Finnissy Piano Works (7) and (8) – November 7th and 21st, Oxford

poster-for-oxford-finnissy-concerts

 

[NEW: There will now be a new world premiere in the concert on Monday, November 21st, of the newly-composed Kleine Fjeldmelodien, dedicated to Ian Pace and Nigel McBride]

The seventh and eight concerts in my ongoing series of the complete piano works of Michael Finnissy will take place on Monday, November 7th, and Monday, November 21st, in the Holywell Music Room, Oxford. Both concerts will begin at 19:30. Tickets are £10, £5 concessions.

The first programme features a range of lesser-known works from the 1990s to the present day, including Finnissy’s unusual Machaut arrangement De toutes flours,of Francisco de Vidales’ villancico ‘Los que fueren de buen gusto’ in …desde que naçe, or his moving intimate tribute to soprano Tracey Chadwell, Tracey and Snowy in KölnThe much more extended Choralvorspiele (Koralforspill) is a series of fantastical post-Busoniesque chorale preludes sharing common material, an exercise in both compositional and pianistic virtuosity. The second half contains the second ever complete performance of the Second Political Agenda, three c. 20′ pieces embodying Finnissy’s extremely individual take on the music of Erik Satie, Arnold Schoenberg and Aleksander Skryabin.

The second programme features further tributes, to Satie again,  to Oliver Messiaen in A solis ortus cardine, to Bulgarian composer Georghi Tutev, and the UK premiere of Finnissy’s Brahms-Lieder, not to mention his Beatles’ arrangement Two of Us, as well as some pieces written for children or elementary pianists in Wee Saw Footprints and Edward. The longer pieces in the programme include Enough, Finnissy’s response to Samuel Beckett’s short text Assezand the monumental recent work Beat Generation Ballads.

 

Monday, November 7th, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (7)
Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street OX1 3SD

Elephant (1994)
Tracey and Snowy in Köln (1996)
The larger heart, the kindlier hand (1993)
…desde que naçe (1993)
De toutes flours (1990)
Cibavit eos (1991-92)
Zwei Deutsche mit Coda (2006)
Erscheinen ist der herrliche Tag (2003)
Choralvorspiele (Koralforspill) (2012)

***

Second Political Agenda (2000-8)

  1. ERIK SATIE like anyone else;
  2. Mit Arnold Schoenberg ;
  3. SKRYABIN in itself.

 

machaut-de-toutes-flours

Guillaume de Machaut, De toutes flours

finnissy-de-toutes-flours

Finnissy, De toutes flours (1990)

 

Monday, November 21st, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (8)
Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street OX1 3SD

A solis ortus cardine (1992)
Stanley Stokes, East Street 1836
(1989-94)
Edward
(2002)
Deux Airs de Geneviève de Brabant (Erik Satie)
(2001)
Z/K
(2012)
Brahms-Lieder (2015) (UK Premiere)
Enough
(2001)

***

Wee Saw Footprints (1986-90)
Kleine Fjeldmelodien 
(2016) (World Premiere)
Lylyly li (1988-89)
Pimmel (1988-89)
Two of Us (1990)
Georghi Tutev (1996, rev. 2002)

***

Beat Generation Ballads (2013)
Meeting is pleasure, parting a grief (1996)

finnissy-stanley-stokes

Finnissy, Stanley Stokes, East Street 1836 (1989-94)

 

finnissy-from-beat-generation-ballads

Finnissy, Beat Generation Ballads (2013)


Spinning Research

Oxford University put out a page in May of this year, relating to a grandiose project entitled ‘Transforming 19th-Century Historically-Informed Performance’, which has been awarded a major grant (£1 million) by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Whether the writing and quotations from investigators in this article does justice to the nature or scope of the project I cannot be sure, but the article certainly does reveal how empty and self-undermining can be various research projects which are publicly defined by their spin rather than apparent content.

I believe it is worth unpacking the description, which I will attempt to do here:

The research will help today’s professional performers and music college students understand more about 19th-century style, and will offer them new approaches to the preparation of music for performance, as well as expanding their expressive possibilities.

That much seems fine and worthy – researching an area of performance style in such a way as might be useful for professional and student performers. This in itself is far from new, though; there is a large body of work on this subject in several languages by a wide range of scholars (examples would include Clive Brown, Will Crutchfield, Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger, Martha Elliott, Dana Gooley, Philip Gossett, Kenneth Hamilton, Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen, Johann Hüttner, George Kennaway, Daniel J. Koury, Colin Lawson, David Milsom, David Montgomery, Michael Musgrave, Robert Philip, Clemens Risi, Sarah Potter, Robin Stowell and to a lesser degree myself), not to mention a wider range of literature on performance conditions, programming, acoustics, audience habits, and much more.

So what is different about this project? We read:

The project’s Principal Investigator, Claire Holden, said: ‘Contemporary performances of C19th repertoire by specialist ‘period instrument’ ensembles reflect little of what is known about historical style. Many aspects of C19th style are fundamentally at odds with the habits and expectations of modern day performers and audiences, conservatoire training and methods of performance preparation.

None of the above scholars, nor anyone else who has studied the subject, would I believe seriously dispute the second sentence above (but some might question the degree). But the first sentence suggests a wider attack on contemporary ‘specialist “period instrument” ensembles’ – which of these does Claire Holden mean? The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, perhaps (of which – see below – she has been a member for 16 years. Is this a principled but scathing critique of the very institution which has provided her with a salary for an extended period)? Or the Belgian orchestra Anima Eterna, directed by Jos van Immerseel? Or the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, as directed by John Eliot Gardiner? Or period instrument string quartets such as Quatuor Mosaïques or the Eroica Quartet? Or the mixed ensemble Hausmusik? All of these have presented a wide range of performances of nineteenth-century music using period instruments, all quite differently, but mostly in ways which constitute distinct breaks with other extant performing traditions for this music (in terms of tempo, timbre, approaches to vibrato, portamento, articulation, instrumental technique, and various else, as well as fundamental conception as manifested in the work), at least at the times of their pioneering work. However, in some cases other supposedly ‘mainstream’ performers and groups have changed their own styles, in a productive spirit of cross-fertilisation.

But in the absence of any names (and those above are amongst the most prominent), nor any specifics about which aspects of ‘historical style’ (on which these groups will by no means necessarily agree) reflect ‘little of what is known’, this appears to me like a convenient straw target, in order to be able to assert ‘everyone else before us was wrong, only we can be right’? Why should anyone believe that at this early stage in a project, Holden and her co-investigators are already so considerably more enlightened than all of the many others who have researched C19th performance style and/or attempted to respond to historical information about this style in their work?

Furthermore – and this makes me question the status of this project as ‘research’ – is Holden not pre-empting the results of the research, asserting a priori that ‘Many aspects of C19th style are fundamentally at odds with the habits and expectations of modern day performers and audiences’? Surely this is a hypothesis to be proved or disproved (or, likely, somewhere in between) by research – otherwise why bother doing the research at all?

The article goes on to say:

As a result, “period” ensembles are finding it more and more difficult to maintain a distinct identity in a marketplace where they are increasingly in direct competition with ‘modern’ orchestras – often playing the same repertoire with the same conductors and soloists in a similar style.

It is not difficult to observe how some ‘modern’ orchestras have adapted and moved away from some stylistic norm which had greater traction several decades ago, and adopted aspects of style which were bequeathed by period groups like some of those mentioned above. Many conductors associated with ‘period performance’ – including Nikolaus Harnoncourt, John Eliot Gardiner, Roger Norrington and others – have worked with long-established orchestras, whilst others – for example Charles Mackerras or Simon Rattle – have been eager to take on board some of the achievements of period performers, even when working with modern instruments. All of this has been observed and documented over several decades by most scholarly commentators on the subject, with some (such as Colin Lawson and Robin Stowell in their The Historical Performance of Music: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 153-154) noting the blurring of the clear line between ‘period’ and ‘mainstream’ performance that Laurence Dreyfus observed in his 1983 article ‘Early Music Defended Against its Devotees’, Musical Quarterly 49 (1983), pp. 297-322. This is hardly news, what matters is how this might form the basis for some new research questions.

