Academic Freedom: definitions and risks

Last week I attended the debate ‘How can universities promote academic freedom? Insights from the front line of the gender wars’, at University College London’s Institute of Education. This was a stimulating and thoughtful event, organised in conjunction with the publication of a booklet of the same name by philosopher Professor Judith Suissa and sociologist Professor Alice Sullivan (both from UCL) (free to download). Suissa and Sullivan gave short introductions then responses to the booklet came from Baroness Estelle Morris (former Labour Secretary of State for Education), Professor David Ruebain (Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Culture, Equality and Inclusion at the University of Sussex), Professor Arif Ahmed (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge) (Akua Reindorf was unable to be present). With a debate focused upon the issues of biological sex against gender, it would be hard to deny that the panel was dominated by those believing that the former is not simply subsumed within the latter, though I gather various proponents of the primacy of gender and/or trans individuals (the lack of which was noted by Ruebain) were invited but declined to participate. The discussion centered around the evidence and arguments in the booklet for concerted attempts to silence, no-platform and ostracise ‘gender-critical’ scholars, a phenomenon also identified in a recent Times Higher Education Supplement article by early career scholar Laura Favaro (also available at this link), based upon interviews with 50 academics involved with gender studies. Favaro found many examples of a culture of fear, self-censorship, gatekeeping within journals and academic networks, and a total lack of frank and open discussion on what are undoubtedly contested areas. Various panellists and members of the packed audience at the event related similar experiences. What I have not seen is gender-critical feminists attempting to have their opponents censored, no-platformed, or hounded from their positions, though some have naturally responded very negatively to highly abusive comments towards the former, sometimes advocating sexual or other violence.

Morris argued that the disputes relating to sex and gender were about ideology versus evidence-based reasoning. Sullivan argued that some university Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) organisations can be and have been infiltrated by those from activist groups with extremist views. Ahmed, who paid tribute to Suissa and Sullivan, recognising the concerted hostility they will have faced, also noted other areas of intolerance, such as a tendency to brand anyone in a university who was or is a supporter of Brexit as a bigot. Despite being a 200% Remainer myself, I would be hard-pressed to disagree that this is the case, and can see how much of a problem it is. Ruebain was the one panellist giving a somewhat different view, arguing that we need to understand the contexts in which contested examples of academic freedom occur, and also suggesting that the issues here are so intensely personal and emotionally felt by many that it is hard to subject them to the usual processes of academic critique. This may be the case, but personal feelings do not seem to be a concern for those engaged in quite vicious and abusive hate campaigns against those associated with gender-critical views, often trying to force them out of their job, as occurred with philosopher Professor Kathleen Stock at the University of Sussex, after facing a huge mobbing campaign from by students and colleagues. Ruebain also compared current debates with the fervent disputes between second-wave feminists and disability activists in the 1980s over such issues as abortion rights. One questioner argued that the situation depended a lot on the institution at which one was based, noting that UCL’s record on defending academic freedom and staff was exemplary, but the situation was rather different at the Universities of Birmingham or Sussex. A somewhat more ambivalent account of the debate was published by Jim Dickinson for Wonkhe. 

Academic freedom is in my view an utterly essential component of university life, a non-negotiable prerequisite of scholarly rigour and integrity. I nonetheless find it disappointing to find that there are more than a few academics, including some in senior positions, who have a rather dismissive view of the whole concept. In part I believe this is relates to one of the most troubling recent phenomena in academia, its infiltration by activists, uninterested in any scholarly knowledge other than that which bolsters their a priori positions, who attempt to recruit in their own image, limit curricula and teaching materials to those things which concur with their activist beliefs, and can act shockingly towards other scholars or students who dare to disagree (more to follow on fair engagement with students of multiple political perspectives in a subsequent blog post). Also at stake is the legacy of postmodernism, sometimes imagined now to be a dated movement of the 1980s and 1990s which no longer carries any sway, but some of the aspects of which, in particular extreme relativisation of concepts of ‘truth’ (often in opposition to straw man characterisations of positions supposedly insisting on 100% objectivity), and the somewhat later dissolution of scholarship into politics, continue to be major presences on the academic landscape.

Stock has written of her memories of pugilistic debate from faculty members (mostly men) with visiting speakers from when she was a Masters philosophy student, which seemed frightening at the time and designed to humiliate the speakers. But for all the problems with this (and it is certainly possible to conduct robust debate in a more civilised fashion), she believes that what came later was worse. Stock observed an exaggerated synthetic ‘niceness’ in debates, but combined with unctuous name-dropping, endless rules around debate, rather arcane rituals for raising hands and fingers, and often banal questions. This did not however remove the aggression, but simply directed it elsewhere. In the absence of proper open debate, many would revert to surreptitious means to undermine others, through mass denunciations on social media, many ad hominem attacks, complaints, hidden campaigns, and so on. As so often, those enforcing an agenda ostensibly about ‘kindness’ could be amongst the most vicious in trying to silence those who disagree with them on anything. One professor has even described debate per se as ‘an imperialist capitalist white supremacist cis heteropatriarchal technique that transforms a potential exchange of knowledge into a tool of exclusion & oppression.’

Suissa and Sullivan (whose excellent booklet I will not describe in detail here, as I would prefer that people read it themselves) find ample evidence of both students and academics attempting to suppress free speech and academic freedom, and make various key recommendations. These include the maintenance of the university as a pluralistic space which welcomes diverse views, avoiding official ideological viewpoints on behalf of institutions and the use of political lobby groups in shaping policy or providing training, and while recognising that activist networks have a place in academia, they must be independent of the university administration. They also advocate education of staff and students on academic freedom and the value of productive disagreement, including its legal and philosophical bases, the promotion of academic freedom alongside equality, including the appointment of a champion for academic freedom within the senior leadership team, further promotion of collegiality (sometimes a misused term taken to signify concurrence with a dominant ideology or promotion of a collective ‘brand’ – see below) and tackling harassment, providing security of tenure, signalling institutional support for academic freedom, and defence of the pursuit of truth. An article on the booklet, in particular the need for appointment of champions of academic freedom, can be read here



What does ‘academic freedom’ mean? Many at the debate agreed that it was a different concept to ‘free speech’, though the two do overlap. In a paper I gave in ‘Musicology and Academic Freedom’ at the Music and the University Conference at City, University of London in July, I enlisted several definitions which I wanted to share here as well as some other arguments made in this paper. Whilst the concept can be dated back many centuries, it is generally accepted that the moder definition has its roots in the work of Wilhelm von Humboldt and the founding of the Berlin Universität in 1810. Humboldt published an essay entitled ‘Über die innere und äussere Organisation der höheren wissenschaftlichen Anstalten zu Berlin’ (1809-10), which has been translated as ‘On the Spirit and the Organisational Framework of Intellectual Institutions in Berlin’, Minerva, vol. 8, no. 2 (April 1970), pp. 242-250. The following are amongst the most pertinent passages:

Since these institutions [universities] can only fulfil their purposes when each of them bears continuously in mind the pure idea of science and scholarship [these two terms are used to translate Wissenschaft], their dominant principles must be freedom and the absence of distraction (Einsamkeit).


At the higher level, the teacher does not exist for the sake of the student; both teacher and student have their justification in the common pursuit of knowledge. The teacher’s performance depends on the students’ presence and interest – without this science and scholarship could not grow. If the students who are to form his audience did not come before him of their own free will, he, in his quest for knowledge, would have to seek them out. The goals of science and scholarship are worked towards most effectively through the synthesis of the teacher’s and the students’ dispositions.


The state must always remain conscious of the fact that it never has and in principle never can, by its own action, bring about the fruitfulness of intellectual activity. It must indeed be aware that it can only have a prejudicial influence if it intervenes. The state must understand that intellectual work will go on infinitely better if it does not intrude.


Now as regards the organisational and material side of the relationship of the institution to the state, the only concerns of the latter must be profusion (in the sense of mental power and variety) of intellectual talents to be brought together in the institution. This can be achieved through care in the selection of persons and the assurance of freedom in their intellectual activities. This intellectual freedom can be threatened not only by the state, but also by the intellectual institutions themselves which tend to develop, at their birth, a certain outlook and which will therefore readily resist the emergence of another outlook. The state must seek to avert the harm which can possibly arise from this source.

The heart of the matter is the appointment of the persons who are to do the intellectual work.


The state must not deal with its universities as Gymnasia or as specialised technical schools; it must not use its academy as if it were a technical or scientific commission. It must in general – with certain exceptions among the universities which will be considered later – demand nothing from them simply for the satisfaction of its own needs. It should instead adhere to a deep conviction that if the universities attain their highest ends, they will also realise the state’s ends too, and these on a far higher plane. On this higher plane, more is comprehended and forces and mechanisms are brought into action which are quite different from those which the state can command.


The young person, on entry into university, should be released from the compulsion to enter either into a state of idleness or into practical life, and should be enabled to aspire to and elevate himself to the cultivation of science or scholarship which hitherto have only been pointed out to him from afar.

The way thereto is simple and sure. The aim of the schools must be the harmonious development of all the capacities of their pupils. Their powers must be focused on the smallest possible number of subject- matters but every aspect of these must be dealt with to as great an extent as possible. Knowledge should be so implanted in the mind of the pupil that understanding, knowledge and creativity excite it, not through any external features, but through their inner precision, harmony and beauty. [. . . ] A mind which has been trained in this way will spontaneously aspire to science and scholarship.

Humboldt’s writings should be read in the context of the traditional German division between universities on one hand and academies of the sciences and arts on the other. He definitely favoured the former, and suggested that the latter have only really flourished where there are few universities. Academies had less strict requirements for selection of staff, compared to the habilitation required in a German university. Humboldt also believed the state should take exclusive control of appointments, rather than faculties:

Although disagreements and disputes within a university are wholesome and necessary, conflicts which might arise between teachers because of their specialised intellectual interests might unwittingly affect their viewpoints.

This important point is at odds with common processes for selection in the UK today.

From Humboldt’s ideas came the twin concepts of Lehrfreiheit (freedom to teach) and Lernfreiheit (freedom to learn), as subsets of Wissenschaftsfreiheit or Akademische Freiheit. These concepts developed through the course of the nineteenth century.

Another hugely important intervention in the development of the concept came from philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce, in his lectures delivered at Cambridge, MA in 1898 (collected in the 1992 Harvard University Press volume Reasoning and the Logic of Things: The Cambridge Conferences Lectures of 1898), in particular that entitled ‘The First Rule of Logic’, in which he compared the situation in American universities deeply unfavourably with their German counterparts in terms of free intellectual inquiry and in particular the link between this and teaching:

inquiry of every type, fully carried out, has the vital power of self-correction and of growth. This is a property so deeply saturating its inmost nature that it may truly be said that there is but one thing needful for learning the truth, and that is a hearty and active desire to learn what is true. If you really want to learn the truth, you will, by however devious a path, be surely led into the way of truth, at last. No matter how erroneous your ideas of the method may be at first, you will be forced at length to correct them so long as your activity is moved by that sincere desire. Nay, no matter if you only half desire it, at first, that desire would at length conquer all others could experience continue long enough. But the more voraciously truth is desired at the outset, the shorter by centuries will the road to it be.

In order to demonstrate that this is so, it is necessary to note what is essentially involved in The Will to Learn. The first thing that the Will to Learn supposes is a dissatisfaction with one’s present state of opinion. There lies the secret of why it is that our American Universities are so miserably insignificant. What have they done for the advance of civilization? What is the great idea or where is [a] single great man who can truly be said to be the product of an American University? The English universities, rotting with sloth as they always have, have nevertheless in the past given birth to Locke and to Newton, and in our time to Cayley, Sylvester and Clifford. The German universities have been the light of the whole world. The medieval University of Bologna gave Europe its system of law. The University of Paris, and that despised Scholasticism took Abelard and made him into Descartes. The reason was that they were institutions of learning while ours are institutions for teaching. In order that a man’s whole heart may be in teaching he must be thoroughly imbued with the vital importance and absolute truth of what he has to teach; while in order that he may have any measure of success in learning he must be penetrated with a sense of the unsatisfactoriness of his present condition of knowledge. The two attitudes are almost irreconcilable.

A range of statements followed from the American Association of University Professors, of which the most important is the ‘1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure’, which was and is endorsed by a wide range of US institutions:

  1. Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties; but research for pecuniary return should be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution.
  2. Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject [my emphasis]. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.
  3. College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.

The idea of limitations on academic freedom with deference to religious or other related principles now seems archaic in the modern secular university, but is understandable in the context of its time. What exactly is entailed by the phrase ‘respect for the opinions of others’ is open to much interpretation (certainly it is hard to see how this is true of those who regularly brand their opponents fascists, communists, colonialists, white supremacists, and so on), but there can be proper arenas and frameworks for this, through scholarly forums and the like, in which any aspect of someone’s arguments can be rigorously debated so long as this does not trespass into the realms of personalised attacks on an ad hominem basis, invoking factors irrelevant to the work. Most arguments, within reason, should be allowed a fair hearing but so should challenges to such arguments. To separate individual from work is harder than ever, however, in a time of intense subjectivity in scholarship, in which some make their case essentially on the basis of who they are and the experiences they have had, rather than the cogency of their arguments, as identified in William Matthews recent article for the THES.

In the UK, the most significant definition of academic freedom in recent times came about in the 1988 Education Reform Act, specifically in the so-called ‘Hillhead amendment’, named after Lord [Roy] Jenkins of Hillhead, which appeared within Section 202. This concerned the appointment of a body of University Commissioners (following the abolition of tenure), who would have various tasks:

to ensure that academic staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at their institutions;

Similar principles, presented in a more elaborate fashion, can be found in the 1997 UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel:

III. 4: Institutions  of  higher  education,  and  more  particularly  universities,  are  communities of scholars preserving, disseminating and expressing freely their opinions on traditional knowledge and culture, and pursuing new knowledge without constriction by prescribed doctrines. The pursuit of new knowledge and its  application lie at the heart of the mandate of such institutions of higher education. In higher education institutions where original research is not required, higher-education teaching personnel should maintain and develop knowledge of their subject through scholarship and improved pedagogical skills.

VI. 26: Higher-education teaching personnel, like all other groups and individuals, should enjoy those internationally recognized civil, political, social  and  cultural  rights  applicable to all citizens. Therefore,  all higher-education teaching personnel should enjoy freedom of thought, conscience, religion, expression, assembly and association as well as the right to liberty and security of the person and liberty of movement. They should not be hindered or impeded in exercising their civil rights as citizens, including the right to contribute to social change through freely expressing their opinion of state policies and of policies affecting higher education. They should not suffer any penalties simply because of the exercise of such rights. Higher-education teaching personnel should not be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention, nor to torture, nor to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In cases of gross violation of their rights, higher-education teaching personnel should have the right to appeal to the relevant national, regional or international bodies such as the agencies of the United Nations, and organizations representing higher-education teaching personnel should extend full support in such cases.

VI. 27: The maintaining of the above international standards should be upheld in the interest of higher education internationally and within the country. To do so, the principle of academic freedom should be scrupulously observed. Higher-education teaching personnel are entitled to the maintaining of academic freedom, that is to say, the right, without constriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom of teaching and discussion, freedom in carrying out research and disseminating and publishing the results thereof, freedom to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work, freedom from institutional censorship and freedom to participate in professional or representative academic bodies. All higher-education teaching personnel should have the right to fulfil their functions  without discrimination of any kind and without fear of repression by the state or any other source. Higher-education teaching personnel can effectively do justice to this principle if the environment in which they operate is conducive, which requires a democratic atmosphere; hence the challenge for all of developing a democratic society.

VI. 28: Higher-education teaching personnel have the right to teach without any interference, subject to accepted professional principles including professional responsibility and intellectual rigour with regard to standards and methods of teaching. Higher-education teaching personnel should not be forced to instruct against their own best knowledge and conscience or be forced to use  curricula  and  methods  contrary  to  national and international human rights standards. Higher-education teaching personnel should play a significant role in determining the curriculum.

VI. 29: Higher-education teaching personnel have a right to carry out research work without any interference, or any suppression, in accordance with their professional responsibility and subject to nationally and internationally recognized professional principles of intellectual rigour, scientific inquiry and  research ethics. They should also have the right to publish and communicate the conclusions of the research  of which they are authors or co-authors, as stated in paragraph 12 of this Recommendation.

VI. 30: Higher-education teaching personnel have a right to undertake professional activities outside of their  employment, particularly those that enhance their professional skills or allow for the application of  knowledge to the problems of the community, provided such activities do not interfere with their primary commitments to their home institutions in accordance with institutional policies and regulations or national laws and practice where they exist.

The UK 2017 Higher Education and Research Act (which came in the wake of a wide range of changes to Higher Education from 2010 onwards and established the Office for Students, superseding the earlier Higher Education Funding Council for England and Office for Fair Access), contained relevant material on academic freedom in Section 2(8):

In this Part, “the institutional autonomy of English higher education providers” means—

(a) the freedom of English higher education providers within the law to conduct their day to day management in an effective and competent way,

(b) the freedom of English higher education providers—
(i) to determine the content of particular courses and the manner in which they are taught, supervised and assessed,
(ii) to determine the criteria for the selection, appointment and dismissal of academic staff and apply those criteria in particular cases, and
(iii) to determine the criteria for the admission of students and apply those criteria in particular cases, and

(c) the freedom within the law of academic staff at English higher education providers—
(i) to question and test received wisdom, and
(ii) to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions,

without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at the providers.

For wider reasons beyond the scope of this article (but which will appear in a piece to be published in the THES in the week beginning 3 October), I do question some aspects of complete autonomy of higher education providers, which I do not believe has ever been wholly meaningful in light of wider bodies dedicated to the maintenance of standards (until recently by the Quality Assurance Agency). Furthermore staff deserve wider protection in terms of selection, appointment and dismissal practices, through employment laws which exceed the priorities of individual providers. Nonetheless, sections (a) and (c) are sound bases for the conducting of academic work.

In 2020, The Academic Freedom and Internationalisation Working Group produced a document entitled ‘Model Code of Conduct for the Protection of Academic Freedom and the Academic Community in the Context of the Internationalisation of the UK Higher Education Sector. Whilst recognising the difficulties inherent in defining academic freedom satisfactorily, this group emphasise the following freedoms, drawing upon the 1988, 1997 and 2017 provisions:

  • teach, discuss, assess, define the curriculum and study within their areas of academic expertise and/or inquiry;
  • promote and engage in academic thinking, debate and inquiry;
  • carry out research, and publish the results and make them known;
  • freely express opinions about the academic institution or system in which they work or study;
  • participate in professional or representative academic bodies;
  • not be censored; and,
  • fulfil their functions without discrimination or fear of repression.

These should not supplant the earlier definitions, but can be combined with them to demonstrate the priorities, and this provides a good basis for formulating working definitions.

Finally, the 2021 Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) bill (based on the white paper ‘Higher Education: Free Speech and Academic Freedom‘) from the UK Department of Education, still going through Parliament, lists the following duties for Higher Education Providers (HEPs):

A1 Duty to take steps to secure freedom of speech

(1) The governing body of a registered higher education provider must take the steps that, having particular regard to the importance of freedom of speech, are reasonably practicable for it to take in order to achieve the objective in subsection (2).

(2) That objective is securing freedom of speech within the law for—
(a) staff of the provider,
(b) members of the provider,
(c) students of the provider, and
(d) visiting speakers.

(3) The objective in subsection (2) includes securing that—
(a) the use of any premises of the provider is not denied to any individual or body on grounds specified in subsection (4), and

(b) the terms on which such premises are provided are not to any extent based on such grounds.

(4) The grounds referred to in subsection (3)(a) and (b) are—
(a) in relation to an individual, their ideas, beliefs or views;
(b) in relation to a body, its policy or objectives or the ideas, beliefs or views of any of its members.

(5) The objective in subsection (2), so far as relating to academic staff, includes securing their academic freedom.

(6) In this Part, “academic freedom”, in relation to academic staff at a registered higher education provider, means their freedom within the law—
(a) to question and test received wisdom, and
(b) to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves at risk of being adversely affected in any of the ways described in subsection (7).

(7) Those ways are—
(a) loss of their jobs or privileges at the provider;
(b) the likelihood of their securing promotion or different jobs at the provider being reduced.

(8) The governing body of a registered higher education provider must take the steps that, having particular regard to the importance of freedom of speech, are reasonably practicable for it to take in order to achieve the objective in subsection (9).

(9) That objective is securing that, where a person applies to become a member of academic staff of the provider, the person is not adversely affected in relation to the application because they have exercised their freedom within the law to do the things referred to in subsection (6)(a) and (b).

(10) In order to achieve the objective in subsection (2), the governing body of a registered higher education provider must secure that, apart from in exceptional circumstances, use of its premises by any individual or body is not on terms that require the individual or body to bear some or all of the costs of security relating to their use of the premises.

(11) In this Part—
references to freedom of speech include the freedom to express ideas, beliefs and views without suffering adverse consequences;
“registered higher education provider” and “governing body”, in relation to such a provider, have the same meanings as in Part 1 of this Act


A3 Duty to promote the importance of freedom of speech and academic freedom

The governing body of a registered higher education provider must promote the importance of—
(a) freedom of speech within the law, and
(b) academic freedom for academic staff of registered higher education providers and their constituent institutions,
in the provision of higher education.

