New Music 1 – A Niche World

In several recent writings and various upcoming ones I have been considering in a more sustained fashion wider aspects of the culture of new music, both historically and in the present day. My long chapter, just published, ‘New Music: Performance Institutions and Practices’, in The Oxford Handbook of Music Performance, Volume 1, edited Gary E. McPherson (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022), pp. 396-455, traces the growth of a network of festivals, concert series and other aspects of a new music infrastructure from after the end of World War One, as well as the development of specialised performance skills on the part of individual interpreters and ensembles, all as part of a specific culture of ‘new music’ which developed with a degree of autonomy from a more mainstream culture of art music performance (as represented by orchestral, chamber, choral, solo concerts of repertoire primarily from the common practice period) over the course of a century. This very fact of inhabiting a separate realm is to me a defining aspect of new music, a term which has developed ever since the publication of Paul Bekker’s vital essay ‘Neue Musik’ (1919), advocating a range of new approaches to music, some of them then still relatively latent, which constituted a significant break with or at least shift of emphasis from the immediate past, one which was amplified at a time which saw the collapse of various aspects of the pre-war order, revolution in Russia, and an attempt revolution in Germany, which members of the influential Berlin Novembergruppe sought to sublimate into artistic creation.

In ‘Modernist Fantasias: The Recuperation of a Concept’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, vol. 144, no. 2 (2019), pp. 473-493, starting from a detailed critical examination of The Routledge Research Companion to Modernism in Music, edited Björn Heile and Charles Wilson (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2019), I consider the provenance and development of the term ‘modernism’ (and its equivalents such as French modernisme, German Moderne, Spanish modernismo and so on) both in music and other arts, not least in terms of recent attempts to frame the concept more broadly than hitherto (in some cases to date it back to the French Revolution) as well as to recapture it as a living force deserving of reconsideration, as informed the so-called New Modernist Studies in literary and cultural scholarship beginning in 1999, which has been matched more gradually by the growth of parallel scholarship in music. I have also been working on a book chapter considering the historiography of new music since 1989, and recently gave a lecture looking more broadly at historiographical issues through the 20th and 21st century, which have also been the theme of other lectures and publications considering the ways in which ‘experimental’ and ‘minimal’ music have informed such historiography.

All of this work, combined with my ongoing work on the creation and development of the infrastructure for new music in post-1945 Germany, have brought to the fore difficult questions relating to new music as a whole and its place today. I have been professionally active as a pianist in the world of new music for three decades, and have become intimately aware of its range of mores, orthodoxies, internal politics, and so on, and the ways in which its institutions and those operating those tend to work. It remains a field of cultural activity which in my opinion has immense value, but claims for its wider importance and significance are less easy to articulate in a manner which might convince those who need convincing. But this latter activity, if one believes this importance to be the case (which I do, but in a less unequivocal manner than I might have done 15-20 years ago), is vital if those engaged with new music seek an impact and respect beyond the narrow realms of fellow travellers. This is not so often to be found, and a reticence to engage with the wider issues concerned suggests either dangerous complacency or even a wilful disregard married to a sense of entitlement, which I believe should be challenged.

I am fully aware that there are a great many who would describe a lot of the atonal music I play (and even some of the more dissonant late tonal music as well), and which those I know compose, at the politest as ‘not music’, often through much harsher derogatory epithets. These will include some friends, some students and many other members of the wider public with no personal investment in this work nor necessarily any desire for such. It is much too easy to dismiss those who think in such a way as idiots, philistines, etc., in the process writing off large swathes of any population. But in my experience those who think such a way do not particular care unless they feel made to listen to such music, whether in a performance situation where it is not their reason for being there, feeling it is imposed upon them in education, or in the face of stentorian claims about its importance.

Yet one might struggle to be aware of this within the rarefied circles of those professionally involved in new music. That a great many people might be not simply indifferent but actively hostile to their music in the contexts described above can seem a subject which it is unacceptable even to consider. That the work of musicians involved must be vital and must deserve the widest support is an article of faith, or at least amongst different factions of individuals, who do not necessarily extend this view to members of rival factions. Some looking from outside might be shocked to see the extent of the personalised vitriol extended by some towards anyone (not least critics, but also various others) who aver an opinion that they do not find some piece of music engaging, moving, or some other quality they seek. The response can be to pathologise those who think such a way, or seek to disallow their opinions from being heard. Following the recent death of Richard Taruskin, there was a furious set of posts on social media about a highly critical review he wrote of two CDs of the American composer Donald Martino, which extended into a wider critique of aspects of new music (see below). The view seemed to be that the only type of legitimate review is one which praises this type of work, and anything else should not be allowed to be printed. It would be interesting to see this principle applied to restaurant reviewing – I am sure some restaurant owners would be more than happy.

There are ways to frame new music and its particularity which avoid the need to make wider claims for its public significance. In a 2014 article, Martin Iddon conceptualised new music as a type of ‘subculture’, drawing upon the concept propounded most notoriously by Dick Hebdige in his 1979 book Subculture: The Meaning of Style. I have used this concept myself in my ‘New Music’ article mentioned above, but have doubts (some reservations expressed in a footnote there did not make it into the final version!). Certainly new music has from the outset entailed a realm of activity distinct from a ‘mainstream’, as is true of many subcultures explored and theorised by Hebdige and others (space does not allow consideration here of the later concept of ‘post-subculture’). But its economic situation is not at all comparable with the subculture of the mods, rockers, punks or whatever. In large measure, new music activity relies heavily on subsidy for its continued operation; it would not be financially viable via ticket sales alone, other than very small operations. This subsidy comes either from public money generated through taxation and distributed in various ways via local, regional and state arts organisations, as is the case in much of Western Europe and to a lesser extent the UK (though considerably less so in the United States), or through the patronage of universities, in which those involved in new music production may find employment and some concomitant financial support for their activities. These things lend such music a level of institutional or official prestige which is quite uncharacteristic of other forms of subculture. If one could imagine a group of death metal fans receiving regular government grants to develop their music, clothing, writings, and so on, and present these in major government-backed venues, this would surely seem a long way from the conventional idea of a subculture.

Here subcultural theory does present one phenomenon which is familiar in part: numerous studies observe how subcultures, despite defining themselves in opposition to some mainstream, exhibit marked homologous tendencies and appear to require a degree of discipline and unity from their own members, with little tolerance for internal dissent. In the case of new music circles, it would be untrue to deny the existence of divisions, because of the opposing factions mentioned earlier. But these are divisions between different groups competing for the mantle of new music, seen as representing progress, the one true way forward, the most supposedly enlightened form of music, and so on. It would be much more rare to hear many within any faction questioning the status of new music as a whole, or the purpose of its institutions. Some who have done – not least various of the key figures viewed as ‘minimalist’ (Steve Reich, Philip Glass, John Adams, etc.) – have tended to operate to a large degree outside of these circles, while others holding to a neo-romantic or other related late tonal aesthetic have sought and sometimes found recognition within more mainstream performance circles.

In subsequent posts, I will consider wider issues to do with the institutionalisation of new music, the means by which it is legitimated (not least, in present times, by attachment to various political causes), and look more widely at the question of why new music and its practitioners enjoy a status in universities not always granted to other types of musicians and scholars. But here I want to consider some of the starkly opposed views from musicians scholars regarding the prestige of new music.

Milton Babbitt was one of the most articulate advocates of the benefits of new music composition in a university setting, allowing some degree of autonomy from audience indifference or hostility, or commercial pressures. This was outlined in his essay ‘The Composer as Specialist’ (1958), first published in High Fidelity, vol. 8, no. 2 (February 1958) to which editors (rather than Babbitt himself) gave the title ‘Who Cares if you Listen?’

Why should the layman be other than bored and puzzled by what he is unable to understand, music oranything else? It is only the translation of this boredom and puzzlement into resentment and denunciation that seems to me indefensible. After all, the public does have its own music, its ubiquitous music: music to eat by, to read by, to dance by, and to be impressed by. Why refuse to recognize the possibility that contemporary music has reached a stage long since attained by other forms of activity? The time has passed when the normally well-educated man without special preparation could understand the most advanced work in, for example, mathematics, philosophy, and physics. Advanced music, to the extent that it reflects the knowledge and originality of the informed composer, scarcely can be expected to appear more intelligible than these arts and sciences to the person whose musical education usually has been even less extensive than his background in other fields. But to this, a double-standard is invoked, with the words “music is music,” implying also that “music is just music.” Why not, then, equate the activities of the radio repairman with those of thetheoretical physicist, on the basis of the dictum that “physics is physics”? It is not difficult to find statements like the following, from the New York Times of September 8, 1957: “The scientific level of the conference is so high . . . that there are in the world only 120 mathematicians specializing in the field who could contribute.” Specialized music on the other hand, far from signifying “height” of musical level, has been charged with “decadence,” even as evidence of an insidious “conspiracy.”