The aim of this project is to engage performers and audiences in a re-invigoration of the ways in which C19th music is performed, by focusing on how this music is prepared for performance. We will use historical knowledge not for prescriptive ends but to open up a wide variety of radical performance and pre-performance practices.

I do not know of many scholars of C19th HIP who would claim that they are using historical knowledge for prescriptive ends, though the earlier text in this article suggests a negative view of what all others have done with such knowledge (or even a suggestion that they are unaware of it, which is ludicrous), which appears quite prescriptive to me.

But how do these scholars know in advance that the results will be ‘radical’? What if the data suggested that some of the historical practices were moderately conservative? Once again, if the conclusions are known in advance, why bother do the research?

In essence, the text above seems to be saying that this is a study of C19th rehearsal and practice techniques. This is a very worthy and important area of study, but would not have sounded so flashy when spun to research funding bodies like the AHRC.

Transforming C19th HIP will address these questions through scholarly research, empirical investigation, and practical enquiry and experimentation, combining historical performance and performance studies scholarship in a significant long-term research project.

Once again, this says little which could not have been said about the majority of previous scholarship on the subject.

The project has two partner organisations: the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; and the Royal Academy of Music.

Professor Eric Clarke, Oxford University’s Heather Professor of Music and the project’s Co-Investigator, said: ‘The project is going to employ a very exciting combination of historical, practical and empirical methods, and will be thoroughly engaged with a world-leading HIP orchestra and its audience, and with the students and staff of a world-leading conservatoire.

Run that by me again? I had thought this project set itself up in opposition to ‘Contemporary performances of C19th repertoire by specialist ‘period instrument’ ensembles’ which ‘reflect little of what is known about historical style.’? But there is a ‘world-leading HIP orchestra’ involved – specifically the OAE? Are they an exception to this rule (which would suggest some problem with the rule, as they are one of the most prominent such ensembles), or might they be hauled over the coals as a result of the research? Holden, the Principal Investigator, has been a member of the OAE since 2000, as revealed by her biography – will she subject her own employer to the same level of critical scrutiny as she alleges is required for other (unnamed) ensembles? And we are meant to be impressed by the mention of ‘students and staff of a world-leading conservatoire’ (the RAM), when ‘conservatoire training’ was earlier cited as as leading reason for the problem?

We read in this text a rather shallow attempt to spin a project as being in striking opposition to the practices of established groups, but then it also needs the prestige of a major orchestra and conservatoire to lend it legitimacy. The irony of this is glaring.

As I said earlier, this description may not do justice to the project, and may simply be a misguided promotional piece about a project which is considerably better framed. In this form, I cannot understand why this would have received ‘a large Research Grant’, and wonder if the obtaining of such grants has become mostly a matter of spin and having the right people associated with a project?

The description of a research project as ‘radical’ has become so routine as to be manneristic. It appears as if above all everyone looking for grants must present their work as boundary-breaking, iconoclastic, and in drastic opposition to what has come before. Actually there is plenty of important research which has been done and will continue to be done which attempts a nuanced and balanced approach to the data available, and achieves real original contributions to knowledge without always having to pretend that no-one else before had ever contributed anything of significance. The attention-seeking, pseudo-radical rhetoric in this article borders on the infantile.

Addendum: Looking at another associated project with the same PI, I read the following:

Consequently, true 19th-century practices have never been fully explored or realised,and familiar, secure, yet inaccurate ‘modern’ techniques such as off-string bowings have been the default directive. Whilst recordings of Beethoven’s Symphonies (e.g. by Gardiner, Hogwood and Norrington) are well respected and certainly offer interpretative insights, their acceptance as definitive examples of historical performance in this repertoire is misguided and dangerous. The string playing does not follow either technically or stylistically the conventions that were natural to performers of that time.

Here we are back to the sort of stentorian rhetoric about accuracy and authenticity that has been said to be a feature of the bad old days. To describe performances, or the reception thereof, as ‘misguided and dangerous’, not to mention further claims about ‘there have been no recorded or concert performances which have given any meaningful realisation of early 19th-century string playing’, or how ’19th-century performance practices continue to be grossly misrepresented’, all sounds very ‘prescriptive’ to me. Again, this seems a spin on ‘all the others have got it wrong, only my group can get it right’. With various issues which should be the subject of critical research questions (e.g. the prevalence of off-string bowings) presented as established truth.

A lot of critical methodological reflection on historical performance has concluded that various aspects of performance from eras before the advent of recording are difficult to discern with any certainty, and the results will inevitably be rather provisional and inexact. Yet when some performers wish to claim that existing species of historical performance have got it wrong, they speak in the language of absolute truth. Some humility here would not go amiss.


Musicological Observations 8: Essential listening from post-1945 New Music?

I was considering what I thought should be essential listening from the repertoire of post-1945 new music, to which anyone doing a music degree course which has a Western art music focus should be exposed during the course of their study. I want to be uncompromising and avoid easy populist, ‘democratic’, patronising choices (but look to major, difficult works for which exposure and explication at a university level might really make a difference. So here are six suggestions – I am looking for some others (I have lots of ideas, naturally, but am interested in those of others) that might make this up to ten suggestions. Please do post below. I am aware that there all the below choices are men, so would welcome various views on which works of women composers might also be included, according to the criteria I lay out.

Pierre Boulez, Pli selon pli (1957-62, rev. 1989-90)

 

Karlheinz Stockhausen, Kontakte (1958-60)

 

Luigi Nono, La fabbrica illuminata (1964)

 

Morton Feldman, Violin and Orchestra (1979) (only an excerpt is included above)

 

Brian Ferneyhough, Second String Quartet (1980)

 

 

Helmut Lachenmann, Allegro sostenuto (1987-88, rev. 1989-91).


The Piano Music of Michael Finnissy – Forthcoming Concerts 2016-2017

The following is a list of my forthcoming concerts in London and Oxford of the piano music of Michael Finnissy, in celebration of the composer’s 70th birthday. The next concert is next Tuesday, September 27th, 2016, at 18:00 and 19:30 – I hope many will be able to come along to this (see here for reserving places).

finnissy-piano-concerto-no-4-part

From Piano Concerto No. 4 (1978, rev. 1996)

 

Tuesday September 27th, 2016, 18:00 and 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (5)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Concert 1: 18:00
Piano Concerto No. 6 for solo piano (1980-81)
Love is here to stay (first version) (1975-76)
Gershwin Arrangements (1975-88)

Concert 2: 19:30
Please pay some attention to me (1998)
More Gershwin (1989-90)
Piano Concerto No. 4 for solo piano (1978, rev. 1996)

 

Thursday October 27th, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (6) – Part of the Royal Holloway Department of Music Finnissy at 70 series
Picture Gallery, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham Hill, Egham.

