The departure from academia of a brilliant scholar unafraid to critique the relationship of culture to capitalPosted: October 17, 2021
For several months, various friends have known about the upcoming departure of Professor J.P.E. Harper-Scott from academia, at the age of 43, to take up a job in the Civil Service. To friends he is Paul, and I will refer to him as that from this point, as I am mourning the loss to the profession not only of a brilliant scholar, but also a close personal friend.
Paul published a ‘farewell blog post’, which has been widely shared on social media. In this, without engaging in any targeted critiques of individual scholars or groups, he identified the heart of the problem with which he no longer wanted to be continuously embroiled: an approach to scholarship which preaches dogma and allows for no dissent from orthodoxies, in drastic opposition to the spirit of critical thought which was what drew him to academia in the first place. He exemplified this with a stark statement (an imaginary one, but definitely of a type with which many will be familiar) about how, on account of the interactions between nineteenth-century music and imperial societies, ‘The classical music canon must be decolonised’ (my emphasis). He followed this with a considerably more nuanced view compared to this dogmatic utterance. Then he noted the necessary consequence which would likely be drawn of the dogmatic statement: that music departments stop teaching Beethoven and Wagner, rather than the alternative he suggests by which such music can be used as a means of understanding more about the social contexts from which they emerged. Then he went on to describe his own sense of joy and liberation upon discovering a lot of such music, coming from a background in which it played almost no part. There was a real sense of sadness in the portrayal of a situation in many quarters in which anyone who dissents from this type of ideology is subject to personalised attacks, shaming, no-platforming, and attempts to have them removed from their posts, and how the dogmatic approach mirrors that found in media, politics and business. This was not a world in which he any longer wished to operate.
At first, Paul’s blog post provoked a lot of expressions of sadness and regret, combined with various individuals imploring musicology to look at itself and how it has got to this state. I certainly recognise quite a bit of what he diagnoses, though some of this is more prominent in the US than the UK, and in the UK it is found in certain quarters much more than others. There is a pronounced divide within the UK sector between the ‘post-92’ institutions (former polytechnics before 1992) which in large measure (with a few exceptions) focus on more vocational teaching of Music Technology, Music Business, Musical Theatre, Popular Music Performance, and so on, and the Russell Group (the elite group of research-intensive institutions) in which there is a greater emphasis on a humanistic approach to the study of a wide historical range of music, ethnomusicology, critical academic study of music and its contexts, analysis, performance practice, and so on. Various institutions fall in neither of these groups, and often combine aspects of both approaches. Many of the Russell Group and mid-ranking institutions have taken on aspects of popular music (notoriously Oxford University’s recent introduction of a part-core module in Global Hip-Hop), music business, in some cases music technology, and so on, integrating these into wider curricula, but there has been less traffic in the other direction. Few outside of conservatoires would be able to complete their studies without at least facing some critical questions about the reasons for a canonical repertoire and especially the role of popular music and non-Western traditions relative to this, but many studying popular music can limit their focus exclusively to such music, usually overwhelmingly from the English-speaking world and from a relatively limited historical period, To engage with older historical popular traditions, or those around the world less deeply indebted to the Anglo-American model, is far more rare. Even within part of the sector, there are more than a few ethnomusicologists who heap down criticism on most things related to Western art musics, its traditions, and associated scholarship, often in deeply impugning, accusatory and denunciatory ways (there are some examples of this in this article, which can be found together with the companion piece ‘When Ethnography becomes Hagiography’ in this book) , but react with horror at even the slightest critique towards their own field. And, as for example expressed in relatively mild form in this exchange following a quite denunciatory radio talk by one professor on ‘Dead White Composers’, there are plenty in academia who will happily dismiss centuries of heterogenous traditions with a few tawdry adjectives (or, in many cases, claiming it to do little more than embody feudal, imperial, racist, misogynistic values – all true in some ways, and of other musics, but far from a nuanced picture) whilst making extravagantly liberatory or emancipatory claims for their own favoured popular musics.
But some of the responses on social media to Paul’s resignation post, including some from academics, exemplified a lot of what he was diagnosing. While a few respectfully questioned some of the arguments made and whether he represented the reality appropriately, others were extremely aggressive, personalised, espousing contempt bordering on hatred, righteous, while others flagrantly misrepresented what Paul’s article actually said, or attempted to undermine his words on ad hominem grounds. Others even claimed that the article caused ‘hurt’, and then felt obliged to denounce it and him as a result. There were no personalised attacks on anyone or any groups in the article, but this was not true of the responses, some of which seemed calculated to cause maximum hurt. This was the unedifying spectacle of a pile-on, and it was deeply disappointing to see some scholars, perhaps the types Paul had in mind when he spoke of those claimed to be ‘generally quite well-meaning’ but not ‘brave’, feel pressure to join in the mobbing.
Paul was clearly a brilliant scholar from the outset. His early work on Elgar (in Edward Elgar: Modernist (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), drawing upon his PhD; Elgar: An Extraordinary Life (London: ABRSM, 2007); and the edited collection with Julian Rushton, Elgar Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)) made a very significant contribution to a wider body of scholarship drawing the concept of musical ‘modernism’ more broadly than hitherto and highlighting, with the aid of various analytical tools, the ways in which musical strategies, aesthetics, processes, structures and more left an indelible mark even on work not usually considered together with the most radical figures.
He became a full Professor at the relatively early age of his late 30s, and continued to be highly productive, having to his name by the time of leaving academia five sole-authored monographs, several edited volumes, and countless articles and book chapters (an unfinished book comparing neo-Riemannian analysis with Hugo Riemann’s own work will be completed by another scholar). He was also a highly respected, though far from uncritical, mentor to many junior scholars.
The most important aspect of his work, in my view, was his endless exploration of the relationship between music, musicology, and capital. In this he came from a position on the radical left, drawing upon Marxist models of capital, and was very critical of what he saw as much more casual work in which ‘capitalism’ is essentially viewed as synonymous with any system in which goods are bought and sold. Paul, by contrast, examined what he perceived as the ideological complicity of various strands of thinking fashioned as progressive, democratic, anti-elitist, etc., with the interests of capital. His position was made clear in the Preface to The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012):
But as well as critiquing scholarship on modernism in particular, the book constitutes a broader ideological critique of all manifestations of what could variously be termed postmodern, pluralist, or as Badiou would say democratic materialist musicology. I will therefore make a Leftist case for the possibility of an emancipatory politics that is diametrically opposed to the relativist–cultural sweep of (the bulk of: emphatically not all of) modern ethnomusicology, empirical musicology, musicology of pop music, and all other crypto-capitalist work on what are called musics, by showing how modernist music (on this new dialectical definition) helps to advance our most pressing present concern – to escape the horrors of the present by imagining the transformations of a coming society. (p. xiv)
The following passage indicates his type of argument at full flow:
[Richard] Taruskin’s second suggestion is that ‘cast[ing] aesthetic preferences as moral choices at the dawn of the twenty-first century is an obscenity’. Let us turn this on its head and insist instead that concealing the moral consequence of obfuscated xenophobic–capitalist aesthetic preferences at the start of the twenty-first century is an obscenity. What Taruskin is doing, of course, is to deny the emancipatory potential of classical music – not because he particularly disbelieves it, I expect (he wrote a five-volume history of it, after all) – but because it pleases him argumentatively to assault other musicologists. In parallel, he wants to say that popular classical music is more valuable – which is to say (as he does) more consumable – in the world of late capitalism. But this aesthetic decision in favour of the popular over the recondite has ethical consequences that Taruskin neither admits nor – as is clear from his gruff rejection of any possible link between aesthetic choice and ethical act – would acknowledge. But capitalism has subjects, subjects who are exploited, limited, have their life’s possibilities minutely circumscribed and controlled. Declaring in favour of the popular is fine as far as it goes, but doing so while denying any possibility of a truth-statement that exceeds the definition of the merely popular (that is, ideologically normative) with the intention of tearing apart the prevailing understanding of the situation – which for us today is global neoliberal capitalism – is simultaneously to declare in favour of the dictatorship of Capital, and the impossibility of its revolutionary destruction.
More extended such arguments can be found in the longer passage from this book, a link to which I posted earlier. In general, a good deal of his strongest critiques were directed at a particular Anglo-American ideological viewpoint, now common within musicology, which can loosely be associated with postmodernism, a position of high relativism which remains oblivious to the influence of capital. For myself, while I can no longer subscribe wholly to the type of Marxist thinking with which I once had some sympathies (and especially not the neo-Maoism of Alain Badiou), and believe the relationship between popular art and capital to be somewhat more complex, I do have other sympathies with various of his arguments from a social democratic perspective, one which rejects the untethered reign of market forces and the commodity principle as a fundamental measure of the value of everything, but believes in regulation, a strong public sector (including in the realms of education and culture), progressive taxation and public spending, and also which does not necessarily view the ‘state’ always as a malign and hegemonic force, but one which can equally act as a democratic check on the power of capital and big business. In this post, I have collated some examples of musicologists who are more explicit in appealing to commercial forces and the market as a supposedly emancipatory alternative to other means of cultural production, or sometimes denying there could be any alternative to the former. This is a perfectly legitimate perspective, and one which deserves proper consideration, but there are many obvious reasons to doubt the extent to which such an ideological viewpoint should be associated with the political left.
