Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Bizet Catalogue

Washington University in St. Louis and the distinguished 19th-century music historian Hugh Macdonald have announced the online publication of the first comprehensive Bizet Catalogue, HERE. The project was designed, from the outset, as a website, allowing corrections, revisions, and updating as they become necessary. It was developed and is managed by the Humanities Digital Workshop at Washington University and deposited at the university's Olin Library.

This is primarily a list of Bizet's works, providing essential information about the history and content of each one. It gives information on manuscript and printed sources, on documentary materials relating to the composition, performance and publication of each work, and is intended to provide a full historical documentation of Bizet's work as composer and transcriber.

Some samples:
The Catalogue appears near-concurrently with Macdonald's new life-and-works, Bizet (Oxford UP, 2014), for the Master Musicians series, where it supersedes its long-standard predecessor by Winton Dean (1975).

Hugh Macdonald is best known as General Editor of the New Berlioz Edition and editor of Les Troyens (1969), Béatrice et Bénédict (1980), and Benvenuto Cellini (1994ff.); the edition concluded more or less on schedule, with the last volume to appear (21: Miscellaneous Works and Index) dated 2005. After appointments at Cambridge and Oxford, Macdonald was named Gardiner Professor of Music at Glasgow University in 1980, where he remained until 1987, when he was appointed Avis Blewett Professor of Music at Washington University in St. Louis. The Macdonalds now reside in Norwich, England.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Echoes: the Meeting in Milwaukee

In early November musicologists and theorists converged on Milwaukee from all over North America (and not a few points more distant still: Europe, China, Australia, Indonesia ...  ) for the joint annual meetings of the American Musicological Society and Society for Music Theory. On October 30, just as folks were packing their bags, a naughty column on the program for Milwaukee appeared in the Montreal Gazette HERE (if you must). It was answered on November 4, stirringly, in our view, by a graduate student from McGill, Daniel Donnelly, in the blog School of Doubt under the title “What about the Beethovenz?” HERE. We repost Donnelly's essay in full just below.

In point of fact the subject matter addressed in the papers, the Q&A, study groups formal and informal, and the staggeringly weighty displays of recent books left precious few stones unturned. (The coveted Kinkeldey Prize went to a book on Mozart, Scott Burnahm's Mozart's Grace, Princeton UP, 2013). More from Milwaukee in later posts.
Meanwhile, the best line, we thought, came in Margot Fassler's plenary address on Hildegarde of Bingen: see the caption.

Pope Gregory dictating Gregorian chant
The First Tweet

Dan Donnelly writes:

I love going to conferences. It’s probably my favourite part of being an academic because it’s one of those very few opportunities you get to be surrounded by people who are not only excited about your discipline, but who are truly in a position to be excited about your scholarship. It can be even more exciting when your institution sends a particularly large contingent to a major conference, since you get to feel like part of an important group of people who are making real progress in your field.
This year, my doctoral institution has the honour of sending the largest group of scholars to the biggest conference in my field. It’s a gratifying feeling, or at least it was until the local know-nothing music critic wrote a long op-ed in the paper decrying the state of the field.

You see, he’s mad that contemporary musicology isn’t engaging in enough hero-worship of the “great masters,” thanks to an ever-broadening focus on musics of different times, places, and communities.

What a scandal!

Suffice to say, I was pretty annoyed. So annoyed, even, that I wrote the paper’s editors a letter. Since they’ve not seen fit to print it, I’ve decided to share it here for all of you.

To the Editors of the Gazette:

We were disappointed–if not especially surprised–to see Arthur Kaptainis’s decidedly anti-intellectual take on this year’s joint meeting of the American Musicological Society and Society for Music Theory (AMS/SMT) appear in your publication. Mr. Kaptainis has never been particularly amenable to the idea that academics might have interesting things to say about music that he doesn’t personally find important or culturally worthy of study (viz. his recent conniption over the publication of a collection of scholarly essays on Lady Gaga [ed. note: both this article and a lovely response to it by McGill Professor David Brackett have since been removed from their website]), and it’s unfortunate that this year’s programme seems to have upset him so greatly.

Let us first assuage his fears: the study of the classical canon Mr. Kaptainis admires with such ardour is not going anywhere. Many of us, in fact, teach that repertoire every day and love it deeply. It is also—and let this point be emphasized—plainly absurd to draw sweeping conclusions about the state of contemporary musicology based on whether or not certain composers’ names appear in a Ctrl+F search of a conference programme. Mr. Kaptainis can rest assured that the old standbys will be receiving plenty of attention at the meeting this year, just as they always have and will continue to do for the foreseeable future.