Kemp’s Morris (1978)
William Billings (1990-91)
Cassandra Miller and Michael Finnissy, Sinner don’t let this Harvest pass (2016)
Beethoven’s Robin Adair (2015)
Strauss-Walzer (1967, rev. 1989)

***

Vieux Noël Op. 59 No. 2 (1958)
Romance (with Intermezzo) (1960)
Short but…(1979)
Reels (1980-81)
Australian Sea Shanties Set 2 (1983)
White Rain (1981)
Free Setting (1981, rev. 1995)

 

Monday, November 7th, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (7)
Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street OX1 3SD

Elephant (1994)
Tracey and Snowy in Köln (1996)
The larger heart, the kindlier hand (1993)
…desde que naçe (1993)
De toutes flours (1990)
Cibavit eos (1991-92)
Zwei Deutsche mit Coda (2006)
Erscheinen ist der herrliche Tag (2003)
Choralvorspiele (Koralforspill) (2012)

***

Second Political Agenda (2000-8)

  1. ERIK SATIE like anyone else;
  2. Mit Arnold Schoenberg ;
  3. SKRYABIN in itself.

 

Monday, November 21st, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (8)
Holywell Music Room, Holywell Street OX1 3SD

A solis ortus cardine (1992)
Stanley Stokes, East Street 1836
(1989-94)
Edward
(2002)
Deux Airs de Geneviève de Brabant (Erik Satie)
(2001)
Z/K
(2012)
Brahms-Lieder (2015) (UK Premiere)
Enough
(2001)

***

Wee Saw Footprints (1986-90)
Kleine Feldmelodie
(1999)
Lylyly li (1988-89)
Pimmel (1988-89)
Two of Us (1990)
Georghi Tutev (1996, rev. 2002)

***

Beat Generation Ballads (2013)
Meeting is pleasure, parting a grief (1996)

 

Thursday, December 1st, 2016, 18:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (9)
Deptford Town Hall, Goldsmith’s College, New Cross Road, SE14 6AF

Verdi Transcriptions Books 1-4 (complete) (1972-2005)

 

Friday, January 20th, 2017, times tbc
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (10), as part of a wider mini-conference (January 19th-20th) on Finnissy
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

The History of Photography in Sound (complete) (1995-2000)

This will consist of three concerts during the course of the day and evening, together with talks and other associated events.

I will also be playing works of Finnissy in forthcoming concerts in Leuven (Beethoven’s Robin Adair), Prague (Five Yvaroperas, all.fall.down) and Lisbon (Jazz) during this autumn, and will post further details about these presently.

The earlier concerts this year have been as follows:

 

Tuesday February 16th, 2016, 19:00 (with pre-concert interview of Michael Finnissy by Aaron Einbond at 18:30)
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (1)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Romeo and Juliet are Drowning (1967)
Snowdrift (1972)
My love is like a red red rose (1990)
There never were such hard times before (1991)
French Piano (1991)
New Perspectives on Old Complexity (1990, rev. 1992)
First Political Agenda (1989-2006)

  1. Wrong place. Wrong Time;
  2. Is there any future for new music?;
  3. You know what kind of sense Mrs Thatcher made.

***

English Country Tunes (1977, rev. 1982-85)

 

Tuesday May 10th, 2016, 19:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (2)
Hollywell Music Room, Hollywell Street OX1 3SD

Song 5 (1966-67)
Song 6 (1968, rev. 1996)
Song 7 (1968-69)
Song 8 (1967)
Song 9 (1968)
Nine Romantics (1992)

***

Ives-Grainger-Nancarrow (1974, 1979, 1979-80) 
Liz (1980-81)
B.S.-G.F.H. (1985-86)
Ethel Smyth (1995)
Joh. Seb. Bach (2003)
Wenn wir in höchsten Nöthen sind (1992)
Rossini (1991)
What the meadow-flowers tell me (1993)
Preambule zu “Carnaval”, gefolgt von der ersten und zweiten symphonischen Etüde nach Schumann (2009-10) [World Premiere of Preambule]
One Minute W… (2006)

 

Friday May 27th, 2016, 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

Concert 1, 18:00
Svatovac (1973-74)
Three Dukes Went A-Riding (1977, rev. 1996)
To & Fro (1978, rev. 1995)
We’ll get there someday (1978)
Terrekeme (1981, rev. 1990)
Taja (1986)
Hikkai (1982-83)
Cozy Fanny’s Tootsies (1992)
John Cage (1992)
Five Yvaroperas (1993-95)
Tell-dirais (1996)
Vanèn (1991)
all.fall.down (1977)

Concert 2, 19:15
Folklore I-IV (1993-94)

 

Thursday July 7th, 2016, 18:30
Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (4)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Third Political Agenda (2016) [World premiere]

  1. Corruption, Deceit, Ignorance, Intolerance
  2. Hier kommt ‘U K Ichbezogen Populismus’
  3. My country has betrayed me

Polskie Tance Op. 32 (1955-62)
Four Mazurkas Op. 142 (1957)
Two Pasodobles (1959)
Autumnall (1968-71)
Freightrain Bruise (1972, rev. 1980)
23 Tangos  (1968-99) [World Premiere]

***

Honky Blues (1996)
How dear to me (1991)
Willow Willow (1991)
Poor Stuff (1991, rev. 1996)
Sometimes I… (1990, rev. 1997)
Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man (1990)
Boogie-Woogie (1980, rev. 1981)
Jazz (1976)
Fast Dances, Slow Dances (1978-79)


The Gershwin songs that inspired Finnissy

Those who have seen my last blog post will know that on Tuesday, September 27th 2016, beginning at 18:00, at the Performance Space, College Building, City University, I will be playing all of Michael Finnissy’s arrangements of Gershwin, as well as his Piano Concertos 4 and 6. The twenty-three pieces in question (plus a few early versions) are all derived from different Gershwin songs, generally from the musical comedies and revues for which he wrote some or all of the music, and also for various films.

Whilst Gershwin’s original melodies (and some derivative of other aspects of the harmony, figuration, vocal styles of particular performers) are clearly present and generally recognisable (certainly in comparison to the much more oblique Verdi Transcriptions), albeit heavily mediated, nonetheless not all of the originals are amongst Gershwin’s most famous songs, and some are relatively, though undeservedly obscure. Finnissy avoided setting any of the songs which Gershwin had himself transcribed for piano, or which had been transcribed by Percy Grainger. Here are the two sets of arrangements with the origins of each song:

MICHAEL FINNISSY, Gershwin Arrangements (1975-1988)

  1. How long has this been going on? (from the musical comedy Rosalie (1928))
  2. Things are looking up (from the film A Damsel in Distress (1937))
  3. A foggy day in London town (from the film A Damsel in Distress (1937))
  4. Love is here to stay (from the film The Goldwyn Follies (1938))
  5. They can’t take that away from me (from the film Shall We Dance (1937))
  6. Shall we dance? (from the film Shall We Dance (1937))
  7. They’re writing songs of love, but not for me (from the musical comedy Girl Crazy (1930))
  8. Fidgety feet (from the musical comedy Oh, Kay! (1926))
  9. Embraceable you (from the musical comedy Girl Crazy (1930))
  10. Waiting for the sun to come out (from the musical comedy The Sweetheart Shop (1920), book and lyrics by Anne Caldwell, most music by Hugo Felix)
  11. Innocent ingénue baby (from the musical comedy Our Nell (1922))
  12. Blah, blah, blah (from the film Delicious (1931))
  13. Boy wanted (from the musical comedy A Dangerous Maid (1921))

 

MICHAEL FINNISSY, More Gershwin (1989-1990)

  1. Limehouse Nights (from the revue Morris Gest’s Midnight Whirl (1919))
  2. Wait a bit, Susie (from the musical comedy Primrose (1924))
  3. I’d Rather Charleston (for 1926 London production of musical comedy Lady, be Good! (1924))
  4. Isn’t it Wonderful! (from the musical comedy Primrose (1924))
  5. Nobody but You (from the musical comedy La, la Lucille (1919))
  6. Swanee (from Demi Tasse Revue, part of Capitol Revue (1919), show produced and choreographed by Ned Wayburn)
  7. Dixie Rose (song from 1921)
  8. Someone Believes in You (from the musical comedy Sweet Little Devil (1924))
  9. Nashville Nightingale (from the revue Nifties of 1923, produced by Charles B. Dillingham)

 

There was also a further arrangement composed in 1998, called Please pay some attention to me, derived from a very little-known song, ‘Pay Some Attention to Me’ (1937) which George and Ira Gershwin had originally written for the film A Damsel in Distress, but abandoned it incomplete. Finnissy obtained the manuscript for this from the late composer Richard Rodney Bennett, and first made a version for soprano and piano duet which was performed at Steyning Music Club, then transformed this into a solo piano work in which Gershwin-derived material is alternated with a type of imaginary dodecaphonic music, as an evocation of the tennis games which Gershwin played with Schoenberg at the former’s Hollywood mansion during the last year of his life.

