Monday, September 28, 2015

Curators in the Musical Museum:
The Case of Haydn

by Bryan Proksch

The idea that the canon of musical works is a sort of museum—an idea advanced by Lydia Goehr, Peter Burkholder, and others—makes a lot of sense. Classical audiences are expected to be at least nominally conversant with certain composers and works from the past, and the same holds true in painting or sculpture in physical museums. But the musical museum isn’t really like other museums given the fleeting nature of live performance. Just who are the curators of our musical museum? Why have “they,” whoever “they” are, chosen the composers and works that they have? These are among the questions that preoccupied me in Reviving Haydn: New Appreciations in the Twentieth Century (University of Rochester Press, 2015). 

The radical swings Joseph Haydn’s reputation has seen over the past two centuries amply demonstrate that the “who” making decisions can be virtually anyone interested in the art form. The “why” underlying their opinions can range from as simple as “because I like it” to as complex as the most loquacious musicologists in the world can conjure up.

It is not too much to say that by the time Haydn died in 1809 he was more famous throughout the European musical world than any other composer who had ever lived. He was a father figure to the Austrians and a strong influence on Beethoven. The Parisians commissioned a set of symphonies and struck a medal in his honor; Napoleon put an honor guard at his house after conquering Vienna. Londoners made Haydn a rich man over the course of his two journeys there in the 1790s. With only a few exceptions, performers, critics, publishers, other composers, and concertgoers lavished praise on his music. Few living composers are correctly identified as stars whose light will continue to shine forever, but Haydn is surely one of them.

In spite of all this, after 1809 a significant cross-section of the musical world seemingly moved on from Haydn in favor of Romanticism. Who decided? It wasn’t the concertgoing public: ample evidence from the nineteenth century suggests that audiences continued to want to hear Haydn’s music. Hans von Bülow, one of the towering pianists and conductors of the era, purposefully included works by Haydn on his concert programs not because he liked the music per se but because, as he put it, “symphonies by Haydn and Mozart bring a sold out hall and cost nothing.” Others more overtly attacked Haydn’s music as old-fashioned, usually as part of an agenda to promote living composers writing in newer styles. Composers like Schumann and Wagner said surprisingly dismissive things about his repertoire. Berlioz went so far as to say that the text painting in The Creation made him “shrivel up” every time he heard the “detested” work (no small irony for a composer who himself depicted a decapitated head rolling into a basket in the Symphonie fantastique).

In many ways, it was the musical amateurs who were keeping Haydn in concert throughout the mid-nineteenth century. George Sand depicted him quite favorably in her novel Consuelo: her Haydn defends Consuelo, with whom he has fallen desperately in love, from an attack by a man with a gun. Choral societies in every corner of the United States programmed The Creation regularly, partly because people enjoyed seeing the spectacle of the work and the singers enjoyed singing it. Eventually, however, the criticism took its toll. By the end of the century, audiences were becoming tired of the few works by Haydn still in the concert repertoire. His music was well on its way to gathering dust on the bookshelf.

We’re now at the part in the tale where some hero figure would normally come to the rescue, like Mendelssohn supposedly did for J. S. Bach. The problem is that no single person brought Haydn back from the brink. Instead, a wide variety of figures in the first decades of the twentieth century, led by their own unique self-interests, decided that Haydn’s work had something relevant to offer to the musical museum. Now it was their turn to convince audiences to listen with new ears.

None of these composers, critics, teachers, or performers decided that we should hear Haydn from a fresh perspective simply because he was “one of the greats.” Jules Écorcheville, for instance, was a French musicologist who used chronology, namely the centenary of Haydn’s death in 1909, as an excuse to promote French research in music history and modern French composition. Debussy,  Ravel, Widor, and a few others wrote compositions dedicated to Haydn that year at Écorcheville’s prompting. Schoenberg not only looked to Haydn for guidance in the ways to forge a new musical style, but cited him in his textbooks in an effort to demonstrate the ways one might create coherence in music in the absence of tonal reference points. Heinrich Schenker, picking up the pieces in a shattered post-World War I Austria, called out the rallying cry “Forward to Haydn” in the hopes that Austrians would rise again to dominate the musical world by following Haydn’s example. Wanda Landowska, d’Indy, Vaughan Williams, Toscanini, Tovey … the list goes on and on. Every one of these great musical minds found a specific reason to embrace and use (in every sense of that word) Haydn to promote their own agendas. Haydn’s music was once again great because these people effectively argued that it was so.

It might be worth pointing out that often these leading thinkers were dealing with pressures from “regular people.” My favorite example is a young boy named Tom Whitestone who had the audacity to write to conductor John Barbirolli in 1956 complaining that he programmed too much Vaughan Williams and needed more Haydn because the melodies were better. Barbirolli forwarded the letter to RVW, himself a Haydn advocate, who wrote the boy back: “I am glad you like Haydn; he is a very great man & wrote beautiful tunes. I must one day try to write a tune which you will like.” If that isn’t influence from the public, I don’t know what is.

