On Canons (and teaching Le Sacre du Printemps)

I have been meaning for a while to post something detailed in my ‘Musicological Observations’ on the vexed subject of musical ‘canons’. A debate will take place tomorrow (Wednesday 23rd November, 2016) at City, University of London, on the subject, which I unfortunately have to miss, as I am away for a concert and conference in Lisbon. Having for a long period taught canonical (and also less canonical) music , and also lectured on the subject of canons in general, I naturally have plenty of thoughts and would have liked to contribute; I suggested most of the texts below (a list which is generally weighted in an anti-canonical direction, which is not my personal view). Nonetheless, the organiser of the debate, Christine Dysers, was very keen when I suggested I might blog something in advance of the debate, including some sceptical thoughts on the abstract. So here goes….

The abstract for this debate reads as follows:

“Dead White Men? Who Needs Musical Canons?”

What is the nature and purpose of musical canons? And what are the systems of authority that they sustain? Do they tend to act, as Jim Samson has suggested, ‘as an instrument of exclusion, one which legitimates and reinforces the identities and values of those who exercise cultural power’ (Samson 2001:7; from ‘Canon (iii)’, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (2nd edn). Volume 5:6-7. London: Macmillan).

In this debate, speakers will explore notions of canonicity, particularly in relation to Euro-American art music. They will examine the reasons for the emergence of (largely composedly) canons and ask whether they still serve a useful purpose in the 21st Century.

Among other issues, speakers will consider the relations of power that underpin processes of canon-formation and ask whose ‘voices’ become marginalised, excluded or even forgotten. This will include, but not be restricted to, consideration of gender dimensions of canon-formation and how processes of inclusion/exclusion reflect underlying values, and ultimately ideas about the very ontology of ‘music’ itself. Such debates also raise questions about the role of canons in shaping categories of creative agency and hierarchies between ‘composer’, ‘performer’ and (often presented as rather passive) ‘listener’.

Suggested preparatory reading:

  1. Charles Altieri, ‘An Idea and Ideal of a Literary Canon’, Critical Inquiry 10/1 (Canons) (September 1983), pp. 37-60 – on literature, but one of the most notable essays which is more sympathetic to canons – https://www.jstor.org/stable/1343405?seq=1#fndtn-page_scan_tab_contents
  1. Katherine Bergeron and Philip V. Bohlman (eds), Disciplining Music: Musicology and Its Canons (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992). In particular Bergeron, ‘Prologue: Disciplining Music’, pp. 1-9, and Randel, ‘The Canons in the Musicological Toolbox’, pp. 10-22.
  1. John Butt, ‘What is a ‘Musical Work’? Reflections on the origins of the ‘work concept’ in western art music’, in Concepts of Music and Copyright: How Music Perceives Itself and How Copyright Perceives Music, ed. Andreas Rahmatian (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2015), pp. 1-22.
  1. Joseph Kerman, ‘A Few Canonic Variations’, Critical Inquiry 10/1 (Canons) (September 1983), pp. 107-125 – one of the first major essays on canon issues in a musical context, and still an extremely important text on the subject – https://www.jstor.org/stable/1343408?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
  2. Simon Zagorski-Thomas, ‘Dead White Composers’ – full text, link to recording, and a series of responses can be read here – https://ianpace.wordpress.com/2016/04/27/responses-to-simon-zagorski-thomass-talk-on-dead-white-composers


I find this abstract very deeply problematic in many ways. It is permeated throughout with a great many assumptions presented as if established facts, when they should actually be hypotheses for critical engagement, as if to try and bracket out any type of perspective which is at odds with those assumptions.

The first paragraph is almost a model of leading questions:

What is the nature and purpose of musical canons? And what are the systems of authority that they sustain? Do they tend to act, as Jim Samson has suggested, ‘as an instrument of exclusion, one which legitimates and reinforces the identities and values of those who exercise cultural power’ (Samson 2001:7; from ‘Canon (iii)’, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie (2nd edn). Volume 5:6-7. London: Macmillan).  

