Mac’s cartoon in the Mail, the symbolism of the rat, and Der Ewige Jude (1940)

The cartoon by ‘Mac’ (Stanley McMurtry) in today’s Daily Mail, showing migrants entering Europe, visibly Muslim people, carrying a rifle and accompanied by rats, crosses new lines in its appropriation of imagery previously used for anti-semitic propaganda.

Mac cartoon with migrants and rats

Various people on social media have pointed the resemblance to a cartoon in the Viennese newspaper in Das Kleine Blatt, published on February 2nd, 1939, depicting a group of rats, literally swept out from Germany, being denied entry to ‘democratic’ countries. This resemblance has been reported on in The Independent.

Das kleine Blatt 1939


But the rat association has a long history in anti-semitic and Nazi propaganda. Cosima Wagner wrote in her diary in January 19th, 1879:

At supper yesterday he [Richard Wagner] talked about an article in the Illustrirte Zeitung, ‘The Elk Fighting the Wolves,’ and said it had taught him some very curious things – how in Nature even the most heroic must perish, men as well as animals, ‘and what remain are the rats and mice – the Jews. (cited in Richard H. Bell, Wagner’s Parsifal: An Appreciation in the Light of His Theological Journey (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2013), p. 9, n. 50)

In December 1927, Der Stürmer printed a picture of a tree surrounded by dead rats, which are labelled ‘stock exchanges,’ ‘the press,’ and ‘trusts’, while the branches of the tree, labelled ‘Germany’ are industry, agriculture, commerce, the arts, business, the sciences, social welfare, civil service, and workers. The rats have been pumped with poison gas by a Nazi stormtrooper – the implications of this are obvious. The text says ‘Wenn das Ungeziefer tot ist, grünt die deutsche Eiche wieder!’ (If the vermin is dea, the German oak grows green again!)

Der Stürmer 1927

Julius Streicher, the editor of Der Stürmer, would write the following in the journal in 1938:

The Jews are a people of bastards, afflicted with all diseases, They are a people of criminals and outcasts. They are the carriers of disease and vermin among men . . . A rotten apple cannot be assimilated by a basketful of healthy apples. Mice and rats cannot be acknowledged as useful pets and live within the community     . . . . Bacteria, vermin and pests cannot be tolerated . . . for reasons of cleanliness and hygiene we must render them harmless by killing them off . . . Why should we repress our feeling for cleanliness and hygiene when it comes to the Jew?

In occupied Ukraine, the Nazis attempted to divide Ukranians and Jews, using a propaganda poster superimposing a rat on a star of David (which I think may be the image below, though this needs confirmation), whilst at the same time the NKVD, spying on Jews in New York, would refer to them as ‘polecats’ and ‘rats’ (Makubin Thomas Owens, ‘Divide and Conquer: The KGB disinformation campaign against Ukranians and Jews’, Ukranian Quarterly, Fall 2004).

Ukranian rat propaganda 2

The image of the Jew as rat, or lower than rats, was also exploited by T.S. Eliot (‘The rats are underneath the pile/The Jew is underneath the lot’) and Ezra Pound (writing of ‘importations ancient and modern from the sewers of Pal’stine’ and how ‘Christianity is verminous with semitic infections’), as has been traced by Anthony Julius (in his T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form (London: Thames and Hudson, 2003), pp. 102-3).

But the most notorious use of this metaphor is in the 1940 Nazi propaganda film Der Ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew), directed by Fritz Hippler. In this a scene juxtaposes a passage about Jewish migration, especially from Eastern Europe, with rats emerging from a sewer, spreading disease wherever they go. The film explicitly says that ‘Parallel to these Jewish wanderings throughout the world is the migration of a similarly restless animal: the rat. Rats have been parasites on mankind from the very beginning. Their home is Asia, from which they migrated in gigantic hordes over Russia and the Balkans into Europe’. Watch the film from around 13’40” on here, especially the section at around 16’55”.