The French in Eisenstadt (Kismarton), 1909.
D'Indy 4th fr rt.; Écorchville ctr, obscured.
To me this is all very exciting. Studying critical reception uncovers the factors that shape our musical museum. It turns out that our collective curatorship of that museum is never as simple as “we listen to him because he wrote great music.” And while, in a real museum, a handful of people determines what hangs on the wall and what gets stored, in the musical museum, everyone plays a part. The reasons why we listen to Haydn, or anyone else for that matter, are as diverse as the people listening.

Bryan Proksch is assistant professor of music history at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. His research centers on the reception and “revival” of Haydn’s music in the early twentieth century, though he also works more generally on Viennese Classicism and the history of the trumpet. His essays have appeared in the Journal of the American Musicological Society (2011), the Journal of Musicological Research (2009), the Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Center (2012), the Historic Brass Society Journal (2008 and 2011), the International Trumpet Guild Journal (2003, 2007, 2009, and 2011), and elsewhere.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Letter from Florence

Jessie Ann Owens writes:
I am fortunate to be a visiting professor at Villa I Tatti this semester, and to rediscover the beauty of the place, nestled in the hills outside of Florence, the warmth of the community of scholars and, above all, the unrivaled resources of the Gordon and Elizabeth Morrill Music Library. I am finding very valuable connections, for example, with several of the literary scholars who are here this year.

Bernard Berenson at I Tatti
Villa I Tatti is the former residence of Bernard Berenson, the renowned art historian and connoisseur, who donated it to Harvard University to found the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies. The Morrills were his neighbors and close friends: Gordon, an architect, designed and built their villa next to the Boboli Gardens overlooking Florence; Elizabeth was an accomplished singer who devoted her studies to the works of Johann Adolph Hasse, The Morrill Music Library for Italian medieval and Renaissance musicology at Villa I Tatti—its holdings are remarkable—was presented in memory of their friendship with Berenson. The Biblioteca Berenson is one of the 70 libraries in the Harvard University library system; appointees have access to the entire Harvard library system through Hollis+. While the library is open to all qualified users, the staff go out of their way to support the community of fifteen long-term fellows, as well as a number of short-term fellows and visiting professors.

The new director of Villa I Tatti, Alina Payne, a professor of architectural history from Harvard University, is continuing to expand the intellectual work of I Tatti from its traditional base in Italian and European studies to explore connections worldwide. The current call for applications specifies “any aspect of the Italian Renaissance broadly understood historically to include the period from the 14th to the 17th century and geographically to include transnational dialogues between Italy and other cultures (e.g. Latin American, Mediterranean, African, Asian etc.).”

The deadline for applying to the long-term (full year) fellowship is October 15. This fellowship is aimed at scholars in the earlier stages of their careers (up to ten years since the receipt of the Ph.D.). But three new short-term fellowships have recently been announced as well, with a deadline of December 14. If you have questions about applying, write to Given the very significant investment in music that the Morrills’s generosity has made possible, Villa I Tatti is committed to a strong presence for musicology within the interdisciplinary setting. I hope you will consider applying.

Jessie Ann Owens is past president of the American Musicological Society and the Renaissance Society of America. Professor of Music at the University of California, Davis, she is co-editing with John Milsom a new edition of Thomas Morley’s A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (1597).

Friday, September 25, 2015

That Debate, again

by Bonnie Gordon

2015 is a big year for fiftieth anniversaries in music. In 1965 Bob Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk festival, members of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys all took LSD for the first time, and Louis Armstrong played a Cold War cultural ambassador concert behind the Iron Curtain, sponsored by the CIA’s cultural arm. Outside of music, the civil rights movement made great strides with three Selma marches and the Voting Rights Act. As part of the war on poverty President Johnson created Medicare and Medicaid.

Meanwhile in musicology Joseph Kerman and Edward Lowinsky extended their acrimonious debate at the 1964 American Musicological Society meeting into print. In case you have forgotten, weren’t born yet, or haven’t been following the AMS blog, Kerman offered a “profile for American Musicology” rooted in criticism and designed to shed the shackles of European tradition. Lowinsky responded angrily at the annual meeting and in a 1965 article entitled “The Character and Purpose of American Musicology: A Reply to Joseph Kerman.”

I begin with Selma and Medicaid not to diminish Kerman and Lowinsky or to wonder why a group of mostly white male musicologists meeting in Washington DC in 1964 fought in a rather ungentlemanly style about music criticism (though that question has crossed my mind). Rather, I bring this up to suggest that for Kerman and Lowinsky there was a context for their confrontation within and outside of the academy. Their exchange was apparently a shouting match, and while it may not have been clear on the surface, their shouting had everything to do with the Holocaust and the Cold War.