Who has determined a priori that canons do indeed serve to sustain systems of authority? Whether indeed this is the case needs to be answered, and substantiated either way, rather than assumed. And, for that matter, how is a ‘canon’ defined (below I argue that fundamentally it is a necessary teaching tool)? Is it the set of composers who are regularly taught in particular institutions, or those who have sustained a regular listenership over a period of time, or those seen as epitomising particular strains of musical ‘progress’ through advanced and innovative compositional techniques, or indeed groups of musicians other than composers? Those questions may be said to fall within the issues of the ‘nature and purpose of musical canons’, but a less leading second question would be something along the lines of ‘Do canons serve to sustain other systems of authority, and if so, how?’

Samson is a subtle and nuanced thinker, who has written perceptively on (relatively) canonical composers such as Chopin and Liszt, and whose PhD dissertation, later published as a book, Music in Transition: A Study of Tonal Expansion and Atonality 1900-1920 (London: Dent, 1977) , focused on mostly canonical figures associated with the period of ‘transition’ at the beginning of the twentieth century. So I went back to the context of this quote (I do not have a hard copy of New Grove to hand, but see no reason to believe that the online version is different). Here is the actual quote:

The canon has been viewed increasingly as an instrument of exclusion, one which legitimates and reinforces the identities and values of those who exercise cultural power. In particular, challenges have issued from Marxist, feminist and post-colonial approaches to art, where it is argued that class, gender and race have been factors in the inclusion of some and the marginalization of others. 

Samson does not ‘suggest’ this view, he points out that certain types of thinkers in particular have thought this – a view is being attributed to him which he is attributing to others. In this sense, the abstract misrepresents Samson’s balanced entry on the subject. I would draw attention to his second paragraph, which offers a wider (and global) perspective, and provides a good starting point for discussion:

Music sociologists such as Walter Wiora have demonstrated that certain differentiations and hierarchies are common to the musical cultures of virtually all social communities; in short, such concepts as Ars Nova, Ars Subtilior and Ars Classica are by no means unique to western European traditions. Perhaps the most extreme formulation of an Ars Classica would be the small handful of pieces comprising the traditional solo shakuhachi repertory of Japan, where the canon stands as an image of timeless perfection in sharp contrast to the contemporary world. But even in performance- and genre-orientated musical cultures such as those of sub-Saharan Africa, or the sub- and counter-cultures of North American and British teenagers since the 1960s, there has been a tendency to privilege particular repertories as canonic. Embedded in this privilege is a sense of the ahistorical, and essentially disinterested, qualities of these repertories, as against their more temporal, functional and contingent qualities. A canon, in other words, tends to promote the autonomy character, rather than the commodity character, of musical works. For some critics, the very existence of canons – their independence from changing fashions – is enough to demonstrate that aesthetic value can only be understood in an essentialist way, something we perceive intuitively, but (since it transcends conceptual thought) are unable to explain or even describe.

To present a range of different views on the role of canons might be more in the spirit of a debate.

Moving to the next paragraph:

In this debate, speakers will explore notions of canonicity, particularly in relation to Euro-American art music. They will examine the reasons for the emergence of (largely composedly) canons and ask whether they still serve a useful purpose in the 21st Century. 

Phrases like ‘speakers will explore’ or ‘they will examine’ sound almost like diktats; more to the point, why single out Euro-American art music? Why not consider, say, the Great American Songbook, or some other repertoire of musical ‘standards’, which could be argued to serve an equally canonical purpose? Or how about looking at what I would argue is the canonical status of various popular musicians or bands – the Beatles, Madonna, and others – within popular music studies in higher education? Or at aspects of Asian musical traditions which some would argue are also canonical in the manner described in the Samson paragraph above?

Then the third paragraph:

Among other issues, speakers will consider the relations of power that underpin processes of canon-formation and ask whose ‘voices’ become marginalised, excluded or even forgotten. This will include, but not be restricted to, consideration of gender dimensions of canon-formation and how processes of inclusion/exclusion reflect underlying values, and ultimately ideas about the very ontology of ‘music’ itself. Such debates also raise questions about the role of canons in shaping categories of creative agency and hierarchies between ‘composer’, ‘performer’ and (often presented as rather passive) ‘listener’.  

