, here was one that was truly great.
At Williams College

By sheer happenstance, Alert Reader Tony Sheppard (after reading this blog) literally stumbled into a practice room at Williams College named for Pratt (BA Williams, 1878).

At Yale's Gilmore Library

In the Histories of Music exhibit (2011).

Elsewhere on the Web

Online books by Waldo Selden Pratt (University of Pennsylvania Library)

Music of The Pilgrims (Boston, 1921; for the 300th anniversary of the psalmbook brought to Plymouth in 1620) at IMSLP (Princeton Theological Seminary copy)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

"Musicology" Turns 100

by Matthew Werley

Waldo Selden Pratt
In January 1915, the American seminary professor Waldo S. Pratt (1857–1939) coined the term “musicology” on p. 1 of the inaugural issue of The Musical Quarterly. Musicology had existed conceptually and been practiced (in some form or another) long before his article “On Behalf of Musicology” appeared in print. But Pratt was the first to define the term in the English language as well as one of the earliest figures to campaign for its existence as a legitimate field of “scientific” inquiry in the United States.

Revisiting the article today, it is quite remarkable just how forward-thinking, even proto-New Musicology-ish sounding his discussion reads in some passages. This is particularly palpable where he characterizes musicology as a discipline open to engaging with a virtually infinite field of reference points:
“The world of music” [...] is extremely complex. It includes both subjective experiences and objective things, facts, principles, laws, processes, products, utensils, creators, organizations, institutions, powers, ideals. Any or all of these may be taken as topics of scientific scrutiny, and such scrutiny ought to yield something toward the building up of a comprehensive “science of music.” Here, then, we may expect to find the field of “musicology” (4).
In reality, the discipline Pratt helped bring into existence hardly set out to produce ideologically sensitive “institutional analyses” in the vein of Georgina Born—this would take generations to achieve. Yet I suspect that most readers today still find that his discussion resonates with present-day debates regarding the purpose and subject-orientation of musicology within the academy. (Indeed, an email thread I received this morning reminds me there is still considerable internal speculation as to what generally constitutes musicological practice.) Given how radically the discipline has shifted focus over the past decades (let alone the last century), one might be forgiven for believing that “what goes around comes around.”

You can judge the merits of Pratt's essay for yourself by following the link below to America's oldest-running scholarly musical journal, The Musical Quarterly, which also celebrates its centenary this very month.

Before you do, it’s worth considering a fascinating biographical point that potentially sets matters within the wider historical framework in which Pratt's article appeared and was subsequently disseminated. (We should recall, of course, that the term “musicology” struggled to take root in America and wasn't acknowledged by universities as a full-fledged subject until after the Great Depression.) Unlike his American contemporaries in the field who received extensive vocational training in musicology abroad (in Germany, Austria, and France), Pratt never had the opportunity to travel outside of the United States. Nevertheless, his article demonstrates a conversant familiarity with the latest trends and definitions of musicology in Europe, particularly those of Guido Adler and Hugo Riemann. But that's not to say his article necessarily reads as a manifesto against such definitions. The article comes across as an honest and original attempt to frame the discussion around a newly coined term. Indeed, it’s a fresh and consistently hopeful advocacy "on behalf of musicology” from someone standing outside the academy.

While Pratt’s unconventional vocational path makes for fascinating study, it's perhaps the wider historical context of 1915 hovering faintly in the background that is ultimately decisive. The First World War had erupted the summer before his pioneering article appeared - perhaps, we might speculate, even while it was being drafted. As the historian Adam Tooze has recently discussed in his magisterial book The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916–1931, the war cataclysmically shook the institutional foundations of Pratt's (albeit much more pedigreed, resourced and organized) European counterparts to their core. Although American musicology would always be indebted to these roots, it would often be marked by a self-conscious awareness of an intellectual rift between Old- and New-World conceptions of the discipline. This was especially true during fundamental changes to musical thought and scholarship in the early 1960s and late 1980s.

A century now gone by, the American Musicological Society, which Pratt lived to see established in 1934, has become the world's largest, most active and (arguably) intellectually diverse scholarly organization devoted to the study of “musicology.” Whether a certain restlessness about its intellectual heritage was already latent in 1915 remains a question open to future research.

