It is nearly ten months since the conviction of Michael and Kay Brewer on charges of sexual assault whilst Michael Brewer was Director of Music at Chetham’s School of Music, during a tragic trial in the course of which the victim, Frances Andrade, took her own life. Since this conviction, there have been a flood of allegations relating to widespread sexual, physical and emotional abuse at all of the five specialist music schools in the UK (as for example with the cases of Marcel Gazelle and Robert Waddington), and all the major music colleges as well, as well as further allegations pointing to a widespread culture of collusion, complicity and cover-up of these practices within these institutions. Police investigations have proceeded, and to date there have been a number of arrests of individuals connected to Chetham’s, the Royal Northern College of Music, the Royal Academy of Music, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, some of which may result in criminal charges. However, police have made it clear that it is not possible for them to investigate cases where the perpetrator is now dead, where the victim was over 16 and the events in question took place before the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, or in other cases (especially concerning serious psychological and emotional abuse) where there is no direct criminality involved. Furthermore, it is beyond the scope of a police investigation to look deeper into questions of institutional responsibility for this phenomenon, or the wider culture and values of musical education which may have played a part in allowing these alleged events to happen. Beyond this, in the close-knit world of classical music, where it is practically impossible for victims to remain anonymous even if not named in the press, there has grown since February an atmosphere of fear, intimidation and ostracisation from some quarters (including other musicians and some alumni communities), by individuals disdaining anything which might blacken the names of various ‘great musicians’ or taint the name of institutions, such as can act as a deterrent towards those who might have thought of coming forward. Such a deterrent also has to be set alongside knowledge of the terrible plight of Andrade, which remains in many people’s minds. Some of the institutions are clearly treating this primarily as an issue of their own reputations, with Chetham’s having been revealed to be employing a crisis management firm; some correspondence from former pupils, parents or other interested parties has been brushed off in a breezy manner. Furthermore, resistance to genuinely addressing the problem is growing as part of a wider backlash, as can be found in some comments posted under the regular updates on the subject on the blog of Norman Lebrecht (Slipped Disc), and also in recent debates conducted in the Times Educational Supplement (see my separate post here and also some comments on the ensuing debate here)
Only a full public inquiry into sexual and other abuse in musical education is likely to get to the bottom of this alleged widespread corrosive abuse and ensure both that those who have suffered are heard in safety, and proper recommendations are made to ensure this could never happen again. In February such a petition was set up and garnered over 1000 signatories over just a week, including a huge number of former students at UK specialist music schools and colleges. This was re-opened in May and further signatures added. It has been sent to head teachers, directors of music and college principals, and also to government ministers responsible for education and their shadow counterparts. Whilst to date no indication of an inquiry has yet been received, together with another person I have been having meetings at Parliament, and know that there is a planned meeting of sympathetic MPs from all parties in mid-December, with a view towards lobbying further. Various people have already written to their MPs urging them to support this, and a small caucus of such MPs is being formed. I would strongly urge all people sympathetic to this cause (whether or not they are musicians or have personal experiences) to write to their own MP as soon as possible. A copy of the petition as a PDF is given at the top of this message, and below I reproduce in edited form some text from an earlier blog post indicating how to set about this task. All support is needed now as soon as possible. Please do let others know about this as well.
If you receive a sympathetic reply from your MP, I would be most grateful if you could let me know, then I can forward their name to other interested MPs.
I would like to urge everyone who has signed the petition (and anyone else) to write to their local MP, and preferably as soon as possible. The more MPs are made aware of it by constituents, the stronger the political pressure for an inquiry will be in Parliament. If you are not aware of who is your local MP, go to http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/ and enter your postcode – you should be provided with full contact details for him/her. A basic template for the type of letter you might use which is printed below – naturally feel free to modify it or replace it with something else of your own. I would recommend including a short bit about yourself, in particular stressing any connection you might have to Chetham’s or any other musical institution. I have included a clause for those who might be prepared to meet with their local MP – several people have already made appointments for this. If anyone plans to do this and wants some further briefing, please do contact me. It is also naturally paramount to attach a copy of the petition, which is attached at the top of this post.
Thank you to everyone who has supported this campaign, and above all to those victims who have been brave enough to come forward. The following links feature some important broadcast features from earlier in the year:
The following article from today, by the pioneering Guardian journalist Helen Pidd, is especially important – http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/mar/26/chethams-music-school-sexual-abuse-inquiry
The full remarks of the judge prior to sentencing can be found here – warning, these are extremely graphic and could act as a trigger to some – http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/r-brewer-sentencing-remarks.pdf
I am particularly relieved that he chose to draw attention to the ways in which so many prominent people were prepared to back Brewer, in full knowledge of his crimes, because of some misguided ideas that his artistry mitigated against this.
Dear (Member of Parliament),
I am writing as a concerned constituent to ask you to support a petition calling for an independent inquiry into sexual and other abuse in specialist music education.
This petition has been signed by over 1000 people, the majority of them musicians, and includes over 300 former pupils from Chetham’s School of Music, one of the country’s leading specialist music schools.
The petition is attached as a PDF, and it can also be viewed online, with signatories and comments, at http://ianpace.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/re-opened-until-may-31st-2013-petition-for-an-inquiry-into-sexual-and-other-abuse-at-specialist-music-schools/ .
The call for this petition has come in the wake of the recent conviction of Michael Brewer and his wife, Hilary Kay Brewer, on charges of sexual assault against Frances Andrade whilst she was a student at the school. Michael Brewer was Director of Music at Chetham’s when the offences took place. Frances tragically took her life during the course of the trial, and a wide range of further allegations have, as a result of the court case, surfaced since the verdict.
One of the initiators of the petition, Ian Pace (email@example.com ), who has hosted it on his blog, has been contacted by a great many people with many other allegations to suggest that abuse was a widespread phenomenon, at least in former times, and that such abuse spread well beyond Chetham’s to other specialist music institutions throughout the country – many former victims are now finally feeling empowered, sometimes decades after the events in question, to go forward to the police.
On this basis, the signatories are calling for an inquiry into the many aspects of musical education and the workings of these institutions. It is hoped that an inquiry would set out to comprehend why and how such abusive behaviour could apparently so easily occur, and would seek to make certain that current and future procedures are robust enough to ensure that this may be prevented in the future, whilst safeguarding the best aspects of such education and protecting teachers as well.
The safeguarding of all children in education must be a priority to all, but the specialist nature of music education demands a vigorous approach to their safeguarding. The bonds between a music student and their teacher are, by their very nature, intense; the level of study is demanding and the commitment to the subject by both parties means that the relationship between student and teacher is a unique one.
I very much hope that you will see fit to give your own support to such an inquiry, which would, I believe, serve to strengthen the musical education in our country, for both current and future generations.