I thought I would post links to recordings of each of the songs in the two sets as a point of reference, in the same order. Whilst most of the Finnissy works were essentially composed as a free response to the scores (including all of the second set), a few were also inspired by particular performances, including Judy Garland’s ‘But not for me’ and some of the Fred Astaire classics. The particular choices posted here are naturally a little restricted by online availability.

Sarah Vaughan singing ‘How long has this been going on?’ in a 1957 recording with Hal Mooney and his orchestra.

 

‘Things are looking up’ as sung by Fred Astaire to Joan Fontaine in the sequence in A Damsel in Distress (1937).

 

‘A foggy day in London Town’ sung by Fred Astaire in the same film.

 

Kenny Baker singing ‘Love is here to stay’ in The Goldwyn Follies (1938).

 

Fred Astaire singing ‘They can’t take that away from me’ to Ginger Rogers, from the film Shall We Dance (1937).

 

More Astaire and Ginger Rogers: the title track ‘Shall We Dance?’ from the film.

 

The timeless performance by Judy Garland of ‘But not for me’, from Girl Crazy (1943).

 

‘Fidgety Feet’ as played by the Savoy Ophreans, recorded in 1927.

 

Billie Holiday singing ‘Embraceable You’, recorded in 1944.

 

http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/7583/

Lambert Murphy singing ‘Waiting for the sun to come out’ (1920 recording) (click on the above to go to the site to play it)

 

A more recent performance of ‘Innocent ingenue baby’ (the only version I could find online)

 

The full film Delicious (1931) – ‘Blah blah blah’ is at around 1h 16’50”.

 

And Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘Boy Wanted’.

 

Gershwin’s own piano-roll of ‘Limehouse Nights’, made in 1920.

 

‘Wait a bit, Susie’, played by the Savoy Havana Band in 1924.

 

Fred and Adele Astaire singing ‘I’d rather Charleston’, with Gershwin at the piano, recorded in London in 1926.

 

Steven Blier and Judy Kaye singing ‘Isn’t It Wonderful?’ (requires log-in to Spotify).

 

Gershwin’s 1919 piano roll of ‘Nobody but you’.

 

Al Jolson’s 1920 recording of ‘Swanee’.

 

Rick Rogers sings ‘Dixie Rose’.

I was unable to find a linkable performance of ‘Someone believes in you’, but the track can be bought as an MP3 here as part of the first recording of Sweet Little Devil.

 

‘Nashville Nightingale’, recorded in 1927 by the Piccadilly Revels Dance Band.

 

And Lena Jansson singing ‘Pay some attention to me’ (needs Spotify log-in).


Fifth Concert of Finnissy Piano Music – Piano Concertos, Gershwins – and Lecture on Experimental Music

On Tuesday September 27th, 2016, at City University, beginning at 18:00, I will be giving the fifth concert in my series of the piano music of Michael Finnissy, to celebrate the composer’s 70th birthday. This will contain Finnissy’s two piano concertos for solo piano, nos. 4 and 6, and both books of his Gershwin Arrangements (about which more can be found on this separate blog post, including links for all of the original Gershwin songs). The concert will be in two parts, an early evening concert at 18:00, and a main concert at 19:30. Places can be reserved here. The programmes are as follows:

 

Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (5)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Concert 1: 18:00
Piano Concerto No. 6 for solo piano (1980-81)
Love is here to stay (first version) (1975-76)
Gershwin Arrangements (1975-88)

Finnissy - from Piano Concerto No. 6

(From Piano Concerto No. 6 (1980-81))

Finnissy - from Fidgety Feet

(from ‘Fidgety feet’, Gershwin Arrangements (1975-88))

 

Concert 2: 19:30
Please pay some attention to me (1998)
More Gershwin (1989-90)
Piano Concerto No. 4 for solo piano (1978, rev. 1996)

Finnissy - from Piano Concerto No. 4

(from Piano Concerto No. 4 (1978, rev. 1996))

The Piano Concerto No. 4 is by some measure Finnissy’s most manically virtuosic piece, and this is a rare opportunity to hear it live. I gave the world premiere of the revised version in my 1996 series of the piano work and have since performed it many times and recorded it (as I have the Piano Concerto No. 6 and all of the Gershwin Arrangements).

There will be further Finnissy concerts in London, Egham and Oxford in October, November and December, details of which I hope to confirm very soon, including a performance of the complete (four-book) Verdi Transcriptions , and the complete cycle The History of Photography in Sound, as part of a wider day at City University of events relating to Finnissy’s work.

 

Furthermore, on Wednesday October 12th, at 17:30 I will be giving a lecture postponed from earlier this year (due to industrial action).

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.

 

I hope all with an interest in this subject will want to come along.


Deskilling and Musical Education – Response to Arnold Whittall’s 80th Birthday Celebrations

The following article was printed in the Society for Music Analysis Newsletter 2015. I reproduce it with just a few small modifications here.

 

To do justice to Arnold’s enviable legacy, we should reverse the tendency towards the de-skilling of a discipline.

During the contributions to Arnold Whittall’s 80th birthday colloquium at King’s College, London, Jonathan Cross linked two events: Arnold’s appointment as the first Professor of Theory and Analysis in 1982, and later in the decade the purported expansion of musicology to incorporate issues of gender, sexuality and race, methodologies from sociology, anthropology, cultural studies and elsewhere, and greater focus on popular musics and other traditions outside of Western art music. Some of the latter phenomena are associated with the so-called ‘new musicology’ in the US and its slightly milder counterpart ‘critical musicology’ in the UK.

All of these were portrayed by Cross as a general broadening of the discipline, a welcome infusion of increased diversity of subject and methodology, a natural step forward. But an academic field now in large measure antipathetic to claims of musical autonomy seems nonetheless to claim a fair degree of autonomy for its own trajectory, in a way I find implausible and even disingenuous. There may be some common determinants underlying all these apparent broadenings of the field, and both systematic analysis and the new musicology have been opposed by conservatives such as Peter Williams. Nonetheless, the wider ideologies underlying these disparate developments can be quite antagonistic, as was certainly made clear in an important interview between Arnold and Jonathan Dunsby published in Music Analysis (Vol. 14, No. 2/3 (Jul. – Oct., 1995), pp. 131-139) for the former’s 60th birthday.

The ‘new musicology’ is frequently argued to have been inaugurated with the publication of Joseph Kerman’s Contemplating Music (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985) (UK title Musicology). Despite being replete with factual errors, Kerman’s appeal to a musicological inferiority complex, a field presented as trailing far behind other disciplines in terms of adoption of ideas from phenomenology, post-structuralism, feminism and more, not to mention his negative view of both musical modernism and historically-informed performance, as well as residual anti-German prejudice, would prove very influential.

But Kerman was also the author of the polemical ‘How We Got into Analysis, and How to Get out’ (Critical Inquiry, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Winter 1980), pp. 331-331), absolutely at odds with what Arnold was advocating and aiming for at around the same time. The contexts for these two musicologists were very different: Kerman was responding to a particular North American situation (though he was shameless in extrapolating universal pronouncements from a rather provincial perspective), with a much starker distinction between ‘historians’ and ‘theorists’ than in the UK. In the US, a heavily mediated rendition of Schenker’s work had flowered since 1931 through his student Hans Weisse, and in the early post-war era through other students Felix Salzer and Oswald Jonas, whilst other intense analytical approaches had been developed by Rudolph Réti, Milton Babbitt, Allen Forte, George Perle, David Lewin and others. In the UK, on the other hand, as Arnold would note in a 1980 article (‘Musicology in Great Britain since 1945. III. Analysis’, Acta Musicologica, Vol. 52, Fasc. 1 (Jan. – Jun. 1980), pp. 57-62), systematic analysis had made little advance, despite a gauntlet having been set down by Ian Bent’s advocacy at the Congress of the International Musicological Society in 1972. What did exist – through some interest in Réti’s work, the ‘functional analysis’ of Hans Keller, and a smattering of other work from Alan Walker, David Osmond Smith and a few others – was occasional and patchy, and this was undoubtedly a major factor in Arnold’s co- founding, in 1982, the journal Music Analysis together with Jonathan Dunsby, with whom he would author what remains the leading general textbook on analysis in English six years later. The subject has continued to grow and develop, with excellent work from UK academics, such as Matthew Riley’s studies on Haydn and Mozart, Michael Spitzer’s work on the affective function of gesture, Nicholas Cook on analysis and performance, or Allan Moore’s work on rock, but it is difficult in 2015 to see analysis as having attained a central position in musicology as might have seemed possible in 1982. Various musicologists who assumed prominent positions from the 1990s onwards have made no secret of their disdain for this sub-discipline, sometimes inspired by American writings of a similar ideological persuasion.