I dare suggest that the composer would do himself and his music an immediate and eventual service by total, resolute, and voluntary withdrawal from this public world to one of private performance and electronic media, with its very real possibility of complete elimination of the public and social aspects of musical composition. By so doing, the separation between the domains would be defined beyond any possibility of confusion of categories, and the composer would be free to pursue a private life of professional achievement, as opposed to a public of unprofessional compromise and exhibitionism.

But how, it may be asked, will this serve to secure the means of survival for the composer and his music? One answer is that, after all, such a private life is what the university provides the scholar and the scientist. It is only proper that the university, which—significantly—has provided so many contemporary composers with their professional training and general education, should provide a home for the “complex,” “difficult,” and “problematical” in music. Indeed, the process has begun; and if it appears to proceed too slowly, I take consolation in the knowledge that in this respect, too, music seems to be in historically retarded parallel with now sacrosanct fields of endeavor. In E. T. Bell’s Men of Mathematics, we read: “In the eighteenth century the universities were not the principal centers of research in Europe. They might have become such sooner than they did but for the classical tradition and its understandable hostility to science. Mathematics was close enough to antiquity to be respectable, but physics, being more recent, was suspect. Further, a mathematician in a university of the time would have been expected to put much of his effort on elementary teaching; his research, if any, would have been an unprofitable luxury.” A simple substitution of “musical composition” for “research”, of “academic” for “classical”, of “music” for “physics,” and of “composer” for “mathematician,” provides a strikingly accurate picture of the current situation. And as long as the confusion I have described continues to exist, how can the university and its community assume other than that the composer welcomes and courts public competition with the historically certified products of the past, and the commercially certified products of the present?

Perhaps for the same reason, the various institutes of advanced research and the large majority of foundations have disregarded this music’s need for means of survival. I do not wish to appear to obscure the obvious differences between musical composition and scholarly research, although it can be contended that these differences are no more fundamental than the differences among the various fields of study.

Babbitt’s article demonstrates an unerring faith of a notion of musical ‘progress’, which he maps onto scientific research. But he does not ask what purpose the ‘complex’, ‘difficult’ and ‘problematical’ in music serves? It is not so difficult to demonstrate the wider impact and application of various types of science, but what is the equivalent for music? Over a hundred years on, Schoenberg’s atonal and dodecaphonic explorations have won only a modest following even amongst musicians, certainly compared to the more widespread valuing of music of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bartok, and others who were once viewed as members of avant-gardes. Some might cite the occasional use of atonal material in film or video games for particular effect, but this seems very modest in comparison to the claims made by Babbitt.

The polar opposite of Babbitt’s view can be found in feminist scholar Susan McClary’s essay ‘Terminal Prestige: The Case of Avant-Garde Music Composition’, Cultural Critique, No. 12 (Spring 1989), pp. 57-81, somewhat notorious in musicological circles. McClary considers the views of Arnold Schoenberg, Roger Sessions and Milton Babbitt on certain valorisations of ‘difficult’ music and its distance from mainstream audiences (though she has relatively little to say on the music itself):

Perhaps only with the twentieth-century avant-garde, however, has there been a music that has sought to secure prestige precisely by claiming to renounce all possible social functions and values [….]

This strange posture was not invented in the twentieth century, of course. It is but the reductio ad absurdum of the nineteenth-century notion that music ought to be an autonomous activity, insulated from the contamination of the outside social world. […]

In this century (especially following World War II), the “serious” composer has felt beleaguered both by the reified, infinitely repeated classical music repertory and also by the mass media that have provided the previously disenfranchised with modes of “writing” and distribution-namely recording, radio, and television. Thus even though Schoenberg, Boulez,and Babbitt differ enormously from each other in terms of socio-historical context and music style, they at least share the siege mentality that has given rise to the extreme position we have been tracing: they all regard the audience as an irrelevant annoyance whose approval signals artistic failure. [….]

By aligning his music with the intellectual elite-with what he identifies as the autonomous “private life” of scholarship and science (this at the height of the Cold War!) – Babbitt appeals to a separate economy that confers prestige, but that also (it must be added) confers financial support in the form of foundation grants and university professorships. [….]

Babbitt’s rhetoric has achieved its goal: most university music departments support resident composers (though many, including the composers in my own department, find the “Who Cares if You Listen” attitude objectionable); and the small amount of money earmarked by foundations for music commissions is reserved for the kind of “serious” music that Babbitt and his colleagues advocate.

I objected a good deal to McClary’s essay when I first read it some 20 years ago, but as time has gone on have come to felt that she is onto something important in her allusions to legitimation via alignment to scholarship and science, though the exaggerated statements about claims to autonomy are unsustainable, especially today, when so many composers seek to justify their work as much through allusions to society and politics as through its musical merits.

I mentioned earlier a review-article by Richard Taruskin which generated a lot of anger amongst new music practitioners. In a range of writings, including in the Oxford History of Western Music, Taruskin has been sharply critical about many claims made by those associated with modernism and the avant-garde to the mantle of history, and of the ways in which historiography and pedagogy has foregrounded work of this type and marginalised other varieties. Perhaps the most prominent expression of Taruskin’s view is that article which takes some CD reviews of the music of Donald Martino as its starting point, ‘How Talented Composers Become Useless’. This was first published in The New York Times on 10 March 1996, and reprinted in the collection The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2009), pp. 86-93. Like McClary, Taruskin grounds his critic in an attack on the position of Babbitt:

By comparing “serious” or “original” contemporary music to mathematics (and appropriating concepts like seriousness and originality to one kind of music was where the arrogance lay), Mr. Babbitt was saying, in effect, that such music was to be valued and judged not for the pleasure it gave but for the truth it contained. Truth, in music as in math, lay in accountability to basic principles of relatedness. In the case of math, these were axioms and theorems: basic truth assumptions and the proofs they enabled. In the case of music, truth lay in the relationship of all its details to a basic axiomatic premise called the twelve-tone row.

Again, Mr. Babbitt’s implied contempt and his claims of exclusivity apart, the point could be viewed as valid. Why not allow that there could be the musical equivalent of an audience of math professors? It was a harmless enough concept in itself—although when the math professors went on to claim funds and resources that would otherwise go to the maintenance of the “lay” repertory, it was clear that the concept did not really exist “in itself”; it inescapably impinged on social and economic concerns. Yet calling his work the equivalent of a math lecture did at least make the composer’s intentions and expectations clear. You could take them or leave them. […]

Mr. Martino’s piano music […] strives for conventional expressivity while trying to maintain all the privileged and prestigious truth claims of academic modernism. Because there is no structural connection between the expressive gestures and the twelve-tone harmonic language, the gestures are not supported by the musical content (the way they are in Schumann, for example, whose music Mr. Martino professes to admire and emulate). And while the persistent academic claim is that music like Mr. Martino’s is too complex and advanced for lay listeners to comprehend, in fact the expressive gestures, unsupported by the music’s syntax or semantics, are primitive and simplistic in the extreme. [….]

The reason it is still necessary to expose these hypocrisies, even after the vaunted “postmodern” demise of serialism, is that the old-fashioned modernist position still thrives in its old bastion, the academy. Composers like Mr. Martino are still miseducating their pupils just as he was miseducated himself, dooming them to uselessness. Critics and “theorists,” many of them similarly miseducated, are still propagandizing for Pointwise Periodic Homeomorphisms in the concert hall, offering their blandishments as consolation for the loss of a musical language and decrying the attempts of younger composers to find a new one.

Taruskin has gone on to be a leading advocate of the ‘Cold War’ view of avant-garde musical history, which maintains essentially that the institutionalisation and prestige of avant-garde music was a product of both an intellectual culture privileging quasi-scientific positivism, and was dominant in US universities, but also the conspiratorial view, which I maintain is utterly false on the basis of a lot of archival result, that the success of the Darmstadt Summer Schools for new music, and other aspects of new music in Europe, were the result of covert funding by the CIA. There is no evidence to substantiate this (unlike with some other art forms, from which information this conclusion has simply been inferred); as Ian Wellens in particular has shown, the primary CIA-funded organisation, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, had as its secretary general Nicolas Nabokov, who showed no real interest in serial and other avant-garde composition in the post-1945 era (as compared to his advocacy of the music of Stravinsky), and the events sponsored by the CCF are too exceptional and unrepresentative as to be defining in terms of the wider history. I will expand on this in a subsequent post.