If you would like further information, [I would be more than happy to meet with you, or] you can contact the petition organiser, Ian Pace, at firstname.lastname@example.org
I received a message last week from another survivor of abuse in UK musical education, which has since been posted on the blog of Norman Lebrecht here. With permission, I am also reproducing it here. The author has told me of his wish for others to come forward about this and other cases. Even where the perpetrator is now dead, it is still important for there to be acknowledgment of what really went on; I would add that there still needs to be much wider and difficult questions asked about the nature of institutions and the culture of musical education which appears to have facilitated widespread abuse (and not just in the UK). At a recent debate organised by the Institute of Ideas at the Barbican Centre, which I attended, the sociologist Frank Furedi (author of the much-criticised Moral Crusades in an Age of Mistrust: The Jimmy Savile Scandal) argued that recent talk of abuse in musical education stemmed from a fear of ‘intimacy’, and expressed his concern above all that musical teachers were able to ‘touch the soul’, whilst the educationalist Heather Piper made out that the issue was one of self-aggrandisement on the part of the NSPCC and other institutions on the basis of what was argued to be just a few isolated historic cases. I find these attitudes contemptuous, though in milder form they were echoed by all but one of the other panellists and quite a number of audience members. More and more information is emerging all the time, further arrests are being made (including recently of a former teacher in a London college on multiple charges – see here); certainly everyone so accused must be granted the presumption of innocence, but if even a fraction of the allegations were true, this would evidence of something epidemic. I echo my correspondent’s sentiments below, and once again would urge further all those who care about this issue to contact their MPs ( to ask them to give their support to a public inquiry (for details of how to do so, see my earlier blog posts here). There will be an important meeting of all sympathetic MPs in December; the more there are, the greater the pressure will be.
If you would like to contact the author of the below, please feel free to e-mail me (at email@example.com) with your details, and I will forward them to him.
The tragic story of Frances Andrade and the revelations over the past year of sexual abuse at some of our most prestigious schools of music have stirred up painful memories for me dating from forty years ago.
In the 1970s, I studied piano at the Watford School of Music and was sexually abused over a four-year period by one of the teachers there. The abuse ended when my parents received a letter in the middle of term, stating that the man was no longer able to teach at Watford School of Music and I was then taught by someone else.
However, my abuser continued to teach at the Royal College of Music until 1995 when, I have since learned, he was convicted of a sexual offence. He died in 2004 and his obituary appeared in several daily newspapers.
The experience affected me deeply and stunted my emotional and sexual development. I became withdrawn, anxious and angry. For many years I was unable to form healthy, intimate relationships and bouts of deep depression have been a regular feature of my life.
As a result of intensive psychotherapy, I have been able to appreciate for the first time the seriousness of the damage I suffered but also to realise that I was not, as I used to think, to blame for what happened to me all those years ago. I know I am not my abuser’s only victim and if one of you is reading this, or if any of what I have written resonates with your own experience or knowledge of sexual abuse at either the Watford School of Music or the Royal College of Music in the period before 1995 it would be good to hear from you.
I tell my story here so not merely as an attempt to reach some closure on this painful episode, but hopefully to encourage other victims to tell their stories too.
Addendum: Another victim has chosen to share their story of abuse at a music school, which can be read on Slipped Disc here.
The latest issue of Search, the journal for new music and culture, is now online here. There are numerous interesting articles contained within; I am particularly interested in the second part of Franklin Cox’s extended and well-researched critique of Richard Taruskin’s Oxford History of Western Music (see my earlier post on Part 1 here). There is much of great interest in this 79-page essay, but I would especially draw attention to the sections on Chaikovsky. I have previously worked under the assumption that many of Taruskin’s claims about Chaikovsky (and other Russian composers) are likely to be basically sound, even where I might differ with respect to the valorisation, and have used some of them (alongside material on Chaikovsky from other writers) for teaching purposes. But this critique sets some of these into relief. Cox not only looks sceptically at some of the populist claims made by Taruskin about audiences for opera in general in the nineteenth century (as Dana Gooley had similarly done in his landmark study The Virtuoso Liszt, comprehensively demonstrating how Liszt’s audiences, far from entailing wide sections of the populations of the regions where he performed, tended to be dominated rather by slightly lower strata of the higher classes than those for some of his contemporaries), but also gives a strong argument for why Taruskin’s espousal of the ‘asocial’ Brahms as against the ‘social’ Chaikovsky falls apart according to Taruskin’s own neo-liberal criteria:
‘One must also draw attention to the uncomfortable fact that in terms of the sort of free-market ideology that Taruskin often appears to favor, Tchaikovsky was not particularly successful on the strength of his own efforts. The music of composers such as Rossini, Johann Strauss II, or François-Adrien Boieldieu was widely performed and enjoyed by a great variety of audiences outside of a narrow aristocratic support structure. In contrast, without state and wealthy patron support, Tchaikovsky would not have achieved the great success he did; indeed, he would not have even been able to compose most of the works for large forces that are the centerpiece of his output. The comparison to his “dialectical” opposite, the “asocial” Brahms, is instructive. Brahms spent a great portion of his career writing for and conducting amateur choral societies, which is clearly a social activity. He also succeeded in attracting a sufficient audience for his “asocial” music allowing him to amass a respectable fortune by the end of his life. In free-market terms, it was Brahms, not Tchaikovsky, who was successful as a composer-entrepreneur.’ (p. 16)
It is equally worth noting in this context how Brahms himself chided Clara Schumann for being ‘too aristocratic’, writing to her in June 1858:
‘Art is a republic.
You should make this more of a maxim than you do. You are much too aristocratic. I cannot deal with this at length now, but will do when we meet in person. This has struck me very much in the case of Henkel, and in a different way with Grimm.
Do not confer a higher status upon any artist, do not expect those lower down to look up to him as a consul. Because of his abilities, he is a beloved and respected citizen of the said republic, but not a consul or an emperor.’
(‘Die Kunst ist eine Republik.
Das solltest Du mehr zu Deinem Spruch machen. Du bist viel zu aristokratisch. Ich kann Dir das nicht lang ausführen, aber mündlich einmal. Mir ist das bei Gelegenheit Henkel und anders herum bei Grimm scharft aufgefallen.
Weise nicht einem Künstler einen höhern Rang an, und verlange nicht von Kleinern, sie sollen ihn als Höhern, als Konsul ansehen. Durch sein Können wird er ein geliebter und geachteter Bürger der besagte Republik, aber kein Konsul oder Imperator’)
Brahms’s ‘republic’ was almost certainly modelled upon the bourgeois concert-going public of the cities he frequented – eventually Vienna, though he had not yet located himself there at the time of this letter. In the summer of 1858 Brahms was in between periods working at the principality of Detmold, conducting the mostly aristocratic Singverein there, which he described as ‘larded with nobility, without a necktie’; his frustrations with this period in his career are clear from his letters to Joachim, and Brahms became much happier when returning to Hamburg to conduct the amateur bourgeois Frauenchor there, the prospect of which had been put to him by his friend Julius Otto Grimm during that very summer of 1858 when he wrote to Clara. If Brahms was ultimately a composer for the comfortable bourgeois audiences of Vienna and elsewhere, rather than producing music for some nebulous idea of ‘all people’, his own claims to being ‘social’, especially in terms of whether or not he privileged an aristocratic listenership, are at least as strong if not more so than those of Chaikovsky.