Paul also repeatedly returned to the issue of Anglo-American xenophobia in musicology. He was not alone in this; even Nicholas Cook, coming from a very different ideological and scholarly perspective from Paul, had reason to criticise what he called ‘the xenophobic essentialism that Taruskin seems on occasion to erect into a historiographical principle’ (Nicholas Cook, ‘Alternative Realities: A Reply to Richard Taruskin’, 19th-Century Music, vol. 30, no. 2 (2006), p. 208; a reply to Richard Taruskin, ‘Review: Speed Bumps’, 19th-Century Music, vol. 29, no. 2 (2005), pp. 185-207). Paul wrote about the ‘E→G→N short circuit’, which he associated especially with Taruskin, whereby Europeans (E) become conflated with Germans (G) which become conflated with Nazis (N). This is rooted within a tradition of neo-conservative thought, which sees American-style capitalist democracy, fascism, or Stalinist communism, with the latter two also seen as very similar in many ways, and European social democracy distrusted and sometimes demonised for its lack of wholehearted embrace of the US model.
Paul’s final book as an academic is The Event of Music History (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2021), some of which I am continuing to process at present, and about which I plan to write a more extended response. In this he sought to address fundamental historiographical questions and the question of what constitutes a ‘subject of music history’. He concentrated critical attention on postmodern theories of history such as those of Hayden White, F.R. Ankersmit, Keith Jenkins or Alun Munslow, as well as a range of alternative models provided within musicology, in particular some outlined by James Hepokoski (in ‘Dahlhaus’s Beethoven-Rossini Stildualismus: Lingering Legacies of the Text-Event Dichotomy’, in The Invention of Beethoven and Rossini: Historiography, Analysis, Criticism, edited Nicholas Mathew and Benjamin Walton (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 15-48). These could be delineated into four categories: (1) a critique of Western European canons and their ideological underpinnings; (2) an attempt to dilute what is perceived as an elitist, anti-democratic and German-centred canon by greater incorporation of Mediterranean opera, performer-centered composition, nationalistic works not traditionally viewed as significant, or types of popular or commercial music; (3) a more pronounced shift away from a German-centered canon towards alternative traditions coming from the opposite side of the ‘Beethoven-Rossini divide’ as articulated by Carl Dahlhaus, so that the likes of Donizetti, Verdi, Paganini or Liszt move to centre stage, while a focus on performance replaces score-based analysis, quite deeply distrusted; (4) more difficult to summarise, but employing the opposition between the ‘drastic’ and the ‘gnostic’ cited by Carolyn Abbate (in ‘Music – Drastic or Gnostic’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 30, no. 3 (2204), pp. 505-36), borrowed from philosopher Vladimir Jankélévitch, focusing above all on musical reception, and valorising the performative/drastic in opposition to the gnostic. Paul examines these in some detail, in all cases critically, and proceeds in the book to engage with the work of Theodor Adorno to a more thorough extent than previously, leading to extended chapters returning to the central figure of Beethoven, the role of analysis in discerning the ‘truth content’ of his works, as well as questioning some reductive models of the relationship of Beethoven’s ‘heroic’ style to the Napoleonic era and so on.
I have significant differences with Paul on many issues. He is deeply invested in Lacanian psychoanalysis, about which I am more sceptical, as I am about some intellectual figures he strongly favours, such as Badiou or Slavoj Žižek. I take a somewhat different view of such issues as the ‘Beethoven-Rossini divide’, and have perhaps greater sympathies with views which believe in a certain decentring of a particular Austro-German canon (and as such, have more time for strategy 2 above, which has informed some of my own teaching), and even with those which make a rather stark valorisation between highly commercially focused music-making and that which exists with some degree of protection from the vagaries of the market. In that respect, I do not so strongly go along with every aspect of Paul’s critique of some of the arguments of Richard Taruskin, even though I also maintain some aspects of this and other critiques of this body of work. Paul is not sympathetic to the most of the field of historically-informed performance, from a position probably closer to that of Pierre Boulez than Taruskin, while I see this field as of huge importance and value. Furthermore, I believe some of Paul’s critiques themselves to be too all-encompassing in nature, though it is important to note, for example, his critique of some work of ethnomusicologist Henry Stobart was balanced by a counter-example taken from another ethnomusicologist, Martin Stokes. While heavily critical of a lot of directions in ethnomusicology, this did not amount to a blanket rejection of this sub-discipline. For myself, I think study of at least one musical tradition from outside of Europe or North America should be an core part of most music curricula, showing students very different musics, social and cultural contexts from those with which they are likely to be familiar, but have a variety of critiques of some methods and ideological positions associated with ethnomusicology.
But I recognise a lot of the tendencies outlined in Paul’s resignation post, especially the level of dogmatism, with bullying, pathologisation and demonisation as an alternative to any attempts at communication, engagement and scholarly critique with those of divergent viewpoints. This is very unbefitting of academia, and the very converse of genuine diversity (which should include ideological diversity) and a spirit of critical thinking. Paul has left behind an important body of work, and numerous other contributions to academic life – for example as an elected trustee of the Society for Music Analysis, like myself, and through his immensely generous work creating and maintaining the Golden Pages, an invaluable resource for all musicologists listing upcoming conferences, dissertation abstracts, citation guides, online resources, university music departments, and more. But he had weathered the storms for as long as he wanted to, and wished (on an entirely voluntary basis) for a career change, also in light of an unhappy situation where cuts were made to his department at Royal Holloway, which was also a key arena for very pitched battles between factions. For my part, I am simply very sad to see the departure of both a friend and a scholar for whom I have the highest respect, even where we disagree. British musicology will be all the poorer without Paul.
Guest Post by Eva Moreda Rodriguez in response to my Spectator article – ‘How we read, how we write’Posted: October 16, 2021
The following is a guest blog post by Dr Eva Moreda Rodriguez, Senior Lecturer in Musicology at the University of Glasgow, in response both to my recent Spectator article (‘Roll Over, Beethoven’ – online version entitled ‘How the culture wars are killing classical music’ , Spectator, 7 October 2021) – I should add that neither of these titles were my own) and a range of responses on social media, including this by John Aulich.
How we read, how we write
Eva Moreda Rodriguez
A frustrating aspect of the debate around Ian Pace’s The Spectator article on social media was feeling that not all participants seemed to have read the same text as I did. Some accused Pace of wanting everyone to study music in his way (i.e. highly formalistic, dots on pages, music per se and nothing else). I read the article about four times in search of proof that this was indeed what Pace was saying; at some point, I even started to suspect that my ability to understand written English (which, after fifteen years in British academia, I considered to be pretty close to that of a native) was much poorer than I had assumed. Ultimately, though, I remain unconvinced. Pace writes, for example: “It is time to reassert the value of the study of music in its own right”. Does “reassert” imply the exclusion of everything which is not “the music in its own right”? True, Pace could (and probably should) have phrased his claim more inclusively – but the fact that he failed to write, for example, “reassert the value of the study of music in its own right alongside other approaches” is not in itself an indication that he believes these other approaches should be abandoned.
The frustration, however, led me to consider my own ways of reading and of writing: like Pace and J.P.E. Harper-Scott (although perhaps not as acutely as them), I have also felt for a while now that the study of Western art music qua sounding music (as opposed to social practice) is increasingly marginalized in British music academia. Might have I been misreading utterances from colleagues and stranger, twisting meanings and filling gaps based on my prejudices and previous experiences? I would like to pause here on the word “experience”, as I think it is key to this debate. If we are intent on answering the question “is the study of Western art music being marginalized in academia?”, we could (and should) invoke statistics (which, however, don’t tend to be readily available: we’d need to compile them first): numbers of jobs available by specialization; how this might have changed over the years; how many British universities offer courses in X, Y or Z; whether projects in certain areas are disproportionately likely to get funding, and so on. However, the response to such question will also be inevitably shaped by human interaction (with colleagues from our departments, with others we encounter at conferences, funding panels, professional associations, editorial committee). There is a whole new layer of information there that will likely influence our response: for example, when our department is presented to the outer world (in an Open Day, in a TV or radio programme), are certain areas privileged while others are hidden as a sort of dirty secret? How are teaching loads distributed between different kinds of specialisms? Are certain kinds of scholarship or approaches systematically disparaged in informal interactions or “banter” among colleagues (“same old same old”, “going into the archives and digging up positivistic crap”, “gibberish”, etc.)?
Moreover, such personal interactions tend to happen in an environment which demands extreme levels of productivity and incentivises that we see ourselves as rivals rather than colleagues. In addition, during the last year and a half most our interactions with colleagues are likely to have taken place in the emotionally alienating environment of conference calls. There is a risk here, I think, for us to become entrenched in our prior positions and overreact to anything we see as an attack on them. William Cheng – cited by Pace in his article – talks in his book about “paranoid scholarship”, which he has little time for. I am myself a bit of an enthusiast of paranoid scholarship – I take great pleasure in anticipating which kinds of objections might be put forward to my arguments, and how I might best address them before they have even been articulated: I think this has made me a better scholar –, and I would like to suggest that perhaps we should all be more paranoid when doing our scholarship, but less paranoid in everything else, especially when it comes to interacting with colleagues.
So, when I feel that my area of study is becoming marginalized, where does this feeling come from? And might it be that I am subjected to confirmation bias, in that perhaps I tend to read perfectly innocent statements calling for increasing diversification of the music curriculum (a goal I share and have worked towards) as synonymous with “classical music must disappear from the curriculum”? A key point here is the fact that this feeling comes overwhelmingly from interactions on social media (mostly Twitter), rather than in-person. I am, however, dissatisfied with the explanation that Twitter is its own world, where we build bombastic personas or let off steam before going back to our real-life normal, in which we allegedly express who we truly are: at UK universities, we are increasingly expected to use Twitter for professional purposes; the personas we build there might help us obtain professional contacts, co-authors, PhD students – they are part of who we are.