Once again we encounter many hypotheses presented as if established facts (and more diktats: ‘speakers will consider…’). Many of these loaded statements could be reframed as critical questions: for example, do canons indeed serve a function of marginalisation and exclusion?. I would ask whether, not how, processes of inclusion/exclusion reflect underlying values, whether canon-formation is a gendered process, and whether they shape the very categories of creative agency and hierarchies mentioned above. As I have recently criticised in some blurb accompanying a lavishly funded research project, this reads like an attempt to skip the difficult questions and present conclusions without doing the research first.

So, on to some thoughts of my own on the basic debate. Proper responses to the texts in questions (and others) will have to wait for a later post. I started thinking in a more sustained fashion about issues of canons first in the context of reading widely about the teaching of literature, then during my time as a Research Fellow at Southampton University, where the ‘new musicology’ was strong (I started off very sceptical, but was determined to familiarise myself with this work properly, then for a period believed that these musicologists were raising some important questions, even if I did not agree with many of their answers; nowadays I wonder if that engagement was a bit of waste of time and energy). There I taught a module on ‘Classical Music and Society’, which looked at various explicitly social/political paradigms for engaging with Western classical music, going back as far as Plato, and including a fair amount of Adorno, requiring students to actually read some of the original writings rather than simply rely upon secondary literature, though a critical approach was strongly urged (whilst basically sympathetic to the broad outlook of Adorno and other members of the Frankfurt School, I have many serious problems with this work, not least in terms of the reliance upon Freudian psychoanalysis). Some of the best essays which resulted were quite scathing about Adorno – though also some excellent ones were quite sympathetic.

Anyhow, in a lecture on Adorno’s views on modernism and mass culture, I contrasted the compositional technique and aesthetics on display in Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps and in a range of works from Arnold Schoenberg’s ‘free atonal’ period. I did not expect many students to be familiar with Schoenberg, but was quite shocked when only a tiny number had at that stage heard Le Sacre. This made engagement with the issues Adorno raised all the harder.

I determined from that point that if I had the opportunity to teach a broad-based music history module, I wanted to ensure that the students taking it would at least have encountered this work – and numerous others. Not that I would demand any of them necessarily view it or other works positively (as Simon Zagorski-Thomas erroneously suggests is the primary purpose of musical education in Russell Group universities), but they had to have heard it properly in order to be able to develop any type of view.

Now Le Sacre remains a controversial work, about which I have many reservations, despite having played the two-piano/four-hand version a number of times with two duo partners, and listened to countless performances and recordings, and studied the work in some depth. But by so many criteria – in terms of lasting place in the repertoire and long-term popularity, influence on other composers, strong relationship to many other aesthetic and ideological currents, or revolutionising of musical language – Le Sacre is a vastly important work. Petrouchka runs it close (and possibly some later Stravinsky works as well). But I have yet to hear a convincing argument that, say, the contemporary works of Aleksander Glazunov or Nikolay Roslavets, or those of Max Reger, Albert Roussel, Pietro Mascagni after Cavalleria Rusticana, or Amy Beach, can be considered of equal significance by any measure (which is not to deny that their work can be of interest). But if comparing the work of Claude Debussy, Schoenberg, Aleksander Skryabin, Giacomo Puccini, Serge Rachmaninoff, and others, such an argument may be plausible. Or with respect to the work of leading jazz musicians – King Oliver, Kid Ory, Louis Armstrong, Lil Hardin Armstrong, The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Jelly Roll Morton, James Reece Europe, Earl Hines, Fletcher Henderson and his orchestra, Paul Whiteman and his orchestra, Bix Beiderbecke, and many others active a decade after the premiere of Le Sacre. That is simply to allow for a diverse range of tendencies, all perceived to be of palpable importance, not to dissolve any judgement of value or indeed exclude the possibility of canon.

In short I want to argue for a reasonably broad and inclusive canon, if the term is viewed as a teaching tool. Anyone who has taught music history knows that the time available for teaching is finite, and so making choices of what to include, and what not, is inevitable (as with any approach to wider history). Students entering higher education in music often have only very limited exposure to a wider range of music, and need both encouragement and some direction in this respect; the only way to avoid making choices and establishing hierarchies is to give up on doing this. The moment one decides, when teaching Western classical music, to spend more time on Ludwig van Beethoven than Carl Stamitz, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart than Antonio Salieri, or Frédéric Chopin than Friedrich Kalkbrenner, one has established hierarchies of value.