Kerman’s presentation of his method as a self-consciously American endeavor to which some, Lowinsky included, were inevitably “alien”—not American enough—enraged Lowinsky. Kerman said, “None of this must be taken as chauvinism. The thanks we owe to German musicologists and German-trained musicologists are too obvious, the debt too great and too deep-rooted and (at least in my case) too affectionate. All the same, our identity as scholars depends on growth away from an older alien tradition into something recognizably our own.” Lowinsky, who had fled the Nazis and had a difficult time at first making his way in this country, understood the term “alien” as reminiscent of Nazi vocabulary. “I do know that Kerman is playing a dangerous game with dangerous words that the older generation has heard before and fervently hoped never to hear again. Nor is Professor Kerman so young or so innocent that he can claim to be unaware of the twentieth century use of the terms ‘alien’ and ‘native,’ in matters of art and scholarship.” Kerman, hearing himself compared to the Nazis, could only be furious. Think what would happen if at our annual meeting next month if someone called an individual scholar—not the discipline as a whole—a white supremacist or a rapist.

The aftermath of that debate situated Lowinsky falsely, I think, as the enemy of progress. By the 1990s Lowinsky stood as a straw man for the so-called New Musicology—itself a vexed and problematic term. Kerman was not to my mind the most radical thing at the 1964 meeting. His paper appeared on a panel with the much less famous Donald M. McCorkle, who in his “Finding A Place for American Studies in American Musicology” called for a move away from European music as the mainstay of the discipline. McCorkle effectively challenged American musicology to become less deaf to the sound world it inhabited. He asserted that a discipline that by definition focused on art music of the Western tradition left students unprepared to deal with music from outside Europe in general but from North America, in particular.

This is not a bad time to revisit 1965 and not because we need to take sides. Rather, it’s worth revisiting now because their passion about our purpose serves as an important reminder that whether or not we like it we need to think hard about our purpose and our profile. Our graduate students face a world where the humanities, the liberal arts, the arts, and even the University are under attack. In thinking about political agendas we need to look beyond those scholars who seem the most political and public. Lowinsky may be a good lesson here. His intellectual work, outside the university, was deeply committed to fighting McCarthyism and segregation.

Black Mountain College Catalogue, 1948-49
Lowinsky would likely not have been behind some of the efforts that in music fields currently seem the most political: the committee on women and gender for example. But he had an explicit political agenda long before anyone had any ideas about “public musicology.” He pushed it hard beginning with his first job at Black Mountain College, a North Carolina institution that prided itself on intellectual and artistic freedom. In summer 1945, Lowinsky directed the Black Mountain College Summer Music Institute on polyphony. The Institute took a radical stance against segregation: following college policy, it ignored state segregation laws and promoted integration. That summer two black students attended the Institute, and a concert by the African American tenor Roland Hayes attracted more listeners than any other at the festival. Hayes, who had largely been barred from singing in this country, performed a mix of classical pieces and African American spirituals to an integrated audience seated together in defiance of the law. Hayes participated in the festival not just for musical reasons but also as part of a conscious commitment to social justice.

We could all probably stand to be as brave as Kerman and Lowinsky both were in and out of their field. When music scholars today debate the profile and purposes of their field they have to answer different questions and face different daemons. No one doubts that American music is a legitimate scholarly topic and no one doubts the legitimacy of American musicology. There are even papers by American scholars of music about Bob Dylan going electric and about rock singers and hallucinogenic drugs. But people do doubt the purpose of the humanities, a liberal arts education, and arts in the public schools. I hope that there will always be a place for detailed and esoteric papers on unknown composers and for exposing students to gorgeous musics. One of the most important things some of us do may well be to get our undergraduates to listen carefully—sometimes teaching listening comes just from drilling sonata form into their heads and sometimes it comes from kinds of music that neither Lowinsky nor Kerman would have wanted to hear or study. And sometimes it comes from facilitating hard conversations in the classroom.

Kerman and Lowinsky both had prestigious jobs and long publication records by the time they shouted at each other in 1964. They had also shared an intense musicality with scores of students. These key facts make all of the difference. So we, and now I mean “we” with tenure, need not only to celebrate the progress that has been made but also ask ourselves why, seventy years after Lowinsky brought Roland Hayes to Black Mountain College, music departments remain so homogeneous. We have to ask hard questions about the continued gender imbalance of our field and about the continued lack of racial and class diversity. And we with job security need to think very hard about the enormous problem of contingent labor in institutions of higher learning. I’d personally rather not see successful male (or female) musicologists erupt into shouting matches at conferences any time soon, but to address these hard issues with a dose of the courage and conviction that both Kerman and Lowinsky had will go a very long way.