The bill goes on to list responsibilities for students unions, governing bodies and the Office for Students in these respects and in particular the creation of a Director of Freedom of Speech and Academic Freedom to monitor that such commitments on the part of HEPs are upheld.

While the bill is certainly not without problems, and may undergo further amendment before becoming law, I do believe overall it is a step forward. Those on the left who are committed to free speech and academic freedom should be prepared to concede some value in a piece of legislation introduced by a Conservative government.

Risks to Academic Freedom

In my own field of music/musicology, various recent events have highlighted issues of academic freedom. One is the affair known as ‘Schenkergate’, relating to the publication of a special issue of The Journal of Schenkerian Studies in 2020 in reference to the article by Philip A. Ewell, ‘Music Theory and the White Racial Frame’, Music Theory, vol. 26, no. 2 (September 2020). The controversy related in particular to an article by Schenker scholar Dr Timothy Jackson, making arguments about the prevalence of anti-semitism amongst African-Americans, and also arguing that the lack of involvement of African-Americans in music theory had much to do with the low incidence of classical music in the common upbringing of members of this community. Jackson found himself removed from the editorship of the journal as a result. He contested this in court and a Judge determined that this may violate his First Amendment rights. Prior to this, Jackson responded with an article for Quillette (‘The Schenker Controversy’, 20 December 2021) arguing for many fallacies in Ewell’s argument and reasoning.

The second affair was the resignation from a chair in musicology at Royal Holloway in the summer of 2021 of Professor J.P.E. Harper-Scott (who I will refer to as ‘Paul’, as that is how all who know him address him), about which I blogged earlier. Paul published an article online about his reasons for leaving academia, which included the following:

Without direct experience of academics until I went (as the first of my family) to university, I naively imagined them to be how they were presented in novels and TV programmes: sometimes quite bumbling and unworldly, but always committed to the pursuit of truth, never trusting in a commonplace ‘fact’ without subjecting it to the most serious sceptical scrutiny. This did not turn out to be true.

[…] It is a place filled with generally quite well-meaning people, but on the whole not with brave people, not people who are willing to follow the truth wherever it leads. 

[….] I would put the problem in this (Kantian) way: I wrongly supposed that universities would be critical places, but they are becoming increasingly dogmatic. 

This was followed by an example of a statement on the need to ‘decolonise’ the classical musical canon (on which subject I published an article in The Critic in July of this year), which was an example of what Harper-Scott deemed dogmatic, with a suggested alternative which he felt was more in the spirit of critical scholarly inquiry.

I share many of Paul’s concerns, and am also concerned with the trajectory of events relating to Schenkergate. But these relate to what I perceive as a range of factors which serve to limit and condition academic freedom in academia. So I offer the following list of these, some of which would concern those on the left, some those on the right, but all of which I think should concern anyone for whom academic freedom, defined more or less in the ways above, is a defining aspect of a university.

External Pressures from Industries and Institutions

I wrote more extensively about this subject in earlier blog posts here and here, but wish to emphasise (in line with the arguments in the later blog post), that in no sense should this be taken to imply that I oppose external engagement. I am referring to the situation whereby academics enter into partnerships with external institutions and bodies, which may be commercial, state-supported or partially state-supported. These partnerships may relate to research, teaching or both. In particular, I have in mind the situation in which the external institutions provide some financial support for these activities. If there is no such thing as a free lunch, there may also be no such thing as a free teaching or research grant. For such institutions to ask that their finance or other support entail concentration on certain areas is fair and to be expected. But what if the results are not necessarily what the external body wishes to hear?

The point may be made most clearly through reference to wider examples. Suppose that some major manufacturing corporation sponsors some research into the effects of particular types of manufacturing upon the environment. Perhaps the researchers in question may find their work leads them to the inexorable conclusion that this specific corporation are responsible for a range of environmentally damaging actions in the course of their regular activities, contrary to their own promotional material which argues that they are an environmentally-friendly corporation, also drawing attention to the fact that they sponsor this research in order to bolster such a thing. If the researchers felt under pressure to artificially modify or not publish their findings, for fear of not upsetting the corporation, this would in my view severely compromise academic freedom and integrity.

There needs to be some commonly agreed set of principles which become a basic prerequisite for academics entering into some partnership with an external institution, whereby they are free to follow where their research leads them without fear of the institution blocking their access or terminating the partnership prematurely, and also so that future partnerships will not discriminate against those who may have written critically about the institution in the past.

The Complex Relationship between Research and External Practice

This relates to concerns explored in some depth in the conference on ‘Writing on Contemporary Artists’ at the University of Surrey in 2017, organised by Christopher Wiley and myself, and features both in the 2020 Palgrave Macmillan, volume we edited, Researching and Writing on Contemporary Art and Artists: Challenges, Practices and Complexities, while in a specifically musical context will feature in our forthcoming Routledge volume Writing about Contemporary Musicians: Promotion, Advocacy, Disinterest, Censure. This subject is also discussed at more length in the two earlier blog posts linked to in the previous section.

What happens when academics are dealing with living or recently living practitioners or their estates – writers, composers, artists, directors of institutions, critics, promoters, and so on? Or if they have strong external connections with some of these people beyond academia? How free can they feel to write and research these independently, at least considering perspectives on them and their work which may not necessarily coincide with their own self-presentation, that of their publishers, and so on?

Is the role of academics to be ‘advocates’ for these figures, or is it the case, as I believe, that a too-strong application of this principle (as opposed to simply researching things to which one is sympathetic, which is a different matter) can easily result in hagiographic treatment? How do academics maintain critical independence without the fear of being frozen out of some of these people’s circles, their materials, and so on (a situation I know various scholars have experienced)? I have certainly felt the pressure when writing about a range of living composers whose work I also play, and to some extent upon whom I rely upon for some good favour, writing new works for me, recommending me to festivals to play their work, and so on. I am still unsure about the feasibility of reconciling this with being a critical scholar.

One of the factors afflicting a fair amount of writing on new music, in my view, is a failure to consider this. As I have written about in the case of various such writings, a position of defensive advocacy, coupled to attempts to pathologise any who disagree with a 100% favourable view, leads to something more akin to promotional material than more sober scholarly work.

There are of course also plenty of practitioners themselves active within academic arts departments. Whilst some are engaged in the type of more dispassionate scholarship characteristic of the humanities – and I would like to count myself in that category – in other cases the work is of a different nature, framing practice in terms of research questions and context, with the use of verbal material essentially to articulate the ways in which it qualifies ‘as research’. Artistic practitioners frequently have external careers, working in an alternative economy in which critical thinking is by no means necessarily respected or admired. Sometimes simply saying the right thing to the right people, those in positions of power able to do favours, and not questioning all sorts of dominant ideologies operative in these circles, is a much better bet than asking more difficult questions. This can lead to a situation which I conceive as ‘two cultures’ of scholars and practitioners in terms of the attitude and approaches they take.

These issues do, for sure, also apply to those who, as I do, seek to write in non-academic arenas about the arts (or other disciplines), for various reasons, not least because of the differing role that value judgement might play therein. But I think it is possible to differentiate between academic and other writing and not confuse the two. It is less clear where the distinction lies with non-written forms of practice.

Top-down demands by institutions.

In any institutions with a degree of central control of teaching and research, individual academics may find themselves in conflict with the explicit demands or requirements of their department, school, or whole university. Some may try to specify the contents of curricula, or require academics to fashion teaching in general towards generalised criteria of employability. In other cases, support and internal funding for research may rely upon its falling within certain areas, which may be fair enough, but could also require the employment of certain methods which themselves might be more likely to produce certain types of results. These factors might affect the extent, for example, to which teaching can realistically focus on critical perspectives upon the industries or institutions for which students might be looking to work, to link to the first point.

Elsewhere, policies relating to diversity or ‘decolonisation’ might dictate choices or approaches to their teaching, at worst precluding critical treatment of certain types of subjects, and conversely requiring only negative or pejorative attitudes towards others. It is notable in my experience that some who are ferociously defensive of their independence in other contexts can also be supportive of top-down policies in these respects.

But I believe it is important to maintain independence right down to singular academics when it comes to precisely how they conduct their teaching and research. It is fair that departments need to require that certain things are taught as part of a programme, and that certain knowledge and skills are imparted, but the approach to so doing should be left to the individual academic as far as possible. In this respect I have a lot of sympathy with the 2021 Higher Education Bill.

This said, as I will argue in next week’s THES, I do believe that there is a requirement for provision of certain core subjects to a recognised level in all regionalities of the country (not least to facilitate ‘commuter students’, not wishing to incur huge amounts of debt through moving away from home to study), and in this article will advocate some type of tertiary ‘national curriculum’, a more rigorous form of the types of subject benchmarks previously provided by the QAA. Nonetheless, it should still be possible to maintain freedom of individual academics within a framework of encouraging pluralistic perspectives and debate.

Departmental ‘branding’

Different academics, sometimes of very different or opposing views, work together in departments. A further concern in terms of academic freedom has to do with pressures to conform with prevailing orthodoxies within a department, not questioning these or colleagues who propagate them, so as to maintain a consistent ‘brand’ for a department which is competing with others for students.

Sometimes the term employed here to put pressures on individual academics is ‘collegiality’, understood as working within a set of parameters, not markedly questioning them in ways which are incompatible with a group view. But this is not consistent with what I think is a decent definition provided in the UNESCO 1997 document:

UNESCO 1997, VI. 32: The principles of collegiality include academic freedom, shared responsibility,  the  policy of participation of all concerned in internal decision making structures and practices, and the development of consultative mechanisms. Collegial decision-making should encompass decisions regarding the administration and determination of policies of higher education, curricula, research, extension work, the allocation of resources and other related activities, in order to improve academic excellence and quality for the benefit of society at large.

All of this is entirely compatible with permitting academics to work without feeling pressure to conform or fashion their work in line with some ‘majority view’ in their department, and I think this is also essential.

Need to concentrate work in particular fields.

Securing academic jobs depends a good deal on one’s particular field and the job opportunities available. In the UK, fewer than 20% of students take traditional BMus or BA courses with a humanities approach which includes historical, analytical, critical and other types of musicology. The remainder take courses in musical theatre, music technology, popular music to a lesser extent, and certain types of musical performance, all of which are primarily vocationally oriented. As a result, the openings for historical musicologists (especially those working on early music), music analysts, and indeed ethnomusicologists working on the non-Western world are limited. Even those already holding university positions can come under pressure to shift in certain directions in light of changing provision, and some have encountered redundancies as a result. To link to a point made earlier, in some contexts a more critical view of the music industry, compared to some presentations of it as a model of diversity and inclusivity, may create problems for the individual academics if they are seeking work in institutions wedded to such a view.

Here I would look back to the Humboldt model and make what now seems a radical suggestion, which is that appointments should be administered centrally by the state rather than individual institutions, so as to ensure a fair distribution and representation of plural areas of teaching and research. Individual departments may recruit ‘in their own image’, and this can have the effect of shutting out openings for academics who once again do not fit with the dominant ‘brand’.

Social Justice

Here I have in mind the view put forward by William Cheng, in his 2016 book Just Vibrations, which has received positive endorsement from a range of leading musicologists (see for example here and here), though others have written very critically about this (see also here). Cheng is dismissive of academic freedom and even of ‘the belief that academics have a right to pursue their work free from political pressures and without fear of termination’. In place of this he advocates a musicology which he says ‘upholds interpersonal care as a core feature’. This is hardly compatible with Cheng’s own dismissive remarks about other musicologists and musicology, but is part of a certain view, usually linked to the term ‘social justice’, seemingly innocuous, but which in reality requires that researchers comply with an unyielding political agenda and fashion their work towards this. A recent position advertised at the University of Southampton Music Department which included ‘social justice’ in the job title. I do not see the difference between this and advertising a position in ‘Music and Support for Jeremy Corbyn’, ‘Musicology and Brexit Advocacy’, and so on – it appears entirely unreasonable and a constraint on academic freedom to specify a specific political outlook in a job description, and this should be investigated in terms of employment law. The view of Cheng and others reminds me strongly of the dictates in various undemocratic countries, in which academics and artists found themselves under strong pressure to propagate particular political ideologies, or find themselves facing censure, termination or worse. This should be utterly unacceptable to anyone concerned about academic freedom.


A new study conducted by the Higher Education Policy Institute (Nick Hillman, ‘“You can’t say that!” What students really think of free speech on campus’ (June 2022)) suggests that very significant numbers of UK students prioritise what they regard as demands for safety and protection from discrimination over free speech, wish to place issues such as sexism and racism outside of the boundaries of legitimate debate, would limit expression of views which offend certain religious groups, and so on.

We hear in many places about the vital role of students as ‘consumers’ who make the activities of universities possible, definitively placing teaching rather than research at the centre of their activities. The pressure on institutions to respond to demands from these ‘consumers’ can be intense, and it is by no means guaranteed that they will always act to protect the freedoms of academics in the face of student pressure.

Here I think we do need statutory measures implemented and enforced by the state, and also welcome some of the proposals in the 2021 act for this reason. For students to be able to hound out academics because they do not like some of what they have to say (as opposed to illegal activity or other things which transgress the inevitable constraints on free speech which need to be enforced by law) is to produce a culture more reminiscent of Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution.

While formal disciplinary mechanisms precluding academic freedom in the Western world may not be that extensive, there are other pressures which can lead to self-censorship. These include increasingly precarious employment. In the UK there is no tenure system, and – as we are witnessing in other areas of the arts and humanities at present – academics can find themselves dispensable.

Some on the left often advocate for silencing of those they deem racist, transphobic, etc., but are highly defensive when others are accused of anti-semitism (or when those associated with genderist politics are accused of misogyny). Some on the right focus on anti-semitism (which ought to be an issue for those of all political persuasions) or advocacy of views they associate with terrorism, but are more defensive with respect to other things. I believe that only in very blatant and explicit cases should any of these be used as a justification for limiting academic freedom. Anti-Zionists and gender-critical feminists should not feel that their view is illegitimate in academia.

Critical subjects should remain a presence in all universities. All academics must be free to follow where their research and convictions take them, even if their conclusions are not what their institutions, external partners, or colleagues want to hear. To fashion one’s work according to the demands of any of these is another fundamental betrayal of academic freedom.

Musical Internationalism in Nazi Germany – table of events

[This full post will appear in March 2023].

Reflections on Richard Taruskin and Performance – statement given at Performance Studies Conference, 2 July 2022

During the 2022 conference of the Performance Studies Network, which took place at the University of Surrey from 30 June to 3 July, the news was received of the sad death of musicologist Richard Taruskin (2 April 1945 – 1 July 2022). His writings on performance, especially those collected in the volume Text and Act, have been hugely influential. With this in mind, I had the idea of assembling an impromptu roundtable of scholars present at the conference with an interest in him and his work. This roundtable, which I chaired, took place on the afternoon of Saturday 2 July, featuring Claire Fedoruk, Anthony Gritten, Julian Hellaby, George Kennaway, Lina Navickaite-Martinelli, John Rink and Eva Moreda Rodriguez. It ranged in scope from personal memories and anecdotes, through details of first encounters with his work, to wider scholarly critiques, but also generated a remarkable amount of consensus. The organisers of the conference hope at some point soon to assemble version of the various statements given on the conference website. For now, I am posting here my introductory overview of Taruskin’s life and work, and then my own statement for the roundtable, both with just minor edits and corrections.

Personally, despite many major differences with Taruskin on a range of things, his work was deeply important for me and also for teaching purposes. I only met him once, at the Ultima Festival in Oslo in 2015, where I was performing and he was delivering a lecture. This meeting was very cordial; we also corresponded a little by e-mail, not least in the last months of his life. This correspondence could be both cordial and uncordial! But I would always continue to read every new article or book from him.

The following is my overview of Richard Taruskin’s life and work:

Richard Taruskin was born in New York on 2 April 1945. He grew up in a moderately musical household; his mother taught violin and his father played the piano at an amateur level. He studied cello growing up and went to study at Columbia University in 1965 where he continued from Bachelor’s to Doctoral level, receiving a PhD in historical musicology in 1976, working with musicologist Paul Henry Lang. That he was part of a ‘sixties generation’, a student during that period, is something often overlooked, but I think is significant in terms of various iconoclastic aspects of his subsequent thought and work. He taught at Columbia until 1987, when he was appointed Professor of Music at University of California, Berkeley, where he remained for the rest of his life, eventually becoming Emeritus Professor.

In the earlier stage of his career Taruskin was also active first as a choral conductor, overseeing the Columbia University Collegium Musicum, and making recordings with them and Cappella Nova, such as those of Ockeghem and Byrd. He was also a viola da gamba player and toured as a soloist with Aulos Ensemble through to the late 1980s. As such, he was deeply involved in the early music world, of which he would become one of the leading critics.

Taruskin’s first book was Opera and Drama in Russia: As Preached and Practied in the 1860s (1981), establishing a scholarly basis for this body of work which was then relatively obscure to Anglophone musicians and scholars. His work on Russian music in general, which spanned several centuries of work, would be extended in his collection Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue (1992), his mammoth two-volume study of Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions (1996), the important volume of essays Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays (1997), and two later collections of journalistic and academic essays, On Russian Music (2009) and Russian Music at Home and Abroad (2016). He was a prominent protagonist in scholarly debates on such issues as the nature of Chaikovsky’s death, or the veracity of Solomon Volkov’s memoir of Shostakovich, Testimony.

Taruskin was also a journalist and ‘public musicologist’, writing regularly in particularly for The New York Times. Both in this capacity and also as a contributor to scholarly fora, Taruskin wrote regularly on performance and issues relating in particular to historically-informed performance (or ‘authentic performance’ or ‘period performance’, to use two terms now rather out of fashion but still common at the time Taruskin was writing). He was sharply critical of some of the work in this realm, in both musical and methodological terms, with a special focus on the work done by British performers and ensembles, not least Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music. One of his key essays on this subject, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’, was collected in an 1988 symposium edited by Nicholas Kenyon, Authenticity and Early Music, and then in 1995 Taruskin collected all his major writings on the subject in a collection entitled Text and Act. Amongst his key arguments were those relating to the fragmentary, ambiguous, contradictory and inconclusive nature of documentary evidence into historical performance, and perhaps most significantly he created a range of dualisms, such as between ‘vitalist’ and ‘geometric’ performance, concluding from this that many supposedly ‘historical’ approaches actually represented modernist aesthetics, especially those associated with the Neue Sachlichkeit and the neo-classical Stravinsky.

Taruskin continued to be a prominent public intellectual throughout his career, generating much attention through wider op-eds and pronouncements on music in public fora, such as his support for the cancellation of a performance of John Adams’ opera The Death of Klinghoffer in 2001, following the attacks of 9/11.

His major later work was undoubtedly the mammoth sole-authored six-volume The Oxford History of Western Music, first published in 2005, when Taruskin was 60. A hugely comprehensive but also highly contentious work, which overhauled all sorts of previous practices for history writing, Taruskin claimed a new dispassion and objectivity for his enterprise, in contrast to earlier writers. I am sure various people will have a variety of views on this type of claim.

For the rest of his life and career, Taruskin’s work was mostly occupied with some new essays and assembling new collections of others, in the volumes The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays, (2008), and Cursed Question: On Music and its Social Practices (2020). Amongst these were a notorious review-article of Cambridge Histories of Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Music, ‘Speed Bumps’ (2005) which led to a quite exasperated response by Nicholas Cook. Another important article was ‘The Musical Mystique’ (2007), a review-article of books by Julian Johnson, Joshua Fineberg and Lawrence Kramer all considering the place of classical music today, with quite ferocious critiques of some of these. He was also of course a highly regular conference attendee and guaranteed to enliven proceedings.

The following is the statement I delivered at the roundtable.

I have found myself led towards engagement with Taruskin’s work of various types throughout my own career as performer and musicologist. His work on performance is obviously relevant to me as a scholar of historically-informed performance and performance studies, but also as one whose research has much to do with twentieth-century Germany, in light of Taruskin’s views on that region and its music. Also, when working on issues to do with the historiography of music, I could not fail to engage with Taruskin’s thoughts on that, and the ways in which they inform the Oxford History, not least in terms of new music and its place both in repertoire and music history and pedagogy. But I can say that his models and approaches for nineteenth- and twentieth century music history have had a profound impact on how I write and teach about it. Without them, I would not have had the same inspiration towards teaching a core music history module which tried to move away from technocratic and teleological approaches, focused above all on advances in compositional technique, towards broader approaches which do not overly privilege this line of development and attempt to give equal consideration to musical developments in terms of their social and political context, though in a less didactic fashion than Taruskin. Also, as one who teaches much about nineteenth-century music, not least opera, Taruskin’s writings on that area are regular set readings for my students.

But I want to focus on Taruskin’s thoughts on performance, the bulk of which are contained within Text and Act. He did occasionally return to the subject in some later essays, amongst the most interesting of which I would suggest is ‘Of Kings and Divas’ (1993), collected in The Danger of Music, a review-article of a range of recordings of French baroque music. But to the best of my knowledge Taruskin never wrote or spoke at length about later developments in the fields of performance studies, including the relationship between analysis and performance, ethnomusicological approaches, practice-research and Artistic Research, or the various work emerging from the research clusters in the UK CHARM and CMPCP, especially relating to the study of early recordings. Certainly Taruskin did write on early recordings earlier in his career, but not when the study of them had become a much more extensively developed field of scholarship. The heart of his work on performance has to do with historically-informed performance, the culture of early music, and the ways in which these came to encroach upon the performance of a good deal of mainstream repertoire.