In any case, my sense of how these interactions go is something like this:
A: Cancel classical music!
A: No one said we shouldn’t teach classical music anymore you silly cookie! We’re just saying, why don’t we teach more hip hop?
But I realize that such exchanges, even if they give this impression to me, do not always happen so neatly as laid out above. For example: “A” might be a composite of several people: it might be that there is indeed an “A” which says something to the effect of “Cancel classical music”, then C and D re-tweet it, then, to B’s protestations, C indeed says that we should teach less classical music, D instead is more conciliatory and says that statement A was made for rhetorical effect, but that no one in their right mind would dream of taking it literally. Sometimes the exchange might happen more or less as above, but more protracted in time – so that A says something eminently provocative at a certain point, perhaps for rhetorical effect in a specific context, but then, in a different exchange, they saw it fitter to articulate their argument for diversification in more rhetorically conventional ways.
However, statements to the effect of the “cancel classical music” above are indeed made (or also: generalizations to the effect that classical music is sexist and racist – and if sexism and racism is something no sane person would want at their universities, where does this leave classical music?). They are indeed made by people employed in academia or with some power within it; contrarily, I would struggle to remember instances of similar statements going in the opposite direction (e.g. “music outside the classical canon has no place in universities”).True, I am sure that if we dug up we would find plenty in the comment section of Slipped Disc and similar outlets; these proclamations, however, unlike the above, do not come from individuals who can make decisions about curriculum. To be clear, I believe in freedom of speech and in academia and elsewhere, and I believe in the right of everyone to make such statements as provocatively as they want (as long as they are free of insults and calls to violence, of course). I am also not contrary to the idea that hyperbole and rhetoric effect might have a place, sometimes, in academic debate. I would just like to humbly suggest that colleagues making such statements consider the context (for example, what about PhD students in their departments working on classical music topics, who might be anxious about their job prospects?). I hope I am not asking more than I am trying to give myself as I try to disentangle my own knee-jerk reactions to such proclamations.
If we are to take such provocative statements merely as hyperbole, as an invitation to diversify Music studies (which I think most of us can agree with), it occurs to me that two questions we might want to tackle are: if X approach is to be introduced into Music studies, does it mean everyone has to engage with it? Does it mean every university will have to teach it? Because, I have to confess, what has often led me to feel as if classical music was increasingly marginalized (and, after conversations with colleagues, it seems I am not the only one) was the urging, peremptory tone in the calls for including one approach or another into music study, as if implying that everyone has to do it or else is suspect or, at best, charmingly out of date. But is it so? I myself have made in my own publications that “we” must engage with this or that (e.g., with exile and displaced musicians). And now I wonder: am I being equally peremptory? Might these claims have been read by anyone to imply that every music scholar should engage with exile, or else they are suspect of minimizing the plight of exiled individuals? I sincerely hope not, and I would be horrified if anyone had felt this was the case. I hope the context might have clarified that by “we” I meant, mostly, scholars of Spanish art music between, say, 1930 and 1980, and probably scholars of musical modernism too – but in the understanding that, while exile is a category that I certainly think both groups should have in their minds at some point, for some it is likely to be a footnote rather than a central preoccupation.
Why, therefore, do calls to engage with other categories sound more peremptory to me? Upon reflection, I think the main difference is that engagement with these other categories is often framed as a sort of querelle des anciens et des modernes in ways that I find scholarly unsolid and inaccurate. For example: it is not uncommon in social media debates to find the assumption that, if you don’t regard X as crucial to your scholarship, it’s because you haven’t read the right theorists, or you haven’t understood them: “Read XYZ, who has demonstrated this” (in which “this” is not something verifiable and falsifiable, such as, say, the date of composition of a work). Interestingly, a couple of the most charitable responses to Harper-Scott’s and Pace’s articles intended to portray them as out-of-date, yet ultimately, harmless scholars: their preferred methods of enquiry are now as obsolete as is Lamarckian; let’s pity them and hope they can find solace somewhere else. I feel like I am stating the obvious here, but, whereas paradigms in musicology of course change, the situation is a bit more complex than that: the study of, say, medieval musical palaeography (one of the pillars of musicology when it was first born) can happily coexist, and perhaps even be cross-pollinized, by approaches to the music of the Middle Ages that put more emphasis on the conditions that surrounded music-making. I am sure that many of those who opposed Pace’s article know better than to regard history as a teleological, progress-driven, quasi-Darwinian narrative, and so it perplexes me that they do so with the history of their own discipline.
But, even if we accept that some boring, lineal progress will happen and some approaches will eventually become extinct, it seems to me that my own understanding of where we are in this timeline differs from the perception of those whom I can describe as being on the other side of the debate. I arrived in the UK fifteen years ago to study for a PhD after having completed my undergraduate degree in Spain. At the time, the social history of music was a well-established strand in British and even in Spanish academia; the academic study of popular music felt newer to me, but perhaps it would not feel so now: the pioneers (Frith, Middleton, Tagg) probably now have the right age to be our undergraduates’ grandparents. In short, I do not think it is accurate to portray (as more than a few do) frictions within the discipline as a bunch of old, decrepit formalists resisting the reformist enthusiasm of those who insist (rightly) that music is more than that. Not so long ago, I listened to a fascinating, thought-provoking conference paper which nevertheless disconcerted me somewhat because of its author’s insistence that for a musicologist to privilege society and culture instead of the formal elements of the music extremely uncommon. Is it, in 2021? I would venture that a cursory look at say, what the top five musicology journals have published in the last few years would say otherwise.
In the same way as many did not see themselves reflected in the claim that there’s a push to cancel Beethoven, I often do not recognize the picture that claims that present-day students are fed a strict diet of Bach, Beethoven and Schenker. Maybe this is true in US academia, where I understand the music history survey, harmony and counterpoint are still a staple of the curriculum, but I would say it is emphatically not so in the UK, and I sometimes wish those on the opposite side of the debate would be more forthcoming in recognizing this. I have to confess here that my own experience has perhaps made me quite embittered in this respect: as a new PhD student in the UK, I enthusiastically embraced the claim (sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit) that music does not simply mean classical music, but other musics too. Even though my expertise was nominally in classical music, I felt the need to engage with the broader world out there, and when I started to teach I made sure to introduce plenty of non-classical topics in my teaching (in courses such as “Analysis” “Historiography”, “Research skills”, which don’t call for a specific repertoire); I also try to engage with other areas of Music study via reading and attending music research seminars. However, over the years I have noticed that colleagues whose main specialization was in ethnomusicology or popular music didn’t feel they needed to diversify their own teaching and engagement to the same extent, and this I’ve found sometimes disheartening, particularly when some of these same colleagues felt the need to point out that my own teaching wasn’t diversified enough (and this often based on the fact that I was, nominally, a “classical” musicologist, and not on the actual content of my classes). Conversations with colleagues at other UK universities suggest that my experience is not uncommon: many scholars who publish predominantly on classical music teach outside those topics, whereas I would dare to say the opposite is less common: while we can surely celebrate the fact that some Music scholars have eclectic research and teaching profiles, we should perhaps also ask ourselves whether cultivating such an eclectic profile (which is surely rewarding, but takes time and work) has become de facto a requirement for some but not for others.
I also wish there was more recognition that the canon is not hegemonic anymore at British universities. I have long resigned myself to the fact that, when teaching Pauline Oliveros’s Bye bye Butterfly, only a handful of students will have heard of Puccini; when teaching Tchaikovsky in relation to queer theory, only a handful will know sonata form and its ideologies to any level of detail, and so on. In his response to Pace’s article, John Aulich used Notre Dame organum as an example, implying that it is a staple of undergraduate teaching. At my university, I can conclusively say that the number of students who encountered Notre Dame organum in the classroom can be counted on the fingers of one hand – i.e. those who took my non-compulsory course in medieval music last year.
I am not saying that civilization is at risk of falling apart if we don’t remedy this; I am saying that this is the reality at the university where I teach, and I would say at many universities in the UK, and that this reality is at odds with the pretence that the content of UK HE music education is still predominantly white, male and formalist. These days, I find myself pondering whether the brave new world that was being envisaged in British academy fifteen, twenty years ago, a world centered around “musics” and not just classical music, is finally here, but maybe we are all realizing it is not that great and we are reacting, in our own way, against that. And, in my own perception, the fact that it is not great it is not necessarily because of anything inherent to the repertoires studied, but because of marketization pressures, de-funding, internal department politics, sometimes even politics plain and simple, and so on. One thing, however, seems clearer to me now more than ever: the problems with music education in HE were and are not due to the hegemony, or even the mere presence of, the classical canon.
A new cover article in The Weekend Australian Review, Rosemary Neill, ‘Notes on a Scandal: The raging debate over our next generation of composers and musicians: should they be able to read a score?’, Weekend Australian Review, 29-30 August 2020, brings to a further readership many of the key issues debated a few years ago as part of #notationgate and also of deskilling (see here and here). This is behind a paywall, but can currently be accessed here for those with a subscription.
Neill speaks at the outset to student composer Dante Clavijo, who surprises some people by saying that he still composes using pen and paper, rather than relying entirely upon digital audio workstations. Clavijo argues that songwriters and composers ‘absolutely benefit from knowing notation; it’s jut a logical way to organise musical thought.’ But this then leads to the question of whether even those studying music at tertiary level need to learn notation. On this, Neill quotes my collaborator Peter Tregear:
Yet Peter Tregear, a former head of the ANU’s school of music, points out that these days, students can graduate with music degrees without being able to read music, particularly if they are studying popular music and music technology subjects or degrees, and he is scathing about this trend.