Bonnie Gordon is Associate Professor at the University of Virginia. Her research interests center on the experiences of sound in Early Modern music making and the affective potential of the human voice. Her newest project has the intriguing title Voice Machines: The Castrato, the Cat Piano, and Other Strange Sounds.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Criticizing Your Friends

We asked the critic Bernard Jacobson to reflect on his book Star Turns and Cameo Appearances, to be released in December.
There probably are, I cheerfully confess, musicians and writers who might think that a critic who never took a music course in his life must be a fake.

My education was centered on the subjects of philosophy, history, and the classical languages. But criticism is a branch of aesthetics, which may be regarded as a branch of ethics, which is in turn a branch of philosophy, and I think my philosophy studies were crucial in helping me to make the distinction between factual statement and value judgment that is a vital element in sensible criticism. As a motto, I adopted very early in my five-and-a-half decades as an active critic George Bernard Shaw’s dictum, “I never penned an objective criticism in my life, and I trust I never may.”

Critical judgments, after all, are made by people. It is the critic’s cardinal duty to be passionate. Certainly, having set passion loose on a given work or performance, it is his duty also to provide reasons to back up his personal judgment—to go into details, perhaps, about why elements in a piece fell short of coherence, or why certain choices of tempo in a performance didn’t work, or why they threw new light on a piece he had thought he already knew inside out. But this is a secondary duty, necessary to explain a positive or negative judgment, never to be placed on the same level of importance as that central judgment itself.

The kinds of detail I have found myself most often concentrating on in evaluating performances tend to be matters of rhythm or phrasing or dynamics. Pulse, I found in the light of two performances within a week of Schubert’s Fifth Symphony, is more important than simple tempo: in one, the second movement was far slower than in the other–but it flowed much better, because the dominating metrical element was a broader two beats to the measure rather than a fussy chopped-up six. Silence, too, can be of fundamental importance. Far too often, the sense of cohesion in a performance is damaged when a measured pause indicated by the composer is shortchanged by the performer.

But given my essentially humanistic and indeed people-centered conception of what criticism is about, the account of my career I offer in my new book, Star Turns and Cameo Appearances: Memoirs of a Life among Musicians (University of Rochester Press, 2015), focuses as much on the individuals and ensembles who make music as on music itself. I have been fortunate enough to number many fine musicians among my friends. Again, I know there are colleagues who see it as improper for a critic to be on terms of friendship with those he reviews. To me, however, it seems that close observation of the arduous and often agonizing work composers and performers do ought to discourage any sensitive writer from being brutal or sarcastic about the results. If you have integrity, your judgments will be fair, and if you haven’t they probably won’t. Nor can I imagine friendship with a musician whose work I find bad, while in reviewing a man or woman I value artistically I would never allow a momentary lapse from the standards I admire to go unremarked.

Most formative and indeed educational for me was a close friendship beginning in my twenties and lasting some thirty-six years with the English composer Wilfred Josephs. Several times, when he ran into a creative road-block, he would call, say “I’m stuck!” and ask whether I could come straight over. We would spend perhaps a couple of hours looking at the difficulty together, and then, with his mind cleared of problems, he would send me away. And more than once he would say to me, “Okay, it’s finished. Now tell me how it works.”

It is such relationships that are explored in my book: personal friendships and professional associations with composers ranging in style from Josephs to Iannis Xenakis, and taking in Michael Tippett, Nicholas Maw, Robin Holloway, Jonathan Lloyd, Ralph Shapey, Richard Wernick, Richard Wilson, Heinz Karl Gruber, Robert Lombardo, and Andrzej Panufnik on the way. No less important to me are the performers I’ve been lucky enough to number among my friends: conductors Riccardo Muti (for whom I worked for seven years at the Philadelphia Orchestra), Carlo Maria Giulini, Colin Davis, Franz Welser-Möst, Gerard Schwarz, and José Serebrier; singers Thomas Hemsley and Ian Bostridge; instrumentalists including Garrick Ohlsson, Stephen Hough, Malcolm Frager, and the great, late-lamented Czech pianist Ivan Moravec. And while some might facilely imagine that the composers would have been the most brilliantly intelligent among these groups and the singers and instrumentalists the least, with the conductors ranking somewhere in between, the reality is that every single one of these individuals has consistently contributed a wealth of thought, knowledge, and artistic and human insight to the person and the writer I have striven to be.

Bernard Jacobson's career has included spells as recording executive; music critic of the Chicago Daily News; artistic director and adviser to several international orchestras in Holland; and visiting professor at Roosevelt University's Chicago Musical College. He has also performed and recorded as narrator of concert works and opera.


We managed to publish two pieces just now before their scheduled time, and before the editorial process was complete. We've pulled them down with the goal of restoring the expected schedule of things. Below you can see what we mean to do next. Thanks for understanding: there will be inevitable bumps in the system as we transition to new management.