One thing which is striking upon returning to Taruskin on performance, with knowledge of his later writings, is his at least partial advocacy of Adorno’s view (though Adorno was writing in a different time and context), and how strongly his critique of HIP is explicitly related to its anti-German tendencies. He only appears to have engaged with Adorno’s views as found in the essay ‘Bach Defended Against His Devotees’ (1951), not the Theory of Musical Reproduction, which was not available in either German or English at the time of most of Taruskin’s writings on performance.

I do not believe it would be unfair to say that Taruskin held frequently negative views about many things British. His writings on the historically-informed performance movement frequently dealt with the work of the likes of Christopher Hogwood, Roger Norrington, Trevor Pinnock, John Eliot Gardiner and their associated ensembles. He did also, for sure, consider some Austrian, German, Belgian and Dutch early music protagonists, most notably in a piece on the Harnoncourt-Leonhardt series of Bach Cantatas (‘Facing Up, Finally, to Bach’s Dark Vision’ (1991), reproduced in Text and Act), but these were generally treated as the periphery with the British scene as the centre. Taruskin also had little to say about the later growth of HIP elsewhere, especially France (except for in the essay I mentioned before) and Italy.

Yet I believe that the Austrian, Belgian and Dutch early music performance scenes were a central component of the wider international scene for as long as the British, even if some of the associated writings were less familiar to British and American scholars, as few were translated for a long time.

Taruskin’s views on German matters in this context were less wide-reaching; I am not aware of his considering in depth the problematic status of medieval music in Germany after 1945 following its appropriation by parts of the youth movement in the Third Reich. While various movements there which were already active in the 1920s, in regional centres such as Munich, Cologne and Freiburg, continued after 1945 to a limited extent, the growth of many a new Studio für alte Musik went alongside a similar Studio für neue Musik, as a means of resituating a realm of musical activity in a context which, rightly or wrongly, was for a period associated with opposition to fascism. But it is also surely no coincidence that one of the most important German groups for medieval music to be founded in the early post-war era, the Studio der frühen Musik in Munich, was led not by a German but an American, Thomas Binkley.

Taruskin did certainly engage with some aspects of a historically-informed performance and early music movement prior to around the 1960s, but in a fragmentary manner. In this he was no different to plenty of other scholars, but the appearance of Harry Haskell’s The Early Music Revival: A History in 1988 demonstrated the breadth and depth of a movement which can be traced back well into the nineteenth-century. Since Haskell, there has been a wide range of important wider scholarship – such as Katharine Ellis’s work on early music in France in the nineteenth century, Celia Applegate’s study of Mendelssohn and the Bach Revival, James Garratt on the German Palestrina Revival, William Weber’s study of concert programming, or various studies of individual musicians who contributed to revivals of earlier repertoire and performing styles. All of this could contribute to a new comprehensive history to succeed Haskell’s, which would I believe place the questions which Taruskin raises in a more nuanced context.

At the heart of Taruskin’s arguments are the conviction that historicist approaches are part of a modernist project, which he sets in opposition to earlier tendencies. But I believe this argument is founded upon too homogeneous a view of earlier traditions. Taruskin was without question aware of the extent to which Germanic constructions of musical subjectivity had more limited application in other regions in the nineteenth century, but was not prepared to go the extra mile and consider that some of what he constructs as ‘modern’ or ‘neo-classical’ might have deeper historical roots. That Chaikovsky’s neo-classicism might in some ways resemble Stravinsky’s is something I would not have imagined Taruskin denying, but he could have done more to draw the implications of this for a historical model.

Taruskin’s work on performance has certainly had its critics, or those who have presented alternative views. John Butt, in his book Playing with History (2003), offers a quite witty response to Taruskin’s self-presentation as a champion of consumers’ rights as against the ideals of historically-informed performers. Butt conflates this position with an advocacy of market forces, which is not strictly accurate. But nonetheless, he notes that in purely consumer terms, Taruskin’s arguments do not necessarily hold up – as he puts it ‘someone must have bought all those records’ (of Christopher Hogwood). Other important responses to the gauntlets laid down by Taruskin include those of Peter Walls, in his History, Imagination and the Performance of Music (2003), or Bruce Haynes, in his The End of Early Music (2007), which shares some of Taruskin’s view of ‘modernist’ performance. This is presented in an over-homogenised manner, in my opinion, by Haynes, as also by Nicholas Cook and Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, but this view has been challenged by some of the work of Dorottya Fabian. Haynes however creates a tripartite formulation of ‘romantic’, ‘modern’ and ‘period’ styles, the contrast between the second and third of which is at odds with Taruskin’s model. Nick Wilson, in his The Art of Re-Enchantment: Making Early Music in the Modern Age (2013), presents a quite different picture of the early music subculture than that at least implied by Taruskin. More recently Stefan Knapik, in a chapter in The Routledge Research Companion to Modernism in Music (2018) dealing with violin playing has shown how problematic are Taruskin’s dualisms, on the basis of wider reading of treatises.

I would say that Taruskin’s model is both British-centered and also centered upon a particular state of play which existed in the 1970s and 1980s, which is not unnatural as some of his first writings date from this time. We certainly know a good deal more now about ‘modernist’ performance from the early twentieth century, but Taruskin was definitely onto something by making the link with Stravinsky, Hindemith and other early twentieth-century figures, including José Ortega y Gassett or Ezra Pound, not primarily associated with music (referencing Pound’s interest in Arnold Dolmetsch and the particular culture around him and his work). That these and others such as Alfredo Casella, Gian Francesco Malipiero or Carl Orff were very significant in terms of the revival of some Renaissance and Baroque music is clearly documented. Hindemith, amazingly listed by ethnomusicologist Henry Kingsbury as an example of a composer who did not also perform, was not only a leading viola player involved in premieres of works from Webern to Walton, but also a prime moving force in the development of early music at Yale University after his relocation to the United States.

What is described most harshly as the ‘sewing machine’ style of baroque performance in mid-century grew out of some of the objectivist ideals of these composers and their interactions with the interwar early music scene. Adorno’s notorious essay was a response to this, and entirely in line with his own antipathy towards Stravinsky and Hindemith. But performance styles did change, and in some ways the branch of historically-informed performance which developed from this point was in some ways a reaction against this, seeking more nuanced and stylistically aware approaches through excavation of historical data. Taruskin’s all-purpose ‘modernist’ model takes too little account of these changing tendencies. There was of course also the radical shift in the 1970s away from the more ‘counter-cultural’ approach to early music associated with Binkley’s group in Munich, The Early Music Consort of London, and the Clemencic Consort towards the more austere a cappella approach pioneered by British groups in the 1970s, of which Christopher Page was the most eloquent spokesperson. Taruskin considers Page’s work in one essay, ‘High, Sweet, and Loud’ (1987) (reproduced in Text and Act), but does not really filter this shift into his wider arguments. All of these things point to the fact that the early music movement has been – and continues to be – a diffuse and diverse movement. Occasionally Taruskin acknowledges this, as in his contrasting of the ‘crooked’ work of Reinhard Goebel and Musica Antiqua Köln with some of their more ‘straight’ British counterparts, but does not draw the wider implications that would have been possible from a wider and more generous perspective.

What would have strengthened Taruskin’s arguments is the considerable cross-fertilisation between the early and new music worlds in the Netherlands in the 1960s, with common cause found between the likes of conductor and recorder/flute player Franz Brüggen, and the new generation involving individuals such as Louis Andriessen, Reinbert de Leeuw and Misha Mengelberg. All were united in antipathy to what they perceived as a conservative Dutch musical scene with pronounced Germanic elements, and espousing an objectivist style, in part influenced by American jazz and wider aspects of an idealised view of Americana, not dissimilar to the view of the Neue Sachlichkeit and others associated with Amerikanismus in Germany in the 1920s. In this Dutch context we absolutely see a commonality of purpose between those in early and new music, though married to a particular far left politics which I doubt Taruskin would have shared. To be fair, though, much of the information on this period in musical history was little known other than to Dutch specialists until recent work such as that of Robert Adlington, not available at the time Taruskin was writing. But it could fruitfully feed into reevaluations of Taruskin’s arguments.

Part of the problem is Taruskin’s tendency to employ a monolithic view of ‘modernism’, which he knew as well as anyone constituted a heterogenous body of music and aesthetic thought. But the tendency to employ an all-purpose conception of ‘modernism’ as a rhetorical strategy for dismissing musical work, in the process knowing the populist implications of so doing, was a shame. Few now would surely deny that Stravinsky and Schoenberg represented very different musical tendencies, and charged debates between factions associated with either have informed musical discourse since the mid-1920s. But Taruskin was not above associating one with ‘modernism’ and then using this as a stick to beat the other.

Taruskin’s views on many things German, which could translate into blanket remarks about European culture and thought, could have a waspish and xenophobic tint to them (which he would have been the first to condemn if applied to other regions or peoples), akin to the thought of Brexiteers and American neo-conservatives, especially in his later work. For one so unafraid to speak harshly of others, sometimes in ways I believe were ad hominem, Taruskin would cry foul if others did the same. In one article, he presented four of us, J.P.E. Harper-Scott, Christopher Fox, Franklin Cox and myself (all except Cox British), as his arch-opponents, almost as if part of a conspiracy. But I do believe the critiques of all of these were fundamentally about Taruskin’s work. My view may be more generous than some of the others, especially Harper-Scott, though I concur with some aspects of the latter’s critique, especially of Taruskin’s sometimes quite fanatical anti-German pronouncements, such as in ‘Speed Bumps’.

Taruskin’s knowledge of and interest in new music was, by many accounts of those who spoke to him about it at length, considerably more rich and nuanced than one would necessarily discern from some of his writings. He took, for example, a great interest in the work of Belgian pianist and musicologist Luk Vaes in the work of Mauricio Kagel. I regret that he did not write more from this perspective, though can see how it might have seemed uncharacteristic in the context of the wider views he frequently expressed.

Taruskin had a striking ability to identify the fundamental issues at stake in many scholarly and other musical debates without obfuscation. As a result his writing can be very direct and clearly expressed. Furthermore, he did not shy from viewing music in social, historical and political context, including specifically in relation to its meanings today. He was not one simply to take the views of composers or performers at face value, and recognised musicians’ self-fashioning immediately. All of this, from when I first encountered his work, was a breath of fresh air in the context of what I found, and still find in some ways, a rather stultified musical and academic culture in the UK, in which so much depends upon saying the right things to the right people with power rather than entering into more trenchant debate on the basis of conviction, with passive-aggressive demands to conform to prevailing group-think, and where short-term demands of pleasing others can supersede quests for truth.

As time went on and I became more familiar with his work, I came to realise that Taruskin was not however someone with whose work I would associate a balanced examination of evidence and a measured conclusion. The very possibility of moderate conclusions also appeared to elude him. Both of these things are very significant flaws in a scholar, I believe, but also characteristic of a polarised scholarly world. Taruskin was highly critical of others for drawing wide conclusions from fragmentary information, but was far from averse from doing the same himself to ram home points. An example would be his arguments about tempo flexibility in Beethoven Symphonies (in ‘Resisting the Ninth’ (1988-89), in Text and Act), which depend heavily on the account by Anton Schindler, with just token recognition of the various information which points to the unreliability of Schindler as a source. I would contrast this with the thorough examination of the conflicting accounts of Beethoven by Schindler and Carl Czerny in George Barth’s book The Pianist as Orator (1992), which also arrives at a conclusion that some of what Schindler claimed may be correct, but Barth does so on far stronger scholarly grounds.

Nonetheless, I believe Taruskin was a very worthy opponent and without doubt a tremendously significant figure in the landscape of musicology, from whom I will greatly miss the possibility of reading new writings.

The departure from academia of a brilliant scholar unafraid to critique the relationship of culture to capital

No photo description available.
Paul and I at the Hartlepool Headland, Xmas 2019. Also accompanied by Emily Tan and Lindsay Edkins, not in the picture!

For several months, various friends have known about the upcoming departure of Professor J.P.E. Harper-Scott from academia, at the age of 43, to take up a job in the Civil Service. To friends he is Paul, and I will refer to him as that from this point, as I am mourning the loss to the profession not only of a brilliant scholar, but also a close personal friend.

Paul published a ‘farewell blog post’, which has been widely shared on social media. In this, without engaging in any targeted critiques of individual scholars or groups, he identified the heart of the problem with which he no longer wanted to be continuously embroiled: an approach to scholarship which preaches dogma and allows for no dissent from orthodoxies, in drastic opposition to the spirit of critical thought which was what drew him to academia in the first place. He exemplified this with a stark statement (an imaginary one, but definitely of a type with which many will be familiar) about how, on account of the interactions between nineteenth-century music and imperial societies, ‘The classical music canon must be decolonised’ (my emphasis). He followed this with a considerably more nuanced view compared to this dogmatic utterance. Then he noted the necessary consequence which would likely be drawn of the dogmatic statement: that music departments stop teaching Beethoven and Wagner, rather than the alternative he suggests by which such music can be used as a means of understanding more about the social contexts from which they emerged. Then he went on to describe his own sense of joy and liberation upon discovering a lot of such music, coming from a background in which it played almost no part. There was a real sense of sadness in the portrayal of a situation in many quarters in which anyone who dissents from this type of ideology is subject to personalised attacks, shaming, no-platforming, and attempts to have them removed from their posts, and how the dogmatic approach mirrors that found in media, politics and business. This was not a world in which he any longer wished to operate.

At first, Paul’s blog post provoked a lot of expressions of sadness and regret, combined with various individuals imploring musicology to look at itself and how it has got to this state. I certainly recognise quite a bit of what he diagnoses, though some of this is more prominent in the US than the UK, and in the UK it is found in certain quarters much more than others. There is a pronounced divide within the UK sector between the ‘post-92’ institutions (former polytechnics before 1992) which in large measure (with a few exceptions) focus on more vocational teaching of Music Technology, Music Business, Musical Theatre, Popular Music Performance, and so on, and the Russell Group (the elite group of research-intensive institutions) in which there is a greater emphasis on a humanistic approach to the study of a wide historical range of music, ethnomusicology, critical academic study of music and its contexts, analysis, performance practice, and so on. Various institutions fall in neither of these groups, and often combine aspects of both approaches. Many of the Russell Group and mid-ranking institutions have taken on aspects of popular music (notoriously Oxford University’s recent introduction of a part-core module in Global Hip-Hop), music business, in some cases music technology, and so on, integrating these into wider curricula, but there has been less traffic in the other direction. Few outside of conservatoires would be able to complete their studies without at least facing some critical questions about the reasons for a canonical repertoire and especially the role of popular music and non-Western traditions relative to this, but many studying popular music can limit their focus exclusively to such music, usually overwhelmingly from the English-speaking world and from a relatively limited historical period, To engage with older historical popular traditions, or those around the world less deeply indebted to the Anglo-American model, is far more rare. Even within part of the sector, there are more than a few ethnomusicologists who heap down criticism on most things related to Western art musics, its traditions, and associated scholarship, often in deeply impugning, accusatory and denunciatory ways (there are some examples of this in this article, which can be found together with the companion piece ‘When Ethnography becomes Hagiography’ in this book) , but react with horror at even the slightest critique towards their own field. And, as for example expressed in relatively mild form in this exchange following a quite denunciatory radio talk by one professor on ‘Dead White Composers’, there are plenty in academia who will happily dismiss centuries of heterogenous traditions with a few tawdry adjectives (or, in many cases, claiming it to do little more than embody feudal, imperial, racist, misogynistic values – all true in some ways, and of other musics, but far from a nuanced picture) whilst making extravagantly liberatory or emancipatory claims for their own favoured popular musics.

But some of the responses on social media to Paul’s resignation post, including some from academics, exemplified a lot of what he was diagnosing. While a few respectfully questioned some of the arguments made and whether he represented the reality appropriately, others were extremely aggressive, personalised, espousing contempt bordering on hatred, righteous, while others flagrantly misrepresented what Paul’s article actually said, or attempted to undermine his words on ad hominem grounds. Others even claimed that the article caused ‘hurt’, and then felt obliged to denounce it and him as a result. There were no personalised attacks on anyone or any groups in the article, but this was not true of the responses, some of which seemed calculated to cause maximum hurt. This was the unedifying spectacle of a pile-on, and it was deeply disappointing to see some scholars, perhaps the types Paul had in mind when he spoke of those claimed to be ‘generally quite well-meaning’ but not ‘brave’, feel pressure to join in the mobbing.

Paul was clearly a brilliant scholar from the outset. His early work on Elgar (in Edward Elgar: Modernist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), drawing upon his PhD; Elgar: An Extraordinary Life (London: ABRSM, 2007); and the edited collection with Julian Rushton, Elgar Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)) made a very significant contribution to a wider body of scholarship drawing the concept of musical ‘modernism’ more broadly than hitherto and highlighting, with the aid of various analytical tools, the ways in which musical strategies, aesthetics, processes, structures and more left an indelible mark even on work not usually considered together with the most radical figures.

He became a full Professor at the relatively early age of his late 30s, and continued to be highly productive, having to his name by the time of leaving academia five sole-authored monographs, several edited volumes, and countless articles and book chapters (an unfinished book comparing neo-Riemannian analysis with Hugo Riemann’s own work will be completed by another scholar). He was also a highly respected, though far from uncritical, mentor to many junior scholars.

The most important aspect of his work, in my view, was his endless exploration of the relationship between music, musicology, and capital. In this he came from a position on the radical left, drawing upon Marxist models of capital, and was very critical of what he saw as much more casual work in which ‘capitalism’ is essentially viewed as synonymous with any system in which goods are bought and sold. Paul, by contrast, examined what he perceived as the ideological complicity of various strands of thinking fashioned as progressive, democratic, anti-elitist, etc., with the interests of capital. His position was made clear in the Preface to The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012):

But as well as critiquing scholarship on modernism in particular, the book constitutes a broader ideological critique of all manifestations of what could variously be termed postmodern, pluralist, or as Badiou would say democratic materialist musicology. I will therefore make a Leftist case for the possibility of an emancipatory politics that is diametrically opposed to the relativist–cultural sweep of (the bulk of: emphatically not all of) modern ethnomusicology, empirical musicology, musicology of pop music, and all other crypto-capitalist work on what are called musics, by showing how modernist music (on this new dialectical definition) helps to advance our most pressing present concern – to escape the horrors of the present by imagining the transformations of a coming society. (p. xiv)

The following passage indicates his type of argument at full flow:

[Richard] Taruskin’s second suggestion is that ‘cast[ing] aesthetic preferences as moral choices at the dawn of the twenty-first century is an obscenity’. Let us turn this on its head and insist instead that concealing the moral consequence of obfuscated xenophobic–capitalist aesthetic preferences at the start of the twenty-first century is an obscenity. What Taruskin is doing, of course, is to deny the emancipatory potential of classical music – not because he particularly disbelieves it, I expect (he wrote a five-volume history of it, after all) – but because it pleases him argumentatively to assault other musicologists. In parallel, he wants to say that popular classical music is more valuable – which is to say (as he does) more consumable – in the world of late capitalism. But this aesthetic decision in favour of the popular over the recondite has ethical consequences that Taruskin neither admits nor – as is clear from his gruff rejection of any possible link between aesthetic choice and ethical act – would acknowledge. But capitalism has subjects, subjects who are exploited, limited, have their life’s possibilities minutely circumscribed and controlled. Declaring in favour of the popular is fine as far as it goes, but doing so while denying any possibility of a truth-statement that exceeds the definition of the merely popular (that is, ideologically normative) with the intention of tearing apart the prevailing understanding of the situation – which for us today is global neoliberal capitalism – is simultaneously to declare in favour of the dictatorship of Capital, and the impossibility of its revolutionary destruction.

More extended such arguments can be found in the longer passage from this book, a link to which I posted earlier. In general, a good deal of his strongest critiques were directed at a particular Anglo-American ideological viewpoint, now common within musicology, which can loosely be associated with postmodernism, a position of high relativism which remains oblivious to the influence of capital. For myself, while I can no longer subscribe wholly to the type of Marxist thinking with which I once had some sympathies (and especially not the neo-Maoism of Alain Badiou), and believe the relationship between popular art and capital to be somewhat more complex, I do have other sympathies with various of his arguments from a social democratic perspective, one which rejects the untethered reign of market forces and the commodity principle as a fundamental measure of the value of everything, but believes in regulation, a strong public sector (including in the realms of education and culture), progressive taxation and public spending, and also which does not necessarily view the ‘state’ always as a malign and hegemonic force, but one which can equally act as a democratic check on the power of capital and big business. In this post, I have collated some examples of musicologists who are more explicit in appealing to commercial forces and the market as a supposedly emancipatory alternative to other means of cultural production, or sometimes denying there could be any alternative to the former. This is a perfectly legitimate perspective, and one which deserves proper consideration, but there are many obvious reasons to doubt the extent to which such an ideological viewpoint should be associated with the political left.