“I find it concerning,” says Tregear, who obtained a PhD in musicology from Cambridge University and has worked at Cambridge, Melbourne and Monash universities. “It’s a misunderstanding of what universities are there to do. We’re meant to be expanding minds and opening horizons. … If you no longer teach musical notation, you effectively wipe out not just a good deal of recent Australian music history, but a large swathe of music history full-stop.”
Tregear presided over the ANU’s music school from 2012 to 2015 and waged a battle to keep several notation-centred subjects in the music degree. He lost.
He attributes the decoupling of music education and traditional notation to the march of new technologies and – more controversially – to a push to “decolonise” the music curriculum, because the classical canon was largely created by “dead white men”.
The outspoken academic, who has also won a Green Room Award for conducting, tells Review: “There has been, I think, a false or at least a very dubious conflation of arguments around the fact that western music notation is western music notation, and the idea that we shouldn’t favour it for that reason.
“To borrow an Orwellian phrase, ignorance is now a strength – it is considered that we’re actually better off not to teach this, which I find an extraordinary view for any higher education institution to take.”
In contrast, most European countries still comprehensively studied their own music histories. Still, even in Europe, there was a push at some conservatoriums and universities to “decolonise” the curriculum.
“There is a move away from musical notation as being central to a music education as a kind of excuplation for western historical wrongs,” he says.
Tregear argues that if a music student is incapable of engaging with music that was “increasingly written down” over the course of 1000 years, “a whole wealth of the global musical past is effectively closed to you”.
Tregear is opposed by composer and University of Melbourne professor Barry Conyngham who claims that whether or not his institution’s students ‘can read sheet music or not’, they are ‘very musically capable of conveying musical performances and thoughts.’ But composer Matthew Hindson, of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, notes that all students there must study music theory and notation.
Other examples are cited such as Paul McCartney and the Beatles, but Clavijo, like others before him, points out the important contributions of others such as George Martin, who certainly did have a more traditional and formal musical training. Others make claims that any objections to the removal of traditional skills are little more than resistance to ‘decolonisation’.
This article obviously comes from an Australian context, from a country in which (as with the US and even to some extent the UK), art music traditions have a much less central cultural role than in much of continental Europe, and with fewer living musical traditions developed over centuries or millennia as in various Asian and African countries. But it points to a wider trend by which a mixture of over-elevated claims for certain technology, allied to populist and commercialist attitudes (invariably favouring Western popular musics – the study of non-Western musical traditions are faring no better in this environment, for all the rhetoric of decolonisation) are said to obviate any requirement for more rigorous training.
My online timelines fill up with videos and websites promising to teach people how to compose in a few weeks without requiring any learning of harmony, use of instruments, and so on. Furthermore, in an interview from two years ago, film composer Hans Zimmer, recently renowned for his slowed-down version of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ to accompany the arrival of pleasure boats to rescue British soldiers in Dunkirk, the film which was accurately described as fuelling Brexit fantasies, boasts of having ‘no technique’ and ‘no formal education’, but instead ‘the only thing I know how to write about is something that’s inside of me.’ This sort of argument is not new, and was encountered in the nineteenth-century amongst a range of Russian composers opposed to the professionalisation of music-making and establishment of conservatoires for this purpose. Appealing to some sense of inner authenticity and the notion that somehow anyone can be a composer so long as they have something ‘inside of them’, has a long and dishonourable history, as was debated extensively in the responses to Stella Duffy posted on this blog in 2017. It speaks to a wider culture of anti-intellectualism and deskilling, in which the only measure of art is commercial and popular success.
I continue to believe that it would be a great loss if those who go on to teach music in primary and secondary cannot read music and thus will be unable to impart it to pupils, or if composition becomes merely about copying and pasting others’ work. This is not to deny the importance throughout musical history of musical borrowing, an issue about which there are a range of sophisticated theoretical models (of which I undertake a critical survey in order to arrive at models for analysing the work of Michael Finnissy, in my book chapter, ‘Negotiating borrowing, genre and mediation in the piano music of Finnissy: strategies and aesthetics’). A good deal of very superficial writing on postmodernism, intertextuality and so on, is founded essentially a dichotomy between two straw men – an insistence upon absolute originality or total plagiarism, when in reality almost all music of any quality inhabits differing positions on a spectrum. That Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Rossini, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Wagner, Verdi, Brahms, Debussy, Stravinsky or any number of others drew upon existing musical forms, genres, styles, sometimes explicitly borrowed musical materials (for example Liszt’s huge range of ‘transcriptions’ for piano, or Brahms’s many pieces alluding to Renaissance or early Baroque choral music) has never seriously been in doubt to anyone familiar with their work. Such examples as Stravinsky’s transformation of baroque musical materials into an angular, askew, sometimes dissonant, and alienated musical experience, Finnissy’s transformations of small groups of pitches and rhythms from Sardinian folk song into wild, rampaging musical canvasses, Ives’s hallucinatory and terrifying visions incorporating the residues upon consciousness of mangled hymns, allusions to brass bands, Beethoven and more, Berio’s carefully-judged fragmentations and superimpositions of a wide range of music from nineteenth- and twentieth-century orchestral and other repertoire on top of parallel threads provided by the scherzo from Mahler’s Second Symphony and a text from Beckett’s The Unnamable, to create an unsettling tapestry of commentary and critique, or for that matter Chopin’s use of known dance and other genres (waltz, polonaise, mazurka, etc.) allied to a Bellinian sense of vocal line and an ultra-refined contrapuntal sensibility, are all a world away from music which simply lifts others’ work or hackneyed clichés for ready-made, tried and tested, effects and moods. What distinguishes the above (and many others, including many in non-‘classical’ fields of composition) is a highly developed and refined level of musicianship, including detailed musical understanding of the properties of the sources upon which they draw. These are not achieved easily, and empty claims that anyone can be a composer comparable with the above, without having to go through the training, are no more convincing than equivalent claims about becoming a surgeon.
The following is an expanded and more detailed version of a post submitted to the electronic discussion list of the American Musicological Society (AMS-L) as part of a thread about the decline of linguistic skills amongst students and musicologists, which grew out of an initial post about the removal of German from instruction in many French schools.
I believe passionately that we should consider whether the growth of certain areas of musicology have helped to accelerate a decline in foreign language skills amongst both students and musicologists. In particular, this applies to those various areas associated with increasing ‘diversity’ within the field of study. To even contemplate this possibility is sure to be controversial, but this should not deter serious consideration of the issues at stake.
To begin with, consider popular and film music studies: even a cursory glance at a cross-section of published English-language research in these areas shows a scarcity of any references to non-English scholarship or writing of any type. I have done a mini-study of two journals to consider these questions: first the Journal of Popular Music Studies, looking at all issues from March 2010 to March 2014. These include a total of 181 articles, including editorials and book reviews. Almost all of these have lists of ‘works cited’. Of these, just 12 showed regular use of foreign language sources – 6 of them in a special June 2013 issue devoted to German popular music . Otherwise, one article cited a Peruvian musical anthology in Spanish; one Michael Jackson article referenced one article in Spanish; another Jackson article referenced one article in French . Another article referenced one book in Portuguese, though the ethnographic nature of the article implies full fluency in this language . Then one article references in Spanish two books, one article and one LP booklet (alongside, in English, 14 books or theses, and 15 articles or book chapters) ; another refers to a Dutch-Javanese dictionary; and another to two texts in French and one Toraja-Indonesian dictionary . In total this amounts to just 18 articles employing any foreign-language sources at all (the extent to which articles in this journal rely upon journalistic and internet sources is also notable).
Whilst Anglophone popular music is the focus of the overwhelming majority of articles (and this fact itself deserves more critical scrutiny), many of these make wider claims relating to philosophy, aesthetics, sociology, gender and much more, but still from the limited perspective available through monolingual reading. Furthermore, whilst many claims are made for the global significance of this music, this is hardly testable without access to some of the languages of the music’s global listeners. A small few articles involve ethnographic work requiring language skills, but these are mostly accounted for above.
I also scrutinised the journal Music, Sound and the Moving Image over the same period, looking at issues from Spring 2010 to Spring 2014. This time I considered only the full articles, not the book reviews which are briefer and involve fewer references. There were 44 articles here. The proportion employing foreign language sources was significantly enhanced by a special issue (Vol. 4, No. 2 (2010)) dedicated to Spanish cinema, in which most contributors were from Spanish-speaking countries and naturally referenced plenty of Spanish sources. This accounted for 9 articles ; otherwise there was one article citing two theses in Norwegian (one of these in a little detail) , another referencing three Spanish sources , another some French sources (but not Arabic ones, rather ironically considering this was an article dealing with colonialism and orientalism) , whilst another was a translation of a 1937 Spanish article  (I am not counting an article which cites one French source which has clearly only been accessed through a secondary source in English ). So a total of 13 with any foreign-language references; the proportion would have been more like that for the Journal of Popular Music Studies without the Spanish issue.
Something of the same phenomenon can be found in parts of the fields of New Musicology and Critical Musicology, even when this work entails broad (and frequently stereotypical) characterisations of European cultures, as has been pointed out wittily by Tim Carter in a review of Susan McClary’s 2000 book Conventional Wisdom . Looking through the references in Conventional Wisdom itself, I find just two not in English, one to a testo from Stradella’s La Susanna, as used by McClary herself in a music-theatre piece  the other text to a Petrarch sonnet given with translation . McClary’s earlier book Feminine Endings had four non-English sources: a reference to Monteverdi’s foreword to the Madrigali guerrieri ed amorosi  and to Bellerofonte Castaldi’s Primo Mazzetto di fiori musicalmente colti dal giardino Bellerofonteo (1623) , Joachim Burmeister’s Musica poetica (1606) , and Arturo Graf’s “Una cortigiana fra mille’, in Attraverso il cinquecento (Turin: Chiantore, 1926) .
