Towards cultural democracy?

Anna Bull has written an interesting set of responses to the posts on my previous blog with multiple commentators responding to Stella Duffy on arts, elitism, communities – https://ianpace.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/response-to-stella-duffy-on-the-arts-elitism-and-communities/ . I will respond in time to some of the points below, but welcome other responses to this (and welcome the fact that Anna has posted this!)

Dr Anna Bull

Musicologist, pianist and activist Ian Pace has collated a set of responses to an article by Stella Duffy in the Guardian, commenting on a report that I co-authored on ‘everyday creativity’. These responses take a critical view of the central idea of the report, that cultural policy should move further towards supporting everyday creativity, and suggest that there are a variety of dangers with this approach. I have responded below to some of the comments.

Several commentators make comparisons between a shift towards ‘everyday creativity’ and arts policies under fascist regimes. They draw on historical examples from the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany relating to the problem of addressing elitism in the arts via democratisation, and include an accusation that this kind of policy shift would be ‘Stalinist’. While I think using historical examples to make a comparison can be helpful, it’s noticeable that these comments leap straight to…

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Mussolini musicista (1927) – full text

In line with a short article I am currently writing in response to this new article claiming that Puccini’s ‘Nessum dorma’, currently played at many of Donald Trump’s political rallies, has strong fascist associations, I thought I would post the complete text (now out of copyright) of Raffaello de Rensis’s 1927 publication Mussolini musicista (Mussolini the musician), a propagandistic pamphlet which describes the dictator’s musical tastes, including for village bands and the sounds of nature, not to mention grandiose symphonies and triumphal marches, as well as his experience of playing the violin. He loved Palestrina, Monteverdi, Frescobaldi, Galuppi, Corelli, Vivaldi, Bach, Beethoven (above all), Granados and Fauré.

De Rensis, Raffaello - Mussolini musicista-page-001De Rensis, Raffaello - Mussolini musicista-page-002De Rensis, Raffaello - Mussolini musicista-page-003De Rensis, Raffaello - Mussolini musicista-page-004De Rensis, Raffaello - Mussolini musicista-page-005De Rensis, Raffaello - Mussolini musicista-page-006De Rensis, Raffaello - Mussolini musicista-page-007De Rensis, Raffaello - Mussolini musicista-page-008De Rensis, Raffaello - Mussolini musicista-page-009De Rensis, Raffaello - Mussolini musicista-page-010De Rensis, Raffaello - Mussolini musicista-page-011

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Academia after Brexit

This is a very interesting article. There are so many academics both unable and unwilling to communicate with anyone except a handful of colleagues who share lots of their assumptions, and have no real concerns other than winning favour and advancement from those people. And who dress up what are actually often quite straightforward ideas in loads of jargon to give their writing a veneer, and make it inaccessible other than to cognoscenti – in reality a form of snobbery. More public engagement, more contact with a wider range of people and thought, genuine ‘critical thinking’ that moves outside of narrowly-drawn realms of what is deemed acceptable, and good writing, are essential.


Concerts of English and Hungarian music in Wiesbaden, 1936

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.

 

 


Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the limitations of all-purpose definitions of ‘beautiful’ music

The death of Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929-2016) is a great loss for music. I am posting here a modified version of a comment originally placed on the Slipped Disc blog in response to a wonderful tribute to Harnoncourt.

 

No figure was more pivotal within post-1945 historically-informed performance than Harnoncourt (except possibly Gustav Leonhardt). Some of what he pioneered was already nascent (August Wenzinger had produced the first recording of the Brandenburgs on period instruments in the late-1940s/early-1950s), but it was Harnoncourt who spearheaded a performance revolution which could stand its own ground against what was more mainstream practice. Our understanding of Monteverdi, Purcell, Bach, Mozart – and then Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Johann Strauss II (in which he was incomparable) and others – have been massively enhanced by his work.