Assumptions of autonomous development of the discipline in the 1980s and 1990s are belied by issues such as the wider politics of education from the Thatcher years onwards. These entailed cuts in musical provision in schools, the 1992 removal of the formal distinction between universities and polytechnics, and then expansion of student numbers. After a doubling of the number of students (in all subjects) between 1963 and 1970 following the Robbins Report, numbers remained static until the late 1980s, when during a period of around a decade student numbers practically doubled from 17% in 1987 to 33% in 1997, then rose steadily to peak at 49% in 2011. This move from an elite to a mass educational system occurred in parallel with attempts to erase the very real differences in preparedness and background amongst students at different types of institutions, with a net levelling effect upon many.

Much of the new embrace of popular music had less to do with genuine diversification than an enforced denial of very real differences of various forms of musical production’s relationship to the marketplace. One of Thatcher’s neoliberal mantras, ‘There Is No Alternative’ (TINA) was echoed by many a musicologist scornful of any possible value in state-subsidised musical activity thus able to operate with a degree of autonomy from shortterm market utility. As subsidy is rare or minimal in the US, this ideology was convenient for American musicologists eager to claim some radical credentials through valorisation of the commercial whilst still appearing patriotic; it was disappointing to see so much of this ideology imported wholesale in the UK, a country with a modest level of subsidy for music compared to its continental European counterparts.

I had always thought of music, at a tertiary level, as a highly skilled discipline for those who have already developed and refined musicianship prior to entering university. This belief may reflect a background in a specialist music school in which, if nothing else, the teaching of fundamental musical skills was rigorous and thorough. Nonetheless, the importance of not allowing music slip to become a ‘soft’ subject requiring only nominal prior skills (and, as with much work in the realm of cultural studies, not requiring any particular artistic disciplinary expertise or extended knowledge) is to me self-evident. But with declining primary and secondary musical educational provision, frequently the extent of such prior skills amongst students can be quite elementary.

Furthermore, following the trebling of tuition fees in 2012 and other measures removing caps on recruitment, higher education has become a more ruthlessly competitive market with institutions fighting to attract and keep students. These various factors provide the context from which we should view the growth in many departments of types of popular music studies, film music studies, cultural studies, and some varieties of ethnomusicology, in which engagement with sounding music is a secondary or even non-existent concern. Such focus enables the production of modules which can be undertaken by those students with limited prior skills, but militates against musical analysis in particular.

We now have a situation, unthinkable a few decades ago, where some senior academics – even at professorial level – have no ability to read any type of musical notation. These academics (not to mention some of their students who will go onto teach at primary and secondary levels) may only perpetuate and exacerbate this situation for their own students. Similarly, a number of sub-disciplines of academic music can now be undertaken without linguistic skills, or much background in history, literature, the visual arts, philosophy and so on. Students have always had uneven or patchy backgrounds in these respects, but the will to help them improve upon this has also declined in various institutions. Expansion of musical study to encompass wider ranges of music and disciplinary approaches is certainly to be welcomed when this entails the cultivation of equal degrees of expertise and methodological refinement and critical acumen, but not necessarily when these are simply a means for attracting and holding onto less able students.

In short, these developments in musical higher education have seen a well-meaning liberal quest for inclusivity amount in practice to a pseudo-egalitarian de-skilling of a profession. In order to build upon the legacy bequeathed above all by Arnold for the support of specialised and rigorous analytical skills, we cannot ignore this issue any longer.


Musicological Observations (7): Articles and Links from Ethnomusicology Debate

On June 1st, 2016, there took place at City University a debate on the subject ‘Are we all Ethnomusicologists now?’, with a panel consisting of Amanda Bayley, Tore Lind, Laudan Nooshin, Michael Spitzer, and myself, chaired by Alexander Lingas. The starting point for the debate was Nicholas Cook’s article ‘We Are All (Ethno)musicologists Now’, in The New (Ethno)musicologies, ed. Henry Stobart (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2008), pp. 48-70.

Here is a video of the full debate.

 

Various statements from the debate and responses have been posted on my blog and that of Music at City. Here are all of these.

Position Statement of Ian Pace

Position Statement of Laudan Nooshin

Position Statement of Michael Spitzer

(My statement and that of Spitzer can also be viewed on the City blog here)

There are also reports and responses to the event from Ben Smith and Rachel Cunniffe here.

Here is a long section from the book The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism, by Paul Harper-Scott, cited by Nooshin in her statement, together with further reflections on the subject from me.

And here is my response to Nooshin’s statement, together with a series of ethnographically sourced statements of other musicologists’ and students’ experiences of ethnomusicology and ethnomusicologists.


Ethnographically sourced experiences of Ethnomusicology – a further response to the debate

With thanks to various people who looked at earlier drafts and provided helpful feedback.

 

Since posting online my position statement on the question ‘Are we all Ethnomusicologists Now?’ (the full debate can be viewed here – see also Michael Spitzer’s statement here and other responses to the event here), there has been a fair amount of negative responses from some ethnomusicologists, not least on social media. I would genuinely welcome open, scholarly, and proper responses to the specific arguments I made (they could be posted in the comments on this blog, for example); the comments I have seen have mostly not been of this nature.

I would urge all respondents to look up the ad hominem fallacy, and consider whether it is applicable to my statement, which I believe is entirely focused upon the arguments of the authors I discuss (save for the concluding statement, which parodies common ethnomusicological parlance to make a point).

Furthermore, few of the above seem to have read the first paragraph of my statement:

‘…when the object of study for this sub-discipline is Western art music, and it is on this body, or even canon, of work in English that I intend to concentrate today’

In that context, the following should be very clear:

Much of the ethnomusicological work I have been looking at does not simply consider the relationship between sounds and contexts, but brackets out sounding music out entirely. . . . What remains is what I call ‘musicology without ears’. This requires little in terms of traditional musical skills (in whatever tradition), and I believe the more this achieves a dominant or hegemonic place within contemporary musical education, the more it contributes to what I have referred to elsewhere the deskilling of a profession (meaning the loss of many skills specific to that discipline). Musicology can become little more than a more elementary sub-section of sociology, anthropology, cultural studies, but rarely with the breadth or depth of methodological awareness to be found in some of those other disciplines (though I have wider doubts about cultural studies/industries in general). This can facilitate the ominous possibility of musical departments being closed or simply incorporated into others.’ [reverse italics added for emphasis]

My critique is focused on method, not on the object of study. There is a surplus of excellent ethnomusicological work, some of which I mention in my statement; other especially notable examples which come to mind include David P. McAllester’s Enemy Way Music: a Study of the Social and Esthetic Values as Seen in Navaho Music (Cambridge, Mass.: The Museum, 1954), Paul F. Berliner’s The Soul of Mbira: Music and Traditions of the Shona People of Zimbabwe (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1981), or Christopher Alan Waterman’s Jùjú: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1990). The position statement, however, deals with a very specific canon of texts, much celebrated by a small group of authors, and which I find to be deeply problematic (and in some cases hardly deserving of the epithet ‘scholarly’) for reasons outlined in the statement, which will be explicated in more detail in a forthcoming article.