Lawrence Kramer’s Music as Cultural Practice 1800-1900 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990) makes just four brief references to German texts (Hanslick’s Vom Musikalisch-Schönen (1854), Kant’s Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790), Schiller’s Über naive und sentimentalische Dichtung (1795), and poems of Goethe , for all of which English translations are also available) but never engages with any scholarly literature not either written or translated into English, nor a vast range of primary sources which have never been translated (for example, much of the writings, correspondence and diaries of Schumann, of which only small sub-sections have been translated, or for that matter the literature of Jean-Paul). Kramer’s 1995 Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge contains one place in which the French original of a passage from Derrida is placed alongside a reference to the translation, a single reference to a passage from the second volume of Heinrich Schenker’s Das Meisterwerk in der Musik (at that time not yet available in English translation), one article in French by Guy Rosolato, and a juxtaposition of a few lines of Celan and Derrida in the original languages . Kramer’s 2002 Musical Meaning: Toward a Critical History is a little better, with one translation and one modified one from short passages of Wagner, one reference to Schiller’s Über Matthissons Gedichte, another to Adolph Bernhard Marx’s Ludwig van Beethoven: Leben und Schaffen (1859), two to short passages from Heinrich Heine, and a modified translation of a passage Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, a couple of references to Brecht in German, and one to a contemporary article by Horst Weber on Schoenberg , but this is in the context of over 95% references to English language sources. In none of these books is there almost any evidence of grappling with modern non-English scholarship on the many subjects addressed therein.
Of the 16 essays contained in the 1993 volume edited by Ruth Solie, Musicology and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Music, four of these (by Leo Treitler, Gretchen A. Wheelock, Nancy B. Reich and Suzanne G. Cusick ) make regular reference to non-English texts, three others (by Ellen Koskoff, Carolyn Abbate and Lawrence Kramer ) very briefly to one or two texts, the other nine to none at all. Linguistic ‘difference’, and all that can be gained in terms of perceptions of difference by studying the work of scholars in other languages, is clearly not a major priority here.
Another collection supposedly celebrating ‘difference’, the 2000 volume edited by Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh, Western Music and Its Others, contains 11 articles and an extended introduction. Of these, those by Jann Pasler, Philip Bohlman and Martin Stokes regularly engage with foreign texts , Richard Middleton deals in some degree of detail with Joseph Riepel’s Grundregln zur Tonordnung insgemein (1755) , and Claudia Gorbman includes a few French references; the six articles making up the other half of the book only reference English-language sources; all others belong within its own ‘Others’.
Tia DeNora’s 2003 After Adorno: Rethinking Music Sociology quite incredibly only lists English translations of Adorno in its bibliography . The other foreign texts cited in the bibliography are Joël-Marie Fauquet and Antonine Hennion’s 2002 La grandeur de Bach, Hennion’s 1992 La passion musicale  (alongside various texts of Hennion in English), and two Italian texts by Anna Lisa Tota . However, these references are deceptive. Fauquet and Hennion is simply listed as a text which considers ‘the material and linguistic cultures that come to frame musical texts, that help to draw out particular meanings’ , and Hennion’s one cited text only in French is cited as an example of ‘a range of theorists who highlight the importance of theorising action as inhabiting and taking shape within a cultural matrix’  Tota’s 1997 study is merely listed as an example of ethnographic studies , and the other not cited at all (unlike a text of Tota in English which is given very slightly more detailed engagement ). But this should not be surprising, as DeNora is also the author of Beethoven and the Construction of Genius, a potentially interesting subject which is thoroughly marred by the lack of any sustained engagement with German-language primary sources , even despite the fact that there is no real engagement with the music either !
Certainly some of these scholars are able to read other languages (as demonstrated in McClary’s work on the Italian madrigal, for example ). But many of the very broad arguments presented in this work are, in my view, untenable and unscholarly when the frame of reference is so narrow. The New Musicology has enabled musicologists to dispense sweeping pronouncements on whole swathes of music without any obligation to familiarise themselves with the existing range of scholarship – in multiple languages – first. I could argue more harshly that this whole field of musicology very often amounts to an assertion of Anglo-American superiority and hegemony behind a smokescreen of rhetoric of diversity; this may be somewhat hyperbolic, but not without some truth.
Some fields featuring practice-as-research or practitioners writing scholarship exhibit similar issues. For example, I note that none of the four chapters relating to the Twentieth Century in The Cambridge History of Musical Performance  (to which I am also a contributor, but on the Nineteenth Century ) reference any non-English language texts at all, an option which would have been unacceptable for any chapters dealing with earlier periods.
I find it hard to avoid the conclusion that these fields of musicology have gained their popularity in part because it appears to be possible to produce work in them without language skills. This consideration might also be borne in mind with the growing fashionability of ‘ethnomusicology at home’ , often freeing its protagonists from the considerable linguistic skills required to do extended fieldwork in other musical cultures. All of these things are fruitful fields of endeavour for those who want to be productive without putting in the same amount of work as those in some other more traditional fields of study.
Furthermore, in some of the above cases, it is more than a little ironic when some fields eager to brandish their supposedly multicultural credentials end up contributing to a narrow monolingualism. It would not be inapt, in light of the above, to question the real agenda behind some varieties of musicological thought involving easy dismissals of many things ‘European’.
The historian Richard Evans, in his published series of lectures Cosmopolitan Islanders, draws attention to the remarkable range of historians from the UK and US who have produced pioneering and penetrating work on the history of many places beyond the English-speaking world, in sharp contrast to a large number of their European counterparts, some of who treat attempts by Anglosphere historians to trespass upon their countries with great suspicion . Yet Evans feels that with the decline of language teaching, as well as other pressures (specifically in the UK) to do with requiring many students and academics to finish projects in a short period of time, this era is coming to an end, and he notes that the majority of his own PhD students are from outside of the English-speaking world.
There are still a significant (if dwindling) number of Anglophone academics researching music from a multilingual perspective. It would be tragic if these were allowed to dwindle to near-oblivion in the name of a narrow populist Anglocentric ideology dressed up as something ‘global’.
1. These six are Maria Stehle and Corinna Kahnke, ‘German Popular Music in the Twenty-First Century: Politics, Trends, and Trajectories’, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Vol. 25, Issue 2, pp. 123-126; Andrew W. Hurley, ”Jack of All Trades’ or ‘Double Agent?’ The German Popular Musician as Novelist’, ibid. pp. 127-153; Sean Nye, ‘Minimal Understandings: The Berlin Decade, The Minimal Continuum, and Debates on the Legacy of German Techno’, ibid. pp. 154-184; Corinna Kahnke, ‘Transnationale Teutonen: Rammstein Representing the Berlin Republic’, ibid. pp. 185-197; Priscilla Lane, ‘One Like No Other? Blaxploitation in the Performance of Afro-German Rapper Lisi’, ibid. pp. 198-221; Maria Stehle, ‘Pop-Feminist Music in Twenty-First Century Germany: Innovations, Provocations, and Failures’, ibid. pp. 222-239. The other six articles are Ulrich Adelt, ‘Stunde Null: Postwar German Identity in the Music of Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger’, Vol. 24, Issue 1 (March 2012), pp. 39-56; Pauwek Berkers, ‘Rock Against Gender Roles: Performing Femininities and Doing Feminism Among Women Punk Performers in the Netherlands, 1976–1982’, Vol. 24, Issue 2 (June 2012), pp. 155-175; Shannon Garland, ‘“The Space, the Gear, and Two Big Cans of Beer”: Fora do Eixo and the Debate over Circulation, Remuneration, and Aesthetics in the Brazilian Alternative Market’, Vol. 24, Issue 4 (December 2012), pp. 509–531; Falina Enriquez, ‘The Ins and Outs of Cultura: How Bands Voice Their Relationships to the State-Sponsored Music Scene in Recife, Brazil’, Vol. 24, Issue 4 (December 2012), pp. 532-553; Janice Protopapas, ‘Verses of Attack: Nāmdhārī Sikh Services of Halē dā divan as Sonic Weapons’, Vol. 24, Issue 4 (December 2012), pp. 554-577; and Magdelana Red, ‘Who are the “Emos” Anyway? Youth Violence in Mexico City and the Myth of the Revolution’, Vol. 26, Issue 1 (March 2014), pp. 101-120.
2. Kirstie A. Dorr, ‘The Andean Music Industry: World Music Geographies in the San Francisco Bay Area’, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Vol. 24, Issue 4 (December 2012), pp. 486-508, referencing Raul R. Romero, Sonidos Andinos: Una Antología de la Musica Campesina del Perú (Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru, 2002). Tamara Roberts’ ‘Michael Jackson’s Kingdom: Music, Race, and the Sound of the Mainstream’, Vol. 23, Issue 1 (March 2011), pp. 19-39, references José Peñín’s ‘Música popular de masas, de medios, urbana o mesomúsica venezolana’, Latin American Music Review, Vol. 24, No. 1 (2003), pp. 62–94; while Tavia Nyong’o, in ‘Have You Seen His Childhood? Song, Screen, and the Queer Culture of the Child in Michael Jackson’s Music’, Vol. 23, Issue 1 (March 2011), pp. 40-57, references Amelie Dalmazzo’s “Michael Jackson, une figure de tous les temps”´, Charismes et Fascinations: L’ideal et le Monstre´, 7 July 2009.
