Bright Futures, Dark Pasts: Michael Finnissy at 70 – Jan 19/20, Conference/Concerts at City UniversityPosted: January 13, 2017
On Thursday January 19th and Friday January 20th, 2017, City, University of London is hosting a conference entitled Bright Futures, Dark Pasts: Michael Finnissy at 70. This will feature a range of scholarly papers on a variety of aspects of Finnissy’s work – including his use of musical objets trouvés, engagement with folk music, sexuality, the influence of cinema, relationship to other contemporary composers, issues of marginality, and his work in performance. There will be three concerts, featuring his complete works for two pianos and piano duet, played by the composer, Ian Pace, and Ben Smith; a range of solo, chamber and ensemble works; and a complete performance (from 14:00-21:00 on Friday 20th) of his epic piano cycle The History of Photography in Sound by Ian Pace. The concerts include the world premieres of Finnissy’s Zortziko (2009) for piano duet and Kleine Fjeldmelodie (2016-17) for solo piano, the UK premiere of Duet (1971-2013) and London premieres of Fem ukarakteristisek marsjer med tre tilføyde trioer (2008-9) for piano duet, Derde symfonische etude (2013) for two pianos, his voice/was then/here waiting (1996) for two pianos, and Eighteenth-Century Novels: Fanny Hill (2006) for two pianos. There will also be a rare chance to hear Finnissy’s Sardinian-inspired Anninnia (1981-2) for voice and piano, for the first time in several decades.
Keynote speakers will be Roddy Hawkins (University of Manchester), Gregory Woods (Nottingham Trent University, author of Homintern) and Ian Pace (City, University of London). The composer will be present for the whole event, and will perform and be interviewed by Christopher Fox (Brunel University) on his work and the History in particular.
The composer and photographer Patrícia Sucena de Almeida, who studied with Finnissy between 2000 and 2004, has created a photographic work, continuum simulacrum (2016-17) inspired by The History of Photography in Sound and particularly Chapter 6 (Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets). The series will be shown on screens in the department and samples of a book version will be available.
Patrícia Sucena de Almeida, from continuum simulacrum (2016-17).
The full programme can be viewed below. This conference also brings to a close Ian Pace’s eleven-concert series of the complete piano works of Finnissy.
A separate blog post will follow on The History of Photography in Sound.
All events take place at the Department of Music, College Building, City, University of London, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB.
Thursday January 19th, 2017
09:00-09:30 Room AG09.
Registration and TEA/COFFEE.
09:30-10:00 Performance Space.
Introduction and tribute to Michael Finnissy by Ian Pace and Miguel Mera (Head of Department of Music, City, University of London).
10:00-12:00 Room AG09. Chair: Aaron Einbond.
Larry Goves (Royal Northern College of Music), ‘Michael Finnissy & Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: the composer as anthropologist’.
Maarten Beirens (Amsterdam University), ‘Questioning the foreign and the familiar: Interpreting Michael Finnissy’s use of traditional and non-Western sources’
Lauren Redhead (Canterbury Christ Church University), ‘The Medium is Now the Material: The “Folklore” of Chris Newman and Michael Finnissy’.
Followed by a roundtable discussion between the three speakers and composer and Finnissy student Claudia Molitor (City, University of London), chaired by Aaron Einbond.
12:00-13:00 Foyer, Performance Space.
13:10–14:15 Performance Space.
Concert 1: Michael Finnissy: The Piano Music (10). Michael Finnissy, Ian Pace and Ben Smith play Finnissy’s works for two pianos or four hands.
Michael Finnissy, Wild Flowers (1974) (IP/MF)
Michael Finnissy, Fem ukarakteristisek marsjer med tre tilføyde trioer (2008-9) (BS/IP) (London premiere)
Michael Finnissy, Derde symfonische etude (2013) (BS/IP) (London premiere)
Michael Finnissy, Deux jeunes se promènent à travers le ciel 1920 (2008) (IP/BS)
Michael Finnissy, his voice/was then/here waiting (1996) (IP/MF) (UK premiere)
Michael Finnissy, Eighteenth-Century Novels: Fanny Hill (2006) (IP/MF) (London premiere)
Max Ernst, Deux jeunes se promènent à travers le ciel (1920)
14:30-15:30 Room AG09. Chair: Lauren Redhead (Canterbury Christ Church University).Keynote: Roddy Hawkins (University of Manchester): ‘Articulating, Dwelling, Travelling: Michael Finnissy and Marginality’.