                                                                                  —D. Kern Holoman
                                                                                  —Drew Massey

c. 23 September: Bernard Jacobson: “Criticizing Your Friends”
c. 25 September: Bonnie Gordon: “That Debate” [Kerman/Lowinsky]
c. 27 September: Jessie Ann Owens: “A Letter from Florence”
c. 29 September: Bryan Proksch: “Curators in the Musical Museum: The Case of Haydn”
c. 30 September: D. Kern Holoman: “The Broad” [new art museum in Los Angeles]

Monday, September 21, 2015

Growing the Database of Women Songwriters, 1890-1930

by Christopher Reynolds

Two years ago I published an article in Notes (69 [2013]: 671-87): “Documenting the Zenith of Women Song Composers: A Database of Songs Published in the United States and the British Commonwealth, ca. 1890-1930.” My intention was to call attention to my database of women song composers who published at least one song between the years 1890 and 1930 in the United States, Great Britain, and the countries of the British Empire. I also wanted to demonstrate some of the questions it could both raise and help answer. At the time it contained 15,400 songs and song publications by about 1600 women. That database, recently updated to 19,000 titles by 2500 women, is available HERE.

My database contains information about songs written in all styles, high, middle, and low: art music, popular theatrical and coon songs, and parlor songs, such as those by Carrie Jacobs Bond. It contains information on songs published in years that were clearly the peak decades for women songwriters. If a woman published a song between those years, I have included every song she published (i.e., also before 1890 and after 1930), so that a woman’s songwriting career can be traced from her first song to the last. Because I am documenting where a song was published rather than the nationality of the composer, I account for women like Cecile Chaminade, a French woman with an enormous following in London and in the United States, and Maria Grever, a Mexican active in New York and Los Angeles.

Since the expansion of my database on women composers did not cease with the publication of that article, I am bit by bit making my own publication progressively more and more out of date. All of the tables in the article were based on the database as it then stood, with 15,400 entries. The larger pool of data leads to several revisions, and presumably to a more accurate portrayal of the historical record. I turn to this forum to update a few of the points I made in that article.

The ascent to the current total of 19,000 titles by approximately 2500 women astonishes me. No less remarkable, of the nearly 2500 women listed in my database, 976 of them (nearly 40%) are present because they published a single song. In the US these were often self-published, either by the composer or poet, or a husband, father, or friend. Based on my online exploration of copyright records, I estimate that there are thousands more instances of women self-publishing. The situation in Great Britain was quite different for amateur women who published just one or two songs; these almost always appeared with established publishers.  These divergent cultural practices are a part of women’s history that the database makes visible.

More significantly, the database makes it possible to chart the dramatic rise and fall of women song writers that occurred during these decades. Two years ago the figures resulted in the following trajectory.

From fewer than 100 new songs published for the first time in 1890 and 1891, the annual totals climbed to more than 500 new songs in 1910. This huge increase took place in an environment that saw women entering musical occupations with equally impressive gains, as Judith Tick and others have documented. On the upward slope, there are a couple of years with notable jumps in production (which I discuss in my article). Then came the decline (perhaps “collapse” is a better word).

World War I had an immediate impact, with 469 new songs in 1914 dropping to 334 in 1915. The fall-off in the 1920s stems from the replacement of the piano by other technologies: the phonograph and radio became the source of family music making, and the invention and spread of “talkies” soon followed.

Based on an update of the data in June (an update that is already a little out of date), the curves are not so much changed as they are strengthened, exaggerated.

Women published 103 new songs in 1890 and 1891 and then ascended even more dramatically to 628 in 1910. Similarly, the additional data show the decline in the 1920s as still more pronounced.

This forty-year arc in song publication certainly exists for males as well, because the societal factors that affected women also affected male songwriters. But the numbers for male composers are so vast that they are for the moment unchartable. The same decline is evident in music publishers going out of business in these years and in plummeting sales of pianos.

The data added in the last two years slightly alter the ranking of the most prolific women composers. With thousands more entries in the database, there are several changes in the pecking order.

In a few cases, such as for the British composer Liza Lehmann at the top of the list, many more songs are accounted for. Alicia Needham, an Irish composer jumped the furthest, from the low 100s to sixth. And the Australian May Brahe also climbed several notches. There are similar shifts in the ranking of the most popular poets, though the phenomenally successful (and completely unstudied) British writer of lyrics known until 1914 as Edward Teschemacher and after as Edward Lockton is still far and away the most popular.