When I got to teach my broad historical module – which covered the period 1848-2001 and I ran for six years – I attempted some breadth of approach (which made the module more than a little intense), incorporating various urban popular musics as much as classical traditions, including a substantial component on the histories of jazz, blues, gospel, rock ‘n’ roll, and many diverse popular traditions from the 1960s onwards, as well as much wider consideration of the possible historical, social and political dimensions of music-making and musical life during the period in question, which necessitated incorporation of a fair amount of wider history as well, working under the assumption that many students would not be that familiar with such events as the revolutions of 1848, or the shifting allegiances and nationalistic rivalries between the major powers in the period leading up to World War One. But this was still a course in music history, not a wider history course in which music was just one of many possible cultural tangents (the first time I taught it, I realised it was in danger of going in this direction, and I modified it accordingly in subsequent years), and so I needed to include a fair amount of actual music, music which could be listened to, not just read about, so that entailed compositions or recorded performances (the latter is obviously not an option for those teaching earlier musical periods, a very straightforward explanation for why musical composition, for which texts survive, has tended to be quite central in such teaching). So this necessitated some choices relating to inclusion/exclusion – one priority was not to give disproportionate attention to Austro-German nineteenth century compositional traditions, and consider more seriously those traditions existing in particular in France, Italy and Russia; another was, as mentioned before, to give proper space to non-‘classical’ traditions. There were numerous other criteria I attempted in this context, not least of which was to present plenty of music for which a link with the wider context was relatively easy to comprehend – but with hindsight, I think this was a very dubious criterion, and which artificially loaded the attempts to ask students to look critically at the relationship between music and history/society, not take some assumed relationship as a given. There are a great many positions which have been adopted by musicologists and music historians, from a staunch defence of autonomous musical development to a thoroughly deterministic view; I have my own convictions in this respect, but the point is not to preach these, but try to help students to be able to shape their own in an intelligent and well-informed manner.

Someone in another department commented to me quite recently of his astonishment that he encountered students who had never heard Brahms’s Second Symphony (said with some special emphasis as is characteristic of those with a strong grounding in a tradition, and for whom not knowing this would be like a literary student never having read or seen Macbeth). I replied that if I encountered a few students who had already heard a work like that before it was presented in a class, I would feel lucky. But that situation is now to be expected, and in my view musical higher education can do a lot worse than try to introduce students to a lot of music which lecturers, audiences, and many musicians over an extended period have found remarkable. Not in order to dictate to those students that they must feel the same way, but to expose them to work which has been found by a significant community to be of historical and aesthetic significance, and invite them to form their own view – which may be heretical.

So it is on this basis that I believe ‘canons’ are valid, indeed essential, teaching tools for musical history – whether dealing with histories of composers, performers or even institutions – if students are to be given some help and guidance in terms of studying sounding music.  I refuse to accept the singular use of the term ‘the canon’, for this is not, and has never been, fixed when one considers different times and places. Mikhail Glinka and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov occupy a hallowed place within Russian musical life and history, so far as I can ascertain (not being a Russian speaker, so dependent upon secondary literature), but this view is only relatively rarely shared elsewhere. The canonical status of Hector Berlioz and Franz Liszt has never been unambiguous, whilst that of Puccini and Rachmaninoff, as compared to the composers of the Second Viennese School, continues to be the source of healthy and robust debate. The place of Italian opera within wider canons of music from the eighteenth century onwards varies; I would also note, though, that within operatic history, Gioachino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti are often canonised, but Giovanni Pacini and Saverio Mercadante are generally viewed as less central, to my mind an entirely natural decision. In terms of pre-Baroque or post-1945 repertoires, there is even less consensus. I for one find it very difficult to accept the particular choices of key works from the last few decades in the ninth edition of  A History of Western Music by Donald Grout and Claude Palisca, revised by J. Peter Burkholder (New York: Norton, 2014).