15:30-16:00 Foyer, Performance Space.
16:00-17:00 Room AG09. Chair: Roddy Hawkins (University of Manchester).
Keynote: Ian Pace (City, University of London): ‘Michael Finnissy between Jean-Luc Godard and Dennis Potter: appropriation of techniques from cinema and TV’
17:00-18:00 Room AG09. Chair: Christopher Fox (Brunel University).
Roundtable on performing the music of Michael Finnissy. Participants: Neil Heyde (cellist), Ian Pace (pianist), Jonathan Powell (pianist), Christopher Redgate (oboist), Roger Redgate (conductor, violinist), Nancy Ruffer (flautist).
19:00 Performance Space.
Concert 2: City University Experimental Ensemble (CUEE), directed Tullis Rennie. Christopher Redgate, oboe/oboe d’amore; Nancy Ruffer, flutes; Bernice Chitiul, voice; Alexander Benham, piano; Michael Finnissy, piano; Ian Pace, piano; Ben Smith; piano.
Michael Finnissy, Yso (2007) (CUEE)
Michael Finnissy, Stille Thränen (2009) (Ian Pace, Ben Smith)
Michael Finnissy, Runnin’ Wild (1978) (Christopher Redgate)
Michael Finnissy, Anninnia (1981-82) (Bernice Chitiul, Ian Pace)
Michael Finnissy, Ulpirra (1982-83) (Nancy Ruffer)
Michael Finnissy, Pavasiya (1979) (Christopher Redgate)
‘Mini-Cabaret’: Michael Finnissy, piano
Chris Newman, AS YOU LIKE IT (1981)
Michael Finnissy, Kleine Fjeldmelodie (2016-17) (World première)
Andrew Toovey, Where are we in the world? (2014)
Laurence Crane, 20th CENTURY MUSIC (1999)
Matthew Lee Knowles, 6th Piece for Laurence Crane (2006)
Morgan Hayes, Flaking Yellow Stucco (1995-6)
Tom Wilson, UNTIL YOU KNOW (2017) (World première)
Howard Skempton, after-image 3 (1990)
Michael Finnissy, Zortziko (2009) (Ian Pace, Ben Smith) (World première)
Michael Finnissy, Duet (1971-2013) (Ben Smith, Ian Pace) (UK première)
Michael Finnissy, ‘They’re writing songs of love, but not for me’, from Gershwin Arrangements (1975-88) (Alexander Benham)
Michael Finnissy, APRÈS-MIDI DADA (2006) (CUEE)
Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912).
21:30 Location to be confirmed
Friday January 20th, 2017
10:00-11:00 Room AG21.
Christopher Fox in conversation with Michael Finnissy on The History of Photography in Sound.
11:00-11:30 Room AG21.
11:30-12:30 Room AG21. Chair: Alexander Lingas (City, University of London).
Keynote: Gregory Woods (Nottingham Trent University): ‘My “personal themes”?!’: Finnissy’s Seventeen Homosexual Poets and the Material World’.
14:00-21:00 Performance Space.
Concert 3: Michael Finnissy: The Piano Music (11): The History of Photography in Sound (1995-2002). Ian Pace, piano
14:00 Chapters 1, 2: Le démon de l’analogie; Le réveil de l’intraitable realité.
15:15 Chapters 3, 4: North American Spirituals; My parents’ generation thought War meant something
16:35 Chapters 5, 6, 7: Alkan-Paganini; Seventeen Immortal Homosexual Poets; Eadweard Muybridge-Edvard Munch
17:50 INTERVAL (wine served)
18:10 Chapter 8: Kapitalistische Realisme (mit Sizilianische Männerakte und Bachsche Nachdichtungen)
19:20 INTERVAL (wine served)
19:35 Chapters 9, 10, 11: Wachtend op de volgende uitbarsting van repressie en censuur; Unsere Afrikareise; Etched Bright with Sunlight.
What characterizes the so-called advanced societies is that they today consume images and no longer, like those of the past, beliefs; they are therefore more liberal, less fanatical, but also more ‘false’ (less ‘authentic’) – something we translate, in ordinary consciousness, by the avowal of an impression of nauseated boredom, as if the universalized image were producing a world that is without difference (indifferent), from which can rise, here and there, only the cry of anarchisms, marginalisms, and individualisms: let us abolish the images, let us save immediate Desire (desire without mediation).