A British figure who has delivered harsh critiques of new music and the prestige it entertains is Nicholas Cook, from whom I offer two citations. The first is from his ‘On Qualifying Relativism’, Musica Scientiae, vol. 5, issue 2 supplement (September 2001), pp. 167-189.

As Richard Toop (who works in Sydney but is closely associated with the European avanr-garde) points out, composition occupies very different roles in different countries. In North America it has been almost inextricably entangled with universities since the early days of Babbitt (whose “social contract”, as Herman Sabbe points out, “is with the academy”); the relationship is only a little less close in Britain, where composition is fully accepted as a form of research for purposes of institutional and national quality reviews. But in continental Europe, as Toop goes on to say, contemporary music revolves around festivals and radio stations; “One may be dealing with a heavily subsidized market place,” he adds, “but it’s a market place none the less.” Makis Solomos also raises the issue of subsidy, contrasting the subsidization of contemporary music in France with the situation in Britain (where the subsidies do exist, incidentally, but they go towards propping up the social rituals of the Royal Opera House rather than into contemporary music).

Solornos’s key observation, however, is that “en France, où les subventions existent, la musique contemporaine a un public”. It does in Britain and America too, of course, but there the audience has traditionally been one of contemporary music buffs, a niche within a niche. (One should recognize the potential for change not only through the cross-over musical styles of composers like Glass or Zorn, but also through the incorporation of contemporary music within educational and outreach programmes, which is why I said “traditionally”: all part of the crumbling of barriers to which I referred in my Foreword.) And when taking part in conferences or workshops in such countries as Holland, Belgium, and Germany I have always been struck by the centrality of contemporary composition within the definition of what “music” is and what an intelligent interest in the subject might mean: it is simply taken for granted that one has an interest in and commitment to contemporary music, in a way that it would never be in a similar situation in Britain or America. But it seems that the position of contemporary music is even more varied than this might suggest, to judge by the comments of Robert Walker (who writes from the University of New South Wales, Sydney): “it is indeed ironic”, he says,”that the academy can now include Beatles songs in analysis classes and research reports, but still not Berio’s vocal music”. And later he talks of Messiaen, Britten, Cage, and electronic music, and comments that “The music academy has shown comparatively scant interest in all this”. That surprised me, not only because new music was high on the agenda when I was teaching at Sydney University (though that was back in 1988), but also because music from Messiaen and Cage to Berio and beyond is well represented in the British academy, far beyond any possible measure of the music’s dissemination throughout society at large. It is popular music that is under-represented, resulting in a situation where the few PhDs in this area get quickly snapped up by university departments anxious to respond to the interests of their students.

The second is from ‘Writing on Music or Axes to Grind: road rage and musical community’, Music Education Research, vol. 5, no. 3 (November 2003), pp. 249-261.

Writers on contemporary ‘art’ music—what they often call ‘new music’—generally act as apologists, in the same sense as the earliest analysts did: writing in the early decades of the 19th century, these analysts’ basic purpose was to explain the coherence and hence the greatness of Beethoven’s music, despite its discontinuities and sudden irruptions and otherwise incoherent appearance (it would hardly be exaggeration to say that the whole genre of musical analysis developed as an act of advocacy for Beethoven). In the same way, writers on new music either argue that the music is aesthetically attractive even though it might appear otherwise on first acquaintance, or they argue that its aesthetic unattractiveness is integral to its cultural significance (and sometimes, just to make sure, they argue both). Their advocacy is prompted by the increasingly marginalised nature of the music—now even to some extent within academia—and this apologetic function is built into the genre: if you pick a book on new music off the shelf, you expect it to fulfil this role of advocacy, and again the few books that have attacked new music have appeared anomalous against this background. [….]

I’ve noticed that, when I go to conferences or similar events in continental Europe, people make the assumption that, because I’m interested in music, I must have an interest in and commitment to new music; that’s not an expectation about me in particular, but a taken-for-granted assumption about what it means to be seriously engaged in music. (In the UK or the USA, people make no such assumption.) And at least as far as the contributors to the Musicae Scientiae collection were concerned, this revolved not so much around the aesthetic properties of new music as its critical potential. In my book, I referred briefly to critical theory in general and Adorno in particular, as a way of introducing one of the main intellectual strands of the ‘New’ musicology of the 1990s, but I made no direct link between Adorno’s critique and new music. In her commentary, Anne Boissière (2001, p. 32) picked this up, asking why I didn’t discuss ‘the problem of contemporary music which resists consumption’: instead, she complained, I made music sound as if it was just another commodity, and in this way passed up the opportunity to offer ‘a critical analysis of consumer society’. In which case, she asked, ‘what point is there in making reference to Adorno?’: if one’s critique isn’t motivated by moral or political commitment, as Adorno’s was, then what is there to it but nihilism?

Actually, the argument Boissière is putting forward here, and which other contributors also reflected, has a long and rather peculiar history. It originates in the conservative critique of the modern world—the attack on capitalism and consumerism that developed throughout the German-speaking countries in the 19th century (where it was associated with the nostalgic values of an idealised rural past), and fed ultimately into the Nazi creed of ‘blood and soil’.

There are many ripostes to the views of McClary, Taruskin and Cook, just as there are to that of Babbitt, or those advocates of latter day composition-as-research who essentially adhere to his view. In subsequent posts I will consider some of these in more detail.

But for now, I just want to end with a plea for moderation. New music is a niche interest; this much appears very clear, and there is little evidence of such a situation changing. Can we accept this, and move away from both the unmediated and exaggerated claims for its centrality of Babbitt, the hatred and aggression towards dissenters, but also the types of denunciations of McClary, Taruskin and Cook, often clothed in ferocious political language (as with Cook’s attempts to link Boissière to the Nazis, to which I have alluded on here before)?

Those involved in new music who enjoy institutional prestige and economic wherewithal because of existing situations are unlikely to be sympathetic to any view which questions their status. Nor are those who jealously covet such a thing from different fields likely to have any sympathy towards them. Neither of these groups are likely to engage in mature scholarly debate. But such a debate ought to be possible without degenerating into polarised oppositions, including some of those presented above.

Rethinking Contemporary Musicology: Panel at the Royal Musical Association 2019 – Part 2. Papers of Darla Crispin and Peter Tregear.

In my earlier post, I detailed the contents of first two papers at the important and well-attended session at the Royal Musical Association Annual Conference 2019 by Larson Powell and Darla Crispin. Here I will do the same with the third and fourth papers by Darla Crispin and Peter Tregear, and then append some wider thoughts of my own on the occasion.


Darla M. Crispin, ‘Artistic Research in Music: Brave New World – or Harbinger of Decline?’

Crispin’s paper focused on fundamental questions appertaining to the field of artistic research and the ways in which work in this field might be judged. She began by offering four fundamental questions:

  • How do we measure value in artistic research?
  • Have we really resolved how to do so in the separate cases of art and research?
  • Can artistic research offer fresh insights into our value systems for the separate worlds of art and scholarship, as well as its own hybrid world, or will its influence contribute to a free-for-all situation where all value is subjective?
  • Perhaps most fundamentally, how is artistic research in music to develop a more trenchant self-criticism, as the field moves toward maturity?

None of these are easy questions; Anglophone academics may be familiar with particular manifestations thereof in the debates about practice-as-research. Artistic research is a distinct concept, however, which has not yet gained the same currency in English-speaking academia as in parts of continental Europe. Fundamentally, this entails research into artistic practice, carried out by active practitioners, but generally presented in a written form (so the practice itself does not constitute the final output). Crispin argued that this paradigm ‘is more one of a fusion of artistic practice and research, leading to a third entity‘, in comparison to the UK model in which ‘the research retains its distinct identity as research‘ despite operating through the medium of practice, drawing upon concepts from Christopher Frayling’s influential essay 1993 essay ‘Research in art and design’.

Crispin, who has worked extensively at the centre of artistic research programmes in Ghent and Oslo, described how, when the field of artistic research was new, many sought a workable definition such as would facilitate the development of new work methods, courses and programmes and associated curricula, and could be used to validate new advanced degrees, in particular the PhD in artistic research. However, the co-existence of both the UK and continental models has created further complications and controversies, one response to which was the following 2015 statement from the Association Européenne des Conservatoires, Académies de Musique et Musikhochschulen (AEC):

‘Artistic Research shares with other research focussing its study on the arts the aim of promoting the understanding, and thereby the development, of artistic practice; however, it is distinctive in the emphasis it places upon the integral role of the artist in its research processes. Artistic practice is the source from which it draws its questions and also the target towards which it addresses its answers.’