But I like to think of Harnoncourt as a political figure too. He strove as far as possible to find alternatives to the autocratic model of charismatic authority on the part of the conductor, which had been epitomised by Furtwängler, Karajan, or for that matter Toscanini – and which would be continued by many, including some themselves involved in HIP. There is an integration of and interplay between musicians in the work he conducted, and he demonstrated palpable alternatives to dictatorial Wagnerian models of the interpretative process. Harnoncourt’s performances, as much as his writings, exemplify his resistance to a form of orchestral playing which is always smooth, in which the Melos takes precedence over all else, with everything gauged so as to produce singular, overwhelming emotion. Instead he performed for intelligent and musically literate listeners, sensitive to so many possibilities of nuanced meaning, aware that music’s meaning does not stop when the audience begin to applaud. The music is by no means necessarily an organic whole ready to be ‘consumed’, nor a shiny, polished commodity; Harnoncourt’s work can be rugged, disconcerting, illuminating, though also beautiful where appropriate. It is not served up in a ‘culinary’ fashion (to use Adorno’s term), but that in no sense means it should be inaccessible to those with an open mind, looking for a music with which to actively engage.


In some ways Harnoncourt’s attitudes have been viewed as ‘aristocratic’, a throwback to a pre-bourgeois era, in particular before the French Revolution and the streamlining of professional musical training, separating out technique and a narrow conception of expression from a wider musical and other education, for which Harnoncourt blamed above all the foundation of the Paris Conservatoire. And Harnoncourt’s aristocratic ancestry is sometimes cited in support of this view. But I see things differently. This was music-making to stimulate thought, open up the mind, a type of musical sortie within a culture industry which works to generate the opposite reaction. Harnoncourt was, as a musician, a democrat rather than an aristocrat, for he treated listeners with dignity and respect, rather than trying to play down to them.


In a paper given in 2008, I began to explore the possibility of reconciling some of the ideas of Harnoncourt and Adorno, which might have been thought to be radically opposed, in light of Adorno’s explicit disdain for the historically-informed performance he encountered up until the early 1950s. I believe Harnoncourt was reacting as strongly against this particular school of performance as Adorno.

The following text from Harnoncourt I find remarkable, and should be read by all:

We find importance in other things than did the people of earlier times. How much strength and suffering and love they squandered in constructing their temples and cathedrals, how little they expended for the machinery of comfort and convenience! For people today, an automobile or an airplane is more valuable than a violin, the circuitry of the computer’s brain more important than a symphony. We pay all too dearly for what we regard as comfortable and essential,while we heedlessly discard the intensity of life in favor of the tinsel of creature comforts and what we have once truly lost, we will never be able to regain.

This fundamental change in the significance of music has taken place with increasing rapidity over the past two centuries. At the same time, a change has occurred in our attitude toward contemporary music as well as art in general: as long as music was an essential part of life, it could emanate only from the contemporary world. It was the living language for something which could not be said in words; it could be understood only by contemporary human beings. Music brought about changes in people, in listeners as well as in musicians. It had to be continually recreated, just as human beings had to keep on building new homes, in keeping with new patterns of living, new intellectual climates. Thus old music, the music of previous generations, could no longer be understood and used, although its great artistry was occasionally admired.

Since music is no longer found at the center of our lives, all this has changed: now that it is regarded as an ornament, it is felt that music should first and foremost be “beautiful.” Under no circumstances should it be allowed to disturb or startle us. The music of the present cannot fulfill this requirement because at the very least, like all art, it reflects the spiritual and intellectual situation of its time, and this is true of our present time as well. Yet honestly coming to terms with our spiritual and intellectual situation cannot be merely beautiful: it has an impact on our very lives and is therefore disturbing to us. This has resulted in the paradoxical situation that people have turned away from contemporary art because it is disturbing, perhaps necessarily so. Rather than confrontation, we sought only beauty, to help us to overcome the banality of everyday life. Thus art in general, and music in particular, became simply ornamental and people turned to historical art and to old music, for here they could find the beauty and harmony that they sought.