But returning to Chaikovsky, Cox delivers the following damning verdict:
‘Empirical facts were supposed to have supplied the fabric of his “true history,” but in this case, in order to satisfy his forced to postulate not only a compositional intent on Tchaikovsky’s part against which a great deal of evidence militates, but also a robust and well-defined century long symphonic tradition for which little clear evidence exists.’ (pp. 16-17)
To substantiate this, Cox draws upon some correspondence from Chaikovsky in which he expresses very mixed feelings about public approval, criticising Berlioz for ‘wanting to please’, demonstrates how much Chaikovsky’s criticisms of Brahms (which were indeed very strong) related to some of his own self-doubts, in terms of handling of form, and considers the contradiction between Taruskin’s ‘social’ construction of Chaikovsky and the fact that the composer wished to keep the programmes behind some of his works secret, all helping to provide a much more nuanced view of Chaikovsky’s relationship to his public than that which is given by Taruskin to suit his own didactic aims. Taruskin’s adoption of Chaikovsky (and numerous other Russian composers) towards the propagation of a ‘realist’ aesthetic becomes more problematic in the context of scenarios for opera and ballet alluding heavily to the supernatural, the exotic, or that derived from fairy-tales and other mythologies whilst, as Cox points out, there are innate problems inherent in the application of a realist principle to such heavily formalised and stylised media as opera and ballet. This is one reason that some of the most radical experiments in ‘realist’ opera by Dargomïzhsky (in Rusalka) and Musorgsky (in his unfinished opera The Marriage) remain primarily of purely historical interest, and in terms of how (in Musorgsky’s case) they could contribute to a widened operatic musical language, rather than serve as the basis for the very nature of operatic composition.
But perhaps most acute is Cox’s critique of Taruskin’s postulation of the relationship between Chaikovsky and Mozart. That Chaikovsky admired Mozart very greatly, perhaps as much as any composer, is not in doubt, but Taruskin (as earlier in the section on Chaikovsky in his book Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays) extrapolates from this that Chaikovsky therefore adhered to an eighteenth-century, in particular pre-Beethovenian, model of the legitimate role of the composer. Taruskin draws up an alternative non-Germanic canon, including Rossini, Auber, Gounod, Bizet and Délibes, which he presents as a shining counter-example to those wicked Teutons who represent the ‘other’ of most of his arguments. Chaikovsky then naturally takes his place within this tradition.
This is a powerful argument in its own way against a more conventional Austro-German canonical view of history, and one which has informed some of my own teaching of music history. But Cox aptly demonstrates how problematic is its rendition at the hands of Taruskin. To attempt to posit a clear separation between Mozart and the Austro-German tradition which followed him is already fraught with difficulties, particularly on account of the fact that it took quite some time before he was widely appreciated in France in particular. The links between Rossini, Auber and Gounod are tenuous at best; for Taruskin it seems mostly to suffice to place them together on grounds of being non-German. But, in France and Russia in particular, there were (something not really followed up so much by Cox) very strong attempts to develop operatic idioms pointedly different from the still-dominant and highly formalised (especially at the hands of Rossini) conventions of Italian traditions, and furthermore delineations between social classes in terms of which types of operas they would attend (some members of the high nobility in either country would never deem to visit any opera not in Italian). To write history as a Manichean struggle between the Germans and the rest is not only to continue to fight World War Two in the realms of music history, as seems to be Taruskin’s continual wish, but also to remain fixed within the categories bequeathed by some earlier historians, who Taruskin rightly critiques, who would place most non-Germanic music from the nineteenth century into an essentially supplementary chapter entitled ‘Nationalisms’. French, Russian, Italian operatic traditions (not to mention the smaller traditions to be found in Poland, Hungary and elsewhere) do not constitute a unified body of work, let alone a new linear canon; they do indeed deserve to be studied with respect and attention (as do non-operatic traditions from these countries) with an eye to their many differences, which could sometimes become quite antagonistic.
Cox, on the basis of detailed readings of Chaikovsky’s letters, finds Taruskin’s claims that Chaikovsky essentially bypassed a Beethovenian symphonic tradition to be hollow, on the basis that Chaikovsky made repeated references to Beethoven, Wagner and some others and was clearly highly conscious of this tradition and the relationship of his own work to it, whilst never constructing the sort of alternative canon that Taruskin would like. This does not exclude the possibility that Chaikovsky might have thought a little in such terms, though not written it down, but much more evidence is needed to justify Taruskin’s at the very least exaggerated claims.
This is just one part of this essay on the basis of which I will personally look differently at a historical model of Chaikovsky which I had perhaps accepted too readily from Taruskin. The political power exerted by a senior and renowned musicologist can be a dangerous thing, especially when that power makes other more junior figures reluctant to question his findings, whatever basis upon which they are founded. Cox has done a valuable service in this respect – as has Paul Harper-Scott in a scathing critique of Taruskin’s alleged xenophobia and dogged adherence to the values of American free market capitalism in his recent book The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism. There are many ways in which Taruskin’s arguments have helped to shake up lots of earlier complacencies within Anglo-American musicology; but it is important to continue to interrogate his highly particular and not always well-founded or informed conclusions, rather than allow them to assume the status of ideology in an academic world which can sometimes yearn for easy certainties which accord with a neo-liberal status quo.
The focus of my own work as a performer has been upon the nebulous category of ‘contemporary music’, or ‘new music’, terms informally understood as signifying music in some sense connected to a ‘classical’ tradition (a term itself which could fill a whole book), in distinction to rock, pop, jazz, folk and other traditions (atonal free improvisation is a borderline candidate for inclusion in the ‘contemporary/new music’ category), and usually adhering in one or other sense to an atonal idiom, in the simple sense of a music which is not obviously organised around tonal centres.
This type of work is of course very far from constituting the whole or even the majority of ‘contemporary music’ in the broadest sense of the term, indicating simply music which is produced in or around the time when the term is being used. In this sense ‘contemporary’ music could equally be Rhianna or Eminem as the above – and indeed to the majority of the listening public in any Western nation, this would be much more representative of what is considered to be the music of their time. But the specific term and concept of ‘new music’ in its German form (Neue Musik) has a long history, from the end of World War One, when it was taken up by the critic Paul Bekker, then conductor Hermann Scherchen and composer Heinz Tiessen, and developed in various directions, but always signifying a music which constituted a palpable break with the recent past (which did not always exclude music which self-consciously flaunted archaisms, such as the neo-classical Stravinsky). Some type of ‘newness’ (or at least incorporation into a new tradition perceived as new) is in this context a necessary but not sufficient condition of ‘new music’.
For a great many years, I have bemoaned the ways in which the ‘classical’ field has for the most part turned its back upon the music of today, other than to the extent that such music is seen to resemble the products of a hallowed ‘tradition’. Radical music which challenges established patterns of listening or other musical expectations needs an open mind and fair listening, to my mind, and there remains an important place for challenging work which is unlikely ever to win a wide audience. This is perhaps more generally accepted in other artistic fields than in music.
Yet in more recent times, in both the fields of performance/composition and also in academia, I have perceived a way in which the ‘contemporary’ has come to assume a fetish quality, in a way which is anything but radical. I have heard countless works of music characterised by one or other form of novelty, be it the use of cutting edge new technology or software, some off-piste approach to the use of instruments, musical structure or other parameters, some concept seen to accord with absolutely ‘contemporary’ concerns, and so on. Most cringeworthy (and this genre has developed an unhappy ‘tradition’ of its own) are those works which involve a token allusion to some voguish popular music from the time, an allusion which rarely does more than mimic the stylistic surface of the popular music in question with little thought to wider considerations of context, the traditions which the popular music inhabits, and so on.