I cannot believe this resemblance is merely coincidental. What have we come to when a leading British newspaper is describing Muslim migrants and refugees to Europe using imagery and associations lifted directly from Nazi anti-semitic propaganda?

Addendum: Whilst I do not share the view of the cartoon presented here by Dave Brown, I would not advocate censorship, for reasons laid out in another blog post from last year.

Performance-as-Research – A Reply to Luk Vaes

The Belgian pianist and scholar Luk Vaes has published a new blog post following two previous ones (here and here) responding both to the announcement of the debate on composition, performance and research on November 25th, and also to my article on the subject which is one of the texts for discussion there. I would like to publish here a response I have also added in the comments section of his post.

I do believe that Vaes, coming from a context of ‘artistic research’ rather than ‘practice-as-research’, is inclined towards too-fixed and narrow (and sometimes counterproductive) conceptions of research, at least implicitly. But I would also like to ask him whether he thinks practice-based outputs alone can suffice as research (ever?) or only with substantial written documentation? This debate has recurred often in wider literature on practice-as-research. And should these standards be applied differently to composition and performance?

The major objection given to documentation of practice is that research councils, academic promotion panels and others simply read that and do not bother to listen to/watch/etc the actual artistic work involved. This is a very real danger, especially when (outside of the REF) non-artists may be involved with the decisions. If documentation is required as well as artistic output, only a mode of judging which looks at both in detail could ever be satisfactory.

Luk Vaes writes:

I don’t agree with the jump from “opening up research questions” to actually being “research as a result”, nor do I think performance-based research should be considered on the same level (much legitimate systematic musicology – e.g. performance science – is performance-based or -led). I more than agree with that “additional demand”, as I find the explication of the research to be essential to its identity. As long as it is impossible for me to assess how (and how exactly) Ian has learned from Gieseking, Cziffra, et all., how exactly this has opened up new questions, how exactly this worked in a certain way (and not in perhaps certain other ways), what the conclusions are, etc., it is not worth it to use a new term to describe the age-old process he described. Research is a collective effort, with peer-interaction as a fundamental, i.e. peer-based and peer-oriented. Contrary to matters of composition, I can consider myself to be a peer of Ian’s, but, from his performances, I cannot tell any of the above to a level that informs me about his research.

As far as the first ‘leap’ is concerned, let me put the ‘research as a result’ comment in context:

But my approach is far from uncommon, and in this sense the articulation of practice in research terms is a positive and productive activity. It may be less spectacular than some of the wilder fringes of theatre and visual performance – such as Lee Miller and Joanne “Bob” Whalley’s joint PhD project, collecting of urine-filled bottles on the M6, replacing them with other detritus, renewing their wedding vows in a service station, then grounding this in the thought of Deleuze and Guattari, Bakhtin, dialogism, heteroglossia and semiotic multi-accentuality, deliberately framed in such a way as to frustrate Popper’s criteria of falsifiability – but is no less ‘research’ as a result.

The only point here is that whilst critical engagement with aesthetic, technical and interpretive questions doesn’t look as spectacular as the above, that doesn’t mean such work should not equally warrant being considered research.

As far as practice-based research is concerned, this is a bit of a nebulous term, for sure; I had in mind in this context written work produced by practitioners relating to their own work, rather than just any musicology dealing with performance. But we need a more specific term for this, for which the term practice-as-research is often used in my view erroneously.

As far as needing to understand how the engagement with Gieseking, Cziffra, or whoever impacts upon the final output (which might be in the form of a marked negation of aspects of this playing, or adoption and mediation of aspects which are far from obvious), well a piece of written work might be able to explain this, and such research is useful, but one might say exactly the same about being able to know how complex row transformations impact upon a composition when these are not perceptible without guidance. Note that earlier in my article I say:

At a REF panel discussion in February 2015, it was argued that the REF can entail a large amount of financial support for innovative practice-based work. There remain various obstacles towards achieving this (not least from individual institutions inclined to downgrade practice-based work in general), but it is not an unrealistic goal. If this requires practitioners to articulate ways in which their work has value and consequences not just in and of itself but also to others as a contribution to knowledge, this seems a fair price to pay.

but also:

Nor does musical practice become research simply by virtue of being accompanied by a programme note, which funding and other committees can look at and ignore the practical work.

and also:

I have some doubts as to whether some composition- and performance-based PhDs, especially those not even requiring a written component, are really equivalent in terms of effort, depth and rigour with the more conventional types.