In another post on the subject, I gave some further reflections and posted a long section from Paul Harper-Scott’s book The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism relevant to the subject. There I mentioned a forthcoming response to the position statement given in the debate by Laudan Nooshin. I think it will suffice to say that several of the traits I identified in the ethnomusicological work I considered in my original statement – a tendency within the subdiscipline towards ‘endlessly telling its own story and creating its own canons of hallowed figures’ (not least in the statement contained in PPT 6); an uncritical attitude towards any work which simply ticks a sub-disciplinary box; a rather dismissive attitude to the one thing which defines musicology as a discipline – the study of sound; the padding out of material with often rather unremarkable verbatim quotes; the use of loaded politics and language (‘musicological hegemony’, ‘occupied musicology’) to try and close down debate, rather than more measured critical engagement; and the need to denigrate Western music and established forms of musicology in order to bolster ethnomusicological disciplinary identity – are all clearly on display in that paper. To talk about ‘occupied musicology’, using a backdrop of the Israeli Wall, and thus to imply her own situation, and that of other ethnomusicologists, is akin to that of Palestinians living under brutal occupation, is hyperbole unworthy of a response.

Nooshin’s claims made elsewhere in the debate that imply that ethnomusicologists know all about Western music, but only they are qualified to have a view on their own field, are not only self-serving and territorial, but simply not credible. An Arnold Whittall or a Helga de la Motte-Haber is in a position to make broad statements about twentieth-century music, a Carl Dahlhaus was on the nineteenth-century, a Manfred Bukofzer on the Baroque era, and so on, all after many years of intense study of these periods. I feel reasonably able to make some broader observations on Western art music since 1945, though know there is still plenty more to learn. It takes a very good deal of study, perhaps a lifetime, to be able to make broad statements about ‘Western music’ (or ‘Western art music’), even within restricted geographical and/or chronological parameters; it seems unlikely that scholars who may only have studied this music at undergraduate level or in general survey courses can pronounce expertly on it.

I am especially interested in Nooshin’s remarks about a ‘fetishist focus on music as sound’, which prompts me to ask why she would describe in this way the type of study which arises out of a fascination with music and its most defining attributes? This common type of Anglophone ideology, by which focused study on sounding music is viewed as a decadent or effete triviality (as literary study has also been viewed at various times in the English-speaking world) compared to the more supposedly weighty social sciences, is highly concerning. I also strongly disagree with that rather narrowly utilitarian attitude which privileges social function over art. A study of Tomás Luis de Victoria’s contrapuntal practice, of orchestration in late-nineteenth-century French composers and the influence of Berlioz’s Traité, or of approaches to phrasing and rhetoric in the work of contemporary performers (as was undertaken by Franz Kullak in the 1890s, one of a great many examples which disproves Nooshin’s erroneous claim that traditional musicology has only recently considered performance), or developments in crooning technique and genre in line with new microphone technology and employment at the hands of Frank Sinatra and others, are not of lesser value than a focus group study of iPod preferences on a particular housing estate, or an interview with the composer of music for a specific computer game, despite the surface topicality of these last two examples. Nor are studies of the provenance of lesser-known Icelandic sagas, of archaic and classicising tendencies in the poetry of Vasile Alecsandri, or the relationship between post-1945 Polish experimental theatre and the earlier work of Zygmunt Krasiński, then Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz, less relevant than a study of celebrities’ choices when appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Please. The arts are not to be valued simply to the extent that they overlap with elementary and broadly populist sociology or other more ‘relevant’ disciplines, or are superficially contemporary (nor should the study of, say, sixth-century history be dismissed in the manner of  the Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University, Belfast). And what evidence is there that the study of music in the context of war, or torture, has any more impact upon these latter fields* than the study of techniques of motivic or cellular transformation in one composer’s work might have upon other composers looking to develop these techniques?

Nooshin’s attractive idea of ‘a more holistic field studying music in its broadest sense’ is not what I actually find in the work I surveyed, in some of which music is just mentioned in a token manner, in the context of otherwise essentially journalistic writing. In her paper she refers to ‘music in all its diversity and beauty: as physical movement, as behavior, as ideas – something that people think and talk about and that plays a central role in and shapes their lives’, implying that no-one other than ethnomusicologists had considered these things. In fact, none of these subjects are at all new to traditional forms of musicology (nor various other disciplines), but they supplement and enhance the study of sound rather than replace it. The study of physical movement without sound is theatre or dance. The study of behaviour without sound is psychology. The study of ideas without sound is philosophy. All of these are highly sophisticated disciplines in their own right; few scholars could plausibly claim mastery of all of them. But the  exclusive use of questionnaires and interviews to deal with these subjects is a very narrow approach, just as they are for the study of music. ‘Interdisciplinarity’ (a term wittily decried by the musicologist Mark Everist) can sometimes amount to ‘Jack-of-all-trades-ism’; drawing upon other disciplines can be extremely valuable, for sure (and is nothing new), but to enhance a field of study, not to compensate for lack of real expertise in any one discipline or artistic field, or to satisfy those who hold the study of art in low esteem. It is difficult to see how the claims being made by Nooshin for ethnomusicology could ever be fulfilled when sound becomes a dispensable factor.

Anglo-American musicology is in a poor state, for sure, compared to some of its counterparts elsewhere, in the UK beset by a wider educational culture involving cuts to primary and secondary musical education leaving many upcoming students ill-prepared, a wholehearted embrace of commercial music above most else since the Thatcher years, a broader political and intellectual culture disdainful of the arts in general and music in particular, not to mention the insidious effect of the Research Excellence Framework, which reduces much research to attempts to game that system. It is perhaps not surprising if some ethnomusicology reflects these various trends, which can be found equally in various other sub-disciplinary areas.

Nooshin wrote ‘I, however, do do ethnography and for this debate thought it would be useful to put the central questions to some real people, mainly but not only ethnomusicologists.’ With this in mind, I have done similarly, and asked six musicologists (three men, three women) and one post-graduate student (other students promised replies, but they have not yet materialised!) about their experience of ethnomusicology or ethnomusicologists in their professional or academic life. None of these are at my own institution or any at which I have worked, but I hope Nooshin will agree they are ‘real people’ (I am not sure what would be another type). The results are varied, but some are quite disturbing. These were provided to me in writing and I have not edited any content.

 

Musicologist A: My experience of ethnomusicology and ethnomusicologists is quite varied. I’ve taught in departments where there was no such thing, and those departments certainly felt rather old-fashioned and crusty. I’ve also taught in departments moving towards a large new intake of ethnomusicologists, many of whom were barely trained in traditional technical skills for western music and who I felt were basically doing forms of sociology, cultural history, anthropology, etc. with something often unreflectively called “music” (whether ‘soundscapes’ or practices) as a central focus. Certain individuals, especially if they were converts from western music training, can in my experience be evangelical in tone about their work. Enthusiasm is fine, but this tone comes with a censoriousness that implies that anyone not interested in the popular/rural/amateur music(al practices) of country X (X being country far away from the UK, expensive to fly to, with a better climate) is at best a Eurocentric prig or at worst a racist Nazi. This evangelism extends in research presentations to a rather flat, uncritical reporting of what the people of country X say about their music(al practices). As someone whose research materials all pre-date sound recording and whose human subjects are all dead, I find ethnographic emphasis on live interviews/recordings rather limiting and am often horrified at the uncritical attitudes scholars have to the ‘texts’ generated by these methods. The best ethnomusicologists I have worked with have strong critiques of authenticity narratives, skepticism about the general way the ethnographic method is conducted, read books (including historical writing and writing about history) and use various kinds of theory that pervade other kinds of humanities scholarship. The worst simply show what look like lovely holiday snaps, give a pseudo-literary, ‘atmospheric’ narrative about their trip, and quote their interlocutors at length, nodding sagely. I would say that the latter are in the vast majority. I tend to view them as well-meaning but misguided. One former colleague (who works on Western music and has left the UK to work in a country where there is basically no ethnomusicology) said privately that they are ‘those who think they will go to heaven because they work on the music of poor people’. Given that I do not know any ethnomusicologists who did not attend fee-paying schools, which places them in the top 7% of the country’s children economically, I imagine they view their work as a kind of penance. (I realize I’ve described ethnomusicology as a kind of religion, which is what it feels like. In some departments it feels like they want to convert or excommunicate everyone else until there’s one united church of ethnomusicology. I’m a heretic, I’m afraid.).