The ongoing nature of this database is one of its distinguishing features, one that separates it from any other project I have undertaken. My project may not be sizeable enough to qualify as big data, but in comparison to the scale of previous bibliographies of women composers, it is much larger and capable of being manipulated, searched, and supplemented. Although my data are about women, the research such a database makes possible applies as well to men; that is to say, events such as the rise and fall of song publishing, the preference for certain poets and poetic styles before World War I and others after, the relative popularity of art songs, middle-brow songs, and theatrical songs, and even the cultural significance of people who wrote just one or two songs – these are societal issues. One question that interests me a great deal remains unanswerable: in these decades in which women composers and their songs flourished so dramatically, what was their share of the market? What percentage of all songs published in these years was composed by women? And do those percentages differ for art songs as opposed to middle-brow songs or those issued by Tin Pan Alley publishers? The creation of a similar database for songs by men – a task that would surely require a group effort – would answer this question.

Christopher Reynolds, immediate past president of the American Musicological Society, is Professor of Music at the University of California, Davis. His most recent book is Wagner, Schumann, and the Lessons of Beethoven’s Ninth (University of California Press, 2015), treated in a previous blogpost, HERE.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Profile for Public Musicology

by Drew Massey

As my co-editor Kern has noted, 2015 marks the fiftieth anniversary of a pivotal moment in musicology: the Kerman-Lowinsky debates about the purpose of musicology. Interested readers can familiarize themselves with the terms of the debate here, here, and here; the crux of the disagreement was the relative prestige of different ways of thinking about music, with Kerman pleading with his fellow musicologists to place music criticism as first among the modes of thought. Kerman caught flak from many sides. Lowinsky insisted that the more pressing issue for musicologists was to actually spend time fully digesting the sources: what would it mean to “study” Beethoven if so many of the sketches remain uncataloged? Kerman hurt more than a few Americanists’ feelings by declaring the entire country to be devoid of music worth criticizing (somewhat disingenuously dodging a consideration of jazz).

For my inaugural post as co-editor of Musicology Now, it strikes me that Kerman’s comments animate my own view of the future of this blog. As you might already know, the mission of this blog is to serve as a citadel for “public musicology.” Musicology is hardly the only scholarly discipline that has a separately articulated public service arm: public history and public sociology spring to mind as examples from other fields. Some scholarly fields, on the other hand, have such presence in the public already through museums and other venues (I’m thinking specifically of art history, but arguably archeology and architecture fit in here, too), that a “public” appellation is scarcely necessary.

Public musicology runs parallel to but is ultimately distinct from Kerman’s vision of “criticism.” Kerman gave his succinct definition of the latter: “criticism is the way of looking at art that tries to take into account the meaning it conveys, the pleasure it initiates, and the value it assumes, for us today.”[1] Kerman was casting his eyes somewhat enviously towards the “New Criticism” in English departments. In this respect both Kerman’s criticism and public musicology are different from music criticism as practiced in newspapers, magazines, and (increasingly) online forums, if only for music criticism’s tendency to emphasize individual performances or recordings rather than historical moments, works, or artists. Yet to my mind the very point of contact between Kerman’s definition of criticism and public musicology is the element that has most frequently been glossed over: the qualifier that criticism is “for us today.” Hence the “now” in Musicology Now is not a throwaway modifier, but crucially situates the mission of this blog as one addressing the present moment, placing somewhat less of an emphasis on our posts’ consequences for posterity.

My profile for public musicology, at least as I see it unfolding over the course of my three-year tenure, will center around a set of concerns for the hic-et-nunc (and will surely feature the more-than-occasional excursion beyond them). They complement some of our existing threads, such as the “What I do in musicology” posts. My themes number seven in total:

Big Questions

Like most humanities fields, musicology is splintering into ever-smaller affinity groups; the same could be said of many contemporary audiences for music. Although there are methodological questions that remain “big” to musicologists (criticism vis-a-vis other modes of inquiry still being one of them), I am interested to see what “big” questions can be asked of music and musical practices themselves.


Beginning this fall, we intend to develop a series in the blog of interviews with movers and shakers in the music world. While some will be with academic musicologists, others will be with writers, critics, composers, and performers, in order to get an impression of what their points of contact for musicology are. The goal of this element is to sample the broader audience of people working in and around music, which surely is a mission for public musicology.


Insofar as we are tracking the “now,” Musicology Now will pay special attention to how the digital world is reshaping our musical and musicological lives. Some of these trends have achieved a lot of recognition in the field already, for example in our recent post by Carolin Rindfleisch on British initiatives in the digital humanities. The air that scholarship breathes has an increasingly digital ingredient, and so we are interested to track the developing role of born-digital dissertations, social media, and other emerging technologies in shaping our musical and musicological experiences.

New Works

If we all had unlimited time, all that would be necessary to do to follow trends in musicology would be to read all of the books and scholarship that were coming forth. Alas, we do not. This element of our blog’s offerings will highlight aspects of the field by featuring posts on books and articles by scholars who have recently published or are about to publish something. It continues a strain of posts that is already present in the blog.