Others will argue that simply the final output should suffice to demonstrate the quality of the research; I am not going that far, though do see the danger of the documentation of the process being judged practically independently of the result. To convince you that engagement with various other musicians’ work, in a myriad different ways, has significantly informed my practice, is something which I do not think would be difficult given sufficient space (certainly more than the 300 words required by the REF). This is not a reflection on the quality of the performance, but whether the process involved in its creation can fairly be judged as research.

I bring this up primarily, though, because composers are frequently able simply to submit their compositions with a 300 word statements, and that suffices to justify their work as research, in a way which is much rarer for performers. Numerous composers working in UK university departments produce only compositions, no written work, whilst there are significant differences in terms of expectations made by departments upon performers in this respect. I think this is a major inequity, and also that these debates in a musical context are too heavily dominated by composers.

What we are sometimes left with is that only the most obvious (and often extremely basic) aspects of performance are considered ‘research’ – employing a few extended techniques, using a slightly new type of instrument, playing some unusual rhythms, and so on. The dutiful performer-scholar will play this music and write up a short amount of pragmatic ‘how to do it’ information, and leave the much more complex issues of interpretation, style, genre, and aesthetics to a handful of over-general and meaningless platitudes (‘it is important to phrase this music well’, ‘it should still be beautiful’, ‘one should make it sound like a real piece of music’, and so on). What I am trying to argue is that the whole business of fashioning and crafting strategies for these latter aspects more deserves to be considered research than simply writing something like ‘I tried playing this sonority by using this object to stop the string. I played it to the composer like that, and then with another object, and they preferred the first, so we went with that.’ This latter is really just a type of skills training rather than critical research.

Research Forum, ‘Can Composition and Performance be Research? Critical Perspectives’, City University, November 25th, 2015, 17:30

On November 25th, 2015, at 17:30, a special Research Forum will take place at City University’s Department of Music, Performance Space, College Building. For further details and booking enquiries, please contact: . The City University event page for this is here.

In this special form a group of panellists will lead a discussion on current debates about the relationship between practice and research. The discussion will centre on two articles in particular: John Croft’s recent and significant article ‘Composition is not Research’ (Tempo, 69/272 (April 2015), pp. 6-11) and Ian Pace’s reply ‘Composition and Performance can be, and often have been, Research’ (forthcoming in Tempo, 70/275 (January 2016)). Both of these can be downloaded here.

John Croft, ‘Composition is not Research’.
Ian Pace, ‘Composition and Performance can be, and often have been, Research’.

Composers and performers in UK university music departments are often employed in full academic positions and are expected to produce research, participate in the Research Excellence Framework, apply for research funding, and demonstrate all these things in order to qualify for career advancement. This situation creates imperatives often distinct from, and sometimes conflicting with, those informing their practical work outside of an academic context. Different institutions can have hugely differing perspectives on the research credentials of practice-based work, and the experiences and fortunes of such practitioners working in academia have varied correspondingly.

John Croft’s article ‘Composition is not Research’ threw down a gauntlet in its rejection of the possibility that compositional outputs can be measured as research in the same manner as more conventional outputs. Croft called for an end to the integration of composers into existing research structures of universities, and a return to the idea of ‘research equivalence’ instead.

This article has generated a good deal of discussion on blogs and social media since its appearance, some of which has been markedly hostile. The January 2016 issue of Tempo will feature two articles in response, one by composer Camden Reeves, the other by City Head of Performance Ian Pace, entitled ‘Composition and Performance can be, and often have been, Research’.