Mad or tame? Photography can be one or the other: tame if its realism remains relative, tempered by aesthetic or empirical habits (to leaf through a magazine at the hairdresser’s, the dentist’s); mad if this realism is absolute and, so to speak, original, obliging the loving and terrified consciousness to return to the very letter of Time: a strictly revulsive movement which reverses the course of the thing, and which I shall call, in conclusion, the photographic ecstasy.
Such are the two ways of the Photography. The choice is mine: to subject its spectacle to the civilized code of perfect illusions, or to confront in it the wakening of intractable reality.
Ce qui caractérise les sociétés dites avancées, c’est que ces sociétés consomment aujourd’hui des images, et non plus, comme celles d’autrefois, des croyances; elles sont donc plus libérales, moins fanataiques, mais aussi plus «fausses» (moins «authentiques») – chose que nous traduisons, dans la conscience courante, par l’aveu d’une impression d’ennui nauséeux, comme si l’image, s’universalisant, produisait un monde sans differences (indifferent), d’où ne peut alors surgir ici et là que le cri des anarchismes, marginalismes et individualismes : abolissons les images, sauvons le Désir immédiat (sans mediation).
Folle ou sage? La Photographie peut être l’un ou l’autre : sage si son réalisme reste relative, tempére par des habitudes esthétiques ou empiriques (feuilleter une revue chez le coiffeur, le dentist); folle, si ce réalisme est absolu, et, si l’on peut dire, original, faisant revenir à la conscience amoureuse et effrayée la letter même du Temps : movement proprement révulsif, qui retourne le cours de la chose, et que l’appellerai pour finir l’extase photographique.
Telles sont les deux voies de la Photographie. A moi de choisir, de soumettre son spectacle au code civilise des illusions parfaits, ou d’affronter en elle le réveil de l’intraitable réalité.
Roland Barthes, Le chambre claire/Camera Lucida.
Eadweard Muybridge – A. Throwing a Disk, B: Ascending a Step, C: Walking from Animal Locomotion (1885-1887).
Patrícia Sucena de Almeida, from continuum simulacrum (2016-17).
The UK EU Referendum and the decline of democracy in a time of social media, safe spaces and postmodern relativismPosted: June 19, 2016
The 2016 UK referendum campaign on EU membership has not been a happy time for democracy, even before the tragic murder of Jo Cox. There have certainly been decent and principled protagonists involved with both the Remain and Leave campaign who have drawn upon issues and data to form solid arguments (and I think here the role of Jeremy Corbyn, perhaps the ultimate politician driven solely by issues, has been underestimated). But to a very high degree, the campaign has not been like this, and has been saturated with cheap populist pandering, lies and misinformation, conflation of the EU with only tangentially-related issues (such as that of refugees from the Middle East), and above all, a type of campaigning which appeals on an emotional rather than rational level, by stoking fear, playing to tribal identity (including racism and xenophobia), crudely dismissing opponents’ positions without proper argument, and so on.’Experts’ have been summarily dismissed and denigrated, facts have been little-appreciated and understood, and the whole campaign has played out in sitting rooms, offices, bars and cafés amongst large numbers of voters who I would wager know very little about the actual nature or workings of the EU, the policies and voting records of their democratically elected MEPs, which of the EU horror stories reported by the tabloid press are fact, which fiction or gross distortion, and so on.
This is all a very great shame, as this campaign should have provided an opportunity for a new level of public education about the EU, its history, and operations, and indeed about Britain’s relationship to continental Europe as a whole. I realise that it is over-idealistic to expect all or even most of the population to make highly intelligent, rational and educated decisions based on issues rather than personalities, but the referendum campaign has sunk to new lows in this respect.
Many have not unreasonably questioned the wisdom of holding a referendum at all on such an issue, in the knowledge that it would likely be determined more by prejudice than any more mature politics. I have little doubt that it was called because of David Cameron’s needing to temper a split down the middle of the Conservative Party, just as Harold Wilson did the same in 1975 when his own party and cabinet were deeply split on the same issue. But I am hesitant about saying that referenda on major constitutional issues are wrong; if one accepts the validity of those referenda on devolution (and independence) in Scotland and Wales, for example, it is hard to argue against giving the British people a chance to vote on this.