That said, we have trouble determining exactly why Mr. Kaptainis should view the growth of the professional study of music to include new times, places, and cultural perspectives as such a negative development. What makes it so deserving of his utter disdain? Is it really his belief that only the works of a few long-dead German men are “great” enough to deserve professional scholarly consideration? Are the notes on the page so much more valuable to us as musicians and lovers of music than the “eddies of social meaning that swirl around” them? Is it even possible to disentangle them in the first place?

It may well be that Mr. Kaptainis’s dismay derives from some fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of academic conferences. This is a condition for which he might be forgiven, having as he does a background in journalistic criticism rather than scholarship. To clarify: the purpose of a meeting such as the AMS/SMT is not to pass judgment on the relative sublimity or ticket-worthiness of the MSO’s latest rendition of a Beethoven symphony, nor is it to gush with pathos for poor Cio-Cio-san as she meets her sorry fate for the thousandth time. Rather, it is to present new research to our peers, and in so doing push up against the boundaries of our current understanding of the culture, practice, and creation of that mysterious and wonderful, deeply and integrally human thing we call music.

It should come as little surprise, then, that Mr. Kaptainis’s cursory googling of a few presentation titles did not prove especially enlightening for him: original research is, basically by definition, new. It’s not even permitted on Wikipedia! And yes, the professional study of music, like every other academic discipline, can sometimes involve the kind of jargon that limits its accessibility for the general public. But again, the AMS/SMT meeting is a not a public venue; it is intended for scholarly exchange among academic practitioners. Anyone interested in what it is that we do is encouraged to seek out the many public talks, pre-concert lectures, videos, articles, and blog posts that we produce in order to share our passion for music with the public at large.

Lastly, we would like to remind Mr. Kaptainis that graduate students and independent scholars are in fact professional researchers, and deserve to be afforded the same courtesies as full-time university faculty. This includes, perhaps more than anything else, the right to be properly cited in public discussions of their work.

Here are, for the record, some of the researchers whose work Mr. Kaptainis discussed and/or disparaged anonymously in his article: Samuel Dwinell (Cornell), Angeline Van Evera (Vienna, VA), Anne Searcy (Harvard), Jacob Walls (U. Oregon), Mimi Haddon (McGill), and Dan Donnelly (McGill).

To prevent future misunderstandings about the content of individual scholars’ presentations, we also invite Mr. Kaptainis to actually read the (freely available) abstracts on the conference website. Doing so might well spare him from further confusion, not to mention save him the work of googling all those terms he does not understand. Failing that, he is always welcome to ask us any remaining questions about our work directly. Answering questions about music is, after all, our job.
No office hours this week, though—we’ll be in Milwaukee.

Yours on behalf of McGill’s AMS/SMT contingent,

Dan Donnelly
Doctoral Cand. in Musicology
McGill University

Daniel Donnelly will, a few hours after this posting appears, be able to append the letters Ph.D. to his bona fides. His dissertation for McGill is titled “Cantar a la venessiana”: Venetian-language polyphony in the secondo cinquecento.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bogus Bach Theory Gets Media Singing

The story of a wife’s neglected genius finds a willing audience,
despite a nearly total lack of evidence

by Tim Cavanaugh

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tombeau de Rameau

by Gina Rivera

NOTE: This is the first of two reflections on the Rameau year 2014.

What could anyone possibly say to a composer dead some 250 years? Two international delegations have convened in 2014 to honor the music and life of Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683–1764): first during a conference in Paris in March, then for an extended weekend of lectures and recitals at the University of Oxford in early September. Many performances and many insightful utterances later, the delegates of these two Rameau anniversary fêtes nevertheless failed to do one thing: they did not address Rameau directly—“head on,” as the poststructuralist philosopher Jacques Derrida would say. Not once did a recitalist pause to greet Rameau by name. Not once did any author of any recited paper pause to thank Rameau for whatever it is that we find so compelling as to inspire celebratory conferences, tributes, periodical volumes, and new musical recordings. I’m of the mind that only one thing remains to be said to a distant, departed composer. And it’s not “thanks,” “congratulations,” or any other pleasantry.