I offer the following hypotheses (some of which I have no time to substantiate here) for critical discussion:

Aesthetics are more than a footnote to political ideologies, and canons reflect aesthetics in ways which cannot be reduced to the exercise of power.

There is not a singular canon, but a shifting body of musical compositions which are canonised to differing extents depending upon time and place.

Sometimes the process of canonisation is simply a reflection of what may not be a hugely controversial view – that not all music is equally worthy of sustained attention.

Canonical processes exist in many different fields of music, not just Euro-American art music in the form of compositions. 

The most casual of listeners exhibit tastes and thus aesthetic priorities. These are not necessarily perceived as solely personal matters of no significance to anyone else, or else they would not be discussed with others. 

It is impossible to teach any type of historical approach to musical composition and performance without including some examples, excluding others. 

Many canonical decisions are made for expediency, and in order to provide a manageable but relatively broad picture of a time and/or place in musical history. 

The broad-based attacks on canons, almost always focused exclusively on Western art music composition, are often a proxy for an attack on the teaching of this repertoire at all.

A very different view can be found in an essay of Philip V. Bohlman:

To the extent that musicologists concerned largely with the traditions of Western art music were content with a singular canon- any singular canon that took a European-American concert tradition as a given – they were excluding musics, peoples, and cultures. They were, in effect, using the process of disciplining to cover up the racism, colonialism, and sexism that underlie many of the singular canons of the West. They bought into these “-isms” just as surely as they coopted an “-ology.” Canons formed from “Great Men” and “Great Music” forged virtually unassailable categories of self and Other, one to discipline and reduce to singularity, the other to bellitle and impugn. Canon was determined not so much by what it was as by what it was not. It was not the musics of women or people of color; it was not musics that belonged to other cultures and worldviews; it was not forms of expression that resisted authority or insisted that music could empower politics.

(Philip Bohlman, ‘Epilogue: Musics and Canons’, in Disciplining Music: Musicology and its Canons, edited Katherine Bergeron and Philip V. Bohlman (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992), p. 198).


I can only characterise the above as a rant: musical canons are presented in language which might seem too extreme if describing Jimmy Savile or Slobodan Milosevic, and stops just short of indicting these in terms of complicity with widespread global dispossession and even genocide. But the paragraph is in no sense substantiated, and amounts to a series of rhetorical assertions. Furthermore, I would like to know more about how Bohlman thinks that music has indeed ’empowered politics’ in any significant number of cases, or why he thinks music is best rendered secondary to other uses, basically reiterating the rhetoric associated with Gebrauchsmusik in the 1920s and 1930s.

It is certainly true that Western classical music (and a fair amount of Western popular musics too) has at least until recently predominantly been made by white men, in part because the opportunities available to them did not exist to anything like the same extent for other groups. Complaints, for example, about lack of staging of operas by women composers make little sense without suggestions of works (other than Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers and a small few others) which might feasibly be produced and would be acceptable in musical terms to a lot of existing opera audiences; relatively few women before recent decades were given the opportunities to write operas (which were rarely produced in isolation, but much more often in response to specific commissions). Only a shift to a greater amount of contemporary work in opera houses – which would create a new set of problems – opens up the possibility of a significantly increased representation of women composers. It is also hardly surprising that music produced in the Western world, at least in Europe, was only infrequently produced by ‘people of colour’ during times (basically, before the fall of many of the major European empires) when such people formed much smaller communities in European societies.

This is not to make light of the fact that opportunities for artistic participation have been strongly weighted in favour of certain groups in Western society over a long period (and, for that matter, in many non-Western societies as well). But the same was true of access to politics and government, the diplomatic service, banking, and very much else – the historical study of the figures who obtained and exercised power in these fields in Western societies before the twentieth century will be in large measure a history of white men. To arrive at a blanket decision on the workings of those fields on the basis of that information alone would be massively crude; the alternative is to spend time studying these histories before arriving at prognoses. To employ an ad hominem fallacy to dismiss vast bodies of creative work simply on account of the gender, class, ethnicity or other demographic factors relating to those who had the opportunities to produce, is myopic in the extreme, and smacks of a narrow politics of resentment. This is not a mistake that would have been made by Friedrich Engels, or the Hungarian Marxist intellectual György Lukács, both of whom wrote eloquently on the immense value of literary work by avowedly non-socialist thinkers such as Honore de Balzac, Sir Walter Scott, or Thomas Mann, in obviously political as well as aesthetic terms. The true believers in establishment values were those who – when nonetheless good writers who were prepared to allow their scenarios and characters to take on ‘lives of their own’- could, according to these thinkers, reveal more about the inner contradictions damaging these milieux, sometimes more so than some writers who identified with the left.