However, I think we are now living in the worst possible time for such a campaign, and a low point for cynical dismissal of all politicians (at least those who have ever held any power or office) and democratic debate in general. And I wish to suggest a few hypotheses about some factors which have brought about this situation.
The last decade has seen the growth of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. As a regular user of both, I would be the last person in a position to start arguing that these are a bad things, but I do see some major problems they engender. Facebook is ubiquitous, especially amongst younger generations; Twitter is particularly favoured by journalists, media types, many politicians, and others, which gives it a different general political complexion. Online communications are not so new – many used online messageboards and chatrooms before either Facebook or Twitter were created – but these more recent sites create a means by which many people’s whole lives are partially spent, and documented, online, to be seen by others, who often provide solace by expressing their approval. But of course, on Facebook in particular, one gets to choose who is in one’s circle (Twitter is much more public, a likely reason why it is used less often by those who simply wish to communicate with their friends). That in itself is not so different from some of the wider world, though it is hard to avoid coming into contact with strangers and those who might look at the world in a quite different way, unless one lives a relatively hermetic existence. That is not the case on Facebook; one can inhabit a realm entirely populated by like-minded people. In the face of cyber-bullying (much easier from the safety of a computer screen or smartphone than face-to-face bullying), many increasingly choose to do this. This is more than understandable, but with it comes the problems of creating an ‘echo chamber‘, whereby one puts out views and opinions mostly in order to have them echoed by others (at least this can be the result, if not the intention), and gain self-esteem by being regularly ‘liked’.
In itself, this phenomenon might not be so bad, except for when it blinds some to the possibility that the wider world might be quite unlike the comfort zone they inhabit on social media. Worse, it can generate a good deal of in-group/out-group hostility, leading to disdain, dismissal or even hatred towards anyone who breaks with a narrow consensus. This is how group bullying works in general (and mirrors wider prejudice and ostracisation of minority groups), but the relative safety of social media makes the bullying easier for the bullies, and arguably even more devastating for the victims (perhaps especially in the case of Twitter storms against those who have made some careless, ignorant, or mildly bigoted remarks there).
As the new Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, Louise Richardson, recently argued on a radio interview, a new generation of students have grown up spending their formative years within the echo chambers of social media, and these are the ones now demanding trigger warning, safe spaces and the likes (I would extend Richardson’s arguments to include many older adults too). Whilst it is perfectly reasonable for individuals to ask for some protection from hatred, highly personalised attacks, harassment and bullying, I fear many have lost a sense of the distinction between these and proper argument and robust debate, or rational critique (even if severe) of work, when applied fairly (i.e. not applying radically different standards to different work or individuals because of other motivations).
In many ways I do believe that many students and academics are attempting to demand that their working lives resemble the type of pampered realm to which they have become accustomed on social media, or simply from surrounding themselves with crowds of acolytes and other true believers. This is especially detrimental to academia and education in general, which should provide spaces where all types of positions and arguments can be presented and properly debated, and which can militate against easy complacency and unexamined positions. Lecturers should challenge students, students should challenge lecturers, members of each group should regularly challenge each other, and the frameworks of the institutions should ensure that this can happen. Safe spaces and trigger warnings are the very opposite of this, as are highly emotive or rhetorical modes of argument or teaching. Obviously not all students, or lecturers, necessarily have the emotional or intellectual maturity to cope with proper debate and challenge when they start out in these places, but I believe it is imperative that they learn to develop such maturity. Other factors can work against this though; one is the simple narcissism of some students and lecturers, in the latter case countenancing no dissenting viewpoints or literature, and seeking to personally demean or undermine anyone who thinks otherwise; such individuals are invariably extremely poor teachers, rarely interested in learning, only in being adored. Another is the growth of corporate academic culture, by which top-down directives are issued for management, and the wider culture rewards all types of conformity, in flagrant contradiction of the principles of academic freedom. Also, I see many academics organising into narrow factions, only containing those who agree or at least share a range of basic assumptions, with the same techniques of ostracisation of dissenters to be found in social media. This is another form of bullying which I have experienced and witnessed far too often.
This may seem a big tangent, from an academic too focused upon the type of environment in which they work. This may be the case (I would mention that I do also inhabit a very different – if equally problematic – realm as a professional musician), but I think when even the most hallowed spaces for free debate and argument are becoming corrupted in this manner, then this bodes very ill for other areas of public life. If those in academic life cannot separate issues and personalities, what are the chances of the wider public being able to do the same?