Paris Opéra
This is the only word I know how to say to Rameau: adieu. I do not bid farewell to Rameau in sorrow—as though he were very recently deceased—because he died 250 years ago this September. And with few exceptions he is more or less forgotten. Instead, I say adieu out of a spirit of responsibility. I want to shed light on how the expressive music of Rameau has touched my sensibilities, even as it escapes me—even as it remains altogether removed from my own cultural and historical experience. Thus the most important thing I can say to him is: adieu. Adieu, Rameau.

This is what resonates with my adieu: first of all, the discours uttered by the physician Hugues Maret (1726–86) and soon after published under the aegis of the Académie des Sciences, Arts et Belles-Lettres de Dijon.<1> Maret introduced his elegy with great hesitation, first explaining the several encomia to Rameau that had preceded his own: printed notices had appeared in the Mercure de France as well as in the annually published Calendrier des Deuils de Cour well before he raised his voice to describe the departed composer.<2> And he struggled to maintain his composure, especially in light of the outpouring of praise for the late Rameau by the young musician Michel Paul Guy de Chabanon (1730–92).<3> Maret writes:
Following on the heels of such an Elegy, it would have been rash on my part to raise my voice to speak on the same subject, even if I had been able to do so within the honorable boundaries of my appointed Place. Forced by the circumstances to undertake such an Enterprise, I had no choice but to pursue the very details that might better shed light on this great Artist that France has lost (p. ii).
Maret's remarks remain true to form as a tribute to a departed son of the state: to a man of France and above all to a great musician. He praises Rameau as an associate of the Dijon academy and as a purveyor of the expressive art of music. The address proceeds through a lengthy accounting of the biographical details of the Rameau family, the early musical education of Jean-Philippe, the years during which the young man toiled as chapel organist and aspiring academic researcher, and finally his adult successes as an author of musical theories and as mastermind of musical productions for the Parisian lyric stage. Maret speaks to the skill with which Rameau enriched the repertory of the Opéra (p. 31). Then he offers an adieu to Rameau that resonates now, so many years later, when he calls for a statue:
Gentlemen, these aspirations of mine are nevertheless legitimate, & I can only hope that we might follow the example of Athens & Rome by erecting statues of all of the greatest Frenchmen. ... If our country boasts its having birthed Saumaise, Bossuet, Bouhier, Lamonoie, Crebillon, and Rameau; if it still counts among its golden children the Buffons & the Pirons & several others distinguished by talent or wit; then is there any reason to doubt what great effects a patriotic statue gallery would produce on our youth? ... The magnificence of these erected exemplars would surely touch us deeply in France (p. 41).
He says goodbye to the expressive, creative mind of Rameau and but hello to the possibility that a new expressive eloquence might continue to live in the form of a national monument.
The persuasive eloquence of these statues, although mute, would infallibly encourage among us the development of other talents, thereby maximizing our hopes of glory. ... The value of the proposal I have in mind would assure my successors of the satisfaction of gazing upon our Compatriots with as much justice as I hope to render unto them in expressing the sentiments of esteem & admiration that I know Rameau has inspired in you (p. 41).
He stresses the prospect of erecting a monument that moves: a statue that inspires even though it utters no words. By concluding his elegy in this way, the physician bids adieu to Rameau by acknowledging in plain terms both what has died and what might continue to live. This gesture persists in elegies even today. It persists in my own adieu to Rameau, so many years after his likeness was frozen in celebratory marble in the city of Dijon and in the galleries of the Paris Opéra. My words are as dead as the silent Rameau. And yet they cry out to a body of music that continues to sound, and to make the name Rameau resonate.

Bust by Jean-Jacques Caffieri, 1760
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon

My goodbye to Rameau thus connects to the spirit of solemn farewells from well after the eighteenth century. In its own way, it evokes the same sentiment expressed by Derrida (1930–2004) after the death of Emmanuel Levinas (1906–95) in 1995. At that time, he examined the ethical underpinnings of the philosophy of the late Levinas by asking, “What happens when a great thinker falls silent?”  Derrida meditates on death as an ultimate silence: a gaping non-response.
What happens when a great thinker becomes silent, one whom we knew living, whom we read and reread, and also heard, one from whom we were still awaiting a response, as if such a response would help us not only to think otherwise but also to read what we thought we had already read under his signature, a response that held everything in reserve, and so much more than what we thought we had already recognized there?<4>
The silence described here figures as the quietude of non-response and as the stillness of the expressionless deceased. The deceased becomes not unlike the statue, living only as a frozen face, a figural reminder. Before his own death, Levinas elaborated on the peculiar silence of the dead. Speaking of death as a masque, he explained the unresponsive subject as an individual whose capacity for expression had frozen.<5> Bereft of movement, the face remains cold, still, and lifeless. The subject no longer communicates to us with expressive gestures, postures, or music. The face can no more come alive. It is a masque, a flat slate, a monument.