As I see it, this interest in old music – by which I mean music not written by our generation – could only occur as the result of a series of glaring misunderstandings. Thus we are able to use only “beautiful” music, which the present is unable to offer us. There has never been a kind of music that was merely “beautiful.” While “beauty” is a component of every type of music, we can make it into a determining factor only by disregarding all of music’s other components. Only since we have ceased to understand music as a whole, and perhaps no longer want to be able to understand it, has it been possible for us to reduce music to its beautiful aspect alone, to iron out all of its wrinkles. And because music has in general terms become simply a pleasant garnish for our everyday lives, we can no longer fully comprehend old music – that is, what we actually call music -, because we have not been able to reduce it to a purely aesthetic dimension and to iron it smooth.

[…]

There have been many periods throughout history during which attempts were made to simplify music and to confine it to the emotional sphere, so that it could be understood by anyone. Each of these attempts failed, resulting in new diversity and complexity. Music can be generally comprehensible only when it is reduced to a primitive level or when each individual person learns to understand the language of music.

 

From Nikolaus Harnoncourt, ‘Music in Our Lives’/’Die Musik in unserem Leben’ (1980), translated Mary O’Neill, in Baroque Music Today: Music as Speech. Towards a New Understanding of Music (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1988), pp. 11-13.

And I would like to commend the following performances conducted or directed by Harnoncourt.

 

 


Paedophile Lord Janner Dies Aged 87

‘Sources familiar with the ‘trial of the facts’ had told The Needle that about 100 witnesses were due to give evidence against Janner and that the evidence was overwhelming.’

theneedleblog

Untitled

Child abuser Lord Greville Janner of Braunstone has died only 9 months after requesting in writing that he continue to sit in the House of Lords. He had spent the last 25 years avoiding justice for the crimes he committed against young boys and has died just four months before a ‘trial of the facts’ which was set to conclusively demonstrate that Greville Janner was a sick child abusing bastard.

Sources familiar with the ‘trial of the facts’ had told The Needle that about 100 witnesses were due to give evidence against Janner and that the evidence was overwhelming.

Questions will now be asked about whether Leicestershire police and the CPS conspired to protect Janner by failing to prosecute him earlier and whether the delay as a consequence of the DPP Alison Saunders original decision not to prosecute Janner earlier this year allowed Janner to escape justice one last time.

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Some final thoughts on composition, performance, the REF, and teaching

 

Following the various discussions which have proceeded from the debate at City University on ‘Can Composition and Performance be Research?’ on November 25th, 2015 – see responses here and here; and for various associated links, here), I have had a further few thoughts which I wanted to share here.

    • The burden of ‘proving’ one’s work is research falls regularly upon practitioners, but not often upon musicologists, whose work frequently gains research credentials simply by resulting in a written output, especially if given an imprimatur of validity by being signed off by one or two people – often colleagues and friends for those working in narrow fields – as part of the process of peer review. I can think of many examples of written articles (not least in the field of new music) which I am told are ‘research’, which amount to rushed-out opinion pieces, for which I am unable to discern any sustained work done in preparation, i.e. any significant research at all. It is time for practitioners to turn the tables and ask those who produce such things why their work is research, just as those who produce written work do with practitioners.


    • Composers and performers are not (necessarily) scholars, any more than scholars are composers or performers.


    • This debate has been far too dominated by composers, but the reticence (or inability?) of many performers to contribute to it is a relevant factor. Performers do not have, and should not have, any more reason for complacency than any other practitioners, and should not expect that they can simply continue to do their own thing and never be expected to engage with wider academic discourses.