But the type of ideal democratic debate I have been outlining does require a belief in the very possibility of facts and rational debate; a belief which some who identify as ‘postmodern’ do not hold. On a feature earlier this year on BBC Newsnight, the reporter suggested that US Republicans had been having a ‘postmodern moment’ with the rise of Donald Trump, who ultimately does not care that much about facts, nor really hides the fact. It may seem very surprising to link a right-wing demagogue like Trump to postmodernism, and I would hesitate to do so, but I do reasons why the phenomena may not be unrelated.
In the postmodern realm (about which inevitably I generalise a little), truth says more about the power held by those proclaiming it, ‘subject positions’ (which, as Terry Eagleton has argued, are the nearest contemporary thing to older ideals of ‘authenticity’) matter more than the cogency of arguments presented, ‘facts’ are mostly an illusion, rational debate is little more than an ideological conceit of the privileged, and ultimately arguments are better judged on political allegiance than any supposedly more disinterested criteria. These are the extreme positions, for sure, not all of which are held (or held in such a fundamentalist fashion) by all of those identifying as postmodern, but they are not imaginary. In certain modified forms, I would not disagree that some of these positions have value; some ‘facts’ are somewhat spurious, but have been accepted because certain people have propagated them, whilst certain narrowly ‘rational’ approaches to debate can have a dehumanising effect through the ways in which they are framed (with associated rhetoric, for example that of ‘collateral damage’). But I would challenge these in the name of better conceptions of facts, rationality, and so on, not in order to dismiss the concepts in general. Experts should be challenged, including by political campaigners in a referendum such as this one, but in order that they are required to substantiate and explain their expert views and conclusions, not because anyone else can lay an equal claim to expertise.
As Richard Evans pointed out in his book In Defence of History, when a position appeals purely on the basis of the politics it espouses, there is little if any chance of ever being able to convince someone of a different political persuasion, for that requires some appeal to wider knowledge beyond allegiances. I would say the same applies to appeals to identity; most fatally, the very legitimation of identity as a criterion of political value has ultimately emboldened most the right-wing Leave campaign, enabling them to appeal to a sense of national belonging and identity, with a concomitant fear of and hostility towards foreigners, amongst white working-class and older people (see this pertinent article by John Harris).
Modern democracy is a deeply flawed system in many ways. It has developed in line with the modern Western nation state, and no-one has yet really found a workable system which is not enclosed within the borders of such nation states (ironically, the European Parliament might be one of the better attempts at so doing). The late historian Tony Judt (in interview in the volume Thinking the Twentieth Century) pointed out that with the fall of the Hapsburg monarchy, Jewish people in Austria faced a new threat as a minority within mass democratic society, after having received some degree of protection Emperor Franz Joseph II. Democracy within a nation state will always be problematic for minority groups within that nation state, for simple numerical reasons, when there is some degree of conflict. And beyond this, it is no easy task to convince an electorate, especially one undergoing difficult economic and other conditions, to factor in the interests of other non-citizens (here including other Europeans, migrants and refugees) when this is presented as being against their own self-interest.
But I do not believe these problems cannot be at least mitigated, with a properly operative media representing a genuine plurality of opinion, a high degree of education about the political process and issues at schools, a functioning public sphere (for which a different type of social media can play an important role), and an acceptance that ‘democracy’ is a wider concept than simply putting some Xs in boxes from time to time, and involves a degree of engagement and respect for all types of groups in society. I wish I could say I see this happening in the UK, but am currently pessimistic. There is a growing level of generalised disenchantment with the political process and politicians in general, declining turnout at elections, especially amongst the young (though the Scottish Referendum was a marked exception), and a wider culture which is increasingly anti-intellectual and even tribal. Unelected and unaccountable celebrities, media personalities and even industry leaders seem to garner more respect than those who regularly submit themselves to electoral ratification.
The writer Edward Bernays, father of modern propaganda and public relations, realised the much greater potency of campaigns which operate on an emotive or atavistic level than those involving rational decisions (Bertold Brecht would have agreed, but drawn very different conclusions). Bernays’ ideas, and their application in PR, advertising, politics and more have been explored and chronicled in Adam Curtis’s documentary The Century of the Self. In the process, powerful tools have been developed which feed into an increasingly irrationalist political sphere. Extreme relativists, those cocooned in social media and echo chambers, and many of the advocates of safe spaces, should all consider whether they are playing a part in forfeiting the possibility of any alternative.