But, as Crispin observed, this statement, attempting to satisfy multiple factions, is ultimately rather bland, and stronger choices need to be made, not least with respect to the thorny question of value of such research. The complexities of the issues has resulted in a relative slow pace of development of a critical framework which, Crispin maintained, requires something ‘couched in terms of words’. Those who believe that the research element is located in the art itself (I am one of those who believe it can be) must look for a critical framework in non-verbal terms, and so existing scholarly concepts of critically need to be rethought.

Crispin alluded to the classic ‘holy trinity’ (my term rather than hers) of criteria for scholarship and research: originality – rigour – significance. The most problematic of these for many existing forms of artistic creation is rigour, and so Crispin asked how artistic self-reflexivity might be rethought as conducive to such rigour, rather than antithetical to it, not least through a reappraisal of traditional scholarly distrust of subjectivity. With this in mind, she produced the following chart:

Crispin chart

Very loosely, Crispin asked whether the left hand column tended to represent ‘Art’, the right hand one ‘Research’? But she refined this so that items 1-3 and 5 in the left hand column, and 1-2 in the right hand one could be considered ‘Art & Research’, No. 4 in the left possibly ‘Art only’ and the remaining 3-5 in the right possibly ‘Research only’. I am less convinced that No. 3 of the latter is so far from a good deal of artistic creation, whether the contrast between the first items in either column really amount to more than a caricature of either field, or whether No. 2 in the left amounts to more than romantic mythologisation of the artistic process, and so on, but sometimes stark contrasts between polarised conceptions can be useful in order to dramatise fundamental issues. The chart certainly speaks to me in terms of (sometimes reified) conceptions I have encountered, as for example when I was once told by a senior academic that the real criterion for scholarship is that it is ‘objective’, as if this were such a clear-cut thing (this was from an individual working in a field which in general is characterised by a good deal of speculative hermeneutics, and relatively unsubstantiated assertions). Ultimately, the right hand column says more about what those who police scholarship use as criteria for dismissing it rather than revealing much about what actually constitutes the richest work.

Crispin argued that there was a requirement for ‘the further development of clear methodological frameworks within which subjective enquiry can be carried out’ (I could not agree more and would add that all types of research, not just ‘artistic’, need these). She presented an interesting and productive dichotomy between ‘untrained subjectivity’ and ‘expert subjectivity’, recognising that subjective reflection can nonetheless reflect wider expertise and training.

There are major implications, however, for the manifestations of such considerations in terms of the possibilities of healthy and robust academic debate. To embrace subjectivity means, according to Crispin, ‘to narrow the distance between what one says and who one is’. This brings with it major dangers, whereby the distinction between a legitimate scholarly critique and a personalised attack becomes unclear. I have noticed how many who insist on dramatising their subjective presence in their work – including those who preface every paper with some ‘statement of positionality’ or the like – are quick to use the fact of this blurring of boundaries to avoid actually engaging with the substance of a critique and simply cry foul.* Crispin noted the relative lack of ‘the internal cut-and-thrust of polemical debate’ within artistic research, and called for more informed criticism, which can only come from peers.

Is this likely to happen? Crispin did not answer this wholly unequivocally: she noted how artistic research has been as likely to absorb the worst as the best aspects of more long-established disciplines, but had the potential to shape itself as an arena for addressing fundamental questions of art, and could reach out to wider musical or music-making communities as a result. These are strong ideals, though there is a long way to go. A tendency on the part of some artistic researchers to pepper their writings with the maximum number of references to jargon taken from various vogueish intellectuals (at present, Alain Badiou and Bruno Latour are very much in fashion), not always in order either to clarify arguments, nor situate them meaningfully within a wider theoretical context, but simply to add a ‘scholarly’ aura often to writings in which the findings relating to artistic practice are relatively modest, hardly encourages engagement with such texts on the part of wider communities of musicians.

But artistic researchers depend primarily for their existence on winning favour and prestige within narrow academic communities, and convincing sceptics (sometimes including university bureaucrats with little investment in artistic disciplines at all) that they deserve recognition comparable to their colleagues in STEM and other fields. Crispin’s clear-sighted awareness of these continuing problems was made manifest in her final quote, from Elin Angelo; Øyvind Varkøy and Eva Georgii-Hemming, ‘Notions of Mandate, Knowledge and Research in Norwegian Classical Music Performance Studies’, Journal for Research in Arts and Sports Education Vol. 3, No. 1 (2019), pp. 78–100:

‘Overall, attitudes, hierarchies, positions, disciplines and profiles in performing programmes seem to be challenged by academisation processes.  This could be met by maintaining silence, or also by the will and interest to communicate and actively participate in dialogues.  ‘Publish or perish’ is a bad ideal for higher music education, unless one redefines what is meant by ‘publish’.  Unless classical performers engage in (verbal) discussions about who their peers should be and what norms classical music educators should follow, and why, then these judgments will be left to non-musicians.

A final conclusion in this article is, therefore, speak! Who is better qualified to say something about mandate, knowledge and research in and for higher music education than higher music educators themselves (teachers/leaders/researchers/students)?  Only by verbalising the challenges, inviting dialogue and questioning of the qualifications (or the lack thereof), might one facilitate the academisation processes to work for and not against higher music education.’

However, there is still a fair way to go in terms of combating anti-intellectualism on the part of many practical musicians (and indeed, some of the academics who idolise them) and the converse tendency of musicologists to pass judgement on musicians and others involved in the music business, but assume that no-one other than other academics are entitled to any judgement on them and their own work.


* A particularly egregious example of this was a comment from Georgina Born in a 2016 debate on music technology at my own institution, in which she insisted the critique by Björn Heile, in his 2004 essay ‘Darmstadt as Other: British and American Responses to Musical Modernism’ of her deeply problematic neo-liberal polemic Rationalising Culture: IRCAM, Boulez, and the Insitutionalization of the Musical Avant-Garde, could only be motivated by sexism. This article contained what was actually a relatively moderate critique on Heile’s part, focusing primarily on the fact that Born arrives at over-arching judgements on a whole body of musical work on the basis of reading associated statements rather than independent engagement with the sounding work.


Peter Tregear, ‘Telling Tales in (and out of) Music Schools’.

Perhaps the most hard-hitting and cogent paper in the session was the final one, by Peter Tregear, looking at fundamental questions of the role of empirical truth in musicology in the light of recent polemics. Tregear kindly provided me with an earlier, longer draft of his paper (which is currently under review for a special issue of Twentieth- Century Music edited by Wolfgang Marx, entitled ‘Music and Musicology in the Age of Post-Truth’, for publication in 2020) with important material I would like to reproduce here.

In this, Tregear recognised that the types of fact-finding and testing of propositions undertaken by musicologists are of a different nature to those of empirical scientists, while the traditionally important role of the untestable factor of aesthetic judgement takes the discipline away from empirical truth. However, he noted the now-familiar fact that ‘fake news’ and disinformation have come to undermine scientific findings when they better suit particular individual values or political agendas, and that a similar phenomenon is occurring in musicology:

‘It used to be considered a given of scholarly practice that when a musicologist proposed an idea it would be assessed primarily on the basis of the cogency, originality and rigour of the arguments that support it. The broader community of scholars would then assess the underlying validity of an argument by scrutinising both its inherent reasoning and by comparing it against a body of pre-existing knowledge. To this end, musicological discourse has traditionally held itself to account in ways comparable to scientific practice despite the fact that the musicologist does not only deal with empirical facts. However, with theoretical buttressing from ideas such as postmodernism and deconstructionism, it is possible at the same time to profess a profound scepticism of the very idea of truth in scholarship.’

Examples of this given by Tregear include the way in which even to make reference to immanent musical qualities is frequently interpreted as an expression of social biases on the part of the musicologist (Tregear alluded to Pierre Bourdieu, but this position reminds me more of the various Soviet strictures on ‘formalism’ in music, culminating in the 1948 Zhdanov decree), or that all choices of areas of research and teaching are portrayed merely as a means for particular social forces to exercise and protect their power. Tregear recognised positive dimensions to this, in terms of the potential to engender proper debates about musical value, but also pointed out that this requires levels of intellectual rigour and breadth of perspective such as would enable ‘specifically musicological interests and concerts’ to rise above ‘the general din of today’s opinion-saturated, post-truth culture’. He noted the difficulties of this in a culture which distrusts ‘experts’,  as diagnosed in such books as Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason (New York: Pantheon, 2008), Tom Nichols’ The Death of Expertise (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017) and others. With this comes a situation in which sustained thought is overshadowed by comment, opinion, and ironic refusals to commit to anything, and culture becomes, in the words of political scientist Patrick Deenen, ‘synonymous with hedonic titillation, visceral crudeness, and distraction, all oriented toward promotion consumption, appetite, and detachment’.