3. Gregory Mitchell, ‘“Michael, eles não ligam pra gente!” Brazilian Rentboys, Queer Affinity, and the Michael Jackson Exception’, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Vol. 23, Issue 1 (March 2011), pp. 109-123, which cites Luiz R. B. Mott and Marcelo Ferreira de Cerqueira, Matei Porque Odeio Gay (Salvador, Brasil: Editora Grupo Gay da Bahia, 2003).
4. Heidi Carolyn Feldman, ‘Translation Acts: Afro-Peruvian Music in the United States’, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Vol. 22, Issue 2 (June 2010), pp. 139-165. The Spanish sources are Feldman, Ritmos negros del Peru: Reconstruyendo la herencia musical africana (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos and Instituto de Etnomusicología de la Pontíficia Universidad Catolica del Perú, 2009); Rosa Elena Vasquez Rodríguez (Chalena). La práctica musical de la población negra en Perú: La danza de negritos de El Carmen (Havana: Casa de las Americas, 1982); Diana Taylor, ‘Hacia una definicion de performance’, in Paolo Vignolo (ed), Ciudadanías en escena: Performance y derechos culturales en Colombia (Bogota:´Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 2009), pp. 29–35; Nicomedes Santa Cruz (Gamarra), Cumanana: Antología afroperuana (booklet to accompany LP) 3rd edition (Lima: El Virrey Industrias Musicales S.A. P6350 001/002, 1970).
5. R. Anderson Sutton, ‘Gamelan Encounters with Western Music in Indonesia: Hybridity/Hybridism’, Journal of Popular Music Studies, Vol. 22, Issue 2, pp. 180-197, cites Theodore Pigeaud, Javaans-Nederlands Handwoordenboek (Gronigen: J.B. Wolters, 1938). Andy Hicken, ‘”The Wishes of Your Parents”: Power Ballads in Tana Toraja, Indonesia’, Vol. 22, Issue 2 (June 2010), pp. 198-218 cites Dana Rappoport, Musiques rituelles des Toraja Sa’dan, musiques du Couchant, musiques du Levant (Célèbes-Sud, Indonésie) ´ . (Villeneuve d’Asq, France: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 1997); Rappoport, ‘Chanter sans etre ensemble: Des musiques juxtaposees pour un public invisible’, L’Homme 152 (1999), pp. 143–62; and J. Tammu and Hendrik Van Der Veen, Kamus Toradja-Indonesia (Rantepao, Indonesia: Jajasan Perguruan Kristen Toradja, 1972).
6. These are Teresa Fraile and Eduardo Viñuela, ‘Recent Approaches to Sound and Music in Spanish Audiovisual Media’, Music, Sound and the Moving Image, Vol. 2, Issue 2 (Autumn 2010), pp. 135-138; Julio Arce and Yolanda Acker, ‘The Sound of Silent Film in Spain: Heterogeneity and homeopatía escénica’, ibid. pp. 139-160; Laura Miranda and Dan Hamer, ‘The Spanish ‘Crusade Film’: Gender connotations during the conflict’, ibid. pp. 161-172; Philippe Roger, ‘Land Without Bread: A film that never stops ringing’, ibid. pp. 173-176; Karen Poe and Benedict Hoff, ‘The Bolero in the Cinema of Pedro Almodóvar’, ibid. pp. 177-195; Jaume Radigales, ‘Music and European Identity: Notes on Pere Portabella’s The Silence Before Bach’, ibid. pp. 213-224; Josep Lluís i Falcó and Dolores Gadler, ‘The Film Composer in Spain: The generation of ’89’, ibid. pp. 226-235; whilst Martin Barnier, ‘The Sound of Fear in Recent Spanish Films’, ibid. pp. 197-211 cites equal numbers of English and French sources (mostly by Michel Chion), but not Spanish ones.
7. Tina Rigby Hanssen, ‘The Whispering Voice: Materiality, aural qualities and the reconstruction of memories in the works of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’, Music, Sound and the Moving Image, Vol. 4, Issue 1 (Spring 2010), pp. 39-54. This cites Anne-Karin Lundeby, ‘Elsker man livet, ‘Går man på kino’ – en studie av kinopublikumet i Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’, (Master’s thesis: University of Oslo, 2002); and Arnt Maasø, ‘Se-hva-som-skjer!’: en studie av lyd som kommunikativt virkemiddel i TV’ (Doctoral thesis: University of Oslo, 2002).
8. Miguel Mera, ‘Outing the Score: Music, Narrative, and Collaborative Process in Little Ashes’, Music, Sound and the Moving Image, Vol. 6, Issue 1 (Spring 2012), pp. 93-108. This article on the composition of the music for a film on the romantic/sexual attraction between Federico Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dalí cites three biographical sources: Ian Gibson, Lorca-Dali. El Amor Que no Pudo Ser. La Apasionante y Trágiva Amistad de dos Colosos de la España del Siglo XX (Madrid: Nuevas Ediciones del Bolsillo, 2004); Andrés Sorel, Yo, García Lorca (Bilbao: Zero, 1977) and Rafael Santos Torroella, La miel es mãs dulce que la sangre: Las épocas lorgquiana y freudiana de Salvador Dali (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1984), though not, most surprisingly, any of Lorca’s poetry or theatrical work, nor Dalí’s seven volume Obras completas, seven volumes (Barcelona: Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, 2003-2006).
9. Kathryn Lachman, ‘Music and the Gendering of Colonial Space in Karin Albou’s Le chant des mariées’, Music, Sound and the Moving Image, Vol. 7, Issue 1 (Spring 2013), pp. 1-17. Linguistic limitations to the study of orientalism are not new, however; as has been pointed out by various commentators, Said focused entirely on British and French orientalists, and neglected many German and Hungarian figures (from nations which did not have a foreign empire encompassing the ‘orient’ during the periods in question), such as Joseph Freiherr von Hammer-Purgstall (1774-1856), Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1752-1827), Friedrich August Wolf (1759-1824),Gustav Weil (1808-89), Gustav Leberecht Flugel (1802-70), the Schlegel brothers, Franz Bopp (1791-1867), Christian Martin Frähn (1782-1851), Ignaz Goldziher (1850-1921) or Joseph Schacht (1902-1969). On, the other hand, Said made too much of Arthur de Gobineau (1816-82), who Said had probably only read through a secondary source. See Malcolm Kerr, review of Orientalism, International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, vol. 12 (December 1980), pp. 544-547; Albert Hourani, ‘The Road to Morocco’, New York Review of Books, Vol. 26 (March 8th, 1979), pp. 27-30; Bernard Lewis, ‘The Question of Orientalism’, New York Review of Books, Vol. 29, No. 11, pp. 49-56; and Robert Irwin, For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and their enemies (London: Penguin/Allen Lane, 2006), pp. 150-158, 168-173, 249-250. Peter T. Daniels goes further, to question whether Said really had any ‘discernable qualifications to speak on the topic’. See Daniels, ‘The Decipherment of the Near East’ in Daniel C. Snell (ed), A Companion to the Ancient Near East (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World) (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), p. 427. Similar criticisms are made by veteran French scholar Maxime Rodinson in Nancy Elizabeth Gallagher (ed), Approaches to the History of the Middle East: Interviews with leading Middle East Historians (Reading: Ithaca Press, 1994), p. 124.
10. Marco Alunno, introduction to and translation of ‘Cinema and Music (1937) by Ignacio Isaza Martínez’, Music, Sound and the Moving Image, Vol. 8, Issue 1 (Spring 2014), pp. 87-91.
11. Lori Burns and Jada Watson, ‘Spectacle and Intimacy in Live Concert Film: Lyrics, Music, Staging, and Film Mediation in Pink’s Funhouse Tour (2009)’, Music, Sound and the Moving Image, Vol. 7, Issue 2 (Autumn 2013), pp. 103-140. This cites one French source (Michel Bernard, ‘Quelques réflexions sur le jeu de l’acteur contemporain’, Bulletin de psychologie, 38:370 (1985), 421-424) alongside 30 other English-language text sources, but even the Bernard appears only to have been accessed via a secondary source in English (Patrice Pavis, Analyzing Performance: Theater, Dance, and Film (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2003)).
12. Tim Carter, review of Susan McClary, Conventional Wisdom: The Content of Musical Form (Berkeley, Los Angeles & London: University of California Press, 2000), ‘An American
in…?’, Music & Letters, Vol. 83, No. 2 (May 2002), pp. 274-278. As Carter puts it, to McClary ‘The French are rational beings who dance a great deal; the Italians are exuberantly erotic and always ready to mix sex with religion; the Germans are bourgeois burghers with festering morbid sensibilities (I exaggerate only slightly)’ (p. 277).
13. McClary, Conventional Wisdom, p. 175 n. 19. ‘La bella Donna intanto sul’ verde pavimento movea le molli piante, Ambiano l’erbe di prostrarsi al sue piè, parea che ì fiori apostati del sole a la novella luce chi nassero idolatri le cervici odorose— […] Ivi tuffa nell’acque il petto ignudo e sirena del Ciel dentro il liquido gel così confonde crome di foco a l’armonia dell’ onde’.
14. Ibid. p. 122. The citation and translation are ‘i miei gravi sospir non vano in rime, il mio duro martir vince ogni stile’ (my deep sighs will not submit to rhyme, my harsh martyrdom
defeats all styles) (Petrarch, ‘Mia benigna fortuna’, Rime sparse 332).