    • Something almost entirely absent from this round of the debate has been teaching, and specifically undergraduate teaching. If one believes, as I do, that a university functions best when staff are engaged with both research and teaching, and the two feed off one another, then we need to ask about how certain research inclinations feed into teaching. Undergraduate degrees generally need to be quite broadly-based and provide a relatively wide range of offerings in the form of modules. Whilst some practitioners may certainly be engaged in research at a high level through their practice, this does not mean they are necessarily able to teach anything else which students may require, nor act as personal tutors towards students having to produce work in various domains.This is part of a wider argument against too-narrow specialisation, which is a significant issue with respect to practitioner-scholars who have never produced any written outputs. As those who have watched the filmed debate will know, I contest strongly that view which accords supremacy to written outputs over and above over media. In university departments where written outputs are only a small part of requirements for students, it makes sense to employ those who do not produce written work. But at present, this is rarely the case, and as such there is every reason to wish for practitioners to have to demonstrate some prowess in this field as well. Otherwise, would it not make most sense for them to be employed as composition or instrumental/vocal teachers rather than academics?

      Demands for diversification on the part of academics tend to constitute a type of one-way traffic, and usually in favour of certain types of subjects. For example, many of those with a background in Western art music can and do teach popular music, sometimes very well, but the reverse is rare. It is time for practice-centered researchers and others whose research lies exclusively in less traditional domains themselves to have to learn the values of diversity, just as those with a background in Western art music have had to do. Otherwise (as I will argue in a forthcoming article for the Society of Music Analysis newsletter), we are simply undermining the highly skilled nature of the musicological profession, which has traditionally drawn fruitfully upon highly refined and sophisticated skills gained over an extended period before entering university, by asking the one group of scholars who (on the whole) need to demonstrate these to shift in favour of other sub-disciplines, with no parallel shift from others. It should be noted in this context that some of these shifts in musicological emphasis, prominent in the English-speaking world but less so elsewhere (to my knowledge). British musicology, like so many other outpourings of post-imperial British society, frequently exhibits a haughty attitude of superiority combined with relative ignorance with respect to many developments within its continental disciplinary counterparts (whilst bowing down deferentially in the face of its American cousin). For this and other reasons, these types of shifts should not go unchallenged.

      In conclusion to this, it is all right for practitioners to have full academic positions, and not have to develop any wider skills, where there are sufficient staff that they do not need to do anything beyond teaching something relating to their own practice. However, this type of 100% research-based teaching is rarely available to scholars producing written work, so why should it be the case for practitioners?


    • As discussed in my previous post, in the debate it was argued by Mera that in other artistic disciplines there is a clear divide between creative and professional practice. I have problems understanding on what basis this claim is made, or what the distinction is supposed to mean. Should we hive off any practice for which the practitioners are paid, as that makes it ‘professional’, and discount it from qualifying as creative practice as a result? This is not a facetious question; I could see an argument for extracting practitioners in academia from commercialised arenas, as this could be seen to compromise the scholarly and creative independence of their work (see also my earlier blog on whether commercial music can be research). I suspect this is not what was meant, however, by the comment from the REF 2014 report that ‘the sector still has difficulty distinguishing excellent professional practice from practice with a clear research dimension’. Considering how much debate there has been on the issue of how and when composition and performance might be research, are we to believe that all of those involved on REF panels have a clear set of definitions of these terms which would answer all these questions? If so, it would be good to hear these; if not, this raises serious questions about the basis upon which some individuals were empowered to pass judgement on the work of others.


    • 300-word statements might seem innocuous, a simple aid for those judging large amounts of work, but I remain unconvinced that they do not become a substitute for grappling with that work. Having seen multiple external examiners at different institutions who hardly even bothered to look at the work provided to them, I by no means have faith in many academics to do their jobs scrupulously if they are not forced to. Much easier to make a judgement on the basis of a 300-word piece of spin than to discern specifics about an extended score, recording, or whatever. If people are not prepared or competent to judge the latter as research, they should not be on panels doing so.

[Addendum: I have written another piece giving the history of the 300-word statement here]