Much of this work demonstrates very little in terms of historical self-awareness, such as might lead to work on musical dimensions other than those which can be conceived as entirely ‘contemporary’, and as such a lot of such work becomes redundant after a few hearings, or after some time has passed from its composition; when its contemporaneity dissipates, there is little left, and so little chance of a more lasting long-term impression to be made. There is most definitely a place for the musically ephemeral and disposable, and I would not wish to unnecessarily denigrate such work, but much greater expectations are often placed upon contemporary music in ways which it can be ill-equipped to follow up.
One classic argument against a particular variety (perhaps caricature) of ‘first principles’ modernism goes roughly as follows: if we tried to explain all the workings of the world – global social and economic processes, the arms trade, human relationships, and so on – purely in terms of elementary units of matter and energy, we would be unlikely to get very far. This is obviously true; an understanding of such things requires a comprehension of macroscopic processes and all that can be learned from history, systems theories, and various else. In a similar manner, I do not believe that very much radical contemporary music has not in some sense been built upon a critical relationship to musical traditions. A small amount of work in the 1950s attempted either a type of ‘particle’-based approach to musical composition or an architecturally/structurally-focused approach in which microscopic detail was of secondary importance (or in some cases a combination of the two); some quite remarkable work was produced in this way, but few of the composers were able to maintain such an idiom for long. Most soon started to re-enter into a dialogue with older traditions, by no means necessarily from a nostalgic perspective, but in order to partake of the achievements of the past in order to move on from them. Even the very fact of aiming for a type of high abstraction itself constituted a indebtedness to tradition, as negation is a dependent relationship as much as any other. For all that John Cage spoke often about his distance from the centres of tradition, without the existence of such a tradition in relation to which his work was apparently ‘other’, he would never have made such an impact.
But this is not what I see now in many musical and academic circles. Instead – fuelled in part by narrow technocratic approaches to the study of music, as well as some of those coming out of anthropology and ethnomusicology which are by virtue of their very methods often ill-able to study musical traditions which are not active in the present, and frequently show very little interest in incorporating into their study historical roots of present-day musics – I see attitudes and approaches which are simply ignorant (sometimes quite proudly) of musical and other history, entirely obsessed with a snapshot view of the present. Any consideration of earlier traditions or their bearing on the present can from this perspective be dismissed as merely conservative, the idle refuge of those who seek solace from a supposedly vibrant present in some lost and romanticised past.
I do not accept this, nor that history and ‘tradition’ are the sole property of conservatives. In trying to understand the roots of the current world economic situation, I might consider the opening up of world markets following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s, the decline of the Bretton-Woods agreement in the 1970s and the rise of neo-liberalism, combined with the consequences of the oil crisis during this period, itself related to territorial struggles and military action in the Middle East, perhaps back further to the post-1945 conditions which made Bretton-Woods possible, and beyond to the histories of nationalism and imperialism that played a part in bringing about two world wars, and further beyond still. Without pretending to be an expert on these huge historical issues, I do firmly believe that without such historical conditions, the current global economic situation might be very different indeed, and in order to at least assess the possibilities for change and how to act to bring it about, some degree of historical understanding is necessary. Furthermore, historical traditions do not consist exclusively of calamities; one might look at the movement towards expanded suffrage, incorporating the working classes and women, towards a greater acceptance of sexual diversity, away from wholeheartedly racist ideologies portraying clear ethnic hierarchies on a pseudo-scientific basis, towards positive increases in medical technology which alleviate many people from living in conditions of chronic pain as they would have done in earlier eras, and so on.
The same goes for music: almost every music style, genre or idiom which can be witnessed today itself draws upon its own history and tradition; traditions in which one can find elements to be valorised in all varieties of positive or negative ways. Much music which is either radical or even mildly distinctive has neither slavishly adhered to these traditions nor simply negated them, but learned techniques, aesthetics, possibilities, which can be critiqued and transformed in line with contemporary needs. And some of the most devastatingly modern music makes its impact because of the way it situates itself with respect to traditions and its concomitant expectations for listening. None of this is possible from a position of total historical ignorance or amnesia. Be-bop required a consciousness of the Swing Era (towards which it would be simplistic to view be-bop simply as a negation, rather than a modification and shift of priorities) and indeed of earlier jazz and some other musical traditions. Cage came from a position of intense interest in Satie, Duchamp the Bauhaus, and various else, not to mention certain renditions of Asian philosophies. Salvatore Sciarrino’s music not only draws upon a deep knowledge and appreciation of the music of Liszt, Debussy, Ravel (and Monteverdi and Gesualdo) and others, but equally the work of Giorgio de Chirico, Michelangelo Antonioni and others, and all the possibilities they bequeathed to music. Hip-hop from outside of the Western world (or even outside of African-American communities and the music industries which variously nurture and control them) exists in a particular relationship to musical (and spoken) traditions both from the places of hip-hop’s origins and also in the places where it comes to be newly developed. None of this music simply involves an aping of its predecessors; indeed in many cases the relationship is ambivalent, but nonetheless informed and intelligent.
To create a simple dichotomy between ‘tradition’ and the ‘contemporary’ is to deny a whole range of contemporary possibilities. It is perhaps no coincidence that in certain fields (certainly in fashion and popular music) recent decades have seen ever-increasing waves of retro-mania, indicative of a need to anchor oneself in a clear past as an alternative to a groundless present. Much that is stimulating arises from such a sensibility, not least because of the impossibility of wholly re-creating past styles in different historical conditions. But there is much still to be gained from historical understanding such as makes possible an engaged and critical form of creation, which may have implications beyond the present day, and it takes a very high degree of arrogance to pretend one has nothing whatsoever to learn from the successes and failures of earlier musicians.
There is nothing necessarily ‘organic’ about traditions, which frequently feature fissures and ruptures as much as smooth continuity and development; but this is one reason why such traditions can be much more radical than they might be portrayed by conservatives. Equally, being ‘contemporary’ is by no means synonymous with bracketing out all those conditions which inform the particularity of the present day. Having some wider awareness which extends beyond the here and now is of no small importance when aiming to produce work which will indeed do that. Novelty and shock value are rarely radical any longer on their own; on the contrary, they are the lifeblood of a commodity society which needs new marketing tricks. Earlier modernism could be presented in a context when there did exist some ‘general listening public’ to classical music, and a deferential belief that any work in this tradition must have an automatic superiority of that emerging from other traditions. Today that public is fragmented and diffuse, and the consequent impact severely diminished; conservative listening communities can easily ignore an art which is reduced to simply baring its backside to those who care little. It is no longer enough simply to be new; it is also necessary to be meaningful, and that meaningfulness is inextricably intertwined with the expectations of listeners that are themselves informed by traditions.