[Please note: the lecture on May 25th has now been cancelled due to industrial action. It will now take place on Wednesday October 12th]
Ian Pace will be playing several major concerts featuring the music of Michael Finnissy during May 2016, following the great success of his recital on February 16th, the first in his series of the composers’ piano works (in this concert including English Country-Tunes and other pieces), to celebrate Finnissy’s 70th birthday.
(From Song 9)
Saturday May 7th, 19:30. York Late Music Series, St Saviourgate Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York YO1 8NQ.
Beethoven, Rondo in A, WoO 49
Percy Grainger, My Robin is to the greenwood gone [Settings of Songs and Tunes from William Chappell’s ‘Old English Popular Music’ Nr.2]
Michael Finnissy, Beethoven’s Robin Adair (2012-15) (World Premiere)
Andrew Toovey, First Out (2016) (World Premiere)
Steve Crowther, Piano Sonata No. 3 (World Premiere of revised version)
Luke Stoneham, Magenta Cuts (1994)
Laurence Crane, Slow Folk Tune: Sheringham (2014)
This concert features a major new extended work written by Finnissy for Ian Pace, Beethoven’s Robin Adair, a set of free fantasies and variations on the folk song ‘Robin Adair’ as set by Beethoven in his Verschiedene Volkslieder WoO 157 No 7. The remainder of the programme was picked by Finnissy, and includes works by long-term associates and colleagues Luke Stoneham, Laurence Crane, and Andrew Toovey (with a new work written for Finnissy’s 70th), as well as the new version of Late Music artistic director Steve Crowther’s Piano Sonata No. 3, originally premiered by Ian Pace in the series in 2015, and other works of Beethoven and Percy Grainger with which Finnissy feels a strong affinity.
Tuesday May 10th, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (2)
Hollywell Music Room, Hollywell Street OX1 3SD
See here for further details. Tickets available at the door.
Song 5 (1966-67)
Song 6 (1968, rev. 1996)
Song 7 (1968-69)
Song 8 (1967)
Song 9 (1968)
Nine Romantics (1992)
– Interval –
Ives-Grainger-Nancarrow (1974, 1979, 1979-80)
Ethel Smyth (1995)
Joh. Seb. Bach (2003)
Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen sind (1992)
What the meadow-flowers tell me (1993)
Preambule zu “Carnaval”, gefolgt von der ersten und zweiten symphonischen Etüde nach Schumann (2009-10)
One Minute W… (2006)
This is the first chance to hear all of Finnissy’s Songs for piano for twenty years, when they were played by Ian Pace in part of his 1996 cycle of Finnissy’s piano works. These works (part of a wider cycle for various instruments) take their cue from a series of films by the director Stan Brakhage), which can be viewed here. Also featured in the programme is Finnissy’s little-known Nine Romantics, a bleak tribute to the Victorian artist Simeon Solomon, whose career was ruined after arrest and imprisonment for cottaging. The second half of the concerts features a series of short ‘portrait’ pieces of various composers to whom Finnissy is drawn, short fantasies on the names of Bernard Stevens and Georg Frederic Handel, two very different reflections on a cantata and an organ chorale prelude of Bach, a rather unhinged setting of an aria from Rossini’s Semiramide, a mysterious assemblage deriving from a movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony, and more recent free transcriptions based on works of Schumann and Chopin (Finnissy’s rendition of the Minute Waltz).
[Postponed to Wednesday October 12th]
Lecture: ‘Ideological Constructions of ‘Experimental Music’ and Anglo-American Nationalism in the Historiography of post-1945 Music’
Room AG09, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB
Abstract: Since the publication of John Cage’s essay ‘Experimental Music: Doctrine’ of 1955, a dichotomy has informed a good deal of historiography of new music between ‘avant-garde’ and ‘experimental’ musics, especially following the publication of Michael Nyman’s book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond in 1974. Nyman very clearly portrayed ‘experimental music’ as a fundamentally Anglo-American phenomenon, allowing almost no European composers into his pantheon. This opposition was itself foreshadowed in various writings of John Cage and Morton Feldman, and since the appearance of Nyman’s book has remained a prominent ideological construct, even feeding into other oppositions such as ‘high/low’ music, ‘uptown/downtown’ or ‘modern/postmodern’.