Emerging Scholars

Although the field of musicology, like most academic fields, churns slowly on account of the structure of higher education in the United States, there are exciting new voices entering the field every year. It is another goal of this blog, moving forward, to highlight some of those voices and introduce them to the broader music-loving public.

Music(ology) in Society

The last two themes in my profile are somewhat more general in nature. Music(ology) in Society is intended to be a series that captures many of the changing trends in both musical and musicological communities. It is deliberately nebulous, but given the fever pitch of American politics in the run up to the 2016 election (to name one example), I sense there will be no shortage of worthwhile cases of music and music scholarship intersecting with large cultural forces.

Material Culture

As something of a counterweight to the “technology” theme, I also intend to highlight how material culture continues to inform our experience of music. This is evident not only in instruments, scores, ephemera, and antiquarian material, but also even in the built environments in which we encounter music. I admit that it is something of a biased theme (my day job is with a rare book dealership, so material culture is frequently on my mind), but one that seems like it could contribute meaningfully towards a rich, multi-faceted profile of public musicology as we cruise through the twenty-first century.

A profile for public musicology necessarily has a different stance from Kerman’s profile for American musicology. In many ways the times have changed and Kerman’s call for more criticism within musicology has been taken up, first by the new musicologists but now in a more general way by scholars occupying many different nooks and crannies in the field. But in other ways the field has not. An emphasis on the “now” means that this blog will track issues at the present moment, without attempting to build a scholarly canon parallel to the musical one. This may seem like something of an academic point on which to end, but I think that nothing distinguishes public musicology from “private” musicology more than a focus on its usefulness and relevance for a general readership, identified not as a monolithic mass but as individuals each situated in particular places at a particular time.

[1] Kerman, “A Profile for American Musicology,” JAMS 18, no 1 (Spring 1965), 63.


Sunday, September 6, 2015


by D. Kern Holoman

Robert Commanday
San Francisco Conservatory

To ponder the successive losses of Andrew Porter last April and, this week, of Bob Commanday is, necessarily, also to mourn their profession and to wonder anew what will become of us now.

Both were friends—in my bestiary a titan and a lovable bulldog respectively. They oozed, each in his own way, erudition and accomplishment at levels you could only dream about. You sought their company just to hear what was on their minds.

Lulu fever was in the air when we moved to California (George Perle, having been on the UC Davis faculty, was often in town), and I think Bob and I first met in person during the run-up to the great San Francisco Opera / Lotfi Mansouri production of the complete opera in September 1989. I had been at the dress rehearsal, in awe of what was to be heard and seen that afternoon, and looked forward to what Commanday would write about it. His summary seemed spot-on: “When it was over, there should have been no doubt that Berg’s ‘Lulu’ is the operatic masterpiece of this century.”

Earlier that year Commanday had written a full-page piece in the Sunday Chronicle about my orchestra’s role in the French bicentennial and its epic journey to French Polynesia and Australia to give concerts monstres, and we thus became mutual fans. We talked at length about Bob's post-Chron e-zine, San Francisco Classical Voice, before it was born, and about its future once he decided to leave. I delighted in writing for SFCV and for him—especially in his rules for contributors.  (“If the level of performance is beneath review, you can bail out.”) These later became “Commanday’s Commands” in Writing About Music. He read and contributed to the manuscripts of all three editions of Writing About Music; for The Orchestra: a Very Short Introduction he attached to his e-mail (“here are my comments”) many pages of provocative thoughts, and a paper on the subject he’d written as a Harvard undergraduate. (He also held an M.A. in musicology from Harvard.)

Up the river, we tended to think his personal best, at least as a blogger, was “Trouble in River City” (SFCV, 24 August 1999), an astute investigative piece on the outrageous shenanigans surrounding the now-defunct Sacramento Symphony Orchestra. Commanday was especially good when outraged.

In the small-world department, Bob’s step-daughter Anne came to UC Davis and played for a time in my orchestra and his step-son, Chris—J. Christopher Stevens, the United States Ambassador killed in Bengazi—had gone to school in Davis. Bob’s son David Commanday is, of course, a major figure in conducting and music education, having brought the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra to international prominence.

Commanday continued to keep his eye on Sacramento, by the way, writing about this time last year in ... outrage over the continuing misfortunes of the opera and orchestra. “This time it's desperate. Sacramento that lives between the shopping malls and the basketball arena, is a lost cause of course.” Just before, he had written, equally saltily: “I went to a Green Umbrella concert of contemporary music that was, craftwise, kidstuff and in one of the three cases, gratuitously offensive. It was in Disney Hall, and showing up for it, was an audience of 1400.” 