Paul also repeatedly returned to the issue of Anglo-American xenophobia in musicology. He was not alone in this; even Nicholas Cook, coming from a very different ideological and scholarly perspective from Paul, had reason to criticise what he called ‘the xenophobic essentialism that Taruskin seems on occasion to erect into a historiographical principle’ (Nicholas Cook, ‘Alternative Realities: A Reply to Richard Taruskin’, 19th-Century Music, vol. 30, no. 2 (2006), p. 208; a reply to Richard Taruskin, ‘Review: Speed Bumps’, 19th-Century Music, vol. 29, no. 2 (2005), pp. 185-207). Paul wrote about the ‘E→G→N short circuit’, which he associated especially with Taruskin, whereby Europeans (E) become conflated with Germans (G) which become conflated with Nazis (N). This is rooted within a tradition of neo-conservative thought, which sees American-style capitalist democracy, fascism, or Stalinist communism, with the latter two also seen as very similar in many ways, and European social democracy distrusted and sometimes demonised for its lack of wholehearted embrace of the US model.

Paul’s final book as an academic is The Event of Music History (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2021), some of which I am continuing to process at present, and about which I plan to write a more extended response. In this he sought to address fundamental historiographical questions and the question of what constitutes a ‘subject of music history’. He concentrated critical attention on postmodern theories of history such as those of Hayden White, F.R. Ankersmit, Keith Jenkins or Alun Munslow, as well as a range of alternative models provided within musicology, in particular some outlined by James Hepokoski (in ‘Dahlhaus’s Beethoven-Rossini Stildualismus: Lingering Legacies of the Text-Event Dichotomy’, in The Invention of Beethoven and Rossini: Historiography, Analysis, Criticism, edited Nicholas Mathew and Benjamin Walton (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 15-48). These could be delineated into four categories: (1) a critique of Western European canons and their ideological underpinnings; (2) an attempt to dilute what is perceived as an elitist, anti-democratic and German-centred canon by greater incorporation of Mediterranean opera, performer-centered composition, nationalistic works not traditionally viewed as significant, or types of popular or commercial music; (3) a more pronounced shift away from a German-centered canon towards alternative traditions coming from the opposite side of the ‘Beethoven-Rossini divide’ as articulated by Carl Dahlhaus, so that the likes of Donizetti, Verdi, Paganini or Liszt move to centre stage, while a focus on performance replaces score-based analysis, quite deeply distrusted; (4) more difficult to summarise, but employing the opposition between the ‘drastic’ and the ‘gnostic’ cited by Carolyn Abbate (in ‘Music – Drastic or Gnostic’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 30, no. 3 (2204), pp. 505-36), borrowed from philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch, focusing above all on musical reception, and valorising the performative/drastic in opposition to the gnostic. Paul examines these in some detail, in all cases critically, and proceeds in the book to engage with the work of Theodor Adorno to a more thorough extent than previously, leading to extended chapters returning to the central figure of Beethoven, the role of analysis in discerning the ‘truth content’ of his works, as well as questioning some reductive models of the relationship of Beethoven’s ‘heroic’ style to the Napoleonic era and so on.

I have significant differences with Paul on many issues. He is deeply invested in Lacanian psychoanalysis, about which I am more sceptical, as I am about some intellectual figures he strongly favours, such as Badiou or Slavoj Žižek. I take a somewhat different view of such issues as the ‘Beethoven-Rossini divide’, and have perhaps greater sympathies with views which believe in a certain decentring of a particular Austro-German canon (and as such, have more time for strategy 2 above, which has informed some of my own teaching), and even with those which make a rather stark valorisation between highly commercially focused music-making and that which exists with some degree of protection from the vagaries of the market. In that respect, I do not so strongly go along with every aspect of Paul’s critique of some of the arguments of Richard Taruskin, even though I also maintain some aspects of this and other critiques of this body of work. Paul is not sympathetic to the most of the field of historically-informed performance, from a position probably closer to that of Pierre Boulez than Taruskin, while I see this field as of huge importance and value. Furthermore, I believe some of Paul’s critiques themselves to be too all-encompassing in nature, though it is important to note, for example, his critique of some work of ethnomusicologist Henry Stobart was balanced by a counter-example taken from another ethnomusicologist, Martin Stokes. While heavily critical of a lot of directions in ethnomusicology, this did not amount to a blanket rejection of this sub-discipline. For myself, I think study of at least one musical tradition from outside of Europe or North America should be an core part of most music curricula, showing students very different musics, social and cultural contexts from those with which they are likely to be familiar, but have a variety of critiques of some methods and ideological positions associated with ethnomusicology.

But I recognise a lot of the tendencies outlined in Paul’s resignation post, especially the level of dogmatism, with bullying, pathologisation and demonisation as an alternative to any attempts at communication, engagement and scholarly critique with those of divergent viewpoints. This is very unbefitting of academia, and the very converse of genuine diversity (which should include ideological diversity) and a spirit of critical thinking. Paul has left behind an important body of work, and numerous other contributions to academic life – for example as an elected trustee of the Society for Music Analysis, like myself, and through his immensely generous work creating and maintaining the Golden Pages, an invaluable resource for all musicologists listing upcoming conferences, dissertation abstracts, citation guides, online resources, university music departments, and more. But he had weathered the storms for as long as he wanted to, and wished (on an entirely voluntary basis) for a career change, also in light of an unhappy situation where cuts were made to his department at Royal Holloway, which was also a key arena for very pitched battles between factions. For my part, I am simply very sad to see the departure of both a friend and a scholar for whom I have the highest respect, even where we disagree. British musicology will be all the poorer without Paul.

‘Radio-Controlled’, BBC R3 Feature, Sun 11 April 18:45. New Music after 1945 in Germany.

On Sunday 11 April at 18:45, on BBC Radio 3, the Sunday Feature will be a programme called ‘Radio Controlled’, looking at the role of radio stations in supporting and promoting new music in Germany. This is based extensively upon my own research and I am interviewed at length for the feature. My work on radio forms part of a wider research project, drawing extensively upon a large amount of archival data and also many German newspapers from the period, into the origins of German (and indeed European) new music in the period from 1945 to 1951, and its earlier provenance during the Weimar Republic and to some extent through the Third Reich.

Some time ago, I figured out to myself that the infrastructure for new music in Europe had its origins in West Germany, in the sense that in that country, before anywhere else, there was a large and elaborate range of festivals, concert series, radio stations broadcasting new music, dedicated journals, newspapers with a range of sympathetic critics, and educational institutions in which modernist composers had teaching positions. Nowadays similar such infrastructures exist, and have done for some decades, in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy, Spain, Finland and elsewhere, but that in Germany was essentially in place by the early 1950s. Considering how devastated the country was been after the war, with over three-quarters of buildings destroyed in many major cities, this was a remarkable development, which took place very quickly. I was fascinated to explore how and why this could have happened, exactly which types of music were most favoured at the time (not just those that today’s historical filter determines to be important). Other scholars, including historians David Monod, Toby Thacker, Elizabeth Janik and Andreas Linsenmann, had explored wider aspects of post-war German musical life and its reconstruction, but while all had considered new music, none had made this the primary focus of their study.

There have been other historical models applied loosely in this respect: the so-called Stunde null or ‘zero hour’ model, which maintains that in the wake of the devastation of war, Germany had to rebuild itself from scratch. This was equally true of music, necessitating the forging a new language, free of the tainted historical past. Another model, based upon some questionable writings of Frances Stonor Saunders and others, and widely disseminated by Richard Taruskin, maintains that new music was essentially fuelled by the United States and its intelligence agencies, beginning in the occupation era, and the most ‘abstract’ (especially atonal and pointillistic) work was supported in opposition to Soviet ideals of socialist realism, especially following the Zhdanov Decree of 1948. Thus new music was enlisted as a weapon in the cultural Cold War.

Both these models contain grains of truth, but both are also too simplistic. There were a great many continuities of works, styles and personnel in German music before and after 1945. There is also very little evidence of US support for the most radical new music in Germany after the occupation era, though there was certainly a programme in place in the late 1940s to promote US composers, who were mostly contemporary. These were however mostly the likes of Howard Hanson, Aaron Copland, Quincy Porter or Walter Piston. In the 1950s John Cage would visit Germany on several occasions, and his influence was pronounced and sustained, but there is little evidence of this being connected to any wider US government policy or Cold War strategy. The latter was mostly focused elsewhere (the German programme of the leading agency, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, was relatively small and mostly focused upon Berlin) and they promoted neo-classical music and jazz more actively than the far-out achievements of the post-war avant-garde.

What is a much more significant factor, in my view, is the concept of Nachholbedarf (‘catching up’), which was used widely immediately after 1945. This held basically that Germany had been cut off from all significant international and modernist developments in music for a period of 12 years, and so it was now necessary to ‘catch up’. The assumptions entailed here were at most only partially true, however. Whilst the protagonists of one wing of Nazi aesthetic ideology, epitomised by Alfred Rosenberg and his Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur , were implacably hostile to modernism in all the arts, others thought differently, as did their counterparts in fascist Italy. Composers such as Bartók and Stravinsky were quite widely performed in Nazi Germany at least up until the early years of the war, while the twelve-tone composer and Schoenberg student Winfried Zillig won great success for a range of operas and took a position as music director in occupied Poznań, in Poland (part of the so-called Warthegau, a region of Poland which was the site of some of the most atrocious racial policies against both Jewish people and Poles at the hands of fanatical ideologue Arthur Greiser). Much has been made of the Entartete Musik exhibition in Düsseldorf in 1938, now and also after 1945, but this was not a large-scale event and was in many ways a personal obsession of the organiser Hans Severus Ziegler. It was not attended by many prominent musicians, and did not impress Joseph Goebbels, who wrote about it in his diaries. There was plenty of international music performed throughout the Reich, though generally from friendly nations. Modern Italian music could be heard regularly, as could Spanish music after 1939, while there were tours from Romanian, Hungarian, Bulgarian musicians, even a reasonable amount of Russian music during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Japanese conductor Hidemaro Konoye travelled repeatedly to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and and his score Etenraku (1930), based on a traditional gagaku melody, was played widely throughout the Third Reich and occupied territories. Cultural exchange associations between fascist nations sprung up during the period, while Peter Raabe, head of the Reichsmusikkammer after Richard Strauss’s resignation, essentially subscribed to what is now thought of as a ‘nationalistic cosmopolitics’, favourable towards multiple cultural nationalisms, in opposition to pan-national cosmopolitanism. Raabe was also sympathetic to a fair amount of modernist music. He conducted Schoenberg, Hindemith, Skryabin and others when Generalmusikdirektor in Aachen from 1918 to 1929, and was impressed when he heard Berg’s Wozzeck.

Nonetheless, the assumptions underlying the concept of Nachholbedarf were rarely questioned after 1945, and this argument was used to justify the creation of a range of specialised institutions for new music, gaining financial support from local and state authorities, and the occupying powers, towards this end. Many contemporary institutions for new music were either founded during this period or have their roots there. Furthermore, the US, France and the Soviet Union all had extensive cultural programmes, in large measure devoted to promoting culture from their own countries for a variety of motives (for the US, in part from an inferiority complex, aware of German perceptions that the US was a highly commercialised society lacking high culture; for the French, in order to supplant Germany as the central nation for European culture; for the Soviet Union, in order to promote the purportedly superior possibilities for culture under communism). The UK had a certain programme, but it was relatively modest, and primarily focused upon the press and media, seen as vital in generating a culture of political pluralism.

Furthermore, as has been shown above all in the comprehensive scholarship of Martin Thrun, there was an extremely extensive infrastructure for new music in place during the Weimar Republic. Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Stuttgart, Munich and elsewhere all had extensive cultures of new music – and some of the musical aesthetics entailed a more radical break with the recent past (with widespread opposition to the values of Wagnerism and Imperial Germany prominent especially amongst the Novembergruppe of artists in Berlin) than was the case after 1945. A great many festivals and concert series came and went between 1918 and 1933, some continuing beyond 1933. Radio began in Germany in late 1923, and a few years later stations were commissioning new works of music, and composers exploiting the specific possibilities of the medium.

However, this was a time of huge economic instability, and few of the institutions proved financially stable for this reason. The same situation was naturally true after 1945, especially at the time of currency reform in 1948, in which the introduction of a new currency rendered many people’s savings essentially worthless. However, this is where the role of the radio stations, whose funding was relatively stable due to a licence fee system, is crucial. Many of the most prominent and important festivals and concert series for new music – in Munich, Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Donaueschingen, Baden-Baden, Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Cologne and Hamburg in particular – were supported by radio stations, which gave them a staying power which was rare in the 1920s.

Furthermore, it is vital to consider some of the individuals involved with these radio stations – figures such as Heinrich Strobel at Südwestfunk in Baden-Baden, who did a huge amount to support and promote contemporary French music, Herbert Eimert at the branch of Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk in Cologne (later Westdeutscher Rundfunk), who founded the electronic music studio in Cologne and was mentor to the young Karlheinz Stockhausen, Eigel Kruttge, the first music director at the same station and later co-founder of the important new music series Musik der Zeit, Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt at Rundfunk im amerikanischen Sektor in Berlin, who presented a range of programmes with quasi-Socratic dialogues between himself and other individuals unsympathetic to new music, Heinz Schröter at Radio Frankfurt, later Hessischer Rundfunk, who developed a major new music festival in Bad Nauheim and then Frankfurt, and was also involved in supporting the courses at Darmstadt, or Herbert Hübner, also at Nordwestdeutscher Rundfunk (later Norddeutscher Rundfunk) but at the central headquarters in Hamburg, who like others created a special late-night series devoted to new music, and from 1951 the series das neue werk, Otto-Erich Schilling at Radio Stuttgart, later Süddeutscher Rundfunk in Stuttgart, or Heinz Pringsheim at Radio Munich, later Bayerischer Rundfunk.  All of these figures had a strong commitment to new music, and almost all were appointed to key positions between 1945 and 1946 (Hübner in 1947). Some had very questionable pasts: Schilling, Kruttge and Hübner had been NSDAP members (possibly also Stuckenschmidt, and also certainly his wife, singer Margot Hinnenberg-Lefèbre, though both may have been entered without their consent), as had other influential figures such as composers Wolfgang Fortner, Ernst Lothar von Knorr and Gerhard Frommel, Robert Ruthenfranz, founder of the Wittener Tage für Neue Kammermusik in 1936, Hugo Herrmann, an interim director of the Donaueschinger Musiktage and musical director of other festivals in Konstanz, Trossingen and Tübingen right after the war, pianist Eduard Erdmann, choral expert Siegfried Goslich, who worked at the radio station in Weimar, in the Soviet Zone, after 1945, and from 1948 played a major role in developing new music at Radio Bremen, or electronic music pioneer Werner Meyer-Eppler. Schilling had written an opera based on the anti-semitic propaganda film Jüd Suß and also a cantata beginning with the text ‘Wir hassen den Juden und lieben, was deutsch ist’ (‘We hate the Jews and love that which is German’). Stuckenschmidt and Eimert’s Nazi-era journalism sometimes parroted Nazi propaganda, as did that of Strobel when writing for the Nazi occupation paper Pariser Zeitung, though in Strobel’s case it should be borne in mind that he was married to a Jewish woman and there is good evidence that he made whatever compromises were necessary to protect her.

But in almost all cases the individuals involved with radio found that the occupying powers found them acceptable and were happy to allow them to take up the positions they did. Kruttge was an exception, and removed from his position at an early stage for a period. Why this was depends on individual cases: in some cases there was simply not the time for the military authorities to investigate the fine details of some people’s journalism and employment of Nazi tropes and rhetoric, and this became less and less of a concern as denazification was scaled down and handed over to German authorities, before being brought to an end entirely. In the case of Strobel, who been an opponent of German romanticism and indeed the expressionism of Schoenberg back in the 1920s, the French authorities had plenty of good reason to believe in his Francophile tendencies, notwithstanding his wartime journalism. As such he could be counted upon to support their own cultural agenda, a prediction which proved wholly accurate.

Without the work of these individuals at radio stations, I do not believe that not only avant-garde German composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen (and arguably less radical composers such as Hans Werner Henze or Giselher Klebe), but also those from elsewhere including Pierre Boulez, Luigi Nono, Bruno Maderna, and indeed John Cage, all of whom were widely performed in West Germany, would have gained the reputation and profile that they did, at least for a period. And their work paved the way for subsequent generations.

‘New music’ is a concept whose roots are in an essay ‘Neue Musik’ published by critic Paul Bekker in 1919, stimulating a wide range of responses through the 1920s), in the sense of a separate realm of musical activity from more ‘mainstream’ classical music, with financial support from sources other than ticket sales and private sponsorship. It is fundamentally a phenomenon borne out of particular historical circumstances in Germany after crushing defeat in 1918 and 1945. This is not the whole picture, for sure, and one should not neglect other parallel developments elsewhere – for  example the Festival internazionale di musica contemporanea founded in Venice in 1932 (thus in the midst of the Fascist era), which continues to the present day, or other developments in France, Austria, the UK and elsewhere. But the scale of such a thing was greatest in Germany. What then becomes a difficult question for all of those (including myself) committed to and involved with such a scene, is what is the basis for its continuation, and financial support, now that historical conditions have changed, and the legitimising arguments for the associated infrastructure no longer have the same cogency.


Interactive Workshop on Musical Denazification and the Cold War at LSE Conference, March 28, 2017

On March 28th, 2017, 11:40-13:10 I will be giving a workshop on ‘Music, Identity and Nationalism with Reference to the Third Reich and early Cold War Period’, at the ASEN Conference on Anthony D. Smith & The Future of Nationalism: Ethnicity, Religion and Culture’, taking place at the London School of Economics. The conference takes place over March 27-28, 2017, and my workshop will take place from 11:40-13:10 on the 28th, open to conference participants. Places are still available for the conference; full details, and a programme for the conference can be found at .

The purpose of this workshop is to engage with the issues of nationalism as affected German musicians and those working in the music world, through interactive roleplay relating to denazification procedures in each of the four zones of occupied Germany – American, British, French and Soviet.

Fragebogen zur Entnazifizierung (1946)

A series of four ‘legends’ have been created, each relating to a real individual; two composers, one pianist and composer, and one music journalist and writer. Each faced denazification in different zones. Participants are invited to take the role of one of these legends in a mock denazification hearing, which I will be directed in the role of Chief Interrogator. He will question the participant on the nature of their activities during the Third Reich, including questions relating to the aesthetics of their work, and they are offered the chance to reply and defend their record. Others are invited to take role in the ‘defence’ or ‘prosecution’ team, interspersing comments where appropriate relating to the case in question. These requires only study of the legends themselves (those who wish to join the prosecution will be provided with a little extra information unknown to the individual being interrogated).

If time permits, in the final half hour of the workshop I will direct a wider discussion cultural/political agendas relating to the Cold War in Europe on both sides of the Iron Curtain, as relate to music and nationalism. Some questions to be considered include whether supposedly ‘internationalist’ aesthetic agendas might be viewed in terms of a type of ‘Western European pan-nationalism’ (which has also informed culture in the EEC/EU) or conversely these are less solidly geographically rooted. Another is how in the Eastern Bloc, musical traditions with historical connections to those found elsewhere in Europe and further afield were modified in accordance with the dominant role of the Soviet Union and Russian musical traditions, not least in light of the expulsion of ethnic Germans from most of Eastern Europe.

Introductory Bibliography

Biddiscombe, Perry. The Denazification of Germany: A History 1945-1950. Stroud: Tempus, 2007.

Chamberlin, Brewster S. Kultur auf Trümmern. Berliner Berichte der amerikanischen Information Control Section July – Dezember 1945. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1979.

Clemens, Gabriele, ed. Kulturpolitik im besetzten Deutschland 1945-1949. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1994

Clemens, Gabriele. Britische Kulturpolitik in Deutschland 1945-1949: Literatur, Film, Musik und Theater. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1997.

Heister, Hanns-Werner and Klein, Hans-Günter, eds, Musik und Musikpolitik im faschistischen Deutschland. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 1984.

Janik, Elizabeth. Recomposing German Music: Politics and Tradition in Cold War Berlin. Leiden, Brill & Biggleswade: Extenza Turpin, 2005.

John, Eckhard. Musik-Bolschewismus. Die Politisierung der Musik in Deutschland 1918-1938. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1994.

Kater, Michael. The Twisted Muse: Musicians and their Music in the Third Reich. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Kater, Michael. Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Linsenmann, Andreas. Musik als politischer Faktor: Konzepte, Intention und Praxis französischer Umerziehungs- und Kulturpolitik in Deutschland 1945-1949/50. Tübingen: Narr, 2010.

Monod, David. Settling Scores: German Music, Denazification, and the Americans, 1945-1953. Chapel Hill, NC and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Pike, David. The Politics of Culture in Soviet-Occupied Germany, 1945-1949. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992.

Prieberg, Fred. Handbuch Deutsche Musiker 1933-1945. CD-ROM, 2004, revised version 2009.

Riehtmüller, Albrecht, ed. Deutsche Leitkultur Musik? : zur Musikgeschichte nach dem Holocaust. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2006).

Scherliess, Volker, ed. »Stunde Null«. Zur Musik um 1945. Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2014.