In this paper, I trace the history and development of the concept of ‘experimental’ music in several types of literature published in Europe and North America from the 1950s until the present day: general histories of music of this period, histories of American music, the writings of Cage, Feldman and Wolff, secondary literature on these figures, and other work dealing specifically with ‘experimental music’. I argue that from the late 1950s onwards, there was such a large amount of cross-fertilisation between composers on either side of the Atlantic that the opposition is unsustainable, but its perpetuation served an ideological and nationalistic purpose. Above all, by portraying a group of British and American composers as occupying an aesthetic space at an insurmountable remove from a (simplistic) picture of a European ‘avant-garde’, this facilitated special pleading on the part of the former for programming and other purposes. Even as some writers have grudgingly conceded that a small few continental European composers might also be considered ‘experimental’, they have constructed them as utterly on the margins of a perceived European mainstream to such an extent as to question their very ‘Europeanness’. Remarkably, this opposition has also been continued by various European writers, especially in Germany.
I also argue that the rhetoric of ‘experimental music’ has some roots in mythologies of the US frontier which have informed constructions of its canonical musicians. In place of this, I stress the strong European (as well as American and Asian) provenance of Cage’s thought and work (via that of Duchamp, futurism, Dada, the Bauhaus, Joyce, Satie, Varèse, Webern and Meister Eckhardt), and suggest that Feldman’s romantic, anti-rational individualism can be viewed not only in a clear lineage from nineteenth century European aesthetic thought (not least in Russia), but also in stark opposition to Cage’s anti-subjectivism. And finally I paraphrase Cage’s preface to Lecture on the Weather (1975) to argue that the music of the U.S.A. should be seen as just one part of the musical world, no more, no less.
Friday May 27th, 18:00 and 19:15
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (3)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB
See here for more information and to book tickets
Concert 1, 18:00
Three Dukes Went A-Riding (1977, rev. 1996)
To & Fro (1978, rev. 1995)
We’ll get there someday (1978)
Terrekeme (1981, rev. 1990)
Cozy Fanny’s Tootsies (1992)
John Cage (1992)
Five Yvaroperas (1993-95)
Concert 2, 19:15
Folklore I-IV (1993-94)
The centre piece of the third concert in Ian Pace’s Finnissy series is the 70 minute cycle from the early 1990s, Folklore. This work takes its initial cue from what Finnissy himself describes as ‘Gramsci’s imperative to compile an inventory of the ‘infinity of traces’ that historical processes leave on ‘the self’.’ The work navigates its way through a variety of ‘regions’, defined in terms of their musical folklore (Norwegian, Rumanian, American, etc.), interspersed with extended passages imitating Scottish piobaireachd, as well as the African-American spiritual ‘Deep River’, and also intercut with moments of extreme passion and violence, as well as allusions to early influences, representing the composer’s own personal ‘folklore’. The early evening concert contains a series of other pieces taking their cue from folk music (Macedonian, Azerbaijani, Sardinian, Australian Aboriginal), a series of three pieces all revised from his earlier (now withdrawn) Piano Studies, and a few more portraits or tribute pieces, including a series of five in memory of the late pianist Yvar Mikhashoff. There is also a very rare chance to hear one of Finnissy’s most pianistically demanding pieces, the hyper-virtuosic all.fall.down.
Preview for June 1st, 18:00, Public Debate, ‘Are We All Ethnomusicologists Now?’
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB
In a now-notorious 2008 article (‘We Are All (Ethno)musicologists Now’, in The New (Ethno)musicologies, ed. Henry Stobart (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008), pp. 48-70), Nicholas Cook suggested that the boundaries between subdisciplines of music had become more porous so that “distinguishing between musicology and ethnomusicology seems … as hopeless as it is pointless.” This led to his oft-cited statement: “we are all ethnomusicologists now.” Does Cook’s provocation stand up?
The panel will consist of (in alphabetical order) Amanda Bayley (Bath Spa University), Tore Lind (University of Copenhagen), Laudan Nooshin (City University London), Ian Pace (City University London), and Michael Spitzer (University of Liverpool), and will be chaired by Alexander Lingas (City University London).
One common fiction is that in Nazi Germany, there were practically no performances either of modern or international music; indeed this fiction was propagated by many after 1945 in order to secure funding to present concerts of precisely that thing. But this is not really accurate; while there is no doubt that concert programming in Germany after 1933 was intensely nationalistic (certainly in comparison to the 1920s), there were still many performances of international works, though the representation of composers of particular countries often depended upon the state of political relations between those countries and Germany at the time.