NOTE: More on Waldo Pratt in our next blog post.

Matthew Werley received his doctorate in musicology at the University of Oxford (under the supervision of Peter Franklin) and is currently a tutor in music at the University of Cambridge. His research on Austro-German opera has been supported by several DAAD grants, and his publications include, among other things, the entry on “musicology” for the four-volume encyclopedia Music in American Life (Greenwood, 2013).

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Interview: Richard Taruskin

The fourth and last in this series of video interviews reflecting on American musicology features Richard Taruskin, interviewed by Beth E. Levy.

(At one point Professor Taruskin salutes his mentor Joel Newman, who has since died; see the Columbia University notice HERE.)
Musicology Now is investigating the possibility of providing transcripts of these interviews. Stay tuned.

  • 00:56 learning to write with impact
  • 02:30 the five-page-a-day plan
  • 03:15 mentors; Joel Newman
  • 04:15 RT as performer of early music
  • 05:20 dissertation on Russian opera
  • 06:20 19th-Century Music; California; Joseph Kerman
  • 08:30 changes of style over time
  • 10:45 writing for a large audience
  • 11:50 when is it finished?

Richard Taruskin is professor of music at the University of California, Berkeley, widely considered the most influential writer on music of his time. His Presidential Lecture at Stanford University, “Shall we Change the Subject? A Music Historian Reflects” (3 March 2008) may be seen on YouTube HERE.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Leon Botstein on the Liberal Arts

Learning is like sex, and other reasons the liberal arts will remain relevant

by Leon Botstein
This article first appeared in the Hechinger Report, HERE (with numerous links), and is republished with kind permission. The author is a member of the American Musicological Society.

A minor avalanche of defense, both of the liberal arts and the humanities, has been triggered by the transformation of the economy and the world of work.

Technology, particularly in the information sciences and biology, has placed science and engineering at the forefront as timely and useful areas of study. And the sustained loss of manufacturing jobs domestically and the prospects of increasing mechanization — replacing humans with smart devices and robots — have fueled a sense of panic about the relevance of the liberal arts, notably the traditions of learning in the humanities and social sciences.

So here are a few things to remember as the discussion continues.

One odd aspect of the reaction to apparent onslaught of criticism and doubt about liberal education is a striking unwillingness to take history into account. Simply put, there are no illiterate scientists, and all the decisive progress in science — the essential bedrock of technological and economic change — is a high order of literacy.

Look at all the winners of the Nobel Prizes in science over the past fifty years and one will encounter individuals for whom what we call the humanities and social sciences — and that arena oddly left out of the discussion — the arts — were critical and central to their work and life. In short, there will be no discoveries and breakthroughs without pioneers whose ambitions are fueled by matters outside of the realm of science and technology, narrowly defined.

To be honest, the defense of the liberal arts and humanities rings a bit hollow as colleges and universities often do not actually do what we claim to do. We, as a group, tend to do a poor job of delivering the humanities and social sciences to students. Departments mirroring a system of specialized disciplines, as in a graduate university, define many undergraduate programs. Those disciplines are often self-serving bureaucratic enclaves that once represented discrete boundaries in research and scholarship. This system has become rigid and out of date, particularly as a basis for an undergraduate curriculum.

Students come to college interested in issues and questions, and ready to tackle challenges, not just to “major” in a subject, even in a scientific discipline. They are interested in the environment, in understanding genetic inheritance, in tackling disease, poverty, and inequality, even boredom. They are interested in humor, beauty, communities and the past. What do we so often find in college? Courses that correspond to narrow faculty interests and ambitions, cast in terms defined by academic discourse, not necessarily curiosity or common sense. The liberal arts curriculum in most institutions does not match the interests and the ‘need to know’ on the part of students. The problem is not with the subject matter, ideals, or content of the liberal arts and humanities, but with the delivery system.

Let’s take the so-called crisis of confidence about the liberal arts and humanities as the chance to reform and revitalize what we teach and how we teach. Let’s stop preaching. On the matter of teaching, the only aspect that is truly threatened by technology is bad teaching, particularly lecturing. The institutions that are most threatened by technology are those that rely on large lecture classes and graduate assistants.