New article in Times Educational Supplement on abuse in musical education – and public debate on October 19th, Barbican CentrePosted: October 3, 2013
In May of this year (2013), the Times Educational Supplement printed an article by me on how the danger of abuse is especially acute within musical education – (Ian Pace, ‘The culture of music education lends itself to abuse’, TES, May 8, 2013, which can be read online here. In September, a response was printed by Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas (Claire Fox, ‘The line between good teaching and abuse’, TES, September 6, 2013, which can be read here). I believed this article to minimise and make light of the issue, and in particular Fox to be unwilling to consider what might be particular to music education that appears to have facilitated a very large amount of alleged abuse. My response has now been printed on their website – Ian Pace, ‘No music or art form is more important than the right of children to life safe from abuse’, TES, October 3, 2013, and can be read here.
As part of the Battle of Ideas event at the Barbican Centre, hosted by the Institute of Ideas, there will be a debate on Saturday October 19th, 1:30 pm – 3 pm, entitled ‘One to one tuition in the dock? The crisis in music schools’. Further details can be found here. Amongst the panellists are Frank Furedi (whose website is here), whose controversial writings have been very critical of responses to the Jimmy Savile affair and the subsequent Operation Yewtree. I feel that the panel chosen to discuss this issue looks rather one-sided, and so would strongly urge all those who care about the many types of abuse which can occur in music education and the wider music world to attend and ensure all types of opinions and experiences are heard.
Addendum: One point not addressed in my reply is where Fox says that ‘one result of the sexual abuse allegations has been calls to further regulate hands-on one-to-one tuition’. But the extent to which this mode of teaching is under threat is easily overstated – and the claims to that effect derive from a rather over-hasty headline by a sub-editor of a Guardian interview with the Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music, Linda Merrick (Helen Pidd, ‘One-to-one music tuition ‘may be abolished”, The Guardian, March 1, 2013, which can be read here). Merrick never says anything so forceful as that in the interview – the relevant quote is:
“As a sector, we will be looking at whether the one-to-one teaching model, which has been the model in the music world for years and years, can continue,” she said, stressing that such personal tuition has long been “a very important part of being a musician”.
I think all such models will benefit from continuous re-examination (my own views on the subject can be found in an interview with Classical Music magazine here). In general, as the cellist Michal Kaznowski, has suggested, a culture with more (figuratively) ‘open doors’, with students encouraged to co-operate, listen to each other’s lessons, and so on, might go a long way, beyond the guarded secrecy of the private one-to-one lesson. But I have seen no evidence of any likelihood that one-to-one teaching would be abolished in the foreseeable future – that is just scaremongering.
Since the TES article went online, I was copied into a important letter to Claire Fox, which I am reproducing here (anonymously) with permission:
I am pleased that you are debating the issue of abuse in music schools following the recent death of Frances Andrade and the subsequent outpouring of allegations of similar abuse. However, as someone who was also abused I am very concerned that the real issue is being clouded over by a total misunderstanding of what really goes on and I urge you to rethink the debate. Your debate could help prevent further abuse rather than further divide people on something that is irrelevant.
The issue is not one on one tuition: it is not a grope or inappropriate touch by a teacher in a music lesson that is the issue. It is the systematic, psychological grooming that goes on subtly until the “victim” is sufficiently weakened in order to “allow” sexual abuse to happen. This grooming can happen anywhere, and very easily, over a period of time: a simple flattering comment in the corridor after a lesson, a subtle complement then the withdrawal of praise. It is easy to do this in the highly competitive environment of specialist education where everyone is striving to be the best.
Until this is properly understood, there is no way that we as a society can prevent further abuse from taking place. None of the teachers at my boarding school – who were in loco parentis – did anything despite very obvious external signs that something was very wrong. Either they didn’t care or didn’t realise anything was wrong: both unacceptable. Many of those teachers are still there over 20 years later and the man who abused me continued to abuse girls there until one girl went to the police in 2002. However, he denied everything and is still teaching in other institutions as the girl and others who came forward could not face going to trial.
What needs to be done is simple:
Educate parents and teachers about grooming and spotting the signs of a child who is being abused
Educate children about grooming and what is appropriate behaviour (including touching) of teachers.
Please have the right debate.
Several years ago, I played a contemporary chamber work with two very different groups of players. The groups approached the music in quite distinct ways: one was intense, impassioned, driven, the other more relaxed, elegant, easily flowing (in both cases these are of course crude generalisations). I happened to mention what I had been playing to a few festival and concert directors I was meeting around that time, who immediately asked me ‘which did I prefer?’ If either of these groups had been performing this or another work with two different pianists, group members would doubtless have been asked the same question. I could not honestly say I had a clear preference for either: both brought out different possibilities from the notated score, both involved quite individual creative responses to that score (note that at this point I am avoiding saying ‘both brought out different aspects of the music’, because I believe ‘the music’, independently of performance, is a problematic concept). New music would be the poorer, in my opinion, without either approach, and probably many others as well.
But the questions about preferences seemed loaded in a different way: with a performance of new music (at least that which is by and large ‘fully notated’ and does not involve any high degree of performance indeterminacy or improvisation ), if two performers or groups of performers take different approaches, then one of these must be more ‘right’ and the other more ‘wrong’. Of course it is also possible, by these terms, that both could be quite ‘wrong’, and the ‘right’ performance remains elusive. This touches upon some fundamental assumptions concerning a lot of new music, which remain remarkably unquestioned by many of those involved in that field, whether as composers, performers, artistic directors, critics, or even in many cases musicologists writing on that area (despite the fact that other musicologists have unpacked many of these elsewhere).
These assumptions derive from certain strains of thought which came to fruition during the nineteenth-century, which broadly maintain that the ultimate source of authority lies with the composer, who creates a musical ‘work’; something which exists as an abstract ideal, independently of specific realisations in performance. In its strongest form, this conception says that the task of the performer(s) is not to add anything extraneous to the work, but somehow to illuminate aspects of this idealised conception to the best of their ability. There are various established schools of thought on how this might be done, involving different attitudes towards the role and status of the text. One view (which I would label ‘literalist’ ) maintains that the performer (or multiple performers) should try to execute the text as ‘exactly’ as possible, and that will provide most of what is necessary. Another (which I call ‘scholarly’) says that such execution must also be informed by intense investigation of the exact notational conventions employed and all other information pertaining to the composer’s intentions (gleaned from known verbal remarks or writings on the matter, or more general information about their performance preferences in general). Another (which I call ‘analytic/aesthetic’) would say that the performer must penetrate those aspects of the music which lie beneath the surface and might be accessed by analysis, deeper knowledge of the composer’s aesthetic, philosophical and other concerns, and so on. Yet another (which I call ‘mainstream’) holds that on top of the ‘exact’ approach, the task of the performer is to make the work sound ‘musical’ or ‘like a real piece of music’; a quality usually presented in a vague and nebulous fashion, but which upon interrogation, is said to consist of making ‘musical’ aspects of phrasing, rhythm, voicing, continuity of line, and other such things. How exactly this is to be done is rarely specified in any more detailed fashion .