Steinweis, Alan E. Art, Ideology, and Economics in Nazi Germany: The Reich Chambers of Music, Theater, and the Visual Arts. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

Thacker, Toby. Music after Hitler, 1945-1955. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007.

Yefim Golyshev, Arnold Schoenberg, and the Origins of Twelve-Tone Music

Many pages of scholarship have been devoted to the origins of the twelve-tone technique, and whether Arnold Schoenberg can genuinely be considered the originator of the method. Groups of pitches which could be considered akin to twelve-tone rows have been located in various pre-twentieth century music, the most obvious example being the opening of Franz Liszt’s Faust Symphony. But this does not amount to the employment of a technique akin to that of Schoenberg. Since the pioneering research of Detlev Gojowy, it has been established for some time that a series of Russian composers arrived at their own use of twelve-tone complexes prior to Schoenberg. These would include the complexes found in Skryabin’s fragment Acte Préalable (1912), the second of Arthur Lourié’s Deux poemes, op. 8 (1912), the first of Nikolai Roslavets’ Two Compositions (1915), various works of Nicolas Obouhow from 1915 onwards such as Prières (1915) , and Ivan Vyschnegradsky in his La journee de l’existence (1916-17) [1] . These composers generally worked with post-Scriabinesque complexes which were expanded to include all twelve tones of the chromatic scale [2], quite distinct from the technique which Schoenberg would develop in the 1920s [3], and their work remained generally obscure and little-known outside of Russia at this point. Roslavets remained living in the Soviet Union after 1917, whilst Obouhow moved to Paris in 1918, and Lourié moved there in 1924 [4]. Alban Berg had used a harmony featuring all twelve chromatic pitches at the beginning of the third of his Altenberg-Lieder, op. 4 (1912),‘Über die Grenzen des All..’, op. 4, no. 3, then a twelve-note series in no. 5, ‘Hier ist Friede!’, as well as twelve-note themes in the Passacaglia, Act 1, Scene 4 (written before the end of 1919), and the Theme and Variations, Act 3, Scene 1, of Wozzeck (1914-22) [5], and Webern intuitively arrived at a way of organising the individual Sechs Bagatellen, op. 9 (1911) so that as a general rule, the piece would end after all twelve chromatic pitches had sounded, then began his ‘Gleich und Gleich’, op. 12, no. 4 with a statement of the twelve pitches with none repeated [6].

All of these developments demonstrate the extent to which the most radical varieties of chromaticism or pan-tonality were leading towards the establishment of twelve-note complexes (as would Schoenberg in 1914 in Die Jakobsleiter), but none had yet arrived at means for using sets of twelve chromatic notes in the forms of rows to provide fundamental structuring techniques. Three composers who did do this would have a definitive influence upon the future direction of dodecaphonic composition in Germany, each of who have been considered as rival contenders for having written the first twelve-tone work [7]: Yefim Golyshev (1897-1970), through the writings of Herbert Eimert (1897-1972), Josef Matthias Hauer (1883-1959), through the teachings of Hermann Heiß (1897-1966) and of course Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) through his own work and the music and teaching of numerous students.

The prodigious Odessa-born Golyshev moved to Berlin in 1909, his family fleeing anti-semitic pogroms [8]. Here he studied at the Stern’schen Konservatorium, and made the acquaintance of Busoni, who encouraged him in his musical work [9]; he may also have heard free atonal works of Schoenberg such as Pierrot Lunaire, which was first performed in the Berlin Choralion-Saal on October 16th, 1912 [10]. Golyshev remained living in the city through until 1933 [11].

In 1914 (by his own account) Golyshev composed a five-movement dodecaphonic string trio (which was published in 1925 by Robert Lienau-Verlag as Zwölftondauer-Musik [12]), and in the same year began a string quartet which was intended for performance at the Gesellschaft für Neue Musik in Cologne in early 1923 [13]. A recording of this work is available here. The trio is structured around symmetrical patterns between movements as regards rhythms (so that the same figures are shared by the first and fifth, and the second and fourth), and uses twelve-note sets, which are clearly numbered in the score. In each section, all twelve notes are used, but not in a fixed order [14] (see below for the opening). Golyshev used a new notation to avoid conventional accidentals (distinct from that developed earlier by Busoni), by which a note with a cross inside the notehead indicates a sharp; others are natural [15].

Golyschev page 1

A recording of the complete work can be heard here.

An orchestral work from 1919, Das eisige Lied, a symphonic poem lasting 75 minutes with songs, orchestral music and visual spectacle, was apparently also dodecaphonic, but is now lost [16]. During the war years Golyshev composed more and became friendly with Busoni, Richard Strauss, and Stravinsky, as well as Walter Gropius and other artists [17].

Golyshev’s father was a friend of Kandinsky’s, and the artist had persuaded inspired Golyshev to begin drawing prior to his move to Germany [18]. By the time of his Sinfonie aggregate, which was given its world premiere by the Berlin Philharmonic on February 21st, 1919 [19], Golyshev had become involved with the Dadaists, alongside Raoul Hausmann and Richard Huelsenbeck, and co-wrote a manifesto calling for a ‘brutal battle’ against ‘expressionism and the neoclassical culture as it is represented by Der Sturm’ [20]; his work featured prominently in the first Dada exhibitions [21]. He presented an Anti-Symphonie (Musikalische Kreisguillotine) as part of these exhibitions in April 1919, and went on to explore new musical instruments [22]; he also subsequently pursued a separate career as a chemist [23]. He would also become a member of the Novembergruppe at some point in the early 1920s, alongside the likes of Stuckenschmidt, Hans Tiessen, Max Butting, Philipp Jarnach, Kurt Weill, Wladimir Vogel, Hanns Eisler, Felix Petryek, Jascha Horenstein, George Antheil, and Stefan Wolpe [24].

One figure who was deeply interested in the work of Golyshev was the composer, critic and later producer at WDR, Herbert Eimert, who published his Atonale Musiklehre[25] in 1924, which Eimert himself claimed to be the first book of its kind in German [26]. This is a work whose highly mathematical tone, almost making a fetish of numerical patterns, differs very deeply from the presentations of Schoenberg in particular. Eimert also composed a twelve-tone string quartet for performance as part of his final examination. His conservative teacher, Franz Bölsche, was appalled by both of these, and intervened to have him expelled from the institution and the quartet removed from the programme [27]. In the Atonale Musiklehre, Eimert adopted Golyshev’s notational device throughout, and listed an unnamed Golyshev work from 1914 as the first example of twelve-tone music, then writing that Hauer had pursued pure atonality the following year [28]. Eimert at some point became a close friend of Golyshev, and owned several of his paintings which were destroyed during the war [29], but when they first met is unclear (likely before 1924), as Eimert’s memories were hazy, according to Helmut Kirchmeyer [30]. Eimert would go on to press the case for Golyshev being the first twelve-tone composer in various later writings [31].

Schoenberg had spent two periods prior to World War One in Berlin, 1902-03, where he had worked in the Überbrettl cabaret and also composed Pelleas, as well as scoring some operettas, and 1911-15, during which period he had written Pierrot Lunaire and also begun the Four Orchestral Songs op. 22, whilst giving some poorly attended lectures at the Stern Conservatory and hostility from the press [32]. Could Schoenberg have met Golyshev in Berlin during this second period, or even known of Golyshev’s piece before he embarked upon his own first proper dodecaphonic composition in July 1921 at the latest? Little of detail is known of Golyshev’s time in Berlin prior to 1918, and I am unaware of any direct or indirect references to Golyshev in Schoenberg’s writings or correspondence from the time [33]. There would have been various events which both might have attended, and they shared mutual friends and acquaintances (such as Busoni) who might have introduced them, but there is no firm evidence. Detlew Gojowy, based on the account of Golyshev’s widow, claims that Golyshev sent the Trio to Schoenberg (though no date is given), but received only a ‘ugly and discouraging’ letter back, with Schoenberg insisting that the twelve-tone technique was his own invention [34]. This would presumably have been after the summer of 1921 (for otherwise Schoenberg would not yet have established the twelve-tone technique) and probably after 1925 (assuming Golyshev sent a copy of the printed score). Thus it looks unlikely that Schoenberg was aware of the Trio before this date, though it is conceivable that a mutual friend or acquaintance might have mentioned it to him; a subject which might warrant further research.

1. See Detlew Gojowy, ‘Frühe Zwölftonmusik in Rußland (1912-1915)’, in Beiträge zur Musikwissenschaft Jg. 32, Heft 1 (1990), pp. 17-24; Hans Oesch, ‘Schönberg und die russischen Avantgardisten um 1920’, in Bericht über den 2. Kongreß der Internationalen Schönberg-Gesellschaft. Die Wiener Schule in der Musikgeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts, edited Rudolf Stephan and Sigrid Wiesmann (Vienna; Verlag Elisabeth Lafite, 1986), pp. 108-121; and Elena Poldiaeva, Le message de Nicolas Obouhow: Reconstruction d’une biographie, translated from Russian by Michèle Kahn (Paris: editions Van de Velde, 2011), pp. 33-42.

2. For analyses of these processes in non-dodecaphonic contexts in the music of Skryabin and Roslavets, see George Perle, Serial Composition and Atonality: An Introduction to the Music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, sixth edition (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991), pp. 40-45.

3. Some writers have explored similarities between the contemporary compositional developments of Scriabin and Schoenberg. See Zofja Lissa, ‘Geschichtliche Vorformen der Zwölftontechnik’, Acta Musicologica Vol. VII, Fasc. 1 (January-March 1935), pp. 15-22, as cited in Detlef Gojowy, Neue sowjetische Musik der 20er Jahre (Regensburg: Laaber-Verlag, 1980), pp. 59-61.

4. Larry Sitsky, Music of the Repressed Russian Avant-Garde, 1900-1929 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), pp. 88, 254.

5. Douglas Jarman, The Music of Alban Berg (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1979), pp. 72-73.

6. Anton Webern, The Path to the New Music, edited Willi Reich (Bryn Mawr, PA, London, Vienna, Zürich and Mainz: Theodore Presser in association with Universal Edition, 1960), pp. 51-52.

7. Back in 1955, Oliver Neighbour articulated this view. See Neighbour, ‘The Evolution of Twelve-Note Music’, Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, 81st Sess. (1954-55), pp. 49-61.

8. Peter Deane Roberts, ‘Efim Golyschev (1897-1970)’, in Larry Sitsky (ed), Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002), p. 173.

9. Ibid. p. 173. Gojowy, Neue sowjetische Musik, p. 103.

10. Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt, Schoenberg: His Life, World and Work, translated Humphrey Searle (London: John Calder, 1977), p. 204.

11. Eberhard Steneberg, Arbeitsrat für Kunst: Berlin 1918-1921 (Düsseldorf: Edition Marzona, 1987), p. 134.

12. See Robert Lienau Musikverlage Magazin Archiv, Ausgabe Nr. 4 (2002), at .

13. Schlösser, Arbeitsrat für Kunst, p. 134. The performance was cancelled because of the technical difficulties involved. See Herbert Eimert, ‘Zum Kapitel „Atonale Musik“’, Die Musik, Vol 16, No. 12 (September 1924), p. 902. The source for the date when this work was begun comes from Golyshev’s widow, according to Detlef Gojowy (Neue sowjetische Musik, p. 103 n. 362a), though the fifth movement was apparently dated 1925. Gojowy points out that the possibility should not be excluded that the quartet and trio were confused by some writers, and may be just a single work.

14. Roberts, ‘Golyschev’, pp. 174-175. Roberts also notes that Golyshev allows static repetition of a note, passing a note from one instrument to another, and doubling at the octave or unison.

15. This technique was also pioneered by Obouhow soon afterwards, though it is not clear whether either composer was aware of the other’s activities (see Larry Sitsky, Music of the Repressed Russian Avant-Garde, 1900-1929 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), pp. 254-255).

16. Neighbour, ‘The Evolution of Twelve-Note Music’, p. 49; Joan Ockman, ‘Reinventing Jefim Golyscheff: Lives of a Minor Modernist’, Assemblage, No. 11 (April 1990), p. 73.

17. Schlösser, Arbeitsrat für Kunst, p. 134.

18. Joan Weinstein, The End of Expressionism: Art and the November Revolution in Germany 1918-1919 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), p. 75. There is no mention of Golyshev, however, in Arnold Schoenberg and Wassily Kandinsky, Letters, Pictures and Documents, edited Jelena Hahl-Koch, translated John C. Crawford (London & Boston: Faber & Faber, 1984), nor in the various essays in Konrad Boehmer (ed), Schönberg and Kandinsky: A Historic Encounter (New York & London: Routledge, 1997), nor Schönberg-Kandinsky. Blauer Reiter und die Russische Avantgarde. Sonderausstellung 9. März – 28. Mai 2000, Journal of the Arnold Schönberg Center, 1/2000.

19. Peter Muck, Einhundert Jahre Berliner Philharmonisches Orchester, Erster Band: 1882-1922 (Tutzing; Hans Schneider, 1982), Band III, p. 180.

20. Raoul Hausmann, Richard Huelsenbeck and Jefim Golyscheff, ‘Was ist der Dada und was will er in Deutschland’, Der Dada 1, No. 1 (June 1919), cited in Weinstein, The End of Expressionism, p. 234.

21. Weinstein, The End of Expressionism, pp. 234-236.

22. Gojowy, Neue sowjetische Musik, p. 103. For more on the Antisymphonie, see Raoul Hausmann, ‘Jefim Golyscheff’, in Heinz-Klaus Metzger and Rainer Riehn (eds), Musik-Konzepte 32/33: Aleksandr Skrjabin und die Skrjabinisten (Munich: edition text + kritik, 1983), pp. 174-177.

23. See Golyscheff: Ausstellung der Galleria Schwarz (Milan: Galleria Schwarz, 1970), pp. 1-4.

24. Helga Kliemann, Die Novembergruppe (Berlin; Gebr. Mann Verlag, 1969), pp. 39, 46, 103; Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt, ‘Musik und Musiker in der Novembergruppe’ (1928), reprinted in Werner Grünzweig and Christiane Niklew, Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt: Der Deutsche im Konzertsaal (Berlin: Akademie der Künste, 2010), p. 33; Max Butting, Musikgeschichte, die ich miterlebte (Berlin: Henschelverlag, 1955), p. 120; Rainer Peters and Harry Vogt, ‘Die Berliner Novembergruppe und ihre Musiker’, in Stefan Wolpe: Von Berlin nach New York (Cologne: Kölner Gesellschaft für Neue Musik, 1988), p. 47; Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt, ‘Heinz Tiessen – der Freund’, in Manfred Schlösser (ed), Für Heinz Tiessen 1887-1971. Aufsätze – Analysen – Briefe – Erinnerungen – Dokumente – Werkverzeichnis – Bibliographie (Berlin: Akademie der Künste, 1979), p. 10

25. Herbert Eimert, Atonale Musiklehre (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1924).

26. Charles Wilson, ‘Herbert Eimert’, at Grove Online (accessed 2/9/14). Wilson argues the case that the Atonale Musiklehre anticipates the work of later theorists such as Babbitt. Eimert managed with his pronouncements on this work to annoy Josef Matthias Hauer, who claimed prior rights over the technique, and who wrote an open letter to Die Musik about the matter. See Helmut Kirchmeyer, Kleine Monographie über Herbert Eimert (Stuttgart & Leipzig: S. Hizel Verlag, 1998), pp. 4, 16 n. 13-14. Hauer’s open letter, dated September 5, 1924 was published in Die Musik XVII/2 (November 1924), pp. 157 a/b, in response to Eimert’s article ‘Zum Kapitel: “Atonale Musik”’, in Die Musik XVI/12 (September 1924), pp. 899-904. Eimert replied with an open letter of his own, dated January 1025, which was published in Die Musik, XVII/6 (March 1925), pp. 478 a/b.

27. At least this is how it was portrayed by Eimert himself, in an autobiographical sketch for his own 65th birthday, broadcast on Monday April 9th, 1962. Apparently all the Musikhochschule records from that time are lost; Kirchmeyer laments that at the time of his writing, the proper history of the institution has not been written, and it would be difficult due to the fact that many municipal documents were destroyed in the war, though also suggests that the very fact that so many major figures at the Hochschule at the time were involved with the Nazis was a disincentive for the subject to be studied right after the war. See Kirchmeyer, Kleine Monographie, p. 17 n. 16.

28. Eimert, Atonale Musiklehre, p. 31. Eimert named the string quartet of Golyshev as the first twelve-tone work in ‘Zum Kapitel „Atonale Musik“’, p. 92.

29. Walter Zanini, ‘Jeff Golyscheff e as Dificuldades de sua Recuperação’, Revista Música, Vol. 3, No. 1 (May 5-16, 1992), pp. 7-8.

30. Kirchmeyer, Kleine Monographie, p. 20, n. 31.

31. See Eimert, Lehrbuch der Zwölftontechnik (Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1954), pp. 57-58 and Grundlagen der musikalischen Reihentechnik (Vienna: Universal Edition, 1964) , pp. 161-162. Eimert also expressed this historical view in an edition of the Musikalische Nachtprogramm for WDR, entitled ‘Unbekannte Anfänge der Zwölftonmusik’ on October 4th, 1962. See Hans Oesch, ‘Pioniere der Zwölftontechnik’, in Baseler Studien zur Musikgeschichte Band 1 (Bern: Francke Verlag, 1975), p. 274, n. 3.

32. O.W. Neighbour, ‘Arnold Schoenberg’, at Grove Online (accessed 2/9/14).

33. A thorough account of Schoenberg’s second period in Berlin can be found in Stuckenschmidt, Schoenberg: His Life, World and Work, pp. 145-194.

34. Gojowy, ‘Frühe Zwölftonmusik in Rußland’, pp. 22-23.

Statement from the Gesellschaft für Neue Musik concerning the Kreidler protest at Donaueschingen

I have received the following statement from the Gesellschaft für Neue Musik, which they requested to be added to this blog. I am happy to do so, and so here it is.

As we realise that Johannes Kreidler has been offended for the protest he performed in Donaueschingen against the merger of the two SWR orchestras, please let us make some point clear. When the information on the merger came up, many organisations addressed the responsible people of the SWR not to touch the orchestras. The German Section of the International Society for Contemporary Music (GNM) sent an open letter to the SWR director (see Despite all arguments and efforts that were made to save the autonomy of the two orchestras (see the SWR broadcasting council decided to start the merger. So arguments do not help anymore. And as the merger will compromise the festival, the GNM decided that the festival in Donaueschingen should be disturbed, and that not only the concert but also the radio broadcast should be disturbed in order to get maximum attention. Moreover we wanted to address the responsible persons directly, and we knew that some of them would be present at the opening of the festival. This in consideration we had to keep the circle of people involved very small in order not to compromise the people of the SWR and the festival who do not have anything to do with the merger. We commissioned Johannes Kreidler with the performance of this protest. And the protest is not in any way self promotion.

Maybe a protest of all composers present at the festival would have been a good campaign too. Anyway we did not prevent anyone from doing so.In the end we are a bit astonished that Johannes Kreidler who acted on our behalf is questioned that way. We would have preferred to be addressed directly.

A more readable version of the Kreidler/Donaueschingen discussion

Chris Swithinbank has kindly re-formatted the discussion in my last post here and placed it on his blog. It can be found here.

The Johannes Kreidler protest at Donaueschingen about the fusion of the radio orchestras at Baden-Baden/Freiburg and Stuttgart – a discussion (from Facebook!)

In October, following a link I posted on Facebook about Johannes Kreidler’s protest at Donaueschingen against the merging of the two major radio orchestras at SWR, a long, involved, sometimes heated, but very interesting discussion ensued, involving Kreidler himself and various other prominent figures in new music with strong views on the subject and on protest in general. I will post on another occasion some material about the history of the two orchestras and their creation drawing upon my own research, but here, with the permission of all the individuals involved, is the complete discussion. This is essentially unedited – all that has been left out is the discussion about whether it was OK to put this on the blog or not, and a comment by one individual who did not wish their contribution to be placed on my blog (and another participant’s response has the name blanked out). Otherwise it continues until the thread starts to diverge onto other subjects. I hope this will prove an interesting read for all.

Ian Pace is reading lots of stupid sanctimonious comments about Johannes Kreidler‘s protest against the merging of the two SWR orchestras (smashing a cheap cello on stage), using the usual epithets of ‘childish’, and so on. I’m somewhat in two minds about the rights and wrongs of the merger (and certainly think there are much worse things about which to protest), but have these people not heard of the smashing of the violin in Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King, or The Who smashing up their instruments at the end of a gig – or, for that matter, Paganini or Liszt deliberately over-tightening the strings of their instruments so that they would break during concerts, for spectacular effect?

Brendan Ball The Beeb Symph once smashed up a cello at the end of a piece as a protest…

October 25 at 10:29am · Like

Ian Pace Ah, yes, that was Timothy Hugh, I think, protesting about a piano concerto by Ernst Helmuth Flammer.