One organisation dedicated to the promotion of international musical exchange was the Ständiger Rat für internationale Zusammenarbeit der Komponisten, founded in 1934 at the behest of Richard Strauss, which ran until 1939. They organised exchange concerts, often with German musicians playing in other countries and vice versa. In 1936 this included exchanges between the cities of Berlin, Wiesbaden and Karlsbad, and Vichy and Zürich. The organisation was responsible for an Internationales Musikfest which took place in September in Wiesbaden, and featured a concert of Hungarian music (conducted by Hans Swarorsky) and one of English music (conducted by Carl Schuricht).
The Hungarian programme was as follows:
Franz Erkel, Overture to opera Hunyadi Laszlo (1845)
Béla Bartók, Magyar parasztdalok (Hungarian Peasant Songs) (1933)
Zoltán Kodály, Háry János Suite (1926)
Miklós Rósza, Theme, Variations and Finale (1933)
Ernst von Dohnányi, Ruralia Hungarica, op. 32b (1924)
That for the English concert (conducted by Carl Schuricht) was:
Edward Elgar, Overture, Froissart (1890, rev. 1901)
Herbert Bedford, Ad Alta, symphonic poem
Ralph Vaughan Williams, Overture to The Wasps, Aristophanic suite (1909)
Eugene Goossens, Four Humoresques (1907)
Arnold Bax, Symphony No. 3 (1929)
It may seem strange to imagine such an event at this time, but it was not wholly unusual in the second half of the 1930s; in Frankfurt there was also a relatively international range of programming at the behest of Generalmusikdirektor Hans Rosbaud, whilst in Baden-Baden earlier that year, the GMD Herbert Albert had founded an Internationale Zeitgenössisches Musikfest in the city, which ran until 1939. The Wiesbaden event was generally positively reviewed in the Zeitschrift für Musik, by the critic Grete Altstadt-Schütze, recognising the grotesque elements in some of the Hungarian music, a bit more tepid in her response to the English works (though her comment that the Goossens was ‘a music of the heart, not the intellect’ appears to be a compliment), though comparing the second movement of the Bax to the work of Hans Pfitzner. Both concerts were enthusiastically received, including by Richard Strauss, who was present.
Below I reproduce some sections from the volume Painful Extractions: Looking back at a personal journey (Eye: Thornham Books, 2002) by John Henniker-Major, the 8th Baron Henniker. Henniker is of interest to those investigating organised child sexual abuse because of the fact that the notorious Peter Righton, former Executive Committee member of the Paedophile Information Exchange, author of various freely available writings advocating sex with children, and senior figure in the social work profession, took up residence on Henniker’s estate, Thornham Magna, following Righton’s conviction for importing and possessing pornographic material featuring children in 1992. Numerous groups of children were brought from Islington and elsewhere to Thornham Magna on day trips and it is feared that they were the victims of abuse at the hands of Righton; the Exaro website has cited one person alleging brutal sexual assault and violence from Righton, also involving the former PIE treasurer Charles Napier, recently jailed for 13 years for sexual offences against 23 boys, and now even a sadistic murder by Righton on the estate.
I hope to be able to post a more comprehensive guest blog post on Henniker and his relationship to disgraced former diplomat Peter Hayman soon.
When time permits, I intend to thoroughly update my blog post on Righton to take account of the amazing research collected on the blog of Charlotte Russell, drawing upon a wide range of previously unseen archival documents. I cannot recommend strongly enough that anyone interested in particular in the Paedophile Information Exchange, and its links to the National Council of Civil Liberties and to politicians therein, read the various meticulously researched posts on this blog.
With great thanks to Tom Symonds for forwarding these files to me.
The following is the complete file in the National Archives, PREM 19/588, ‘SECURITY. Sir Peter Hayman: allegations against former public official of unnatural sexual proclivities; security aspects’, which was made public today. Hayman was a senior diplomat and member of the Paedophile Information Exchange who is also believed to have been Deputy Director of MI6. For reports on this, see those from the BBC, Sky News, Guardian Independent, Telegraph, Mail and Mirror.
I will post further links relating to Hayman later; for now, I would recommend strongly people read this collection of articles at the Spotlight blog. Also of great importance are the most recent articles from Exaro here, here and here.