Each of these positions concur to varying degrees with the concept which came to fruition in music and theatre in the mid- to late-19th century (though its origins were earlier) of Werktreue, literally ‘faithfulness to the work’. This was especially associated with performers such as Joseph Joachim or Clara Schumann . The pianist Alfred Brendel has suggested  that the term Texttreue might be more appropriate for what I term ‘literalist’, and perhaps also ‘scholarly’ approaches, but this is primarily a question of where and how the ‘work’ is to be found (as in a letter from Liszt to Richard Pohl in the 1850s insisting upon the primacy of the ‘spirit’ rather than ‘letter’ of the text ). Neither concept really brings into question the nature or even existence of such a ‘work’, let alone the performer’s relationship to it. What all such positions more or less accept is a subservient role for the performer in the face of both ‘work’ and compositional intent, and mostly that the ‘work’ exists as an abstract ideal. This ‘work-concept’ has been extensively analysed and critiqued by a succession of musicologists , but to the best of my knowledge very little of this debate has filtered through to those regularly involved with the production of new music. The ‘mainstream’ approach perhaps allows for a little creative input on the part of the performer, usually in the form of decoration, but mostly this consists of the appropriation the text in terms of various mainstream stylistic conventions, such as might commonly be applied to standard repertoire.
I find all of these positions to be limited and limiting, and believe in particular that they are predicated not only on unmediated acceptance of the work-concept, but also a rather narrow view of notation. As I argued in an article published four years ago , the role of the performer can be conceived differently by an alternative model of notation. Instead of a common model by which notation prescribes a singular result, to which ‘interpretation’ is essentially a supplement, notation instead delineates a field of possible practices through the creation of boundaries. The score sets limits, so that some possibilities are clearly excluded, and thus channels the performer’s creative input in certain ways, thus circumscribing a range of creative possibilities, rather than a ‘work’ which is ‘interpreted’. Other information can be brought to bear upon that text (stylistic conventions, other conceptual knowledge, etc), which can nuance the range of performance possibilities. Instead of having to navigate between the false dichotomy of complete subservience by the performer on one hand, and an attitude of ‘anything goes’ on the other, this model allows that a wide range of different performance possibilities might all lay equal claims to legitimacy. At the same time, not just any performance is equally legitimate, especially not one which explicitly oversteps the boundaries* of the text to any palpable degree (this should not be taken to delegitimise adaptations, transcriptions or other modifications, just that they should be seen in a different category). Instead of sacrosanct ‘works’, we have scores and a range of potential performances made possible by those scores.
New music events remain heavily dominated by a culture of world or regional premieres and celebrations of particular composers and their works. Performers of new music, in order to make a living, must endlessly master new scores, frequently in extremely short periods of time and often in order to perform them once or at most just a few times, before moving onto the next batch of works. This is not in itself so new; prior to the mid-nineteenth century and in some cases later a great many performers of all types had little time for rehearsal or absorption of repertoire, and frequently played very large amounts of music (one only needs to look at the concert programmes of Liszt, Anton Rubinstein or Hans von Bülow to see this, or consider the Leipzig musicians who would perform new Bach cantatas every week). By around 1870 (as traced in William Weber’s excellent book The Great Transformation of Musical Taste ) concert repertoire had become predominantly historical rather than contemporary. This consolidated the work-concept and created different expectations, often quite reverential in nature, so that it would seem bizarre for, say, a string quartet to learn a late Beethoven quartet in a week, having never seen the score before that week, then play the work in concert just once or twice.
Performers of new music today must deal with two types of historically-inherited circumstances. On one hand they have to learn complex new scores to a professional standard in a short period, whilst respecting a culture still dominated by the figure of the ‘great composer’ (at least where the composer in question is well-established, arguably less so for younger or less-hyped ones). The performers must then treat their music with the degree of reverence this calls for, and their performances will be judged to succeed or fail depending upon how much they are thought to penetrate the ‘essence’ of the ‘work’ and also to honour the composer’s intentions. Performers are then drawn into a rather vicious spiral of competition in this respect, each trying to demonstrate (to composers, festival directors, critics and others) how they outdo each other in terms of selflessness and submission in order to be the one soloist, chamber group or ensemble who comes closest to the true ideal. In the process they avoid taking personal responsibility for their approach, displacing judgment away from its own individual merits.
I believe there is a real need to look much more sceptically at this culture and the deification of composers and works in new music, and become more accepting of the performer as a creative animal, to move away from an unhappy world in which performers’ creative energies are spent more on new approaches to image and marketing than on the musical performances they produce. There have been some valiant attempts to do this, for example at the 2010 Donaueschinger Musiktage, where three different string quartets were all employed and each performed the same quartet of James Dillon . However, assumptions of linear competitiveness (so that different interpretations continue to be viewed hierarchically) mitigate against such efforts. Only if new music culture involved many more performers and many more different performances of the same scores would there likely be some wider consciousness of the available possibilities. This would require either a drastic reduction of the number of scores performed (not a desirable outcome, as it would deeply limit opportunities for less well-established composers) or a considerably greater number of concerts and events, which would in turn require a much greater amount of public funding. The case for the latter has yet to be made in terms which might convince a wider public (and is practically unthinkable in musical cultures like the USA where public funding is minimal), but one should try. In the meantime, a compromise may be possible, with a reduced focus upon premieres, and with performers treated by festivals and concert series as of equal importance to composers and their scores. This would alter the balance of power in new music, and some of the hierarchies between composer and performer, or for that matter between performers, and begin to enable an enriched and broadened new music culture.
 A different situation obviously applies with, for example, the graphic scores of Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, Sylvano Bussotti or Cornelius Cardew, or the text works of Dieter Schnebel, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Christian Wolff, which should be considered apart from the considerations here, though I believe my alternative model of notation can encompass these.
 All these terms are imperfect approximations for attitudes which can be more nuanced than in the archetypal form I present them here.
 This latter position can be found in many of the essays and interviews in two collections on contemporary performance, Marilyn Nonken (ed), Performers on Performing, in Contemporary Music Review, Vol. 21 Part 1 (2002), and Barrie Webb (ed), Contemporary Performance, in Contemporary Music Review, Vol. 28 Part 2 (2007).
 See Angelika App, ‘Die „Werktreue“ bei Clara Schumann’, in Peter Ackermann and Herbert Schneider (eds), Clara Schumann: Komponistin, Interpretin, Unternehmerin, Ikone (Hildesheim, Zürch & New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1999), pp. 9-18. On Joachim’s aesthetics of performance, the most comprehensive guide is Beatrix Borchard, Stimme und Geige. Amalie und Joseph Joachim (Vienna, Cologne & Weimar: Böhlau, 2005); but see also Karen Leistra-Jones, ‘Staging Authenticity: Joachim, Brahms and the Politics of Werktreue Performance’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 66, No. 2 (Summer 2013), pp. 397-436.
 Alfred Brendel, Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts (London: Robson Books, 1976), p. 26.
 Liszt to Richard Pohl, November 5, 1853, in La Mara (ed), Letters of Franz Liszt. Volume 1: From Paris to Rome: Years of Travel as Virtuoso, translated Constance Bache (London: H. Greyel & Co, 1894), pp. 175-176. This dichotomy is taken up further by Richard Taruskin, in essays in his Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) pp. 75-76, 99-100.