October 25 at 10:32am · Like

Ian Pace But to me this was a much more meaningful and important protest –

London BDS activists disrupt BBC Proms performance of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra The successful protest that disrupted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall and took the live Radio…

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October 25 at 10:33am · Like · 4 · Remove Preview

Daniel James Wolf Whether this particular action was useful or not remains to be seen, but the issue at root here — unnecessary measures in the name of “austerity” — is very much a serious one. The fee income for public radio and television in Germany is stable, even rising above any inflation rate, but a political decision has been made that increases will be allowed in three areas, soccer (where they have failed to use their bargaining power to keep costs for rights down) , spoken word broadcasts, particularly news, and administration (the leadership of the stations almost inevitably comes from news reporters.) At the same time, it has been decided, if tacitly, that music will be the primary area to compensate for these increases, through reductions in musical personnel, up to and including whole ensembles, reducing recording activities (with the idea of monetizing existing libraries of recordings), and bargaining hard on GEMA fees.

October 25 at 11:06am · Like · 2

David Coll It appears that such actions need repeating until there is an opportunity to build off it in a meaningful way. Whether such anticipated momentum would be in the political arena or moreso the artistic one is something of a red herring: what is needed is more action, more often, all around

October 25 at 11:09am · Like · 1

Brendan Ball That’s right; it was Tim Hugh and then the trumpets trampled all over it too…

October 25 at 11:11am · Like

Ian Pace I’m not sure whether one can say all action is good in itself. A protest is not a positive thing simply by virtue of being a protest. A protest by a far right group against immigration would be a good example of a negative action.

October 25 at 11:16am · Edited · Like

Richard Barrett I think actions like this are probably useful in inverse proportion to how much they look like self-publicity for the person carrying the action out, which in this case is quite a lot. A collective action by ALL the composers present at Donaueschingen would have made more of a point than one composer making an ultimately individualistic statement. Where were the other composers? In fact I was in Donaueschingen for the entire weekend, though I didn’t attend the Friday evening concert, and I didn’t hear anything about this action until the Sunday evening. So there was no attempt to involve anyone else, to build something like a united front within that context against the cutbacks whose background Daniel describes. If there had been it might have looked more like a genuine statement of solidarity with the orchestra musicians and of protest against SWR cultural policy, and less like attention-seeking.

October 25 at 12:29pm · Unlike · 10

Ian Pace Agreed, mostly. The sorts of comments which irritate me are from those who think it was sacrilege ever to disrupt the sacred space of music.

October 25 at 12:38pm · Like

David Coll Ian, if I take you literally, I can agree and say that I’m not sure either. I’d like to believe that things have a way of correcting themselves back and forth, but this is certainly problematic, laissez-faire, reinforcing the status quo- even Cageian/libertarian as you’ve described.

To be honest, my previous quick comment on ‘more action’ reflects my general preference for physical manifestations of events over, like you say, the ‘sanctimonious comments.’ Chatter, basically. I think if something of worth is documented adequately enough, then there is enormous potential for it to take off through online views. Richard, I don’t think this event is good enough on its own, either. Too pre-meditated, and too ‘straight to youtube’, same spirit of a ‘straight to home video’ movie. It misses the point.

October 25 at 1:33pm · Like · 2

Luc Döbereiner benjamin wrote that the way a theory or art declares itself to stand politically is not at all the way it efficiently functions politically. this type of self-promotion is not politics. nothing servers the powers against whom he “protests” better than this kind of “protest”. it functions in a kind of shostakovitch way, the “critical artist,” who wins the stalin price.

October 25 at 1:36pm · Like · 4

Luc Döbereiner efficiently->effectively

October 25 at 1:43pm · Like

Richard Barrett Shostakovich never claimed to be a critical artist, that was a claim made by others on his behalf after his death. A very different situation I think.

October 25 at 2:15pm · Like · 1

Ian Pace And I’m not sure that any note of Shostakovich’s ever made a difference in terms of the continuation of Stalinist politics in the Soviet Union.

October 25 at 2:29pm · Like

Daniel James Wolf One caveat to Richard’s remarks. While some form of collective action would be ideal, there is little or no evidence that the new music “community”, as presently constituted in Germany (as elsewhere) would ever be capable of such action. In the mad scramble for a share of an ever-smaller pie, individual composers tend to imagine (and in many cases, recognize) a risk to their own livelihoods if they were to be viewed as rocking the boat. So we have the paradox of a more or less official career “avant-garde” who spend much of their compositional energies and organizational time covering their asses and playing safe, which is neither good for the liveliness of music nor, ultimately, for the livelihood of the larger community. And there is also a larger failure in the institutional structures ostensibly set up to support new music to respond to the decaying enviroment — GEMA, the Deutsche Musik Rat, and the radio stations have all failed to make the case for their best work and we have the theatre of a Reinhard Oehlschagel, for example, who can write editorial after editorial about the decline in new music on radio, for example, and never once mention soccer.

October 25 at 2:56pm · Like · 1

Daniel James Wolf Ian wrote: “And I’m not sure that any note of Shostakovich’s ever made a difference in terms of the continuation of Stalinist politics in the Soviet Union.” Worse than that, the music was used by the USSR as an alibi in the west, as evidence of a fictive openness. There was a rare (or maybe not-so-rare) cooperation between the Soviet Union and private enterprises in the West, through which western record companies could press Shostakovich symphonies with a guaranteed profit via guaranteed advance sales quotas in the USSR. Whatever Shostakovich himself actually thought about this will probably never be recovered, and I’m not certain that it’s altogether relevant, as the competing images of him as either dissident saint or co-opted hack are certainly not very useful.

October 25 at 3:04pm · Like

Ian Pace What you describe, Daniel, is the same thing inhibiting collective action in many other contexts as well. In times of austerity, unemployment, low pay, those capable of taking collective action fight each other to have the biggest share of the small pie available.

This is one reason why at the present time, lacking anything approaching revolutionary conditions (for which things would have to get very, very much worse), some time of reform and regulation of capitalism is the most I think we can hope for.

October 25 at 3:05pm · Like · 1

Ian Pace Following from Daniel’s last-but-one comment – this is a reason why I think there is a case for some of the new music world being less defensive about preserving all of the existing institutions in their current form. And I wonder about the innate conservatism engendered by the central role played by the 19th century medium of the symphony orchestra in German new music – even though the radio orchestras tend to be more adventurous than their philharmonic counterparts.

October 25 at 3:09pm · Like

Richard Barrett You’re right, of course, Daniel, about people not wanting to rock the boat. I’m sure that if any attempt had been made to widen the protest there would have been plenty of mealy-mouthed excuses along the lines of “I don’t really like to get involved in politics”. But even making such an attempt seems not to have been considered, either because of an expectation of apathy (which would be a self-fulfilling prophecy or because it might involve sharing the limelight.

October 25 at 3:10pm · Like · 1

Ian Pace The other lame excuse you often hear in these situations is ‘It’s better for me to work for change from inside, rather than by alienating people’.

October 25 at 3:12pm · Like

Daniel James Wolf Ian, you’re absolutely right about challenging the preservation of existing institutions. Our interest is in optimal institutions, not preservation of structures simply because they are received, and it’s a bit perverse of musicians supposedly interested in innovation to invest so much in received structures, however well they appear to have treated us in the past. If I have to accept the corporate personhood of CitiBank or General Motors, I refuse to accept that they are not mortal persons (their pension funds are something else), and the same goes for the Philadelphia Orchestra or Donaueschingen. It’s striking to me how much more institutional innovative the 19th century was with regard to music than the 20th…

October 25 at 3:19pm · Like

Daniel James Wolf Just for the record, there were at least two other protest actions at Donaueschingen this year, one was a “graveyard” with tombstones for dead orchestras and the second was a performance by a single second violinist, playing a typical second violin part, with the title Ich war ein Orchestra.

October 25 at 3:54pm · Like

Richard Barrett Orchestras can be viewed in several different ways though. To many creative musicians they have become largely irrelevant as a musical medium, that’s for sure. But there are at least two other aspects here which might be considered: (a) that the SWR orchestras employ a significant number of people (not just players of course) who now will presumably be out of a job, because (b) the orchestra merger has become “necessary” (as you point out, Daniel) principally for ideological rather than economic reasons, and thus represents a tendency which goes far beyond whether symphony orchestras are or aren’t relevant to 21st century music. First they came for the orchestras, as Pastor Niemöller might have put it.

October 28 at 4:16pm · Edited · Like · 1

Johannes Kreidler i cannot imagine something more narrow-minded than seeing here self-publicity. a) this action had to be done ‘top secret’, only this way it was possible to realize it. hence, no collective could do it. at the final concert, there was a collective action. b) i was asked for a idea, i delivered one (which obviously was not so bad). then i was asked to perform it myself. since there was no other performer available, i did it, even though i had huge trouble with my piece (and my installation) in donaueschingen at the same time. why did they ask me? maybe because in the last years i did some other succesfull political actions. richard, what do you think, why didn’t they ask you..?
the goal of this action was to seek attention, oh yes. it worked, but it is inevitable that the performer also gets it. and maybe for this job it is fair. the stage was open for everyone else who has the courage to do something, and all other ideas what could be done in this situation. do it better, than we talk again.

October 25 at 5:38pm · Edited · Like · 4

Richard Barrett I don’t even know who “they” are. My point is that individual action like yours is very easy to be absorbed and neutralised as a self-publicity exercise, in a way that’s much more difficult in the case of a collective action. As for top secret, plenty of actions (not just political ones of course) have been organised through FB for example and taken the authorities completely by surprise.

October 25 at 5:43pm · Like

Johannes Kreidler “they” are the GNM – Gesellschaft für Neue Musik, german section of the ISCM. thus far, i didn’t encounter any absorbtion except from you. and there was also a collective action in the last concert. the best is to have all kinds of actions. But obviously i have to excuse now that this video was seen 5000 times in two days. Where is the solidarity?

October 25 at 5:54pm · Like · 1

Richard Barrett Now that you mention you were asked to make a protest by an official New Music institution, the whole episode comes to look even less like a political intervention on behalf of the orchestral musicians and the priorities of the SWR… I’m inclined to think that counting the number of views of a video isn’t the best way to measure the effectiveness of a protest, and that individual political actions are inherently reactionary (although not necessarily bad publicity for the individual), but let’s see what happens.

October 25 at 6:45pm · Like · 1

Richard Wattenbarger Reading this discussion from the other side of the pond, I have so many thoughts about what’s happening that I can’t out them all down at once. But, looking at the big picture–and this probably doesn’t address JK’s protest directly (although I have some thoughts on that as well)–I find the situation of many large art-music institutions in Western Europe increasingly distressing, not least because I fear that the landscape there will become the wasteland that I see in the U.S. The institutions here that are surviving seldom offer anything that seriously challenges to consider their raison d’être for fear of scaring off donors and audiences.

Comcast/Universal is headquartered in Philly (where I live): can anyone seriously believe that they’d step up to provide money for extra rehearsal time so that the local band could mount a performance of, say, Elliott Carter’s Symphonia sum fluxae pretium spei?

October 25 at 6:46pm via mobile · Like

Jonathan Hepfer as an admirer of both of yours, i have to respectfully side here with johannes. i agree with richard that there is the potential to see this as self-publicity, but i think that since it is totally consistent with the rest of what johannes has done, it seems to me to be an “authentic” action. obviously, one can and should be critical, but for me the promotional aspect here is a B product of the situation itself and not its root. i see the 10th thesis on feuerbach here as outweighing everything else.

October 25 at 7:03pm · Like

Johannes Kreidler richard, i am sorry, but i am close to never talk to you again. ” individual political actions are inherently reactionary” — there were some individuals who tried to kill hitler.

October 25 at 7:06pm · Edited · Like

Sebastian Berweck I don’t understand this. There’s somebody brave enough to do something and then this. As if sitting and doing nothing, waiting for a greater cause and doing nothing, waiting for somebody to drum up a collective response whilst doing nothing and hinting on the quiet that he did it only for self-promotion whilst doing nothing is any better. It’s so easy to sit on the sidelines and criticizing the actors whilst not making the own hands dirty. And probably thinking that the own private not-doing is even political.
I’m not the type to do a stunt like this. But I see the courage and the necessity to do it and think it’s great that somebody had the guts.

October 25 at 7:40pm · Like · 3

Mark Barden Well, Johannes you’ve certainly managed to dispel any doubts about the true motives behind your “protest”. In this thread, you have yet to talk about the orchestra, its members, or the consequences of the fusion, yet you have plenty to say about yourself and your YouTube views. I’ve been holding my tongue for a while out of basic civility (not just in this FB thread), but it’s hard to see your actions at Donaueschingen as anything but those of a shameless, attention-starved opportunist whose primary concern is self-promotion. Richard’s point about inverse proportionality and the less assailable/dismissible nature of collective action is right on the money. The fact is, when asked to design an event to protest the death of an orchestra, you chose not to create a collective action, but rather something that ultimately placed you in the spotlight grabbing microphones, shouting things, and breaking instruments. (Not to mention posting as many photos, articles, videos, and blogs about yourself as you can possibly find.) I am as schadenfroh as anyone at the reaction shot of the Verantwortlicher in the front row, but was there really no better messenger than the man who “protested” the unfairness of GEMA’s royalty collection policies, then accepted a 10.000 EUR Deutscher Musikautorenpreis from the GEMA paid for with those same unfairly collected funds? If this mic-grabbing, cello-smashing nonsense had any integrity, it would be a protest. As is, it’s a farce.

October 25 at 7:47pm · Like · 1

Richard Barrett Yes, Johannes, there were some individuals who tried that. Without going into the reasons why their efforts didn’t succeed (or mentioning Godwin’s Law – oops, there I go), there was no guarantee whatsoever that the whole Nazi system would immediately have fallen apart if they had. Sebastian, I’m not arguing with Johannes’ motives. I’m saying that such an individual action can very easily be neutralised by the institutions it opposes, while a collective action can’t be dealt with so easily. I think it was an error that things were done in the way they were, especially when there were dozens if not hundreds of people right there in town who could have been counted on to take part if they had known anything was being planned.

October 25 at 7:49pm · Like

David Coll wtf guys? i wasn’t there. but the main thing is what happens next. is this a collective action? is there to be something bigger and meaningful as a result? is anyone having meetings and discussing such things? And what power structure do these meetings have? i fear that either there is way too much confidence in the power of the internet, or that nobody is actually thinking of the very necessary steps that must follow an initial provocation.

October 25 at 8:12pm · Like · 1

Sebastian Berweck Johannes part is part of a bigger effort of many people. It was not a solitary action and there are many discussions and meetings. As he said: He was doing it on behalf of the German section of the ISCM, it can’t get much more collective, can it? In front of the Donauhalle were crosses symbolizing the orchestras that don’t exist anymore, and no, it was not Johannes who put them all there by himself. Nor are the articles about this action that have been written in the papers and published in the “new media” all been planted by him. The only way to protest the fusion of the orchestras is to create publicity, and that has been done in numerous ways. Well, I retreat from this discussion, quite some bad blood here.

October 25 at 8:26pm · Like · 2

Johannes Kreidler Mark:
1. I’ve posted one photo, while there are dozens on the net. You’ve posted also quite a lot around Donaueschingen.
2. This action had to be top secret, no one from SWR must know it before, in order to protect them from consequences. The two orchestra members I took the instruments from were musicians with temporary jobs. But after the action, the steering commitee of the orchestra thanked me on behalf of the orchestra (but not to forget to mention: there are also a few, it was said to me three or four people in the orchestra who approve the fusion).
3. My action, as well as the others in Donaueschingen, won’t save the orchestra, the fusion is already decided. The goal is: To show all the guys who have the next fantasies of cutting cultural subsidies that there will be acrimonious opposition (except from you, Richard & Mark).
4. I work as a composer and performer like thousands of other artists are doing, and I am succesfull enough that I definitely don’t need extra self-promotion. On the opposite, obviously I am risking quite a lot with actions like this.
5. The GNM (Julia Cloot is the chief) can witness, I proposed the idea for that action, but proposed that someone else performs it, since I already knew that these silly reproaches come up. But unfortunately it was not much time left and no extra money, so they asked me to do it, and I agreed, feeling the necessity of doing something.
6. There are witnesses enough, the electronics of my piece the next morning in Donaueschingen was a hell of trouble, i didn’t sleep a single minute the two days before. I would have been glad if someone else did that action in the opening concert. Mark, would you have taken the time and energy, even though you had a piece yourself at the Festival?
7. I didn’t publish this video. I only wrote on my private blog and posted on FB one link to it and one link to an english review for english speakers. I cannot be blamed for the fact that it gets this attention.
8. “cello smashing nonsense”: The idea was to create a symbol depicting the situation: Two orchestras (“Klangkörper”) which are completely different, will be violently put together. In effect, the end result is that one orchestra is destroyed (even though the SWR authorities say the opposite). That’s what I showed with artistic means (it’s different artistic means than you use, Mark, but they are artistic means as well). It had to be drastic, that’s my understanding of a political aesthetics.
9. About the GEMA prize only briefly, this was already discussed exhaustively long ago: I always said (proofs are out there) that I am not completely against the GEMA. If they are open to new ideas, that’s fine. Maybe that prize was the beginning. Again, there are people who can witness that, in the discussion of the SWR orchestra prize, there came the idea up in the jury to give me that prize. But thanks god this didn’t happen, Mark, you would have killed me.
10. thanks Sebastian. I haven’t heard anything from all you guys since now against this fusion. The only thing coming into your mind is now blaming me. This is pure egoistic envy, that’s it.

October 25 at 9:14pm · Edited · Like · 4

David Coll No Sebastian, thats great. And encouraging. I look forward to seeing whats next, and would love to know more and possibly act myself.

October 25 at 8:35pm · Like

Richard Barrett Sebastian: It’s the “on behalf of” that’s problematic there. That’s why it isn’t collective. How many people did the GNM approach? Who thought it was a good idea for only one person to stand on stage? Johannes: you are talking quite extensively about *yourself and *your situation, and when you’re criticised by others you accuse them of egoistic envy. I’ll just leave it at that.

October 25 at 8:37pm · Like

Johannes Kreidler Richard, when *I am attacked, I have to defend *myself.

October 25 at 8:38pm · Edited · Like

Richard Barrett You aren’t being “attacked”, you’re being criticised, by people whose basic position on this affair you presumably share. And your response is to call them egoistic and envious. This is an example of why collective action would have been a better strategy.

October 25 at 8:42pm · Like · 3

Seth Brodsky Fascinating discussion, though it’s painful and annoying to see critique and counter-critique descending into shit-slinging. O well, feelings do get hurt. As much as I support the spirit (and sometimes the letter) of Kreidler’s valuable interventions, I do think Barrett has a point, especially once it is surgically detached from any ad hominem aspect (which perhaps he didn’t <attach> in the first place): confronted with a such an action, regardless of the actor’s intentions, a resistant group will virtually always receive it in as <neutralized> a fashion as possible—from the anxious shoulder-shrug of “too-little-too-late” to the pseudo-apoplexia of “how dare they, if only they were civil I’d listen”. The neutralization-technology in this case: the claim that the action’s by-product—yet another opportunity for Kreidler to hock his brand—exceeds its function. The pointing finger (intentionally) blocks the moon. I understand Barrett to be issuing this critique from a larger sympathetic standpoint, but he simultaneously articulates the critique of the professional misrecognizers: we needn’t take this seriously because it was obviously a publicity stunt. <This> critique is the one worth disabling, the one deserving of actors’ utmost cunning. We obviously can’t control the way our messages will be read, better yet received; but I do think that the goal should always be <first> to precipitate about a robust ambivalence, <then> a changing of minds. Kreidler is now notorious enough (in the interplanetary air of EuroNewMusic) to have engendered an immunizing discourse around himself. It followed him to the Donau. How will the virus mutate? Hopefully, by involving the unlikeliest of others, as host or symbiotic partner.

October 25 at 9:04pm · Like

David Coll Seth, you really have got it. But its just so damn analytical!

October 25 at 9:17pm · Like

Ian Pace Maybe people can calm down? As far as Godwin’s law is concerned (in which I don’t believe, however), it could have been evoked on two occasions – one when Johannes invoked individuals who took action against Hitler, once when Richard mentioned Niemöller’s famous quotation. In neither case do I think this parallel is really very productive (if we were talking about some of the German big businesses who sponsor new music and were directly involved in the actions of the Nazis, that would be a different matter).

I’m sorry, but I think the issue of whether we have one less German radio orchestra is not worth getting this worked up about.

October 25 at 9:44pm · Like

Richard Barrett Don’t contribute to the discussion then!

October 25 at 9:48pm · Like

Ian Pace There is a discussion to be had, I just don’t think it warrants this level of anger and feuding!

I’d like to ask anyone contributing here under which circumstances they could imagine that it *would* be acceptable to close down an orchestra or other long-standing musical group/institution (or merge it with another)?

October 25 at 9:50pm · Like

Richard Barrett As I said it’s not just about the music, it’s also about musicians losing their livelihood, and it’s also one symptom of a larger attack on all culture except pop culture which is of course not restricted to Germany. Not that any of this is a reason for feuding: telling someone in the course of a political discussion that you think their strategy is mistaken is not a personal attack (still less the result of envy) and shouldn’t be taken as one.

October 25 at 9:59pm · Like · 2

John Fallas No, it shouldn’t be taken as one, and I agree with most of what you’ve said in principle, Richard – both about the risk there always is of an individual action being ‘absorbed’ by the system it seeks to critique (I think it’s worth emphasising that that risk has nothing to do with the intentions of the individual performing the action), and about the importance of being able to distinguish personal attack from disagreement about political strategy.