Such a situation both threatens and conditions musicology in particular ways, according to Tregear. His diagnosis of particular outcomes included ‘The elevation of feeling over thinking‘, especially in autoethnographic writing (the subject of a further round-table in which I participated later the same day). Quoting Brydie-Leigh Bartleet and Carolyn Ellis (from the introduction to their Making Autoethnography Sing/Making Music Personal (Bowen Hills: Australian Academic Press, 2009)) on how autoethnography supposedly encourages the conveying of ‘the meanings of vibrant musical experiences evocatively’ rather than ‘dry descriptions’, Treager echoed some of Crispin’s comments about the dangers of over-elevation of subjective experience per se, in his observation that ‘It quickly becomes more important to declare how one feels, than to show why one thinsk something, about a musical proposition or musical work.’ All that really matters is the ‘authenticity’ of one’s personal experiences, and there is less incentive for musicologists to look beyond the limits of these (one might add that this sort of academic narcissism is the very converse of the type of multi-perspectival approach which is surely a necessary condition for any meaningful commitment to diversity). All that remains is personal taste, and any conflicts in this respect can be about to little more than the manifestation of institutional power structures. Any possibility of generating some larger communal identity for the purposes of solidarity is lost behind ‘a cloud of authorial subjectivities’.

Especially perceptive was Tregear’s concomitant observation that when the self is everything, then this leads to a devaluing and deskilling of music teaching and scholarship, the disappearance of any type of critical consensus for the evaluation of work, and of knowledge systems such as those provided by music theory and historical narratives. Even peer review becomes relatively meaningless. The situation he describes is depressingly familiar, though many of the claims made about power structures seem to little bother some of their strongest advocates when it comes to their own positions within such structures, and claims to expertise (I was reminded of the furious reactions on social media to the semi-serious conclusion to my contribution to the 2016 debate ‘Are we all ethnomusicologists now?’)** Tregear was adamant of the vital role of universities in bolstering and defending ‘the possibility of objective truth’ (though it was clear this was conceived in a more contingent manner than that to which I alluded earlier), promoting and disseminating public knowledge rather than merely lived experience.

The second aspect of Tregear’s diagnosis, ‘An increasing aversion to the principles of scholarly writing‘, brought in the principal object of his critique, the book Just Vibrations: The Purpose of Sounding Good (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2016) (available to read in full online for free here), essentially an attack on the bulk of musicological writing. Cheng is a one-time pianist who now primarily writes ludomusicology (the study of music for video games). I will return to Tregear’s critique of Just Vibrations presently. Tregear cited as one sign of the breakdown of the scholarly values in musicology was the growth in APA (‘Harvard style’) referencing , enabling academics to present ideas as if they were established facts, in the manner of scientific discoveries (I have noticed how often Edward Said’s highly contentious and widely contested arguments, especially in Orientalism, are regularly used by new musicologists and ethnomusicologists in this respect – ‘We know (Said 1978) that Western writers portray the ‘Orient’ in order to exercise their power and domination over colonial subjects’, etc.). Tregear noted an acerbic critique of this from Russell Smith (‘Let’s stop pretending academic artspeak reflects actual research’, The Globe and Mail, 31 October 2017).

The third point of Tregear’s critique was ‘An over concern for utility‘, whereby musicologists are instructed by Cheng to direct their work towards specific social goals or goods (a simple rehash of very old utilitarian arguments which have traditionally been used to undermine academic autonomy, or those in music from the advocates of Gebrauchsmusik, and then the similar doctrines as enforced in fascist and communist regimes). Tregear asked who should determine what the appropriate types of goals or good should be, and continued (in a somewhat Adornian fashion) to note how this approach could not but help but shut out any sort of reasoned dissent. Cheng’s prognosis would lead to the situation in which institutions commission academics to write supposedly authoritative scholarly histories of themselves, but with the clear understanding that these must not highlight some of such institutions’ more unsavoury elements (this has been a major consideration in ‘official’ histories of institutions in post-1945 Germany which were also active prior to 1945, or in musical institutions with dark histories of abuse and bullying, all of who require Persilschein).

Following this, Tregear alluded briefly to the ‘grievance studies hoax’ carried out Helen Pluckrose, James A. Lindsay and Peter Boghossian, in which seven fabricated papers (one of them a rewriting of a chapter from Mein Kampf) were accepted by major academic journals. Tregear suggested that this happened primarily because such papers appealed to a sense of righteousness, and particular identity groups, and this type of authority took priority over any other form of reasoning or observation. Personal biases, once viewed as something to guard against and if necessary correct, have become a reigning scholarly principle. With the eschewal of any attempt at disinterest, what remains, according to Tregear, is what literary scholar David Palumbo-Lui calls (in the context of modern languages) ‘a morbid constellation of egotism, arrogance, self-enclosure, and normalized self-interest’, and also, as identified by Richard Arum and Josipa Roska, limited skills encountered in students in terms of analytical thought, reasoning and written expression. This situation will surely be familiar to many, and is sometimes replicated and perpetuated by other academics who were themselves schooled in institutions which devalued these types of qualities.

In the version of the paper presented at the RMA, Tregear began by paying tribute to Tamara Levitz’s keynote lecture the previous day, ‘Free Speech and Academic Freedom’ and her worries about the ‘implications for musicology of the age of democracy’s demise’, feeling his own work dealt with similar themes. Then he moved straight to Cheng’s book, placing this in the context of ‘a renewed identity crisis in musicology’, and noting Cheng’s claim the discipline might ‘renegotiate the means and purposes of careful labor, intellectual inquiry, and living soundly’. Tregear noted the primarily favourable reception this book has received, even in a mildly critical review-article by Kate Guthrie (‘Why we Can’t All Just Get Along’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, vol. 143 (2018), pp. 473-482), and attributed its impact to a variety of factors: the authors association with influential US professional musicological networks, the decision of the publishers to make it available to read for free online, but also ‘its self-declared progressive and confessional style’, leading it to win the Philip Brett Award of the American Musicological Society in 2016.***

To Tregear, Cheng’s book, while rightly encouraging a broader consideration of what and who musicology is for, also ‘gives us a clear warning as to what is also now at stake’. Some of this was simply through over-reaching, as in the exaggerated claim that a ‘musicological ear’ could add depth to the analysis of the use of a siren sound to close a TV episode. But Tregear was also sceptical of Cheng’s definition of musicology as ‘all the activities, care, and caregiving of people who identify as members of the musicological community…’, believing that this makes the crisis of identity in musicology all the more acute.

Tregear did not deny the value of musicology which entailed advocacy, and noted how this was unavoidable in his own work on music history in Weimar Germany. At the same time, he recognised that his own training led him to attempt to identify particularly bias, and how this might distort research (and, by implication, one should try to correct this). He cited American Social Psychologist Lee Jussim and others’ pertinent observations on how when we are ‘motivated by high moral principles, such as combating global warming, or advancing egalitarianism, such motivations may lead to practices that threaten [research] integrity.’ (Lee Jussim, Jarret T. Crawford, Sean T. Stevens, Stephanie M. Anglin, and Jose L. Duarte, ‘Can High Moral Purposes Undermine Scientific Integrity?’, in The Social Psychology of Morality eds. Joseph P. Forgas, Lee Jussim, Paul A.M. Van Lange (London: Routledge, 2016), 190). Ultimately, Tregear believed that the scholarly nature of musicological research is the source of its ethical import, the detachment this requires making it possible to relate findings to the work of other scholars, wider bodies of knowledge, and society-at-large.

But in contrast to this, Cheng’s view is that most of the traditions of scholarly writing are simply designed to ‘impress people, win arguments, and elevate one’s status’, drawing upon the concept of ‘paranoid reading’ from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (in her Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), an arch-example of the sort of tendencies identified in the longer version of Tregear’s paper). Against Cheng’s dismissive evocation of how musicologists are ‘trained to write in a manner that preemptively repels potential knocks against their work’, Tregear asked whether this wasn’t the precise thing which enables good academic writing ‘to justify its claim to be taken seriously as a public utterance’, rather than ‘a mere assertion of the taste, desires, beliefs, or caprice of the researcher’. The musicologist generates trust from their reader by justifying their claims on the basis of reasoned propositions or facts.