In this article, Pace provides an extended critique of Croft’s arguments, drawing upon wider debates on practice-as-research from beyond the musical field, arguing that Croft’s definitions of research are too narrow, that composition and performance frequently constitute research as much as any other types of outputs, and that the real issue is deriving equitable criteria for judging very different types of research outputs, though this is equally a problem between divergent types of written work.


Christopher Fox (Professor of Composition at Brunel University and editor of Tempo)
Ian Pace (pianist and Head of Performance at City University)
Miguel Mera (composer and Head of the Department of Music at City University)
Annie Yim (pianist and DMA student at City University)
Christine Dysers (PhD student in Music at City University)
Camden Reeves (composer and Head of Music, University of Manchester)

Chair: Alexander Lingas (Reader in Music, City University)

Further Weblinks

Piers Hellawell, ‘Treating Composers as Researchers is Bonkers.’
Luk Vaes, ‘When Composition is not Research.’
Lawrence Dunn, ‘Squaring the damn composition-research circle.’
Martin Parker Dixon, ‘Composition can be research (some comments on John Croft’s recent article).’
David Pocknee, ‘Composition Is Not A Jaffa Cake, Research Is Not A Biscuit: A Riposte to John Croft.’
Lauren Redhead, ‘Is Composition Research?’
Nicholas Till, ‘Opus versus Output’
Huib Schippers, ‘The Marriage of Art and Academia: Challenges and Opportunities for Music Research in Practice-based Environments.’
Christopher Fox, ‘Music for a Dis-Uniting Kingdom?’ (Including some reflections on composition as research).
Ian Pace, ‘Musicological Observations 4: Can Commercial Music be Research?’ (distinct from the forthcoming Tempo article mentioned above)

And some earlier relevant articles more widely on practice and research:

Christopher Frayling, ‘Research in Art and Design.’
Linda Candy, ‘Practice Based Research: A Guide.’
Joanne ‘Bob’ Whalley and Lee Miller, ‘Partly Cloudy, Chance of Rain: A Case Study’, in John Freeman (ed) Blood, Sweat and Theory: Research through Practice in Performance. (Middlesex University Press, London, 2010), pp. 218-232.

[ADDENDUM: A link to a response to this by Luk Vaes, and then my own response, can be found here]

Musicological Observations 5: Musical Crossover and Academic Interdisciplinarity (and Philip Clark)

A talk given by the critic and composer Philip Clark published online around two weeks ago (‘What’s wrong with the classical concert experience in the 21st century?’) has received much praise, and deservedly so. I should here declare an interest: Philip is a good friend, several of whose piano works I have played, with whom I have organised concerts, and who has also written about my own work; furthermore, I played at his wedding. So I am far from an impartial judge of his writing (though we have major areas of disagreement, not least on opera or Adorno), but I am confident I would feel the same way if I did not know him personally.

Most striking to me in Philip’s article is the following passage, with which I wholeheartedly concur:

Julian Lloyd Webber, now principal of the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music, spoke recently of how we should consign ‘classical music’ to the dustbin of useless phraseology and – again – his use of language is revealing. ‘Musicians need to think outside the box and push boundaries, to work cross-genre with rock or jazz musicians, or be experimental,’ he said.

Putting aside that middle-management speak about thinking outside boxes, the very idea that suddenly you can ‘be’ experimental as a lifestyle choice is as dubious as the notion that you could suddenly have a sense of humour – or speak Japanese. Because to experiment with music in any meaningful way, you need to have a deep understanding of how it operates technically and emotionally.

What I’ve called in my writings ‘pretendy’ classical music serves up the spectacle of classical music – you see an orchestra or an ensemble on stage, you see opera singers producing vaguely operatic sounds as they open their mouths. But invariably tepid cross-over projects exist precisely because musicians have failed to grapple with the big questions at play here. Fusions of minimalism, ambient electronica, pop structures drizzled with world music ‘flavas’ – Karl Jenkins, Max Richter, Ludovico Einaudi, Roxanna Panufnik – have become a ubiquitous sub-genre with relevance to the future of classical music only in the sense that EL James is relevant to the future of the novel. No boundaries are being pushed at all. Instead, this is a corporate, boardroom idea of music designed specifically to shift units of CDs.