 Especially Lydia Goehr in her important 1992 book The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), and a succession of subsequent writings informed by this – see for example Harry White, ‘’If It’s Baroque, Don’t Fix It’: Reflections on Lydia Goehr’s ‘Work-Concept’ and the Historical Integrity of Musical Composition’, in Acta Musicologica, Vol. 69, Fasc. 1 (Jan. – Jun. 1997), pp. 94-104, Jim Samson, ‘The Practice of Early-Nineteenth-Century Pianism’, in Michael Talbot (ed), The Musical Work: Reality or Invention?(Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000), pp. 110-127, Reinhard Strohm, ‘Looking Back at Ourselves: The Problem with the Musical Work Concept’, in Talbot, The Musical Work, pp. 128-152, Stephen Davies, Musical Works & Performances: A Philosophical Exploration (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001), pp. 91-98, and Michael Spitzer, Metaphor and Musical Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), pp. 127-136. Julian Hellaby, Reading Musical Interpretation: Case Studies in Solo Piano Performance (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 4-11 deals with some of the same types of attitudes to performance which I outline here, whilst some of the most important work on the relationship between analysis and performance, in a series of essays by Nicholas Cook, draws upon the critique of the work-concept: see for example Nicholas Cook, ‘Analysing Performance and Performing Analysis’, in Cook and Mark Everist (eds), Rethinking Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 239-261, and the longer and partially overlapping essay ‘Words about Music or Analysis versus Performance’, in Theory into Practice: Composition, Performance and the Listening Experience , edited Peter Dejans (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1999), pp. 9-52.
 Ian Pace, ‘Notation, Time and the Performer’s Relationship to the Score in Contemporary Music’, in Unfolding Time: Studies in Temporality in Twentieth-Century Music, edited Darla Crispin (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2009), pp. 151-192.
 William Weber, The Great Transformation of Musical Taste: Concert Programming from Haydn to Brahms (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
 For one interesting reflection on this event, which touches upon some of the same questions as I do above, see Max Nyffeler, ‘Richtig und falsch oder anders: Der „Arditti-Standard“ und der Publikumsgeschmack’, at http://www.beckmesser.de/themen/streichquartette.html. Nyffeler does not however really question the concepts of ‘work’ or ‘interpretation’.
[* Addendum: The philosopher Michael Morris drew my attention to how much the concept of 'violation' of a text seemed extremely prescriptive, so I have modified it to the idea of overstepping boundaries. The bracketing out of transcriptions, adaptations, etc, from this discussion is simply for the sake of preserving a degree of brevity, and should not be read to imply that these are somehow lesser forms of musical endeavour - just that they constitute a modification of a score rather than simply a response to it/dialogue with it. ]
A good many non-musicians look bewildered when I tell them I am a musicologist as well as a performer, wondering what on earth a ‘musicologist’ is. I usually answer by saying something like ‘I am also engaged in critical historical study of music and music-making’, aware that this is far from being an exhaustive definition of the range of activity encompassed by musicology. Some musicologists are engaged primarily in highly technical analysis, others do fieldwork, some spend long periods in detailed study of old manuscripts, others investigate non-Western musical cultures, philosophies of and strategies for musical education, the psychology of music, and so on; my own work concentrates on document-based historical study, some analysis, sketch study, lots of historical contextualisation, ideology critique, performance practice, and in general a wide range of music and music-making from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, focusing not least upon the institutions of music (including educational institutions) as well as musicians.
But, whilst many people would understand the difference between the critical study of literature such as one might undertake in an English degree, and a course in Creative Writing, designed to help students develop their skills for becoming a writer, the equivalent distinction is insufficiently understood and appreciated for music. This can be a major issue with prospective students and their parents, who imagine that a music degree is essentially a vocational qualification in order to become a professional musician. Unfortunately only a small minority of those who go through the advanced professional training provided by conservatoires succeed towards this end; the chances for those who go to university are correspondingly less.
Much can be said about the wider benefits of a music degree, the range of transferable skills it can entail, which not only prepares students well for many fields of life in which they might work, but also opens up an enriching outlook on culture and society in general. But this relates to a much wider conception of the study of the subject than would be involved in a more narrowly vocational degree, and in particular to the role of musicology.
Many musical practitioners (performers and composers) are sceptical or even downright hostile to musicology as a discipline with a degree of autonomy, seeing it as of secondary importance compared to the acts of making or producing music. Certainly as a formalised academic subject, dating from the mid-nineteenth century in the German-speaking world, musicology is very young compared to practical musical activity, though wider thinking and writing about music can be dated back a lot further. As long as human beings communicate with one another about music, then some verbal discourses are established; musicology attempts to find ways to develop these discourses into something employing more rigorous and self-critical methods for arriving at conclusions.
Not all of those who listen to or take an interest in music are necessarily involved in producing it, any more than all readers are professional writers, or viewers of art are themselves artists (I personally have interests in a wide range of visual art, but my abilities to produce anything of the type are practically zero). And the priorities of those interested in music might be quite different to those who have a professional stake in certain outcomes. In this context the intermediary role of the critic can be important – bridging the intentions and desires of the producers with the wishes and requirements of the consumers, whether reviewing concerts or restaurants. In the case of reviews of atonal contemporary music, this relationship can become fraught, depending upon the target readership; a critic writing mostly for an audience already likely to be broadly sympathetic (such as the readership of a specialist new music journal) has a different task from one writing for an audience whose sympathy might be highly selective, or may even be actively hostile to such music, and are reading this critic for advice on what they might listen to. This latter type of critic would in some sense be failing their readers if they simply reiterated composers’ own perception of their work with no consideration as to how it might be perceived by someone who does not necessarily share all of those composers’ assumptions and priorities.
When considering historical composers, there are many obvious ways in which listeners may also approach the music in question in ways very different from those of the composers (or others from the time). One does not have to be a strict Lutheran to appreciate Bach, nor necessarily accept some of the theological motivations proffered for some of the musical decisions. An atheist would believe these were a delusion or at least a fiction, and might consider them as the expression of some wider human issues. A similar situation can apply to the tropes of heroism which inform some of Beethoven’s mid-period work (and a good deal of subsequent reception), or more ominously the anti-semitic views expressed by Wagner in his 1850 article ‘Das Judenthum in der Musik’; much work has been done considering the question of the extent to which these views, and other common anti-semitic views of the time, might have informed some of the characterisations in his music-dramas, and been understood as such by audiences of the time. If one concludes that this might indeed have been the case, this does not require automatic rejection of the work, but can facilitate an engagement with the music-dramas not simply as art works existing outside of time and place, but ones which reflect a particular set of ideologies of the time, held by the composer, which a reasonable person would today reject without necessarily rejecting all cultural work which sprang up in a context where they were indeed acceptable. Similar positions are possible with respect to representations of women, of characters from outside of the Western world, in musical works involving theatre or text; on a deeper level it is also possible to consider the ways in which abstract instrumental music might itself have grown out of texted/stage work and inherited some of the oppositions between musical materials (especially as had become codified to represent masculine and feminine characters) which were intrinsic to the latter.
In all of these cases, the approach of the writer or listener amounts to something different from simply reiterating the composer’s intentions and wishes, or at least applying a different set of valorising standards to them. When applied with sufficient care for proper and balanced investigation of factual evidence (with proper referencing), rigour and transparency of argument, and elegance of presentation, not to mention some commitment to producing an argument which does more than simply reiterate that of numerous previous writers, this constitutes one variety of critical musicology. Not all or even most such work need arrive at negative conclusions, and some might affirm existing perceptions, but it does so as a result of serious consideration of alternative possibilities, rather than simply declaring them off-limits from the outset.