Cheng writes disparagingly about ‘aesthetic autonomy’, ‘academic freedom’, recommendations of ‘Let music be music’ or ‘Let scholars be scholars’, which all allegedly displace attention ‘from the role musicologists ought to be playing as “care givers and social agents”‘. I see no place for scholarly values of any type here, only political judgement on the part of Cheng (one wonders why he is particularly concerned about owning a university position, rather than working as a political activist?) Tregear presented the danger of a priori political values overriding other scholarly ones through the 2000 libel case launched by writer and holocaust denier David Irving against historian Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books. In the words of chief expert witnesses, Professor Richard J. Evans (whose expert report can be read here, an essential read for all concerned about questions of historical truth; a shorter version is to be found in Evans’ book Telling Lies about Hitler: The Holocaust, Hitler and the David Irving Trial (London: Verso, 2002)), the trial was about the ‘very creation of historical knowledge from the remains the past has left behind’. Whereas earlier commentators had often sought to dismiss Irving’s work on the basis of his politics, and others of a mainstream conservative position but little specific expertise in his area had erred to believing it had some historical value despite the politics, Evans’ approach to the texts was relentlessly forensic, involving fact-checking and various other types of scrutiny, revealing how Irving distorted sources, ignored them when they did not suit his purposes, read them deliberately out of context, or applied wildly different standards to different types of sources, for example requiring the highest standards of corroboration for anything said by Churchill, while taking Hitler’s words at face value. As Tregear put it, Evans was able to defeat Irving’s misreadings of the past (and his investigation has probably done far more to discredit Irving’s propaganda than anyone else had managed) ‘by being – indeed – rigorously paranoid‘.

Tregear charged that Cheng’s demands can lead to scholarly outcomes which are neither progressive nor innovative, because the lack of the traditional disciplinary tools and types of discourse undermine the rhetorical and moral authority of musicology (I suspect one reason Cheng is unable to see this has much to do with a in-group, out-group attitude which precludes any real constructive debate with anyone who does not already agree with him on the matters he believes to be important). Furthermore, when ‘research’ becomes overtly about advocacy, the systems of disciplinary accountability and peer review become relatively meaningless, and the result truly would be ‘a jostling for power and patronage’.

With this in mind, Tregear argued that musicology also needs ‘to undertake a serious system examination of the impact on musicology itself of the changing institutional context in which scholars like Cheng are flourishing’. He noted the damning findings of a 2017 University and College Union (UK) report (‘Academic Freedom in the UK: Legal and Normative Protection in a Comparative Context’) that despite the purported norms of academic freedom, the commonplace reality is one of ‘bullying, psychological pressure and self-censorship’, with university managements employing administrative tools, metrics, research exercises, student evaluations, and so on. The claim that empowering students to make consumer choices would, according to the UK Department of Education, ‘shine a light on poor quality teaching and ensure standards are driven upwards’ leads to the situation, as diagnosed by Nichols, by which ‘the layperson becomes accustomed to judging the expert’. Managers and administrators now call the shots, and require loyalty to them (and, I would add, often the uncollegiate requirement of loyalty to a specific institution and its own staff over and above any working elsewhere) over any loyalty to values immanent to a particular discipline. The following quote from Nichols, cited by Tregear in the longer version of his paper, is especially pertinent:

‘Emotion is an unassailable defence against expertise, a moat of anger and resentment in which reason and knowledge quickly drown. And when students learn that emotion trumps everything else, it is a lesson they will take with them for the rest of their lives.’

The important conclusion derived from this by Tregear in the longer paper is of an unholy alliance between ‘self-oriented’ scholarship, and the demands of managerial cultures in universities, citing the following chart from Marc A. Edwards and Siddharta Roy (in ‘Academic Research in the 21st Century: Maintaining Scientific Integrity in a Climate of Perverse Incentives and Hypercompetition’, Environmental Engineering Science, vol. 34, no. 1 (2017), pp. 51-61), demonstrating the pervasiveness of corporate language and values:

Perverse Incentives in Academia

Tregear recognises that academic and institutional autonomy have never been, and likely would never be, completely pure and unmediated concepts, and also that disciplinary standards change over time, sometimes radically, but the nature of the types of change he was describing, as spearheaded by Cheng and others, have little to do with the very nature or requirements of the discipline of musicology. He attributed this to the failure of music academics to hold their own administrative leaderships to any kind of account (in fairness, I would say that many such academics are struggling with precarity and fear of losing their positions, and so are forced to operate in a dog-eat-dog academic climate of fear, though Tregear does allude to this), and the removal of democratic structures such as used to allow academics to elect their own Vice-Chancellors. In this sense, I would argue that Cheng and others are essentially providing a new spin upon corporate academic ideals. It is no coincidence that such a view finds most currency in the USA, where the corporatisation of academia may me more advanced than anywhere else in the Western world.

In conclusion, Tregear maintained the view that universities and disciplines such as musicology can still teach a capacity to make ‘rigorous, sustained, reflective, truth claims’, while recognising that he belongs to a group that have traditionally been the chief subjects and beneficiaries of such a thing, and also that the traditional tools of scholarship do not guarantee that the findings will transcend limitations of class, ethnic origin, or other identity groups. Nonetheless, he still argued that one should attempt to think beyond particular allegiances and identities, and institutions should seek to bolster and defend rational enquiry and the possibility of objective truth rather than narrow forms of knowing which rely primarily upon lived experience. Musicology is unlikely to effect serious social change, but can at least, according to Tregear, ‘help us develop and refine the kinds of thinking and hearing that can make us more valiant for the pursuit of truth’ in the world.


**This was the following:

‘I will end with a reapplication of Marcel Mauss to this field of ethnomusicology itself. Its participants offer up endorsements for the right theorists, the right canonised and revered ethnomusicologists, the right political outlook, generally that sort of ‘consumerist multiculturalism’ which accords well with modern neo-liberalism, to those who are in a position of power above them, and are rewarded for this through promotion and research grants in a process of exchange. Collegiate relationships within hierarchical academic structures are made possible through this process of reciprocity. This may be an unfair caricature, but no more so than many of the analyses in this body of work.’

It was not clear whether those ethnomusicologists fulminating about those on social media, often in an ad hominem manner, realised the point being made in re-applying the type of unsubstantiated allegations routinely made by them to other bodies of individuals to ethnomusicologists themselves.

***Philip Brett was another writer who wrote dismissively of musicology as being anything other than ‘cultural politics’, and the very concept of ‘scholarship’ (in ‘Round Table VIII: Cultural Politics’, Acta Musicologica, vol. 69, fasc. 1 (Jan-June 1997), pp. 45-52). He called musicology ‘not a happy word’ which ‘attempts to give a sort of academic legitimacy to an activity which goes on in most cultures – thinking, talking, and gossiping about music and judging it.’ (‘Are You Musical?’, The Musical Times, vol. 135, no. 1816 (June 1994), pp. 370-376). This may be an apt description of Brett’s own work, but not that of plenty of others, and I would find it difficult to set much scholarly value in a prize named after someone who did not believe in scholarship.



The questions demonstrated a clearly positive and supportive attitude towards the papers, perhaps with a greater degree of general consensus than many of us on the panel had imagined would be likely to be the case. Just one suggested that while it may be easy to present this type of ‘conservationist’ view at a conference like that, things might be different at that of the American Musicological Society (though the implication that this latter should be afforded some primacy needs questioning, unless one takes a Trumpian view of the axiomatic superior importance of anything taking place in the United States of America).

The then outgoing President of the Society for Music Analysis (trustees from which, of whom I am one, were well-represented amongst the audience for the session), Julian Horton, opined that ‘our discipline has lost its object’. Rebecca Herrisone, from the University of Manchester, asked the fair question of whether a simple need to gain and maintain students, in the face of an increasingly ruthless marketplace, might be driving deskilling. How departments can survive in such an academic climate, without joining in a ‘race to the bottom’, is one of the major challenges today, though ome can cynically appropriate this situation to legitimise the sorts of dumbing-down they desire anyhow (not that Herrisone was remotely doing this). Roddy Hawkins, also from the University of Manchester, asked a question to Moreda Rodriguez relating to research-led teaching, the exact details of which I do not recall precisely. Another individual who I did not know wondered whether a renewed emphasis on notation would risk centering ‘the canon’ again at the expense of other composers, though did not necessarily give a reason why this would necessarily be a bad thing.

Nicholas Reyland (RNCM) asked us all what we believed to be the major threat to music education. Some responses to this were a little muted, though Moreda Rodriguez made clear that she believed the main danger was the loss of any common ground, vocabulary and set of references with which musicologists could talk to each other. I myself opined at this point that to me the primary danger was that it would simply become subsumed within other disciplines and cease to exist in its own right, and that this was a danger of an excessive focus upon interdisciplinarity, in which music and musicology are invariably the junior partners.