I would personally argue that the ubiquity of Anglo-American popular music (much of which interests me very much, and which as mentioned before I have taught extensively) is a far more hegemonic force in many societies than any sort of classical ‘canon’, which plays an increasingly marginal role in large numbers of people’s lives, especially in the face of cuts to and dumbing-down of musical education at many levels. As I argued (more than a little ironically!) in my response to Simon Zagorski-Thomas:

Personally, I can rarely go into a bar without being barraged by Japanese gagaku music, cannot go shopping without a constant stream of Stockhausen, Barraqué, mid-period Xenakis, or just sometimes examples of both French and Rumanian musique spectrale, piped over the loudspeakers, whilst when I jump into a taxi cab in most countries, I can be sure that there will be no escape from music of the Italian trecento. This is not to mention the cars going past blaring out the darkest Bach cantatas, or the endlessly predictable torrents of Weimar modernism which the builders will always put on the radio. 

In a world which has recently witnessed the vote for Brexit, the election of Trump, and the growth of the far right in European politics, not to mention horrifying revelations of the abuse of children in a great many fields of life, a degree of economic collapse since the 2007 crash which does not appear to be recovering (especially in various Mediterranean countries), a wholly unholy civil war in Syria between the equally brutal forces of the Assad government and ISIS, the approaching 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and subsequent dispossession and humiliation of the native population there, with no signs of change, ominous possibilities for catastrophic climate change, and so on, making such a big deal and assigning such loaded political associations to whether the teaching of music favours some types of music more than others seems a trivial, even narcissistic concern of musicians and musicologists. It may enable some to gain some political capital and concomitant advancement in the profession, but it is hard to see much more significance – indeed this may be a convenient substitute for any other political engagement, some of it directly related to academics’ professional lives, whether demonstrating against massive increases in student fees, or supporting and participating in industrial action in opposition to such things as the gender pay-gap. Perhaps energies could also be better spent elsewhere – such as playing a small but important role in trying to help some reasonable politicians get elected, rather than leaving the ground open to grotesque populist demagogues? This would be a much more laudable aim than fighting to ensure far fewer music students ever hear Le Sacre.

I wanted to end with some brilliant quotes from Charles Rosen, much better words than I could produce:

The essential paradox of a canon, however—and we need to emphasize this repeatedly—is that a tradition is often most successfully sustained by those who appear to be trying to attack or to destroy it. It was Wagner, Debussy, and Stravinsky who gave new life to the Western musical tradition while seeming to undermine its very foundations. As Proust wrote, “The great innovators are the only true classics and form a continuous series. The imitators of the classics, in their finest moments, only procure for us a pleasure of erudition and taste that has no great value.” Any canon of works or laws that forms the basis of a culture or a society is subject to continuous reinterpretation and to change, enlargements, and contractions, but to be effective it is evident that it must retain a sense of identity—it must, in fact, resist change and reinterpretation and yield to them reluctantly and with difficulty. A tradition’s sense of identity is dependent on the way it is transmitted, on what kind of access to it is made available to the members of the society concerned, and on whether the transmission makes the canon too rigid or too yielding.

(Charles Rosen, ‘Culture on the Market’ (2003), in Freedom and the Arts: Essays on Music and Literature (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2012), pp. 17-18).


Access to what are considered the great works of painting and sculpture is adequately provided by museums. They stand as a formidable barrier to those who would like to get rid of a canon, or radically alter its character (generally replacing dead white males with candidates selected by ideology, politics, or sexual preference). As I have said, a canon properly resists change, although, in the end, it must change if it is to exert a living influence. However, an abrupt and radical alteration is generally impossible to achieve: the old values spring immediately back into place once the new ideology’s back is turned. Introducing new figures into the canon is therefore, with few exceptions, a slow process, the additions generally reaching public acceptance only after decades of professional interest.