This is what few commentators have bothered to consider when lauding anything ‘crossover’ – that simply dabbling in a genre, extracting a few superficial stylistic elements in the manner of a tourist, does scant justice to a music which is sophisticated, skilled, historically varied, and with its own intricate social and cultural history. Many of the composers he mentions (and others) who plunder jazz for a bit of exotic colour are not significantly different to nineteenth-century orientalists who found the odd scale with augmented intervals, static harmonies or added chromatic notes in melodic progressions, would suffice to signify ‘the East’ and all it meant to a colonial mindset.

This is significant because Philip is a major writer on jazz and free improvisation (and a very talented improviser himself) as well as a writer on classical music. And it is because, not despite, this that he becomes so impatient with those who claim ownership of musical traditions with which they have only a passing acquaintance, but which he knows intimately.

But reading this again made me think about the relationship between ‘crossover’ music and the ubiquitous buzzword ‘interdisciplinarity’ in academia. I have written critically about this latter term before, arguing that in the case of music, research and funding pressure to demonstrate interdisciplinarity frequently has the musical content of the work as the first casuality.

There are however problems of a slightly different nature, as with musical crossover. There has undoubtedly been important scholarly work undertaken by social/cultural historians, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, philosophers, physicists, even economists, on music, yielding insights and perspectives unlikely to have been attainable by many musicologists. But those doing these have a highly skilled and specialised training and expertise in those disciplines; in some sense they take music as their object, but rarely investigate sounding music to the level of close engagement one would expect of a musicologist. This is not a criticism; it is not what they are trained to do, and their attentions are better spent on other aspects of music’s social situation, physical properties, the wages of musicians, and so on.

I have spent a lot of time reading a large amount of historical scholarship – and especially a lot of historiography – and political theory in particular. I would like to think I have a reasonable grounding in historiography, after studying it for over ten years, sufficient to be able to think and write intelligently on the historiography of music, but this has been hard coming, and I know those engaged with historical writing at the centre of their work will always have a more intimate form of engagement. Similarly, others bring a long-term study of literature or philosophy or other things to bear upon their writing on music, with fruitful results.

But what I see in terms of much box-ticking ‘interdisciplinary’ work is much closer to what Philip describes in music. Much of this involves a handful of token references to one or other fashionable thinker (at various points it has been Jean Baudrillard, Mikhail Bahktin, Gilles Deleuze, and more recently Bruno Latour – see also this post with Judith Butler’s response to blanket application of canonical theorists). These are usually derived from secondary or tertiary literature, rarely entail an independent critical perspective on these thinkers’ work, let alone any familiarity with the wider critical tradition surrounding it. This is just scholarly tourism, a type of ‘fusion scholarship’. A handful of platitudes from an introductory cultural studies primer do not indicate a scholarly engagement with wider issues of culture, nor do a few tawdry mentions of some 25-year old work of sociology mostly disregarded now by sociologists in light of subsequent research make one into a sociologist.

To adapt Philip’s words: a musicologist cannot quickly become a philosopher or a sociologist or an historian any more than they can speak Japanese in the same amount of time. And tepid interdisciplinary projects exist precisely because musicologists have failed to grapple with highly developed scholarly and critical apparatuses in other disciplinary fields. Fusions of ‘bluff your way in sociology/cultural history/philosophy/etc’ with music have become an ubiquitous scholarly sub-genre which may win plaudits and advancement for their authors from others who either know no better, or are engaged in a comparably cynical game themselves, but are relevant to the future of musicology only in the sense that Katherine Jenkins is relevant to the future of opera.

Genuinely expert and skilled interdisciplinary work is important, and all scholars should read widely around other disciplines. But let us stop pretending musicians can become qualified to work within another disciplinary field without an extended period of study, any more than a cultural historian can quickly gain expertise in neo-Riemannian analysis when they approach it with little if any analytical background. Except to naive readers, a decorative smattering of terms from Deleuze does not a scholarly work make.