One of the 2019 RMA keynote speakers, Tamara Levitz, was especially positive about the session, and mentioned some of her own strong reservations about the work of Cheng, which has had a relatively unquestioning acceptance in much of the US (and in many reviews in academic journals other than that of Peter Tregear). There was also a productive exchange between Levitz and Powell on the role of theory in teaching.

Knowing of Levitz’s own pathbreaking work on the teaching of Busoni and the ideas of the Junge Klassizität in early Weimar Germany, and also of the related work by others on the panel (Tregear and I have worked extensively on this area, while Powell and Crispin have written on composers active during this time, and Moreda Rodriguez’s work deals with a similar historical period) I raised the question of whether attacks in recent decades on musical autonomy are really so new, considering how widespread similar positions were in Weimar Germany (from Ernst Krenek, Kurt Weill, Hans-Heinz Stuckenschmidt, Hanns Eisler, Heinrich Besseler and others, and fuelling the movements of Neue Sachlichkeit and Gebrauchsmusik). This generated further discussion which continued outside of the forum. There is always room for scepticism about any movements in academia, art or elsewhere which claim that their work constitutes a thoroughgoing break with practically all that has gone before, and makes claims for originality without necessarily sufficient historical knowledge to be in a position to make such claims, and the new musicology is no different in this respect.


Some Thoughts from the Session

As convenor and chair, I was extremely pleased with the session and the responses. Every speaker presented original, measured, but cogent arguments, unafraid to challenge some of the most malign tendencies in our discipline, even when propagated by individuals with significant institutional power. The seemingly less contentious thoughts of Crispin on subjectivity and the ways in which academics might engage with this while upholding scholarly values, took on a different flavour in contrast to the ideas of William Cheng as presented and critiqued by Tregear. Cheng’s position is not particularly new, just more explicit in its overt dismissal of scholarly truth than most of its postmodern predecessors. I take a somewhat more benevolent view towards the possibility of autoethnographic writing than Tregear, believing in the possibility of generating genuinely new knowledge through critical self-reflection on one’s own work and experiences, but nonetheless certainly recognise the self-obsessed type of writing which he identifies as laying claim to this concept.

Moreda Rodriguez’s paper was also sharp in many of its findings, not least the extent to which some of those laying claim to the rhetoric of the ‘global’ continue, say, to identify the whole of the ‘Americas’ with the United States, thus perpetuating an arch-imperialist view. But her paper and Powell’s may have contained some of the most positive messages for ways forward, in her case recognising the value of attempts to draw the boundaries of music history more broadly than hitherto. But at the same time, she does not underestimate the scale of this task, and notes the huge limitations of superficial work in this respect, especially that which appropriates such an important area of study in order simply to make petty virtue-signalling points about ‘West versus the rest’, and in the process practically ignore hugely influential (in a global sense) developments just because they happen to have occurred in the West.

Tregear’s paper entailed the most far-reaching critique of contemporary musicology or indeed wider academia. I would like to extend his points relating to the overlap between advocates of a self-focused approach to academic writing and the priorities of university managements. But I believe the neo-liberal meeting of minds goes further, in areas of musicology and cultural studies in particular. There is a long and distinguished tradition (coming from such distinct thinkers as Walter Lippmann, Theodor Adorno, Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, Richard Hofstadter, Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman, Jim McGuigan, Greg Philo and Naomi Klein; but in diametric opposition to cultural populists such as Stuart Hall, Dick Hebdige, John Fiske or Andrew Ross) which maintains that the meanings of culture and media and their effects upon consciousness are not always determined wholly by the immediate cultural producers (in the sense of the artists) nor by the recipients (listeners, viewers, readers, etc.) but can also reflect and propagate other priorities and agendas determined by the powerful industries behind such culture. It would be surprising if this were not the case, considering the vast sums of money such industries spend on marketing, market research, advertising, focus groups, and so on, or if this did not have some impact upon a wider cultural sphere, including that which is less big business. But this view is hard to square with the uncritical adulation of popular culture (and often, by extension, the ultra-commercialised sphere in which much of it exists), and the belief that such culture empowers both musicians and listeners (in contrast to much maligned ‘high culture’, the alleged hierarchies and hegemonic values of which are dissolved in a culture operating first and foremost in the marketplace). In the work of Susan McClary or Georgina Born, and their countless acolytes in academia, a ‘romancing of the marketplace’ has become so commonplace that it can be viewed as highly contentious even to question it. The links between this world view and the agenda of the neo-liberal university, equally concerned to portray the market as an empowering force, could at best be described as naive, at worst as wholly cynical.

Powell’s identification of the important distinction between semiotics and communication theory was new to me, and explains a good deal. His advocacy of a combination of semiotics/topics with reflective hermeneutics is extremely promising, as is his insistence on a properly dialectical rather than narrowly hierarchical approach to the relationship between different parameters within a film. It is disappointing, even shocking, to hear some of the outright misrepresentations and uninformed claims he identifies, not to mention the simplistic and often didactic strictures, but I know these are far from atypical, especially in popular and film music studies. Why is there such a cavalier disregard for basic factual accuracy or fair representation of sources? I believe this has something to do with a beleaguered and automatically defensive reaction on the part of members of certain sub-disciplines, believing their field to be disrespected but then acting in such a way as to make this into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On the other hand, one might argue that there is a simpler explanation of why various others are hostile to fact-checking, scrutiny of arguments or any of the other processes which are used to discern the distinction between scholarly and other forms of writing. As I argued in a paper over a decade ago, and will return to in a future article, the renditions of the work of Carl Dahlhaus in particular by McClary, who lends her endorsement to Cheng’s book, entail a shocking number of flagrant misrepresentations, disregarding of material which does not suit her prior arguments, quoting out of context, and so on. While the stakes are obviously less serious than in the case of Irving, the scholarly practice is not much better. Only a few have been prepared to pursue such aspects of McClary’s work (one good example is Tim Carter’s ‘An American in…?’, Music & Letters, vol. 83, no. 2 (May 2002), pp. 274-8). Others simply reiterate her work without checking it against the sources it claims to represent, and – whether unwittingly or otherwise – help to consolidate such misrepresentations and render them ideology. This is the essence of how post-truth propaganda works, and it is disappointing to see this process prevalent in academia, and the ways in which it does indeed facilitate ascendancy within power structures. Only a properly ‘paranoid’ approach can serve as a corrective.

Without any conception of scholarly truth or value other than nebulous demands that work should do ‘social justice’, how is it ever possible that work can be marked, peer-reviewed or otherwise evaluated fairly by those adhering to the type of post-truth view expounded by Cheng and others (as found in some of Just Vibrations‘ more hagiographic reviews, such as that by Kyle Devine, writing in Music and Letters a large section of which was reproduced in one of the targets of Devine’s ire, the blog Slipped Disc, which ran a series of earlier blogs on Cheng’s book). Such processes may need be subject to vigorous scrutiny and if necessary appeal, because of the very real risk of censorship of all who do not adhere to a narrow political outlook. The grievance studies hoax is just the tip of the iceberg of a wider corrosion of academia, which is certainly not total (or else academics such as me, or the others in the panel, would not really be at liberty to critique it), but still a major force. It is also time to look at the working of academic power structures, as begun by Tregear, it to examine on what basis Cheng and others have been able to acquire institutional power, just as they malign others in this respect.

The reception of the book Rethinking Contemporary Musicology will be interesting to view, and is sure to include various significantly more negative responses than encountered in this forum. But, despite hearing privately a couple of rather petty responses which nitpicked a few small details rather than engage with the wider arguments, I was encouraged to find the number of people (as witnessed in subsequent discussions after the forum) who felt the importance of much of what was discussed, and indeed felt more at ease discussing such issues themselves as a result of this forum.


+ These and other issues are addressed in my three forthcoming essays ‘Ethnographic Approaches to the Study of Western Art Music: Questions of Context, Realism, Evidence, Description and Analysis’, and ‘When Ethnography becomes Hagiography: Uncritical Musical Perspectives’, both in Research and Writing about Contemporary Art and Artists, edited Christopher Wiley and Ian Pace (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2020), and ‘The Ethnomusicology of Western Art Music: Territorial and Methodological Concerts’, in Rethinking Contemporary Musicology.