Andrew Porter
Andrew Porter’s omniscience—you subscribed to the New Yorker because otherwise you’d miss a whole week of what he had to say—was such that I wouldn’t have dared think of him as a pal. (Alex Ross shares a similar sentiment; see below.) Nevertheless we were on first-name basis and in correspondence about one thing and another by way of 19th-century topics. He was a traveling man, and you’d often realize he was sitting in the next row: at a college production of Alessandro Scarlatti’s La Griselda (Berkeley, 1976), for instance; and throughout the big Kennedy Center bash in May 1979 called “Paris and the Romantic Epoch”—the one where Daniel Barenboim pulled out a pistol and fired it at an (in)appropriate moment in the Hamlet funeral march of Berlioz. All the big Verdi events for nearly a generation. He trolled musicological meetings and was the only full-time music critic named Corresponding Member of the American Musicological Society (1995).

I thought I was probably opposed to opera-in-English (and even, pace Arthur Mendel, Bach in English), and with that predisposition studied Andrew’s singing translation of the Ring and then “covered” the Seattle Opera performance for an early issue of 19th-Century Music. But in performance  the cumulative, four-day effect of “Wagner’s Ring in Andrew Porter’s English” seemed  pretty powerful (with a few lines still fondly remembered). It would have been good to hear his Mozart-in-English, but then supertitles came along, and the moment, at least for Americans, passed.

We shared close mutual friends in Barry and Claire Brook: Andrew had just left, or was about to come round, or had had something clever to say about whatever was the subject of the day. We chatted for the last time, amiably, at the wrap party for the New Berlioz Edition. He was visibly older and seemed less engaged, mostly greeting old friends with a smile and for the rest unobtrusively observing things from a far corner of the room. When we talked, though, he seemed as proud of what had been accomplished as anyone there, citing chapter and verse of what he had learned from NBE.

Both Andrew Porter and Robert Commanday had worthy successors, and it’s not the least of their legacies that both the New Yorker and the Chron have so far retained commitments to serious music journalism. The stampede went the other way, for sure. But I like to think that the kind of erudition, passion, principled judgement, and involvement advanced by their ilk has its self-evident attractions. Good readers, I reckon, will seek it out, whatever media happen to survive.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Putting Scholarship into (Art) Practice

NOTE: The third annual President’s Endowed Plenary Lecture at the Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society will be delivered at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, 12 November 2015, in Lexington, Kentucy, at the Galt House Hotel (140 North Fourth Street). The public is invited.

George E. Lewis has titled his remarks “Putting Scholarship into (Art) Practice: Four Cases.” He writes as follows:
This talk troubles the bright line separating creative work from academic research, through an examination of four cases from my own work as a composer and interactive artist. The works themselves are diverse in content and affect, and range from computer music performance and interactive installations to opera. Each of these works, however, was developed through a combination of ethnographic method, historical and archival work, analysis of musical practice, and critical examination. The results are serving in turn as the impetus for my musicological writing—on the works themselves, on histories of larger networks of musical practice that these works draw upon, and on still larger socio-technological networks and practices that all of us encounter every day.

Thus, the talk affirms the fact that the world continues to draw critically important lessons from music—often cryptically, and despite an ongoing and deleterious trope that portrays music as peripheral to American intellectual life. In staunch opposition to this trope, musicologist Jann Pasler has proposed that “music can serve as a critical tool, activating and developing multiple layers of awareness. . . . I invite the reader to listen for music’s resonance in the world and, through music, to help us imagine our future.” My talk makes common cause with Professor Pasler’s view, echoing philosopher Pierre Hadot’s understanding that “in philosophy, we are not dealing with the mere creation of a work of art: the goal is rather to transform ourselves.”

George E. Lewis is Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Lewis has received a MacArthur Fellowship (2002), a Guggenheim Fellowship (2015), a United States Artists Walker Fellowship (2011), an Alpert Award in the Arts (1999), and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Lewis has been a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971, and his widely acclaimed 2008 book, A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (University of Chicago Press) received the American Book Award and the American Musicological Society’s first Music in American Culture Award. His oral history is archived in Yale University’s collection of “Major Figures in American Music.”

Lewis recently gave the Ernest Bloch Lectures at the University of California, Berkeley, and was Resident Scholar at the Center for Disciplinary Innovation, University of Chicago. His work as composer, improviser, performer, and interpreter explores electronic and computer music, computer-based multimedia installations, text-sound works, and notated and improvisatory forms, and is documented on more than 140 recordings, performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonia Orchestra, Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart, International Contemporary Ensemble, and shown at the Cité des Sciences et des Industries La Villette (Paris), Contemporary Art Museum Houston, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad. Lewis and Benjamin Piekut are co-editors of the forthcoming two-volume Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies (2016 ).

In 2015 Lewis was presented the degree of Doctor of Music honoris causa by the University of Edinburgh.