But I think you’re asking for a kind of political/theoretical integrity where in fact a broad-brush, attention-grabbing approach might be more effective. I disagree with “an individual action can very easily be neutralised by the institutions it opposes, while a collective action can’t be dealt with so easily”, not because I think the first part of the statement’s wrong, but because I think the second part is a nicer idea than it is a reality. Of course a collective action can be dealt with easily: by ignoring it, the way thousands marching on Parliament against wars or cuts get ignored. Sure, an individual protest might not change anything either, but then you’re simply arguing a question of taste between two potentially non-effective modes of protest.

In an important sense I think the intentions of the person making the protest are irrelevant, if it has its effect. It seems to me that the question of whether Johannes is publicity-seeking is a great worry for many of his colleagues (as witness this thread). For a broader audience to whose attention the protest might come, it won’t seem to be about him at all, since they’ll have very little notion of who he is, and very little interest in finding out. The “public” message of the action is certainly going to be its content as protest more than as fame-seeking.

(And for what it’s worth, Johannes is not the only one who seems to have treated this thread more as an argument about his motives than as a discussion of the issues around the merger.)

October 25 at 11:53pm · Edited · Like

Richard Barrett With regard to individual versus collective action, of course you can point at plenty of examples of when the latter has little or no effect, but if you look at political history you see that emancipatory changes in society (eg. rights for workers, women, racial minorities and gays) have overwhelmingly been brought about by collective action. What is striking to me about the particular episode under discussion is that the GNM, as instigators of the protest, would have been aware for months that in Donaueschingen last weekend there would be sufficient visiting artists from all over, sufficient of whom would have been sympathetic to this cause, to mount something that would look a lot less like individual attention-seeking from one of the “usual suspects”; but neither they nor Johannes thought this was a good idea, and I think they were wrong. I don’t accept Johannes’ excuse that it all needed to be kept secret; that once again seems to me to substitute the values of showmanship for the values the protest was supposedly upholding.

October 26 at 12:21am · Like · 1

Ian Pace Maybe we could get back to the issues around the merger?

October 26 at 12:48am · Like · 1

John Fallas But you’re placing a lot of emphasis on the values the protest was upholding or failing to uphold, rather than the message it conveyed. The suspicion that Johannes is primarily interested in self-publicity seems to me to be potentially an aesthetic problem for his work, but not a political problem. It also seems to me, as I said before, to be primarily a concern for others within the profession who know him and therefore feel able to form an opinion on his motives. I really don’t see why his motivation matters. There are plenty of examples of individuals – Gandhi springs to mind – whose personal motivations historians have shown to be less than pure but who accomplished, or helped to accomplish, immensely valuable work. In the end the work is what endures.

You’re entitled to your opinions about collective action of course but it’s not self-evident that an organisation which doesn’t share them and invites an individual to instigate a protest is deliberately enabling that individual’s narcissistic tendencies rather than simply taking a different view on how to achieve effective protest.

October 26 at 12:49am · Edited · Like

John Fallas Sorry, crossed with Ian. But I wasn’t aware this thread had ever really been about the issues around the merger …

October 26 at 12:50am · Like

Ian Pace There was a moment (some of the exchanges between Daniel, Richard and myself) where it was more about that.

I’d like to ask my question again about whether there are any circumstances in which anyone here would think it would be justified to close down an orchestra or other musical institution?

And to pick up on a point that Richard made, specifically ‘it’s also one symptom of a larger attack on all culture except pop culture which is of course not restricted to Germany’ – how do we define ‘pop culture’ in this context? And (big question, I know, but fundamental), on what grounds do we make the case to ordinary people (taxpayers) to fund ‘non-pop’ culture?

October 26 at 12:53am · Like

Richard Barrett John: I was questioning Johannes’ judgement, and the idea of giving himself the role of representing a body of opinion many of whose other representatives were or could easily have been present; not his motivation in doing so, although germane to my argument is what his motivation might *appear” to be, which is certainly borne out by some of the other comments.

As for closing down institutions, what I’m against is firing people when as Daniel has pointed out there’s plenty of money to pay them to do their job.

And as for your last question, Ian, which of course you ask at every possible opportunity, it seems to presuppose that people are only prepared to pay taxes towards expenditure which directly benefits them, which demonstrably isn’t the case, given that for example the government of the UK spends about two hundred times as much on its military as it does on cultural funding. What I call “the attack on all culture except pop culture” is once more ideological rather than economic in motivation. To imagine, therefore, that special pleading is required for the minuscule contribution each individual makes to cultural activities they might not themselves take any interest in is really to be taken in by that ideology.

October 26 at 1:14am · Like

Ian Pace I ask that last question often because I think such a case has to be made if a proper defence against major arts cuts is to be sustained – and as you know, those cuts are coming aplenty in several countries.

October 26 at 1:16am · Like

Ian Pace (and if Romney wins the election, he has pledged to abolish public arts funding in the US altogether – and I haven’t heard much of a peep about that other than from artists. Not that what funding there is is exactly very plentiful, but it doesn’t seem to be something that much of any population care about. That’s why such cuts are easy to put into practice)

October 26 at 1:18am · Like

Ian Pace On institutions: can one almost ever close an institution down without putting some people out of work? But if one did not do so on that basis, would it ever be possible for newer institutions to take the place of older ones?

October 26 at 1:19am · Like

Mark Barden Whether any of the protests will translate into meaningful action or policy remains to be seen. For what it’s worth, there was a collective action protest, briefly mentioned above, at the closing orchestral concert. During a live radio broadcast, maestro François Xavier-Roth delivered a short, solemn message (“In was für einem Deutschland wollen wir leben?”), then asked the crowd to stand and observe a moment of silence. Following this, individual protesters shouted “for music! for culture! for the future!” in several languages in turn. The orchestra applauded, followed by the audience iirc. Hard to imagine a more powerful show of solidarity than a large mass of people standing in silence. It wasn’t terribly sensational (and has been mostly ignored in the media), but was for me a powerful evocation of loss.

October 26 at 2:35am · Like · 5

Mark Barden [I’ll refrain from a point-by-point rebuttal of Johannes’s post above and just say that the photo he references depicts him on stage after his Donaueschingen première giving a BLACK POWER SALUTE à la 1968 Olympics (I verified with him personally that this association was in fact his intention)—an egregious example of the poor judgment, ignorance, and self-importance that, for me, permeate his work and irreparably tarnish whatever message might be intended.]

October 26 at 2:42am · Like

Richard Barrett Presumably the main reason the intervention on Sunday was hardly reported was that it had already been trumped in the scandal game by Friday evening’s event. Probably Johannes would see this as a vindication of his methods. I don’t have as harsh a judgement of Johannes and his work as you do, Mark, although I find myself in sympathy with every point you make. The question I ask myself refers to the famous formulation of Benjamin: is this a politicising of art, or an aestheticising of politics?

October 26 at 10:06am · Like · 2

Seth Brodsky I wouldn’t accept the choice. Both “options” are clearly working in cahoots here, and it’s always casuistry which determines whether one wins out—but then, this “win” is itself often a consolation prize to the critics and celebrants, while the efficacy of the action happens along some other line of flight. On some level, a remarkable action should have something irrefutable about it, something “beyond taste”, outside any clear jurisdiction.

October 26 at 8:53pm · Like · 1

Seth Brodsky I do concede, however, that according to those standards, this particular action did leave some nasty aftertaste. When I first heard that it happened, my first thought was, “I wonder if it was Kreidler.” Sure enough. And the Black Power Salute, even apart from issues of taste, is, well, kind of a gross comparison.

October 26 at 8:59pm · Edited · Like

Mark Barden Seth, could you clarify what you mean by a “gross comparison”?

October 26 at 9:04pm · Like

Seth Brodsky I guess I mean that the act of comparing the fusion of multiple orchestras (comprised of mostly non-blacks) who perform music of overwhelmingly non-black composers for overwhelmingly white audiences to the fight for Black rights in the USA in the 60s and 70s gross. Certainly mistaken. If in fact JK intended to draw such a comparison. Did he?

October 26 at 9:11pm · Like

Seth Brodsky Perhaps he had some other such intention. But of course the heydays of radical chic often reveal on revisitation that charismatic leadership and activism are mutually entwined—separable, but entwined—in each other. They are born twins, so to speak, both there at the origin, and it’s (to me) pure fantasy to construct a narration where there was first some pure impulse and subsequently its corruption—or vice-versa. JK appears to me to have both impulses at work all the time, while others—for instance, the desire to write a “fucking perfect string quartet” (as a composer friend of mine put it)—are as seemingly alien to him as a middle-management desk job. That said, I’d friggin love to see him pull a Ligeti 2 or Lachenmann 2 out of his hat and plop it down on the stage at the next New Music Festival. THAT would constitute its own action, and would certainly satisfy the goal of first confounding a resistant base.

October 26 at 9:26pm · Like

Mark Barden Kreidler’s black power salute came after his own première (the morning after the cello smash) and had nothing to do with the fusion. Apparently he felt it was an appropriate way to celebrate his accomplishment. And while I have my own suspicions as to why a simple bow didn’t strike him as sufficient, I’ll give voice to a friend’s perspective: “middle class white german male uses black power salute to advance new music career—is this sad or is this sad?”

October 26 at 9:38pm · Like

Mark Barden Xavier-Roth’s speech + collective action protest at final concert begin at 6:17 of the first video here:

Festivals :: Donaueschinger Musiktage |

Das SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg spielt unter François-Xavier …

Roth. Neben “hukl” von Bernhard Gander und “Blut” von Aureliano Cattaneo (mit dem Trio accanto) stand am 21.10.2012 in der Baar-Sporthalle auch “Itself” von Franck Bedrossian auf dem Programm, der im Anschluss an das Kon…

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October 26 at 9:40pm · Like · Remove Preview

John Fallas Mark: This is becoming embarrassing. I suggest you stop now if you don’t want to give the impression that this is entirely about your dislike/disapproval of a colleague.

October 26 at 9:44pm · Like

Mark Barden You’re free to have whatever impression you like, John. I think Johannes’s black power salute was deeply offensive and am certainly not embarrassed to say as much. I can only hope that the reason he isn’t being held accountable for it by others is because most people didn’t understand what it was. Have a look for yourself and make up your own mind: 70:45 at second video (same link as above). Done now. =)

October 26 at 10:17pm · Like

Pavlos Antoniadis I must say: I am grateful to Johannes Kreidler for his action, even though it is not my cup of tea: regardless of its symbolic power or its ingenuity, which I judge as poor, (and yes one can criticize that: isn’t that the fate of all forms of political “art”, whereby the message cannot be considered regardless of the medium?), it obviously made us all think about forms of collective action and their utmost urgency in today’s societies. If the medium is the message, and I think I know where Johannes’s sympathies lie in this respect, then a poor medium -in the sense that it invites criticism as star-oriented narcissism- may have the opposite results for what is sought after. Nevertheless, and after much reflection (and a small fight with my girlfriend-an activist herself), I am happy it did happen.

October 26 at 11:31pm · Like · 1

John Fallas I struggle to see how he’s (in the words of your friend) “advanc[ing his] new music career” with it if (in your words) the two options are being held accountable for it and people not understanding what it was. But I was referring more to your general attacks on his character and presumed motivations for the SWR protest. Anyway, I’m done now too. 🙂

October 26 at 11:32pm · Like

Mark Barden Personal attacks are distasteful, I would agree. This is why I’ve eschewed criticizing Kreidler openly up to now: the line between performance and person is ambiguous. While I’ve never had a problem with the person, I have massive problems with the work (which, again, is often but not always clearly performative). It’s not a matter of mere aesthetic differences or quibbles about compositional craft (= a whole other can of worms); I actually find quite a bit of the work morally reprehensible (the unreflected exploitation of “Fremdarbeit” and “Charts Music”, to cite just two examples). Since the black power salute wasn’t technically a performance, is it possible to criticize it as insulting and stupid without implicitly attacking Kreidler’s character? (In this case, I actually don’t think it is.) If one recognizes in several works a consistent pattern of calculated sensationalism with no broader analysis, coherent viewpoint, or ethical principles, when does it become germane to call the artist a “shameless opportunist” rather than work upon work “shamelessly opportunistic”? My critique *does* boil down to a core ethical problem I perceive throughout, but I have tried to ground that critique in concrete instantiations in the work itself. Given my assessment of Kreidler’s other pieces, it’s hard to treat the fusion protest as a hermetically sealed event. I see yet another instance of nihilistic self-aggrandizement, though I am sympathetic to the argument that the messenger’s motives are irrelevant in terms of overall impact. It *was* more effective in terms of publicity and raising awareness than the collective action protest (perhaps largely a manifestation of the contemporary moment’s obsession with celebrity and, as Dave put it above, “straight to YouTube” sensation—Richard’s point about it failing to occur to either Johannes or GNM to involve a larger pool of artists deserves serious consideration). I think good faith and belief in a cause are prerequisites for solidarity. Frankly that’s why I wasn’t on board with the solo cello smash; it flagrantly defies those prerequisites imo. Zooming out a bit, this thread is proof that there is no paucity of careful thinkers deeply concerned with activism and the preservation of the arts. As cuts continue, I hope we develop and express in action ever more effective means of protest.

October 27 at 12:01pm · Like

Richard Barrett ****, there’s nothing new about such actions taking place in musical contexts. (See example below!) What maybe is a little bit new is the nihilistic aspect of this one. As Johannes said, “The goal is: To show all the guys who have the next fantasies of cutting cultural subsidies that there will be acrimonious opposition.” Opposition is all very well but on its own it isn’t enough. The “Notenkraker” group of Dutch musicians active around the end of the 1960s succeeded in changing the direction of musical-cultural policy in the Netherlands for decades, not because they disrupted concerts (which they did, repeatedly, for example the Dutch premiere of Stockhausen’s “Stimmung” in 1969) and complained about what they didn’t want but because they were vociferous in stating what they DID want, what kind of musical environment they thought would be healthier than the stifling conservatism they were protesting against. Until very recently the supportive situation of contemporary music in the Netherlands, which that activism helped to bring about, was taken for granted; which I suppose is one reason why you seem to be completely unaware that such things ever happened before.

October 28 at 1:32pm · Edited · Like

Patricia Alessandrini Speaking from my own modest experience both in political action and as a composer, I would like to say that a line has been crossed here, which risks to discourage any musician less courageous than Johannes from taking future political action publicly. Criticism of the form of a political action is of course useful, but it is needless even to point out that attacking others’ motives, even by implication, and namecalling are so divisive as to negate the possible value of the intended critique, assuming that the critique was intended in good faith to strengthen the impact of future political actions. There is also a certain lack of rigour in some of the assertions (was Mohammed Bouazizi’s political action ‘reactionary’ as well?) As for use/appropriation of signs from other movements, there are no absolutes, and it is always possible to discuss these issues calmly.
Let’s face it, the atmosphere among composers is generally toxic. I second Johannes’ call for solidarity, and invite those of you who have made what might be construed as personal attacks to make your own show of courage by backtracking on anything which might be construed in this manner, and at the very least recognising that there is a shared cause.

October 28 at 2:25pm · Like

Richard Barrett It would have been better had the “call for solidarity” taken place *before the demonstration. Of course there is a shared cause. And “courageous” – well, carrying out a protest action in front of an audience which you can assume overwhelmingly shares that cause, the repercussions of which are hardly likely to be very harmful to oneself (in fact are more likely to be quite the opposite) is in no way on the same level as – since you’ve mentioned him – Mohammed Bouazizi. And yes, any action which substitutes an individual for a mass movement is reactionary. Bouazizi did not cause the Tunisian revolution, it was there waiting to happen. Dozens of Tibetans (to name only these) have similarly immolated themselves as a protest against Chinese occupation of their country, which carries on regardless because there is no serious chance at present of their being backed by a mass movement with a chance of success.

October 28 at 2:52pm · Like · 2

Johannes Kreidler if this action was “nonsense” and only “self-publicity”, why did hundreds of people applaude in the hall? why didn’t one single newspaper review share your opinion, guys? even the official swr statement, which obviously doesn’t applaude to me, doesn’t go on this low level of critique. why is it only composer colleagues who blame me? i am sorry, i only have one explanation: jealousy.

if you didn’t like my protest, do it better, make your own protest against this fusion, make it single, make it collective, make it anonymous, make it with your name, make it with artistic means, make it with proudness, make it with anger, with the help of institutions or not. it doesn’t have to be a great artwork, it only has to be a sign. (ian: it is probably the world’s best orchestra specialized on new music which is going to be closed). the best is to have all kinds of protests. the degree of ‘success’ of political actions can almost never be proofed, but that shouldn’t detain anyone when there are things to protest against.

October 28 at 3:28pm · Like

Richard Barrett Hundreds of people applauded in the hall because disapproval of the SWR’s actions is pretty widespread, of course. And sorry but measuring the success of something on the basis of the amount of applause in the hall and of positive reviews in newspapers seems to me a strange thing to do when you’re supposedly protesting *against* the populist policies of the SWR. Whether the action actually makes any difference or not will depend on what plays out over a longer time. If jealousy is your *only* explanation for the criticism you’re receiving here (which is intended as *constructive” criticism, coming from people whose experience of political activism might even be more extensive than your own!) that says more about the limitations of your thinking than about anyone else. Once more: it isn’t all about you!

October 28 at 3:44pm · Like · 1

Ian Pace The SWR orchestra in Baden-Baden & Freiburg may arguably be the finest orchestra in the world for new music, but those radio orchestras in Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Cologne and Munich are very strong as well (as, for a different type of new music, has been the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, formerly the RIAS Orchestra). And it is a merger between two very strong radio orchestras (whose much-vaunted differences in programming and style of performance may be rather less vivid to those not at the centre of the new music world), rather than simply the abolition of one. This is not ideal, certainly, but I cannot really see it as the calamity that some are making it out to be, not even compared to the arts cuts in the Netherlands, or those which are likely in the US if Romney is elected, let alone in comparison to much wider cuts to jobs, benefits and various else throughout the Western world, leading to new levels of unemployment, poverty and the growth of neo-fascist movements in Southern Europe.

But as far as German new music is concerned, I think the writing has been on the wall for some time – it was probably only a matter of time before questions were going to be asked about support for the highly extensive range of supported institutions, festivals, orchestras, concert series, and so on that still exist, not least as most of these were developed during a different ideological time, when there was a much greater perceived political value in modern culture, in opposition to Soviet Bloc censorship. Right now, most of the objections to cuts look obviously self-interested – I am not referring specifically to this protest here, but to a general sense that most of those who seem especially to care about the cuts are those who have their own professional interest in the status quo remaining. There needs to be a stronger case made than this if any coherent opposition is going to win more widespread support.

Back to this protest, though: my measure of its success or otherwise comes about through asking three basic questions: (a ) is it likely to lead to any rescinding of the decision to merge the orchestras?; (b ) is it likely to deter future mergers, cuts or abolitions of a similar nature?; (c ) is it likely to change the opinion of anyone who was not already opposed to this and other such cost-saving measures?

October 28 at 4:25pm · Like · 2

Richard Barrett In reply to Ian: firstly: the SWR cutback situation is not limited to the orchestra merger or to new music. Another symptom that came to my notice is that the broadcast studio in Baden-Baden formerly used by the SWR jazz department (among others) has been turned over to the production of “youth-oriented TV programmes” – I quote the account given to me by Reinhard Kager, the former head of that department, who earlier this year resigned his post as a result of his programming freedom being progressively curtailed. So there is more at stake than just an orchestra to service new-music composers. No doubt there’s even more that hasn’t come to my attention.

“There needs to be a stronger case made than this” – yes there does. As you say, all that financial support began at a time when there was a clear official-ideological reason for it. The case for continuing that support needs to include those whose jobs are on the line – not just orchestral musicians but all kinds of radio-station staff (and composers, somewhere further down the line!) – and the question of whether Baden-Württemberg needs two orchestras for contemporary music (although that isn’t all they play of course) can be turned around to take a form more like asking whether Baden-Württemberg needs another youth TV programme or another Tatort, which suck up a lot more money and pay far larger amounts of it to far fewer people, and have the eventual effect of turning culture into a (profitmaking) monoculture rather than supporting diversity, artistic innovation etc. I think these are subtle but crucial arguments, and, as you say, they need to include people who don’t have an obvious vested interest.

October 28 at 4:55pm · Edited · Unlike · 3

Federico Reuben I’ve just picked up this thread and I have to admit that it makes me a bit sad. I admire both Richard and Johannes, but it seems to me that this discussion has mostly been driven by conflicting egos rather than a positive conversation about the problem. Do you honestly think that Johannes did this only for self-promotion? And that he thinks it is all about him? Also, one of the main criticisms that started this discussion was around self-publicity. My question is why is this such a bad thing in a case like this? For me it seems like this act of self-publicity (which maybe wasn’t the most interesting one btw) has contributed to more visibility of the case at hand. The problem it seems then is that the main question is around a notion of purity and its relationship to ethics and politics. It seems that the main argument against Johannes is that his act is ethically dubious because of this act of self-promotion. I think we are corrupted one way or another, and I’d rather see someone like Johannes “getting his hands dirty” through an action like this, than the apathetic attitude of others that just criticise from a comfortable distance without taking any form of action. In my view, having people like Johannes – whose work does reflect a good level of critical engagement with music, art and culture – seeking publicity is only a fair thing. I think it is positive to have public figures and artists like Johannes seeking attention and visibility outside the small group they usually operate in. I therefore think that criticising this action in these terms is not really very productive, more productive would be fighting apathy and trying to do something about the situation. I also don’t really understand the basic criticism to Johannes as his action also contributes to making the case more visible to a larger number of people.