The example of two poets, John Donne and Friedrich Hölderlin, often said to have been discovered at the end of the nineteenth century after years of neglect, can show that the pathos of neglect and rediscovery is largely a myth. The present fame of Donne is popularly supposed to be owing to the influence of T. S. Eliot, but he was greatly admired by Coleridge and influenced Browning; and editions of his poetry were available throughout the nineteenth century. Perhaps the most influential academic critic of the time, George Saintsbury, wrote of Donne as “always possessing, in actual presence or near suggestion, a poetical quality that no English poet has ever surpassed.” The criticism of Eliot brought Donne to the attention of a larger public, but he had never lacked admirers. Hölderlin is said to have been rescued from complete obscurity at the same time as Donne by the interest of two great poets, Rainer Maria Rilke and Stefan George, but earlier Robert Schumann wrote music inspired by his work, and Brahms set his verses to music. The fame of both Donne and Hölderlin increased greatly at the opening of the twentieth century, but these additions to the canon were made possible by the earlier existence of a continuously sustained admiration.

The efficacy of a tradition, however, can be weakened by swamping it with a host of minor figures, and we have seen this happen in our time. The fashion for Baroque music has awakened the interest of recording companies and concert societies, and the novelty of an unknown figure has a brief commercial interest. A brilliant essay by Theodor Adorno mocked the way the taste for Baroque style reduced Bach to the status of Telemann, obliterated the difference between the extraordinary and the conventional. Concerts of music by Locatelli, Albinoni, or Graun are bearable only for those music lovers for whom period style is more important than quality.

(Ibid. pp. 20-21).

Musicological Observations 3: Multicultural Musicology for Monolingual Academics?


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 [1]. 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 [2]. Another article referenced one book in Portuguese, though the ethnographic nature of the article implies full fluency in this language [3]. 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) [4]; another refers to a Dutch-Javanese dictionary; and another to two texts in French and one Toraja-Indonesian dictionary [5]. 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 less 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 [6]; otherwise there was one article citing two theses in Norwegian (one of these in a little detail) [7], another referencing three Spanish sources [8], another some French sources (but not Arabic ones, rather ironically considering this was an article dealing with colonialism and orientalism) [9], whilst another was a translation of a 1937 Spanish article [10] (I am not counting an article which cites one French source which has clearly only been accessed through a secondary source in English [11]). 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 [12]. 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 [13] the other text to a Petrarch sonnet given with translation [14]. McClary’s earlier book Feminine Endings had four non-English sources: a reference to Monteverdi’s foreword to the Madrigali guerrieri ed amorosi [15] and to Bellerofonte Castaldi’s Primo Mazzetto di fiori musicalmente colti dal giardino Bellerofonteo (1623) [16], Joachim Burmeister’s Musica poetica (1606) [17], and Arturo Graf’s “Una cortigiana fra mille’, in Attraverso il cinquecento (Turin: Chiantore, 1926) [18].

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 [19], 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 [20]. 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 [21], 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 [22]) make regular reference to non-English texts, three others (by Ellen Koskoff, Carolyn Abbate and Lawrence Kramer [23]) 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 [24], Richard Middleton deals in some degree of detail with Joseph Riepel’s Grundregln zur Tonordnung insgemein (1755) [25], 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 [26]. 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 [27] (alongside various texts of Hennion in English), and two Italian texts by Anna Lisa Tota [28]. 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’ [29], 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’ [30] Tota’s 1997 study is merely listed as an example of ethnographic studies [31], and the other not cited at all (unlike a text of Tota in English which is given very slightly more detailed engagement [32]). 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 [33], even despite the fact that there is no real engagement with the music either [34]!

Certainly some of these scholars are able to read other languages (as demonstrated in McClary’s work on the Italian madrigal, for example [35]). 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 [36] (to which I am also a contributor, but on the Nineteenth Century [37]) 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’ [38], 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 [39]. 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 abuse

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.