 

Musicologist B: Ethnomusicology is no longer just a complementary area of study and research in tertiary music departments. It has become the locus of an ideological ‘given’ that compares, whether overtly or by implication, but always unfavourably, the music of ‘authentic’ popular genres, or non-Western societies, with an apparently hopelessly sexist, racist, decadent and/or anaemic Western art music tradition. That tradition, and the skills needed to study it, can, thus, be dismissed as a field of serious study ever earlier in undergraduate degree programmes. We are at growing risk of losing our capacity to understand our own musical culture, let alone anyone else’s, as little more than the triumph of the here and now, with no historical depth or genuine critical potential.

 

Musicologist C: Just before I arrived at my institution, where the Music Department was going through a period of development and planned expansion, an ethnomusicologist had been appointed to develop and build on what was deemed to be a burgeoning research and teaching area. I got on well with the ethnomusicologist. After some time, with little development in the area, the institution appointed another ethnomusicologist to try to stimulate the desired development it had seen little return on. After a year, it was clear neither ethnomusicologist got on with the other and they effectively refused to work together. Within a decade, both had moved to pastures new. There are no plans to employ ethnomusicologists in the department’s strategy going forward.

 

Musicologist D: What really surprises me is how nasty my colleagues can be, both to staff and to students. Intellectual disagreements are to be expected, and I can even understand how passions can rise in meetings where the redesign of the degree programme is being discussed. But ethnomusicology colleagues victimize staff who work on “imperialist” music, by which they mean Western classical music: they shout them down in meetings, alleging that they are the only people who are interested in the social contexts of music and therefore have a moral high ground. This makes everyday dealings unpleasant. But what is worse is that they single out students for humiliating treatment in lectures. Over the years I’ve had many students tell me how they’re been laughed at by ethnomusicology lecturers, told that their views (for instance that it’s worth studying the history of music, or that there’s something of interest in nineteenth-century symphonies) are conservative, “have been unspeakable since at least the 1990s”, and so on. Again, what the students describe isn’t just disagreement: it’s real vitriol, communicated with a clear sense of moral as well as intellectual superiority. If ethnomusicologists practiced what they preached, they would be open to the varied perspectives of their colleagues and their students. But far from that, I find too often that ethnomusicologists feel that their way alone is right, that their knowledge alone is permitted, and that the views of their classical-music Others should be suppressed.

 

Musicologist E: Ethnomusicology and ethnomusicologists have not loomed large on my horizon; as student I avoided the optional lectures on Egyptian music just as I steered clear of contemporary music. At the university where I got my first job, there was one ‘proper’ ethnomusicologist in the traditional sense, i.e. somebody who studies a non-European musical culture and its practices. With my own interests in early music, we were both a bit odd in the context of this very ‘contemporary’ department, so we shared eye-rolling moments when other colleagues universalised from their 20th-century perspective. There was also one other colleague who took an anthropological approach to Western music, but since the study of instruments (organology) is quite a traditional and non-controversial pursuit in the academic system where I received my training, I never thought much about how his approach differed from – or was superior to – any other way of dealing with this topic.

Recently I had the opportunity to engage with several ethnomusicologists at a conference in Germany. Their interests were refreshingly diverse: the construction of Inka music as masculine, heavy metal, music and migration, German Schlager, transnational music pedagogy. Since the conference was organised by music historians and mainly dealt with issues of historiography and biography in the digital age, the ethnomusicologists helpfully slanted their presentations in a way that translated well into more historical ways of thinking, weighing carefully the advantages and disadvantages of our different methodologies (for example, how the traditional format of the artist’s biography is currently adapted in ethnomusicology). Funnily the ethnomusicologists were the most critical of a recently set-up programme on ‘global’ music; we all agreed that it would just encourage cultural tourism. Exchanges were lively but not hostile – you can always get a lively discussion out of any bunch of musicologists if you throw the word ‘canon’ into the ring! However, it should be noted that we were in a decisively non-competitive situation and didn’t have to squabble over curriculum design, student numbers or funding allocations! And perhaps it does make a difference that ethnomusicology has been built into the fabric of Musikwissenschaft from the start (starting humbly as ‘vergleichende Musikwissenschaft’) – so historians are less tempted to belittle it as merely a complement to their ‘canon’, and ethnologists are less tempted to cast themselves as revolutionaries who have to overturn the entire discipline.

 

Musicologist F: In my professional capacity as a musicologist who has worked at a number of universities in Europe and the US, I have never encountered any of the institutional tension that is reported elsewhere between faculty in musicology and faculty in ethnomusicology. In my professional experience, both subject areas have happily co-existed, often strengthening and enhancing one another whilst also giving students an impressive intellectual base and a broad range of skills. The fact that the two have happily co-existed in my experience is largely due to the fact that they are not competing with one another. Neither is under threat.

The debate at City University is timely, and I found it to be hugely informative in terms of the professional experience of others and the light it shed on the current state of the discipline(s). The one aspect of this debate that relates directly to my experience, as a self-confessed WAM musicologist, concerns the increasing marginalization of Western art music in academic musical spheres, whether on the conference circuit, in the classroom, or in publications. Here, I am acutely conscious of an epidemic that Ian Pace has been at pains to warn us about for some time: the deskilling of musicology. And, as Michael Spitzer notes in his contribution to this debate, in this respect, there is not a two-way street between ethnomusicology and musicology.

The merits of embracing ethnomusicological approaches in WAM musicology (to speak only to my own perspective) seem self-evident and were rehearsed very well by Bailey, Lind, and Nooshin at the City University debate. The urgent issue, to my mind, is not the riches to be gained in such an embrace but, conversely, what stands to be lost by the marginalization of Western art music. Approaching this from the point of view of skills, the marginalization of WAM musicology risks losing something which cannot subsequently be regained. Unlike ethnomusicology, which speaks to music through a range of disciplinary voices, WAM musicology relies on a knowledge of the music itself, to employ another much maligned phrase. The difference to my mind, then, is illustrated by paraphrasing Johannes Brahms: there are those who think in tones, and those who think about tones. There is room in our academic world for both, and an abundance of the latter. The former are an endangered species. Let’s not risk losing any more of them.

 