To some extent, I believe the value of this type of work is more widely accepted than it would have been several decades ago. The situation might be different with other forms of critical investigation, such as examination of the cult of artistic genius, the privileging of particular forms of music (orchestral, chamber) over others (opera, some solo music) on grounds of apparent ‘depth’ and ‘substance’, or for that matter the devaluation of some popular music or musical forms rooted in practices from minority groups as compared to a Western art music tradition, taking on board the associated assumptions and ideologies upon which such positions are founded. All of this involves countenancing the notion that music, music-making and musical reception may not be ideologically neutral fields belong to the realms of ‘pure art’, but might themselves reflect and reflect back upon wider social perceptions.
But the situation is more contested in the field of contemporary classical music. This is itself a field in which many practitioners feel themselves to be marginalised, with very little music of an atonal nature having won any degree of widespread public acceptance (even to the extent of that of composers such as Stravinsky, Britten or Shostakovich). Yet there are musicological critiques of some of this body of work emerging from people other than conservative classical music listeners. A body of work by various scholars associated with the ‘new musicology’ has contested the claims for primacy of various avant-garde music, drawing attention to what is argued to be its elitism, individualism (maintaining a nineteenth-century focus upon the ‘great composer’), abstraction and consequent social disengagement, white male middle-class bias, and artificial institutionalisation (including institutionalisation in higher education) despite its being a small minority interest. This latter point is extremely charged considering that some such musicologists inhabit university departments which they will share with some of the practitioners said to benefit from such institutional privilege.
As both a practitioner (as an active performer) and a musicologist, I was naturally somewhat thrown when first spending serious time with this body of work in the early 2000s. At first I was hostile, as it seemed simply another nail in the coffin of the type of avant-garde music I felt bound to defend. I began framing an extensive critique of several of the key writers concerned (to date unfinished but in a quite advanced state of development, which I will return to at some point), after realising the extent to which much of this work had become easily absorbed and was now little questioned within academia, despite sometimes being based upon major assumptions which I felt never to have been properly tested. But after spending a considerable amount of time reading the work in question, I felt myself forced to conclude that it did indeed raise many issues which could not be dismissed out of hand, however much these issues might be difficult for those of us intensely involved in the field being critiqued. From this point onwards I began to take a somewhat more sceptical attitude towards various aspects of the musical world in which I was most deeply involved as a practitioner, and especially became aware of conflicting priorities as a scholar and a performer, a conflict I have never wished to artificially elide.
For those writing about contemporary composers and their work (of which I am one) this can create a very difficult situation. The work concerned is already deemed marginal, and the scholar can encounter distrust or even hostility if their own work takes a critical perspective. Such scholars value opportunities to speak and write about composers outside of the usual academic arenas, but many of these opportunities are determined by the composers in question; in several cases I know of these opportunities promptly being curtailed after the scholar in question dared to express an even mildly critical opinion about some aspect of the work of the composer in question. Perhaps as a result of this, a lot of scholarly work on new music has tended to be defensive or hagiographic – and I would include a good deal of the early writing on Boulez, Stockhausen and John Cage in this category, as well as some of the writing on Michael Finnissy by myself and others – or else simply outright hostile. Little middle ground exists between this ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’ mentalities towards new music, though the situation is changing a little. The failure on the part of many actively involved with the composition and performance of new music to address the issues raised by new musicologists and others has allowed the sometimes simplistic arguments of the latter a free ride.
In my own more recent work on Finnissy (which I have been revising and editing over the last months) this has been a continual concern. Finnissy can be most articulate about his own intentions and ideas behind certain works, but it ill behoves a scholar of integrity to simply reiterate these without asking any questions first. In his piece North American Spirituals, Finnissy finds ways of combining eighteenth-century white American hymns with African-American spirituals, to make a comment about racism and racial tension. A brilliant idea (especially in the sophistication of its implementation), but to what extent does the sounding result necessarily communicate the latter to someone who has not been told what they are meant to be hearing and interpreting? And what are the wider implications of appropriating music borne of slavery into a concert hall environment generally populated by white middle class people? For reasons too detailed to explicate here, the view which I ultimately concluded was mostly affirmative of some of Finnissy’s positions, but not without attempting to consider how they might be interpreted quite differently.
The ‘intentional fallacy’ (the fallacy of granting primacy to the intentions of an author) has been widely recognised as such in literature ever since the publication of W.K. Wimsatt and Cleanth Brooks’ 1946 essay of the same name. But in much writing about new music, the composer’s intention remains almost sacrosanct, and some writing is judged better or worse by the extent to which it concurs with this. This is a very poor state of affairs compared to that appertaining to literature. The composer is an individual existing in a particular time and place, having inherited (and of course themselves mediated) a range of beliefs and ideologies, who is inevitably a flawed individual with their own set of interests, prejudices, perhaps petty jealousies, and so on, not the be-all and end-all of meaning in the way that is implied through a deferential attitude towards ‘great men’ (and the odd ‘great woman’).
One can read any number of pieces of writing which will present the finest detail of compositional technique involved in creating a piece – in a duly ‘respectful’ manner – but when it comes to dealing with the sounding result, restrict themselves to a few choice adjectives of praise, saying little about what relationship exists between the means and the ends, let alone about why (or if) the final result might be capable of generating any type of meaningful response amongst listeners. This may not be entirely unwilled: to address the latter issue would involve asking difficult questions relating to the fact that much new music has never succeeded in gaining more than a very small audience relative to the totality of the listening population, and many of them have professional connections to the work concerned. That some artistic work is a small minority interest need not necessarily be cause for censure or dismissal, but to pretend that this is not the case, or continue with the far-from-proved assumption that simply a greater amount of promotion and publicity will generate these so-far elusive audiences, is simply naïve.
At a round table discussion at a conference a few years ago on the symphony orchestra as cultural phenomenon, one musicologist opined that whilst it was all very well for such musicologists to look critically at these types of institutions, at a time when funding is in question this was the wrong thing to do, and we should all be putting our weight behind supporting them. But this would be a prime example of substituting propaganda for scholarship. In other contexts, musicologists may want to lend their names to campaigns to preserve state funding of symphony orchestras, but to censor critical scholarship for this reason is a betrayal of every principle upon which rational investigation is based.
There are many ways in which legitimate criticisms can be made of a whole range of musicological work (some of which I intend to consider in some later posts on here); I personally would identify excessive use of jargon, sometimes to mask a paucity of any more incisive argument, and simply the production of work which seems intended primarily to satisfy a few other like-minded academics in a particular sub-field, with no real interest in whether it might have any wider impact. But the alternative to this is not simply for musicologists to line up to write what practising musicians want them to, and sacrifice any independent perspective in the process.
Musicology should be properly valued as an independent discipline which enhances understanding of music, the role of music in different societies and cultures, approaches to performance, modes of listening, and much else. These ends are not served by its inhabiting a subservient position relative to practical music-making and producing material more akin to that one might expect from composers’ publishers or musicians’ agents. And the study of music can be an enhancing experience for a great many people, regardless of whether they go on to practise it professionally.