Teaching and learning are basic human experiences. To make this point consider teaching and learning, for a moment, as analogous to sex. Technology has no doubt added opportunity and diversity to the experience. But it has not rendered the basic transaction obsolete, and it is not about to.

Furthermore, the true experience of teaching has remained pretty stable for centuries. What happens in a seminar today, whether in physics or literature — discussion, argument, close reading, speculation — has remained the same despite all the momentous changes in technology since the 12th century, from the book to the moving image to the computer.
There are two dimensions to a genuine liberal education that must be accounted for but are often ignored. First is the proper approach to learning how to use language: to read with a rich capacity to interpret and interrogate texts, and to write. Second is to insure that all students in the liberal arts become literate in science. We place the liberal arts in peril if we do not integrate the sciences and mathematics (and that includes computer science) into the substance of the humanities and social sciences.

Consider history. The history of design, medicine, science and technology are natural ways to connect science and the humanities. That connection needs to go both ways. We cannot permit our students in the humanities and social sciences to be ignorant of science any more than we can allow scientists to develop too narrowly in terms of the fundamental issues of culture and society.
Colleges and universities also must find ways to bring the visual and performing arts into the liberal arts, as practice and not mere objects of study and as more than peripheral and decorative additions to literature and history.

We need to do what we say and stop defending and bemoaning. That will be hard, since it goes against bad habits and so-called “tradition” and vested interests, but reform is essential. The reform that is needed is not cosmetic but fundamental in terms of the organization of faculty and the curriculum. The relevance and utility —let alone the substance — of the liberal arts (which include the sciences, by the way) are not in danger.

The danger lies only in the way we go about making the case and delivering on the promise of the liberal education.

Photo by Steve Pyle
Leon Botstein is president of Bard college, a position he has held since 1975. He is also Bard’s Leon Levy professor in the arts and humanities. In addition to serving on a number of boards, he is the musical director and principal conductor of the American Symphony Orchestra, and conductor laureate of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.

Monday, January 5, 2015

On Adémar de Chabannes (989–1034)

James Grier, professor of music history at the University of Western Ontario, has been working on music and liturgy in medieval Aquitaine for more than two decades—notably on the contributions of the colorful monk Adémar de Chabannes.

In his 2013 article for the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Grier documents how, in the second half of 1027, Adémar de Chabannes contributed the musical notation to the production of an elaborate liturgical manuscript (currently Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS latin 1121) at the scriptorium of Saint Martial in Limoges. While doing so, Adémar introduced the innovative technique of placing the neumes in strict alignment along the vertical axis of writing in accordance with their relative pitch. The accurate heighting of the neumes revolutionized the teaching of music at Saint Martial, and eventually throughout Aquitaine.

(Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Medieval and Renaissance Music Conference, Tours, 13 July 2005, and the meeting of the American Musicological Society at Nashville, 9 November 2008.)

Marc Montgomery's coverage, “Canadian Musicologist Makes 900-year-old Discovery,” appears as a Radio Canada International blogpost of 22 October 2014, with an 9-minute audio interview our readers are certain to enjoy.

Professor Grier points to a page in the manuscript on his computer screen. This particular section is entirely in Adémar de Chabannes hand; illustration, lyrics and musical notation. This led to the realization that it was Adémar who had created the musical notation for the entire manuscript with this innovation of vertical spacing of notes to designate pitch. (from Professor Grier the lyric reads: “Probauit eum deus et sciuit cor suum; cognouit semitas suas; deduxit illum in uia aeterna, et nimis confortatus est principatus eius.” God judged him and knew his heart; He recognized his way of life; He led him into the eternal way, and too little strengthened is his dominion.)

http://img.src.ca/2014/10/22/240x135/141022_gb0cj_rci-m-grier-nohand_4.jpgJames Grier is author of The Critical Editing of Music (Cambridge UP, 1996) and The Musical World of a Medieval Monk: Adémar de Chabannes in Eleventh-Century Aquitaine (Cambridge UP, 2006), he has also published numerous articles on music and liturgy in medieval Aquitaine; his critical edition of music copied by Adémar de Chabannes recently appeared in the series Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis (2012).