Post-graduate student: My experience of ethnomusicology during my undergraduate degree was not an entirely positive one. Whilst certain lecturers in the discipline were undertaking research and teaching, which I felt (both then and now) to be important, just as many espoused positions, which I found frustrating. I shall attempt to outline my reasons for this as follows: Whenever certain ethnomusicologists in the department broached the topic of Western Art Music, there was an assumption that only middle class people, who had been to private schools, could like classical music. Indeed, we were told that, as we were studying for a degree, sold to us on the basis that most of us probably quite liked Beethoven, that we almost certainly were too. Whether this is a fair comment or not (in the case of my educational background, it actually wasn’t), I nevertheless found it a strange one. We were told, so often, that Western Art Music relied on universals, that worked to corrode and obfuscate the memory of historical privilege. We were told that ethnomusicology was the antidote to such empty universality: it focused on the particular, the autochthonous, and the ‘local’. Ethnomusicology seems to rely on universals of its own, however, although these are never acknowledged. They posit the spectrum of people interested in classical music as apparently homogenous and unchanging, who are, by and large, often separated, by their privilege, from the economic concerns of ‘ordinary’ people. Ethnomusicology posits musicology as its universal ‘Other’, then, both morally and academically, so that writing a paper on something non-Western becomes a morally courageous and virtuous thing to do. I’m not sure I agree, largely because value judgements, of any kind, were often censored by certain members of staff. This is, of course, a perspective quite common to much of present academia, non-musical as much as musical, and whilst it is a point I disagree with, it is not grounds, on its own, for the character assassination of a discipline. My experience, however, was that it was often adopted by certain lecturers, as a portentous display of personal morality (i.e. it is ‘immoral’ to dislike something), and I could never escape the feeling that there was a somewhat more insidious subtext to these demonstrations. As an example, a friend of mine was marked down in their essay on globalisation and world capitalism, for implying that there might be something in any way negative about these things. It just wasn’t a scholarly perspective, apparently. The fact of the matter is that much of this music only exists because of capitalism. Often it does not constitute the type of ‘authentic’ experience ethnomusicologists claim it to be; it is a cultural commodity in the same way that a can of Coke is. If one is to criticise the economic system, which incubates it, however, then one cannot escape criticising the musical object, either, and one is forced to make value judgements. On the other hand, if one keeps their distance, one can keep on writing about the musical object, without really passing comment on its ethical or political efficacy. This is economically and morally convenient, perhaps (i.e. one can publish more and more, whilst feeling themselves to be doing good), but it is not good scholarship. For one, it is descriptive, as opposed to critically incisive, and second of all, it claims to be doing moral work, when it actually amounts to no more than laissez-faire, postmodern fingering. The situation, for those people being studied, remains exactly the same, whilst the reputation of the academic in question grows. The criticism of this perspective would no doubt be that it is elitist to think things can be altered for the better. In an argument that sounds no different than a defence of Victorian economic conservatism, if one were to intervene in the lives of disadvantaged people, then it would be contrary to their own ‘choice’. In the current academic vocabulary, one might be accused of robbing them of their ‘agency’. However, I think it is misguided to think of many people’s lives in these terms. ‘Choice’ is a predominantly middle-class concept. If you live a hand-to-mouth existence, then choice has little to do with it; one does things out of necessity. By making out that those people studied have choice, and by celebrating their music, they simultaneously celebrate the secret necessity of those choices, which, to my mind, is the exact opposite of what we should be doing.

 

For reasons detailed in my original position statement, I make no scholarly claims for this method of investigation. Nonetheless, I believe these results demand some sober reflection.

 

[* It could of course be argued that the study of the use of music and torture might help equip a musician who wanted to write or locate some new music which would have maximum effect in such a context. But I can hardly imagine students and future torturers and dictators at the School of the Americas being deterred by some musicological study. ]


Statement of Michael Spitzer for Ethnomusicology debate

Following my earlier posts on the ‘Are we all Ethnomusicologists Now?’ debate (see here and here), here, reproduced with permission, is the statement from Michael Spitzer given in the debate.I will be posting my own response to the statement by Laudan Nooshin (which can be read here), together with some ethnographically sourced views from musicologists and students on their experience of ethnomusicology and ethnomusicologists.

 

Michael Spitzer

I’d like to pull out three strands from Nicholas Cook’s rich and though-provoking article – a thought-piece I mostly agree with, except to suggest that Cook may have been too optimistic. What I mean by ‘too optimistic’ I’ll get to after I try to clarify these three strands.

The first point to make is that the term ‘ethnomusicology’ ought to be distinguished from ethnography. We see ethnographic methods usefully applied to all walks of scholarship in Western music, including music in everyday life, and music psychology. By contrast – and this claim doesn’t seem to be wildly out of line with the programmes of recent British Forum for Ethnomusicology Conferences – Ethnomusicology seems to throw its focus on world music.

The second point is that the analogy with historical musicology is limited. To be sure, ‘the past is another country’, and all that. But ethnographic research requires living respondents, and the people in the distant past are dead. The notion of hermeneutic ‘alterity’ is a fudge in this respect. I began my career as a Beethoven sketch scholar, and Beethoven isn’t around to explain his shocking handwriting; nor his choice of inks or the water-marks on his paper. Paleography, like forensic pathology, is the art of the silent witness. It’s also a highly technical discipline; and – in an economy of time-scarcity – every hour the medievalist or sketch scholar puts into reading Lacan or Bourdieu is one hour less to perfect their specialist craft.

My third and final point is that the ‘performative turn’ isn’t necessarily the best bridge between the two disciplines. Or rather, performativity isn’t the same thing as performance tout court. All scores address the implied performer, do they not? And the Kantians taught us that listening is a kind of internal, imaginative, performance, as we mentally track the dynamics and intensions of the music. The Dutch theorist Michael Schijer wrote provocatively that his experience teaching at the Amsterdam Conservatoire suggests that analysts can sometimes be more creatively performative than pianists who mechanically or unthinkingly reproduce the music.

All of which points to the so-called problem of the musical score being in fact a red herring. One field not mentioned in Cook’s article is popular-music analysis, since it came of age fairly recently. A common starting point for analysing popular song is that there often is no score; or rather, the analyst works with a transcription they have made themselves. And yet the ‘music itself’ is no less an object for reflection for the lack of an original score; it is a sonic conceptualisation (I am aware that a notion of ‘the music itself’ is hugely over-determined. In defense, I can point to Brian Kane’s recent book, Sound Unseen, which mounts an impressive recuperation of the ‘musical object’ on Husserlian transcendental grounds, indebted to Pierre Schaeffer’s typology of hearing types as well as to Jean-Luc Nancy’s philosophy of listening). And it is this which brings me back to my opening claim that Cook was too optimistic. Why?

Cook’s ideal is laudable in principle, but in practice it hits the rocks of academic politics. In short, it is not a two-way street. On one side of the street, Musicology has been attacked for a generation for its apparently inadequate social and cultural mediation, and it has got its house in order. On the other side, I am not aware of many bullets shooting in the opposite direction; and yet the sniping against Musicology continues. Let me give two examples, one general, the other personal.

In 2013, Liverpool held an International Conference on Analysing Popular Music. The world’s main forum for popular-music scholarship is IASPM, yet many of the renowned visitors to our conference told me how difficult it is for them to get a friendly hearing at IASPM, an organization much more oriented towards ethnographic approaches. My personal example is a polemic aimed at me by David Hesmondhalgh in his recent book, Why Music Matters, where he accuses me of ‘formalism’ in my forays into analysing musical emotion. I answer Hesmondhalgh in an article coming out soon in the journal, Popular Music. All I will say here is that I hit the ball back over the net, and ask: what is so wrong with ‘formalism’? Don’t songs have form? Isn’t it useful, even enjoyable, to explore how an artist or composer crafts and finesses musical materials? More bluntly, how much do the critics of music analysis really understand what it involves?

So, in sum, I would set the disciplinary boundaries elsewhere. There are fine ethnomusicologists who effortlessly absorb and deploy analytical methods. Simon Mills, on rhythm in Korean folk-music; or Chloe Zadeh, on schemata in Indian classical improvisation, not to mention more senior figures such as Michael Tenzer, Richard Widdess, or Martin Clayton. Equally, most if not all Western musicologists are socially and culturally aware, whilst upholding the values of abstraction and, let us say it, ‘formalism’.

Rather, the real difference is – to borrow categories from game theory – between zero-sum games, and positive-sum games. In a zero-sum game, one side needs to lose for the other side to gain. In a positive-sum game, both sides win. Certainly, my experience of musicologists or music theorists is that they are happy to live and let live. But perhaps this is not always the case for ethnomusicologists or social scientists in their attitude towards musicologists.

Equally, I think there <are> differences, notwithstanding the absorption of music analysis and ethnography by both sides. You see that in our conference programmes. The spread of repertories in an ethno conference is extremely diverse, whereas most delegates at an RMA meeting will know their Schubert or Debussy. In musicology, this experience of commonality is an invaluable basis for intersubjective discussion and methodological progress. Stepping gingerly, and at the risk of over-simplification, I suggest that the pattern of consensus in an ethno meeting is reversed: people may agree more on theory and method, the repertories tending to be mutually unfamiliar. And that is perfectly fine. It is a difference worth preserving, as its dynamic will help keep music studies as a whole moving and developing. But, to repeat, this will only happen if both sides respect each other in a live-and-let-live culture. And, at the moment, I see this respect as rather one-sided.