Some thoughts on classical vs. popular music from pianist Peter Donohoe

The pianist Peter Donohoe recently posted an interesting piece of text on social media, in response to a question posed on Quora: ‘Is classical music truly “superior” to the popular music of any era? And, if so, why is it?’. There has been many a debate within musicological circles on this issue, not least as relate to the shaping of curricula for music education. In Anglophone musicology, it is very rare to find many scholars who would argue for any primary importance for classical music, with the result often being that it is becoming increasingly marginalised in a good deal of institutions. Those who have read this blog will know this is not a situation I favour, and have posted various things relating to the subject: see for example this set of responses to a radio talk given by Simon Zagorski-Thomas on a related subject, also another set of responses to an article by Stella Duffy on the arts, elitism and community (and this follow-up), not to mention the debate on teaching musical notation in schools following an article by Charlotte C. Gill. I have also posted some related articles on musical canons, and this on deskilling in musical education.

The dominant ideologies within academia are by no means necessarily shared more widely in the musical world – indeed can be quite antagonistic. I believe it is very important to encourage a wider discourse, involving many who care about music, on these subjects, and so with permission I am posting Donohoe’s text here, and also part of a response of my own drawing on a paper I gave on a few occasions in 2018 in musicological populism.

I welcome further responses from any angle (but would request that people refrain from any personalised insults or abuse towards others, and just address the arguments).


The following is Donohoe’s response:

This is a reply to recent tweet asking me my opinion of this: The tweeter in question asks: ‘Could it just be an era thing?’

It is only related to the era in that the determination with which the mediocre seeks to defeat the excellent is gaining ground.

However good pop music is – I include all the other brackets such as rock, country, blues, etc – by the side of the best classical music, it is always primarily commercialised, it is always primarily aimed at a majority audience, it is always the product of less skill on the part of both performer and listener, and it is always short-lived – even 40 years, as in the lasting effect of The Beatles is nothing compared to the greatest classical music. Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, and The Beatles were all fantastic in their field, but not in the same field as the best classical music.

By what authority or standard of measurement is Jimi Hendrix the equal of Franz Liszt? The question also applies all the other absurd claims made in this piece. Dylan’s lyrics are more complex and deeper than the libretto of Mozart’s operas? The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds as complex as a Haydn string quartet? The Beatles were every bit as ground-breaking as Beethoven. Give me a break – this is utter twaddle and has no basis in analysis. And who said greatness equates to complexity?

Pop music does not need to be taught as it is at its best a reactive protest against the status quo – in which case if it becomes part of the status quo it has no function – and at its worst it has considerably less content than most nursery rhymes, no harmonic grammar, no sense of shape, form and no skill. That it can be better than that is undoubtedly true, and I have a deep affection for certain pieces of pop music from across the years of my life, but to suggest that it equates to the best classical music is ridiculous, pretentious, and to my mind makes a mockery of popular culture, and its position in society.


The following is part of my response:

The arguments above about popular music being commercialised (with which I agree) would certainly make a significant body of musicologists unhappy, and they try to deny, that there is any real alternative. For example:

‘Although we live in a commercially dominated culture, the music industry, despite its many faults, more closely approaches a meritocracy and offers opportunities to a wider spectrum of artists than any other form of support – certainly more than the patronage systems of old. Music by women can continue to flourish in the public sphere, but only so long as it manages to sell tickets and recordings: the unexpected success of the Lilth Fair concerts, featuring exclusively female artists, confirmed not only the artistry of the participating musicians but also the willingness of a mass audience to support their efforts.’

Susan McClary, ‘Women and Music on the Verge of the New Millenium’, Signs, vol. 25, no. 4 (Summer 2000), pp. 1285-6.


‘…the condemnation of fusion for its commercial success drastically underestimates the vitality, subtlety, and expressiveness of the pop traditions that influenced David. It is nothing more than an antipopulist chauvinism that turns from the unacceptable view that “what sells is good” to the opposite and likewise unacceptable view that “what sells must be bad.”

And finally the contrast of commercial fusion with noncommercial earlier jazz amounts to elitism pure and simple, to a snobbish distortion of history by jazz purists attempting to insulate their cherished classics from the messy marketplace in which culture has always been negotiated. Those who advocate such a view should reread Ralph Ellison’s review of Blues People, where he reminded Baraka that even Bird and the other early boppers, the ne plus ultra for many critics of esoteric jazz intellectualism, “were seeking . . . a fresh form of entertainment which would allow them their fair share of the entertainment market” (1978:59). Or, in a different connection, they should read recent nonhagiographical music histories that have Beethoven hawking the same opus to three different publishers, or Mozart conniving, with a sad lack of savvy, at one music-business killing or another. Music created with an eye to eternal genius and blind to the marketplace is a myth of European Romanticism sustained by its chief offspring, modernism.’

Gary Tomlinson, ‘Cultural Dialogics and Jazz: A White Historian signifies’, in Katherine Bergeron and Philip V. Bohlman (eds.), Disciplining Music: Musicology and its Canons (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. 82-3.

‘I’ve noticed that, when I go to conferences or similar events in continental Europe, people make the assumption that, because I’m interested in music, I must have an interest in and commitment to new music; that’s not an expectation about me in particular, but a taken-for-granted assumption about what it means to be seriously engaged in music. (In the UK or the USA, people make no such assumption.) [….] In my book, I referred briefly to critical theory in general and Adorno in particular, as a way of introducing one of the main intellectual strands of the ‘New’ musicology of the 1990s, but I made no direct link between Adorno’s critique and new music. In her commentary, Anne Boissière (2001, p. 32) picked this up, asking why I didn’t discuss ‘the problem of contemporary music which resists consumption’: instead, she complained, I made music sound as if it was just another commodity, and in this way passed up the opportunity to offer ‘a critical analysis of consumer society’. In which case, she asked, ‘what point is there in making reference to Adorno?’: if one’s critique isn’t motivated by moral or political commitment, as Adorno’s was, then what is there to it but nihilism?

Actually, the argument Boissière is putting forward here, and which other contributors also reflected, has a long and rather peculiar history. It originates in the conservative critique of the modern world—the attack on capitalism and consumerism that developed throughout the German-speaking countries in the 19th century (where it was associated with the nostalgic values of an idealised rural past), and fed ultimately into the Nazi creed of ‘blood and soil’; Adorno’s critical theory might accordingly be seen as appropriating a conservative tradition in order to attack the right-wing ideology of his own day.’

Nicholas Cook, ‘Writing on Music or Axes to Grind: road rage and musical community’, Music Education Research, vol. 5, no. 3 (November 2003), p. 257.

‘My contention is that petty capitalism – a term I take to encompass myriad small-scale form of entrepreneurial, commercial activity in culture – has been one of the key means by which progressive leftist, anti-racist, and resistant forms of culture, music, and art have been made possible: have been produced, circulated, and lived. It’s a despised category of economic activity and analysis, generally seen as collusive with capital, as politically irredeemable, an insignificant and ineffective in any meta-historical analysis. But with regard specifically to cultural activity it sits somewhere crucial between full-blown corporate capitalism and the quite different but just as marked forms of cultural, ideological, and aesthetic closure and policing that tend to characterize statist and other kinds of subsidized cultural institutions, whether in music, broadcasting or academia. I’ve researched statist cultural institutions rather deeply, as those who know my writings on IRCAM and the BBC will be aware. So my argument today is that while there is no necessary connection between progressive or politicized culture and these small-scale, entrepreneurial petty capitalist interventions – and in that sense there is no deterministic relation – there are, nonetheless, opportunities; they might be conceived as affordances or, better, in William Connolly’s fruitful phrase, indebted to complexity theory as pluri-potentialities. In terms of the possibility of new experimental, and alternative forms of production and circulation, informed by a politic of cultural production, we should be more aware of this category of activity and what it can achieve.’

Georgina Born, ‘On Music and Politics: Henry Cow, Avant-Gardism and its Discontents’, in Robert Adlington (ed.), Red Strains: Music and Communism Outside the Communist Bloc (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), p. 64.

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 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 [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.

A comprehensive and brilliant critique of Taruskin’s Oxford History of Western Music

Since its appearance in 2005, there have been more than a few words written about Richard Taruskin’s mammoth six-volume Oxford History of Western Music, likely to be a key text in music history for a long time. But not many of the reviews or other articles have looked in detail and critically at a good deal of Taruskin’s underlying assumptions, ideologies, exalted claims made for the work, hidden agendas, and so on. A few that have would include Gary Tomlinson, ‘Monumental Musicology’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association , Vol. 132, Part 2 (2007), pp . 349-374, and also, interestingly, Susan McClary, ‘The World According to Taruskin’, Music and Letters, Vol. 87, No. 3 (2006), pp. 408-415; there is also a blog created by grad students Mark Samples and Zach Wallmark dealing with their reading through the whole work here.

A new article which does indeed do these things has been placed on the online Search magazine, by composer and cellist Franklin Cox. It can be read here – 

I would really welcome all comments and thoughts emerging from this article, as part of a wider discussion of music history and historiography.