15. Susan McClary, Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, & Sexuality, revised edition with new introduction (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2002) (first published 1991), p. 176 n. 1.
16. Ibid. pp. 177-178 n. 7.
17. Ibid. p. 179 n. 15.
18. Ibid. p. 180 n. 23.
19. Lawrence Kramer, Music as Cultural Practice 1800-1900 (Berkeley and Los
Angeles: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 3-4, 27, 167-168.
20. Lawrence Kramer, Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 240, 257 n. 24, 268-9 n. 12, 272 n. 48, 279 n. 9, 289 n. 14.
21. Lawrence Kramer, Musical Meaning: Toward a Critical History (Berkeley, Los Angeles & London; University of California Press, 2002), pp. 290 nn. 6, 9, 292 nn. 4, 16, 298 nn. 18-19, 300 n. 35, 316 n. 1, 317-8 nn. 12, 14, 319 n. 25. The Horst Weber article is ‘‘Melancholisch düstrer Walzer, kommst mir nimmer aus den Sinnen!’ Anmerkungen zum Schönbergs ‘soloistischer Instrumentation’ des Kaiserwalzers von Johann Strauss, Musik-Konzepte 36 (1984), pp. 86–100.
22. Leo Treitler, ‘Gender and Other Dualities of Music History’, in Ruth Solie (ed) Musicology and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Music (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1993), pp. 23-45; Gretchen A. Wheelock, ‘Schwarze Gredel and the Engendered Minor Mode in Mozart’s Operas’, ibid. pp. 201-221; Nancy B. Reich, ‘Women as Musicians: A Question of Class’, ibid. pp. 125-146; and Suzanne G. Cusick, ‘Of Women, Music, and Power: A Model from Seicento Florence’, ibid. pp. 281-304.
23. Ellen Koskoff, ‘Miriam Sings Her Song: The Self and the Other in Anthropological Discourse’, ibid. pp. 149-163; Carolyn Abbate, ‘Opera; or, the Envoicing of Women’, ibid. pp. 225-258; Lawrence Kramer, ‘Carnaval, Cross-Dressing, and the Woman in the Mirror’ ibid. pp. 305-325. Koskoff’s article draws upon ethnographic work amongst a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn such as clearly betokens wider linguistic skills in Hebrew and Yiddish, but only uses a few non-English texts. Abbate (p. 232 n. 14) references a few articles on cinema in French, though these may only have been accessed via a secondary source in English; also (p. 238 n. 26) Sarah Kofman’s Quatre Romans analytiques (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1973), and (p. 243 n. 34) an essay from Christian Metz’s Essais sémiotiques (Paris: Klincksieck, 1977). Kramer simply cites one Goethe text in German (p. 308 n. 6).
24. Jann Pasler, ‘Race, Orientalism, and Distinction in the Wake of the “Yellow Peril”’, in Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh (eds), Western Music and Its Others: Difference, Representation, and Appropriation in Music (Berkeley, Los Angeles & London: University of California Press, 2000), pp. 86-118; Philip V. Bohlman, ‘Composing the Cantorate: Westernizing Europe’s Other Within’, ibid. pp. 187-212; Martin Stokes, ‘East, West, and Arabesk’, ibid. pp. 213-233.
25. Richard Middleton, ‘Musical Belongings: Western Music and Its Low-Other’, ibid. pp. 59-85. The reference to Riepel is on p. 63.
26. Claudia Gorbman, ‘Scoring the Indian: Music in the Liberal Western’, ibid. pp. 234-253. Gorbman cites (p. 252 nn. 16, 18) two French texts: Yves Kovacs, Le Western (1963; reprint, Paris: Gallimard, 1993) and Georges-Henri Morin, Le Cercle brisé: L’Image de l’indien dans le western (Paris: Payot, 1977).
26. Tia DeNora, After Adorno: Rethinking Music Sociology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 159.
27. Joël-Marie Fauquet and Antoine Hennion, La grandeur de Bach (Paris: Fayard, 2002); Antoine Hennion, La passion musicale (Paris: Metaille, 1992).
28. Anna Lisa Tota, Etnografia dell’arte: Per una sociologia dei contesti artistici (Rome: Logia University Press, 1997); La memoria contesa. Studi sulla comunicazione sociale del passato (Milan: Angeli, 2001).
29. DeNora, After Adorno, p. 27.
30. Ibid. p. 126.
31. Ibid. p. 91.
32. Ibid. pp. 75.
33. Tia DeNora, Beethoven and the Construction of Genius: Musical Politics in Vienna 1792-1803 (Berkeley, Los Angeles & London: University of California Press, 1995). In the bibliography, DeNora cites nine German sources: the Allgemeine Musicalische Zeitung from 1798 to 1806 (p. 209), Marthe Bigenwald’s Die Anfange der Leipziger Allgemeinen Musikalischen Zeitung, reprint (Hiversum: FAM Knuf, 1965) (originally published 1938); Eduard Hanslick’s Geschichte des Concertwesens in Wien, reprint (New York: Olms, 1979) (originally published 1869); Herbert Matis, Herbert. “Die Grafen von Fries”, Tradition: Zeitschrift für Firmengeschichte und Unternehmenbiographie, Vol, 12 No. 1 (1967), pp. 484-96; Ludwig Nohl, Beethoven’s Leben, four volumes (Leipzig: Günther, 1864); Gustav Nottebohm, Beethoven Studien 1 (Leipzig: Winterthur, 1873); Otto G. Schindler, ‘Das Publikum des Burgtheaters in der Josephinischen Ära: Versuch einer Strukturbestimmung’, in Das Burgtheater und sein Publikum, vol. 1. (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1976), pp. 11-96; J. Schönfeld, Jahrbuch der Tonkunst von Wien und Prag (facsimile), edited Otto Biba, reprint (Munich: Emil Katzbichler, 1976), (originally published 1796); Hannes Stekl, ‘Harmoniemusik und ‘turkische Banda’ des Furstenhauses Liechtenstein’, Haydn Yearbook 10 (1978), pp. 164-75; and Constantin Wurzbach, Biographisches Lexikon des Kaiserthums Oesterreich, 1750-1850 (Vienna: K. K. Hof- und Staatsdruckerie, 1856-91). But once again this is deceptive: most of the AmZ references come from secondary sources in English translation; Bigenwald is simply a ‘See also’ (p. 205 n. 11), Schindler and Matis are just sources mentioned in brackets alongside an English one (pp. 30, 47), Nohl is mentioned because cited by Maynard Solomon (p. 138), Nottebohm is cited briefly on errors in some manuscripts (p. 105, 135), whilst the references to Stekl (pp. 40-41, 51) come from a translation by Julia V. Moore (‘Beethoven and Musical Economics’ (PhD. dissertation: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. 1987). Wurzbach is used for a description of Schönfeld (p. 167) and for compiling a list of Viennese patrons (pp. 21-23). Hanslick’s history gets one paragraph’s serious attention (pp. 37-38), whilst two sentences are translated from Schönfeld (p. 40), a few other phrases elsewhere (pp. 42, 106, 154) and he is alluded to briefly in several other places (pp. 43, 46, 87-89, 102, 113, 116, 167-8, 195 n. 13, 196); another citation comes from a translation of H.C. Robbins Landon (Beethoven: A Documentary Study (New York: Macmillan, 1970)) (p. 87). Else Radant Landon is thanked for providing information on the Schönfeld families (p. 204 n. 9) and it is possible most of this information may have come from this source.
34. A scathing but well-focused critique of this book is Charles Rosen, ‘Beethoven’s Career’, in Critical Entertainments: Music Old and New (Cambridge, MA: Yale University Press, 2002), pp. 105-124.
35. Susan McClary, Modal Subjectivities: Self-Fashioning in the Italian Madrigal (Berkeley, Los Angeles & London: University of California Press, 2004).
36. These are Stephen Cottrell, ‘Musical performance in the twentieth century: an overview’, in Colin Lawson and Robin Stowell (ed), The Cambridge History of Musical Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 725-751; Jane Manning and Anthony Payne, ‘Vocal performance in the twentieth century and beyond’ ibid. pp. 752-777; Roger Heaton, ‘Instrumental performance in the twentieth century and beyond’, ibid, pp. 778-797; William Mival, ‘Case study: Karlheinz Stockhausen: Gruppen für drei Orchester‘, ibid. pp. 798-814. The latter in particular devotes a disproportionate amount of attention to British performances of this work and their reception.
37. Ian Pace, ‘Instrumental performance in the nineteenth century’, ibid. pp. 643-695.
38. This is a field with its own ‘canon’ of works, often treated almost like scripture by members of this sub-culture. Time and space do not permit for a detailed examination of this here, but I intend to embark upon such a thing in some format in the future.
39. Richard J. Evans, Cosmopolitan Islanders: British Historians and the European Continent (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
40. Ibid. pp. 189-234.
New article on abuse and classical music by Damian Thompson in the Spectator, and some wider reflections on classical music and abusePosted: December 5, 2014
A new article went online yesterday on abuse in the classical music world – Damian Thompson, ‘Classical music’s dirty little secret’, The Spectator, December 6th, 2014. It contrasts in particular the revelations about alleged abuse within the El Sistema organisation through the work of Geoff Baker, and those about abuse at Chetham’s School of Music and elsewhere, featuring an interview with me on this and related subjects. The article goes deeper than most have done previously, and I would urge all to read it.