October 28 at 7:05pm · Edited · Like

Rena Gely Widmer ohhh…so pity that my english is so bad..

October 28 at 5:21pm · Like · 1

Richard Barrett Federico, I thought I had made it clear that I was not accusing Johannes of “only self-promotion” but somehow you seem to have missed that. For example, my “all about you” comment clearly refers to his response to criticism on this thread rather than to the action itself. With regard to “conflicting egos”, I’ve been talking about the wider context within and outside the SWR, the need for collective action and for broadening the base of any protest, while Johannes has been talking about how much applause and favourable notices in the press he received. And I don’t see why this action should be above criticism whatever it may or may not have achieved.

October 28 at 5:42pm · Edited · Like · 1

Rena Gely Widmer Sorry..Johannes, you are hurt now by so many negative comments, but I don’t believe that Richard has ment to hurt you..I agree with Richard that a common action would have brought more..But also: where are the people to organize that? Where are the people to do that common action? I can only say that if I was a (quite) successful german composer I would have done something like this. Yes- an individual action, what can I do more? And I have a feeling that if I personally was at the concert at that time I would have stood up and would go on the stage and support his protest and protest with him(which would have been a real surprise even for myself I guess 🙂 )..I support Johannes at this issue. Ian , there are certainly issues that need more protests, but I guess everyone protests against that what touches him personally. Mostly. We can change nothing about that……And at least again (I told it already to Arne: in my eyes if such a small individual action can be seen as self-promotion, then the whole NM scene is just miserable. Miserable! If no one is “aloud” to do SOMETHING, WHICH IS JUST A LITTLE BIT BRAVE!

October 28 at 5:39pm · Like

Federico Reuben Richard, sorry if I misread some of your comments. It is a long thread… I do believe that the criticism on him has been a bit unfair and that is why I wanted to voice my opinion. I think it is ok to criticise the action of course, but the basis in which it has been criticised I think has been on this argument around self-promotion and therefore I wanted to rise the questions I did in my previous comment. I do think that the thread is unnecessarily heated and that has distracted the discussion, rather than helped. Also, in your comments I believe you have restrained yourself of giving any credit to Johannes’ action at all and have not acknowledged that perhaps there is something positive about it. I understand you have a lot of experience in political actions and so forth, so I would think you would appreciate this effort. I’m sure your criticism and experience could really help, but maybe the way in which the conversation has been framed in relationship to Johannes’ action, hasn’t been the most constructive.

October 28 at 7:08pm · Edited · Like

Richard Barrett Well, I’m making no secret of the fact that I think the strategy was mistaken, and I’ve tried to give my reasons for saying that. To reiterate: I believe that a collective action would have been a far better idea, and I’m not at all convinced by Johannes’ arguments as to why it wasn’t. One thing that this sometimes heated discussion has thrown up is that it seems to be difficult for some composers to separate criticism of their actions from criticism of themselves. Proceeding from the starting point that collective action is more effective overall than individual action: collective action depends ultimately on submitting to the discipline of a political organisation of some kind, which means that one’s own individualistic ideas *within that context* have to take second place. It seems to be a point of pride among many composers (and indeed artists of other disciplines too) that taking such a step is impossible. But I would say that taking that step is absolutely necessary if artists are going to play a meaningful role in political activism in a wider sense.

October 28 at 6:25pm · Like · 1

Benny C My main problem with this whole thread is summed up in that last sentence. I just wonder how contemporary classical music (and its off-shoots) can have a role at all in political activism in a ‘wider’ sense. Isn’t it all a little more insular than that? Please slap me if I’ve overstepped the mark.

October 28 at 8:28pm · Like

Richard Barrett I wasn’t talking about the music having a role, but the musician.

October 28 at 8:31pm · Like · 1

Samuel Vriezen Fascinating discussion!

Ian writes: “Right now, most of the objections to cuts look obviously self-interested”. Spot on. Two years of utterly ineffectual arts protests in the Netherlands have taught me a thing or two about this.

Just as individual action can easily be construed & dismissed as the self-serving activism of an attention-seeking, collective action by a bunch of artists, certainly in the context of some subsidized arts environment, can equally be dismissed very easily as the self-serving activism of a privileged clique.

So what matters in the end is less the form that action takes than the content. Whoever commits whatever action, if it looks like defending privilege, whether that of an individual or a group, it’s ineffectual no matter what. The point will always be to hammer home why the institution you’re defending is, in fact, valuable to the world at large and not just to those who happen to have an interest in it.

So the point of collective action of composers & musicians only starts to make sense when you can make it together with, let’s say, the position of illegal immigrant workers, the Greek economy, or people in the Niger delta who have to fish and farm in crude oil.

I’m intentionally mentioning rather extreme cases here that are far removed from the comfort of the concert hall just to indicate the size of the challenge. The good thing is that I believe it actually can be done, possibly through intermediary steps, possibly at a certain level of abstraction. But it requires a rethinking (again!) of the political character of music, and today, the orchestra may very well simply not be the field in which that is possible at all. Mere gratuitous expressions of solidarity (dedicating your noisy atonal symphony to the victims of the latest edition of capitalist evil) will not cut it. You’ve got to examine how the conditions of music making relate to those of living in post-fordist capitalist times in general, even before you start explaining why some fringe musical interest could be of importance, if you’re going to do the politics right.

At least on that level a piece like ‘Fremdarbeit’ seems like a step in the right direction, though personally, I’m always very very suspicious of the ironical aspects of over-identification strategies – the irony of irony being that it tends to repeat what it is supposedly critiquing, with all of us ending up smirking with our own insight into our complicity.

Whether or not to take collective or individual action then is tangential; or, it’s a matter of tactics. Personally, I favor mixing tactics. If we, artists, have a strong enough political message, let’s just make sure it’s everywhere, let’s try to suffuse public space with it, which includes not just the media, both old & new, but also how we deal with friends and neighbours. And within such multi-leveled tactics, there might certainly be a place for an individual creating a strong image to serve as a new fixture, why not? Primarily the messaging, the story, needs to be impeccable in its clarity and analysis.

In that respect, although I’m not entirely sure if the fate of an orchestra as such should be a central concern, there’s one thing I did admire in Kreidler’s message. His image addresses the *musical* problem of the merger. The argumentation derives from musical-historical material, the invented image of an unplayable instrument is bluntly powerful, and I just hope for the sake of people who love orchestras that it might have some rhetorical punch in the future. If I may have doubts about that, it’s because I’m not so sure orchestras have much political-rhetorical punch at all right now except when talking to cultural conservatives.

The smashing itself seems to me to be the weaker part of the action, BTW – the two instruments tied together are saying enough. Also it doesn’t look good, compared to, say, a really controlled performance of Nam June Paik’s Solo for Violin. In the video that I saw, the smashing of the instruments looked a little undisciplined, and I would suggest that it is that hint of indicipline that makes such an action most vulnerable to the kind of critique that it has been given here. But OK, I understand that the action was a bit of a rushed job here.

October 28 at 8:49pm · Edited · Like · 6

Benny C You mean the ‘musician’ in general? From any background? Does not their music affect their role?

October 28 at 8:36pm · Like

Richard Barrett Yes, Benny, I mean from any background. I spent some years as an active member of a revolutionary socialist organisation in the UK. Some of my fellow members were vaguely aware that I was a musician of some kind; but there was no reason why that should have given me a special role any more than it would have if I’d been a firefighter or a nurse. This experience affected my music, rather than the other way around.

October 28 at 8:56pm · Like

Richard Barrett And by the way: welcome, Samuel, and thanks for some thought-provoking comments.

October 28 at 9:00pm · Like

Benny C I suppose then I’m asking, how the music affected the political situation? I’m obviously asking in general, and it is in no way a loaded question.

October 28 at 9:01pm · Like

Richard Barrett I’m saying the music *didn’t* affect the political situation but was affected *by* it, sorry if that wasn’t clear.

October 28 at 9:14pm · Like

Benny C my bad

October 28 at 9:24pm · Like

Seth Brodsky Man alive, this thread continues. Marvelously. Very quickly, until I have more time: I second Richard Barrett’s recent comments about the potential/inevitable rift in identity between music and musician, and more importantly between professional and activist. This is an extremely compelling point, not least because it sheds light on the question of whether an action ought address and <exist within and for> a professional discourse, or whether it seeks to interfere with or transgress this discourse. To some degree this offers another, perhaps more fruitful perspective on what was earlier (mis?)constructed as a tension between “personal” (as “professional”) and “political” (as – social?). More to the point, it reveals the Borgesian-encyclopedian problem here: “composer” and “activist” are in no way necessarily related animals, better yet categories. Then again, activism, as it happens to intersect with any profession, intersects at an angle, and always problematically.

October 29 at 12:23am via mobile · Like

Seth Brodsky Unless what we are potentially discussing is in fact a Composers’ Union?

October 29 at 12:24am via mobile · Like

Mark Barden Many previous comments seem to ignore that there have been loads of fusion protests already; October 2012 is actually *very* late in the game. For German speakers, YouTube videos document numerous of these protests, both collective and individual. Most took the form of interruptions to public concerts in Feb-March 2012. Search “SWR SO” and any of these names: Pierre Boulez, Leo Siberski, Wolfgang Rihm, Tabea Zimmermann, Lothar Zagrosek, Jean-Guyhen Queyras, Michael Gielen, Jörg Widmann, Arno Bohn, Karlsruhe flashmob, Solidaritätskonzert, “Weil Kultur uns Zukunft gibt” (in which 1700 audience members sing to the orchestra). Notable protests in text form include the petitions from and various op-ed pieces, e.g., from Bundestag President Norbert Lammert. I would emphasize that, tmk, all of these occurred before the fusion was final, i.e., when action was most likely to affect policy.

October 29 at 9:20am · Like

Mark Barden Returning to the thread’s origin, several factors make Kreidler’s action particularly vulnerable to interpretation as self-promotion rather than as an expression of a deep, selfless conviction to the cause: (1) it was inherently futile w/r/t saving the orchestra (unlike the protests above, the fusion was already official; one wonders why such a committed activist was silent when action might’ve affected policy), (2) flyers with his name prominently displayed were distributed swiftly and generously throughout the auditorium (I don’t have this flyer anymore, but iirc it said only “Johannes Kreidler im Auftrag der GNM”—why was this paper not filled with arguments or statistics against the fusion…something—*anything*—focused on the message rather than the messenger?), and (3) the stunt came just hours before his première on the concert the morning afterwards, which is marvelously convenient timing.

Throughout this thread he has, despite ample opportunity and lively debate on substantive issues, repeatedly failed to provide broader analysis or contextualization. His unwavering focus on applause, YouTube views, press, and personal achievement speaks for itself.

October 29 at 11:26am · Edited · Like

Luc Döbereiner If I were in charge of budget cuts or some exploiting company and afraid of political protests/movements, I’d hire Kreidler to protest against it.

October 29 at 11:28am · Like · 2

Federico Reuben I think Samuel rose an important point. I think it clearly outlines why the simplistic notion that collective action is inherently more effective than individual action is not as relevant in our Late Capitalist society in the West as perhaps it used to be. We have seen how in recent decades collective action has been institutionalised in the West making it in many cases ineffective (think about recent protests in the West from the Iraq war protests to the student protests on higher fees in the UK, just to mention a few). The problem with the institutionalisation of collective protest is that it in the end asserts the status quo and the notion that people have the right to protest is somehow a reminder or a validation that we live in a “great democratic and free society” that celebrates and allows freedom of speech – the problem though is that collective protest has become ineffective as a strategy because it can be easily ignored by those in power. Therefore, maybe the question shouldn’t be about collective vs individual action but about the radicality of the protest itself. Some individual actions I think can be more radical than many collective actions. Think for example about some of what the West usually and simplistically labels as “acts of terror”. Some of these are simple attempts for visibility and expressions of desperate protest from groups/individuals that sometimes are just lacking political representation (think of the Palestinian situation for many years). I’m not saying that they are necessarily effective in this case, but they do give visibility and sometimes that is what is needed. Going on, the reason that the arab spring was effective is perhaps because their protests were firstly, radical enough and secondly, their forms of protest hadn’t been institutionalised like in the West. The problem for us in the West is therefore that we need to find new forms of protest, and again in that way I think Johannes’ action is going in the right direction – the problem therefore I think is not about individual vs collective action, or about self-publicity and narcissism, but the radicality of the action itself. I am personally not interested in the attacks Johannes is receiving for his action based on his personality and character, they seem to me as futile as perhaps his action was. Maybe the main problem with Johannes’ action was simply that it is not radical enough.

October 30 at 7:46pm · Edited · Like · 1

Jim Aitchison Is there an index-point of privilege and/or self interest set at zero? Is anyone on it? Can any of us really know others’ motivation? Should we be commenting upon it? (Yes, of course, but…). What about our own?

October 29 at 12:01pm · Like

Johannes Kreidler Mark, I strongly recommend you to stop posting on this thread, you make a fool of yourself in front of, as Richard said, potentially thousands of people.

Your insults are as wrong as they can be:

(1) Already in march 2012 18 artists wrote a protest letter (you should have got this email too, on 27th march, check your box) and launched a website against this fusion. This is the website:, the letter I also posted on my blog: The initiators were:
Mark Andre // Carola Bauckholt // Martin Baumgärtel // Michael Beil // Mara Genschel // Lorenz Grau // Michael Hiemke // Neele Hülcker // Till Kniola // Steffen Krebber // Johannes Kreidler // Nicolas Kuhn // Brigitta Muntendorf // Enno Poppe // Manuel Schwierz // Manos Tsangaris // Eleftherios Veniadis // Katharina Vogt.
The whole was under the leadership of Manos Tsangaris, if you have further questions, ask him about this initiative.
And of course, I’ve signed the petition (in march):

(2) The flyers were there to show that is *not* a single action by J.K. I was not happy with it, they showed it to me only when it was already duplicated, I wanted to have more information on it, but the whole was managed by GNM. If you have further questions about the back ground of the action, you can ask Julia Cloot or Sigrid Conrad from GNM who organised it.

(3) Why was it in Donaueschingen? Because all previous actions weren’t successfull, because the SWR orchestra was playing there, because it was known that the main authorities will be there, because in Donaueschingen is big attention. It has nothing to do with my piece (and if, what should be the benefit? The concert was already sold out. This point is the most ridiculous one). In the end, it was only practical that I also had a piece there, means that I was there, it didn’t cost extra money. As I already wrote (are you able to read, Mark??), I proposed GNM the idea and said that someone else should perform it. But for practical reasons, mainly because of money, they then asked me to do it, I agreed, sighing, having really already enough to do with my actual piece.

Ian, your questions are right, but unanswerable in most cases like this. There will be certainly no headline soon: “SWR orchestra merge withdrawn because authorities saw action piece in Donaueschingen.”

I want to say thanks to Samuel Vriezen who points out for me the real striking problem, which is completely unsolved by almost all actions: That it is only those who protest, who have a professional relationship to the orchestra. I will think about this point for further activities.

October 29 at 4:16pm · Like

Ian Pace Johannes: OK – if my questions are unanswerable, then what exactly can such a protest achieve?

October 29 at 4:19pm · Like · 1

Johannes Kreidler to hope that they change the things you mentioned, even if we don’t get a direct proof for it.

October 29 at 4:22pm · Like

Ian Pace So you mean the questions are unanswerable immediately, but may be answerable in the future?

October 29 at 4:23pm · Like

Johannes Kreidler perhaps yes, perhaps not. i already said: it is likely that the orchestras will merge. but at least our protests maybe prevent further cuts. but this cannot be proofed then, things which don’t happen (which remain only fantasy in the heads of the authorities) are no evidence.

October 29 at 4:25pm · Like

Ian Pace Well, the questions may be answerable in the negative, if indeed there are further cuts. Or if there are debated, it will be interesting to see if opposition like this appears to be filtered into the discussions at all.

October 29 at 4:27pm · Like

Ian Pace It’s possible, say, to gauge the effects of certain actions or other phenomena in terms of cutting crimes, say – an absolute cause-and-effect explanation may not be possible, but a statistically likely one is. If this is possible in such a complex issue, then it should be possible to do something of the same in terms of arts cuts. But if we have no way of giving an answer as to in what ways certain protests are effective, then we should surely be rather more guarded before proclaiming their importance?

October 29 at 4:29pm · Like

Johannes Kreidler Ian, when there is a threat like this, it is important that all means of defending are used.

October 29 at 4:35pm · Like

Ian Pace That assumes all such means will have some positive impact – what if the impact was negative? What if (and I am only speaking hypothetically here) it was interpreted by others as a typical case of people getting angry when, and only when, their own vested interests come under question, which might firm up a resolve to proceed with such cuts?

How would you go about convincing a wider population, many of whom are likely to be unsympathetic to much about contemporary Western art music, at least of a modernist/avant-garde variety, that it is important to defend the existence of a specific orchestra who have especial renown for playing this type of work, when there are various other orchestras which do the same, including one in the same state? I’m not talking about convincing musicians or others involved in the new music world here, or even of convincing others aligned to the contemporary arts.

October 29 at 4:49pm · Like

Johannes Kreidler yes, this aspect, like Samuel also mentioned, is a lack of the whole.

October 29 at 4:50pm · Like

Richard Barrett Please excuse me for repeating myself, but: in terms of convincing a wider population it could have been pointed out that the minority interested in the work of this orchestra is not actually as small as might be thought (apparently the Donaueschinger Musiktage had 10,000 visitors over the weekend), and that it enjoys prestige on an international level, and the way of pointing this out would of course have been to call for as large as possible a collective demonstration. I think the possibility of this particular action having had a negative impact is worth considering. Did it make the work of the orchestra, and the SWR’s role in promoting contemporary music, look important beyond the borders of Baden-Württemberg and indeed Germany, and supported by significant numbers of people drawn from an international musical community? Or did it (NB: whatever anyone’s personal intentions might have been) look like a parochial and ephemeral kind of headline-grabbing act by one person who studied composition just down the road in Freiburg and whose own music just happened to be featuring in a concert the following day?

October 29 at 8:23pm · Edited · Like · 1

Johannes Kreidler I think we’ve reached the peak of absurdity, now the problem is that I’ve studied once in Freiburg! (I also studied in The Hague, amongst others with Richard Barrett)

October 29 at 9:14pm · Edited · Like

Richard Barrett I’ll shut up in a moment because I’m constantly saying the same thing, but it is not “absurd” to point out some reasons why it might be easy to perceive the direction of SWR cultural policy as a localised disturbance with no outside connections, rather than something with international significance.

October 29 at 9:34pm · Like

Michael Edwards Single or group protestations aside, if JK’s piece had been for the SWR Orchester does anyone here think that a much more potent statement might have been to _not_ write a piece for them but instead to have them sit in silence for, say, ten minutes, in order to underline what might be missing in the near future?

October 29 at 10:42pm · Like · 2

Mark Barden They’re not insults, Johannes, they’re facts. Moreover, you actually agree (!) with nearly everything I said above: (1) your action at Donaueschingen was inherently futile in terms of saving the orchestra (which you concede), (2) flyers were distributed exactly as I described (which you concede), (3) the action came the evening before your première (which you concede).

However, I *do* admit that I got one thing wrong: Johannes was not silent on the fusion before his solo action. (It’s worth noting that none of these collective action protests resulted in suspicions of self-promotion, perhaps because they were collective.) That said, a factual inaccuracy in a parenthetical aside doesn’t change the main point: his fusion protest came too late to affect the fusion itself. This inherent futility increased the likelihood that it would be perceived as primarily self-interested, which could negatively affect the cause (for reasons discussed exhaustively above). This is a discussion of strategy, not a personal insult.

Blaming GNM as Johannes does repeatedly (for the flyers and the choice of performer) makes it difficult to take seriously his calls for solidarity. That it is equally misguided to dismiss critics as jealous, illiterate fools should also be obvious. Readers can judge for themselves whether criticisms levied in this thread descend into baseless ad hominem attacks or whether they are justifiable, if harsh, criticisms of actions supported by logic, reason, and facts.

I am left with two specific questions for Johannes:

1. Were you paid for your protest at Donaueschingen? (You’ve said GNM’s lack of funds precluded finding a different performer, implying compensation of some kind. If the issue were simply travel & hotel expenses, then surely it would have been possible to consult the wide pool of artists in attendance, no?)

2. As the issue arose earlier in the thread and you did not comment, could you explain your use of the Black Power salute after your première?

Johannes Kreidler mark, i agree with all these banal and completely well-known facts, i disagree with your silly interpretations of them.

your question (1): the idea i gave GNM for free, for the performance i received a compensation. since it has nothing to do with self-publicity, it was simply a performance job (quite a difficult one, by the way).

question 2 is off-topic.

October 30 at 5:46pm via mobile · Like

Mark Barden Wow.

October 30 at 6:00pm · Like · 2