I have been reflecting more widely on the relationship between the callous exertion of power in music and also aestheticised outlooks, and the abuse of both children and adults, and wanted to share a few thoughts growing out of what I said for the Spectator interview. I have published previously on this in the Times Educational Supplement here and here, and will write at more length on these issues at a future date. At the heart of this lie the issues of the exploitation of power beneath an artistic veneer, and the relegating of human interests secondary to other aesthetic or more abstract concerns, an subject which has exercised me for a great many years. Here are my thoughts for now.
There are multiple ways in which sexual abuse occurs in musical education in the UK (see my earlier posts here and here for documentation of various cases since 1990). One involves abuse of pre-pubescent boys in choirs, and has been found time and time again in many leading private schools; another involves adolescents, primarily but not exclusively girls, who are sexually exploited by instrumental teachers, especially in specialist music schools and at summer music courses and the like. There is also of course much evidence of abuse of both sexes by private music teachers, who are often not subject to the same checks as those working in some institutions. The process of sexual exploitation of adolescents also continues with young adults in conservatoires, in a similar fashion. Instrumental teachers have great power and prestige which can easily be exploited when they have access to vulnerable, sometimes star-struck, girls and young women. The many stories I have heard are utterly hideous and depressing. Teachers regularly reduce their students to tears so they can then comfort and sexually touch them, or ask the students to perform sexual acts as a sign of how much they ‘trust’ them. Some are told they can only do justice to certain types of music when they have become a ‘whole woman’, as a prelude to sex. Other teachers simply attempt to force themselves on students in lessons in ways which can be terrifying and amount to attempted rape. Some have been told by directors of institutions that if they dare to go to the police, then they can give up any hope they might have had of a musical career; those with powerful connections are indeed often in a position to do this.
But there are certainly non-sexual forms of abuse which have gone on at all the music schools as well, which can be just as damaging. The issues of abuse in the classical musical world are not in my opinion simply about some people in power being sexually attracted to some musicians – I don’t think that is something surprising, unnatural or wrong, even if they act on those desires, when the musicians are above the age of consent and of course consenting. But I believe these link to a deeper culture of power and its wilful exertion, a vocabulary and mentality of sexual predation as a strategy to demean, dominate, humiliate for reasons that are far from merely sexual. In this field, in my experience, there is no reason to believe that female teachers are any less likely to be culpable than male ones (and in the case of actual sexual abuse the gender divide is not necessarily so simple; even where not actual perpetrators, some female teachers and others have been amongst the most staunch defenders of abusers, and acted in hateful and vicious ways towards those they have exploited).
In such a context sexual abuse can often be an extension of other forms of emotional and physical abuse, in order to enforce a relationship of domination and dehumanisation mystified by the aura surrounding ‘artistic’ personalities and their relationships to others. An artistic aura and its associated temperament can often mask simple cases of fragile egos and other insecurities, which can be bolstered by dominating others. Such domination works best with a willing or at least helpless victim in the form of a child, or one who acts and appears like one.
At the same time, I think we need to look hard at the way audiences and others ‘consume’ and psychologically dominate musicians, especially young ones. Is the young performer presented in a rarefied fashion for an audience’s delectation so different from a glamour model, or even one in a window in a red light district? Are they meant to have a will of their own, or merely to please others?
The world view of the nineteenth-century aesthete still has a profound impact upon classical music culture, certainly in the UK, US, France and some other places. I have spent quite some time studying this in various contexts (not least the ways in which this outlook can be linked to fascism, as diagnosed in different ways by Walter Benjamin, Roger Shattuck and Frederic Spotts). The aesthetic movement was a type of quasi-aristocratic rearguard group of aesthetes reacting against the growth of bourgeois society and mass culture. They believed moral questions and human interests to be of little importance relative to their own notions of beauty. This beauty was of course something only a small number were in a position to appreciate, an aesthetic aristocracy if you like, and they often viewed other human beings in purely aesthetic terms. I believe this is profoundly dehumanising. There is also a considerable overlap between early aesthetes, including Pater, Wilde, Huysmans, Crowley and others, and the movement of ‘Uranian’ poets and some artists, a group of pederasts who were described in the volume Betrayal of Youth as like a nineteenth-century version of the Paedophile Information Exchange.
To the aesthete, a young boy not yet faced by the doubts, moral choices and responsibility of an adult, is unthreatening and more ripe to be adored and salivated over. If you look at pederastic photographs of naked young boys in classical poses by Wilhelm von Gloeden, who was associated with the Uranians (and whose work I have earlier written about in terms of its influence upon some music of Michael Finnissy), you will see a similar thing. Certain qualities are favoured – looks suggesting arrogance but submission, petulance and self-centeredness, and sometimes exaggerated hyper-masculinity, absolutely nothing which would suggest an emerging mind or any trappings of an intellectual-to-be.
I have seen exactly the same attitudes at play regularly amongst those with power in the classical music world. Young men and women favoured to the extent they exhibit (deliberately or unwittingly) certain of these attributes. Some men because they look like a slightly thuggish rent boy, some women because they can give the right type of Shirley Temple-like sickly-sweet smile. Fundamentally, they become objects, and often the critics, administrators, radio producers and so on who favour them will abandon them as they get older, so they can move onto their next bright young things. This is all part of the same processes of domination of which sexual abuse of children is the most extreme form.
There’s a very obvious continuum, to me, between von Gloeden’s arrogant yet submissive naked boys and the picture of Gustavo Dudamel with a smug and self-satisfied expression, showing how his willingness to conform to the needs of others is rewarded with a Rolex watch. Similarly between Lewis Carroll’s pederastic pictures of young girls and some of the images routinely encountered of young female violinists. The same is true of the publicity materials and discursive constructions around numerous Wunderkind young composers and performers. The arbiters of classical music enmesh musicians into their own web in ways which bear an uncanny resemblance to the grooming strategies of paedophiles. I have even come to consider more sinister interpretations of the apparent innocence, suffused with unspoken desire, which I hear in works such as Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies, possibly representing dances of naked boys (in part) at an ancient Spartan festival, at a time when the concept of ‘Greek love’ (love between men and boys) was very much in vogue in British and French artistic circles.
There were tyrannical teachers and educational practices which grew in the nineteenth century. It was seen as perfectly acceptable to beat students; teachers put them through gruelling (and generally useless) regimes of exercises so that the few who had not had a nervous breakdown or suffered irreparable muscular damage could feel themselves blessed and ‘toughened up’ for a musical career, in which they could inflict the same on their own students. Learning, practising, and music-making were made mind-numbing and conducted in an atmosphere of intense fear. In the educational culture bequeathed above all by the early Paris Conservatoire, the emphasis was no longer upon producing a rounded musician and individual, as in earlier times, but more simply a streamlined playing machine. But in many places these methods were found to be unsatisfactory in many respects and more mature and humane approaches began to take their place, which also often produced much finer musicians.
But then with the Cold War and the Soviet need above all to produce competition winners rather than rounded musicians, there was something of a backlash. Dictatorial approaches to teaching, with no concern for the wider consequences, came back into fashion. Some were aped in the West, crowding out some alternative approaches. Several of the specialist music schools in the UK – all of which were founded between 1962 and 1972 – were explicitly modelled on Russian institutions and styles of teaching, at a time when considerations of the welfare of children and the dangers of such hothouse environments hardly registered.
I have heard major allegations of abuse at all five institutions. The schools have certainly all produced some successful musicians, but if they are happy to take credit for these, they must also take responsibility for the ruined lives, sometimes racked by depression, self-harm, suicide attempts and more, which are equally their legacy. The effect of a school upon all who attended it, not just a small successful minority, matters.
Bullying and malicious exploitation of power in musical education are also rampant. Insecure teachers do this plenty. One of my own former students underwent some serious bullying at the hands of another teacher on a course, who tried everything he could to undermine this pianist by repeatedly spreading malicious talk about him to others, doing all he could to humiliate him in front of others (and before he was about to perform) and so on, because he saw him as a threat. Various people complained about the behaviour of this teacher, but of course nothing was done. This individual once proudly pronounced ‘I get students who think they are good – my job is to make them realise they suck’. This attitude is all-revealing – it is not about helping the student, but playing power games to bolster the teacher’s own self-esteem.
Other types of behaviour I have often encountered have deeply shocked me – just the callousness of it all. One privileged young composer thought nothing of fabricating false rumours about a rival, claiming he was being beaten up by his father, so as to portray this rival as unstable and thus unlikely to be up to being a composer. What has shocked me even more is how many people know this and other similar things about this person, but are completely unbothered by it – certainly it did not impede his own progression in academia. I know one instrumentalist who feigns friendship in order to gain other musicians’ confidence, so that they might reveal such things as spells of depression, which he then uses as malicious gossip to undermine them; another did the same when he found that one woman was going through a legal process in which she alleged her father had abused her. A prominent musician, upon being appointed to a prominent position, bragged to others that now he had the chance to get revenge on all those who had previously stood in his way.
Classical music and its associated culture is still shot through by some fundamentally hierarchical nineteenth-century values which are little in vogue any longer in other cultural fields. I am not saying we should throw out the baby with the bathwater, but do believe much rethinking is necessary. Sexual abuse in classical music is maybe the most extreme symptom of a wider corruption. When you have a culture which idolises a small few ‘great men/women’, sees narcissism, bullying and despicable treatment of others not simply as unavoidable evils but actually as signs of artistry, and encourages an attitude of awe and submission, rather than concrete and critical engagement, then the dangers of abuse are acute.
Whilst figures such as Beethoven or Wagner or Furtwängler or Britten continue to be idolised not just for the work they produced but for the personalities they were, then the role models for younger musicians are fatally flawed. We should reject entirely the idea that musicians are a breed apart, and discourage such thinking.