And, Levinas observes, the deceased, no longer able to express himself, is no longer entrusted to a living companion. When Levinas describes the politics of relationship among living subjects, he speaks of conviviality and entrustment, saying “The Other who expresses himself is entrusted to me [m’être confié] and “The Other individuates in me the responsibility I have for him.”<6> This is a kind of ethics of survival, wherein the Other who dies affects very deeply the identity of a responsible, individual survivor. “The death of the Other who dies affects me in my very identity as a responsible me [moi].” Any survivor who confronts the death of a friend confronts the very notion of relationship to death. Being affected by the death of an Other amounts to a radical confrontation with the individual relationship to dying.
My being affected by the death of the other is precisely that, my relation with his death. It is, in my relation, my deference to someone who no longer responds, already a culpability—the culpability of the survivor. [This] being affected by death is affectivity [l’affectation], passivity, a being affected by the nonpresent, more intimate than any intimacy, to the point of fission. The human esse, or existing, is not a conatus but a disinterestedness and adieu (Levinas, p. 15).

Dijon: Grand Théâtre
The adieu described by Levinas functions as a key component of the fabric of survival. In order to live in deep, productive, and emotional relationship to Others—to live en rapport à l’autre—an individual must constantly remind himself of the emotional relationship to the death of the other. Maret might have expressed it in this way: a statue of Rameau would remind me both of his passing and of my living.

A statue to which I say adieu—frozen monument to the dead Rameau—allows me to approach yet another component of the teaching of Levinas. When I witness the statuesque deceased, I apprehend the moral and physical weight of this other human being. I experience what Levinas calls the condition of being in respect [à l’égard] to everything that exists because of being through respect [par égard] for everything that exists.<7> The imaginary statue at the heart of Maret’s elegy represents a desire to allow the death of Rameau to make better, more respectful citizens out of those who remain alive.

Yet how can I be satisfied by saying adieu, adieu, adieu to a statue, to a masque mute these 250 years? I believe the seeds of my satisfaction are scattered among French philosophies of love instead of those of death. Consider the ways in which the non-response of death—the sans-réponse described by Levinas and then by Derrida—connects to the observations on love and loss that Roland Barthes (1915–1980) published at the end of the very same decade, under the title Fragments d’un discours amoureux (1977).
“This is what death is, most of all: everything that has been seen, will have been seen for nothing. Mourning over what we have perceived.” In those brief moments when I speak for nothing, it is as if I were dying. For the loved one becomes a leaden figure, a dream creature who does not speak, and silence, in dreams, is death. Or again: the gratifying Mother shows me the Mirror, the Image, and says to me: “That’s you.” But the silent Mother does not tell me what I am: I am no longer established, I drift painfully, without existence.<8>
The answer to how I might be satisfied by such abject, unmoored meditation is contained within the fabric of my existence as a survivor. When I apprehend the silence of the dead Rameau, I acknowledge—just as Maret did—the passing of the deceased into the corpus of statuesque spirits: spiritualized statues who seem to live, though they remain dead. Barthes describes the richest aspects of this kind of remembering as a kind of rapturous anamnesis: a remembering that is equal parts reductive and resplendent.
One day, I shall recall the scene, I shall lose myself in the past. The amorous scene, like the first ravishment, consists only of after-the-fact manipulations: this is anamnesis, which recovers only insignificant features in no way dramatic, as if I remembered time itself and only time: it is a fragrance without support, a texture of memory; something like pure expenditure. … This theater of time is the very contrary of the search for lost time; for I remember pathetically, punctually, and not philosophically, discursively: I remember in order to be unhappy/happy—not in order to understand (Barthes, 217).

I can be satisfied with my adieu to Rameau only insofar as I remain able to acknowledge what happens when I say adieu. I bid a farewell akin to Maret’s farewell, and to to Derrida’s farewell to Levinas. I meditate upon a statuesque Rameau who cannot speak. I remember the deceased Rameau when his music resonates in my living ears. I remember Rameau when his name resonates in my mouth. But I never necessarily remember Rameau in order to understand him. The only circumstance that I can plainly comprehend is this one: that Rameau the living musician is long dead, never to be understood by me.

Gina Rivera is an Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at the Penn Humanities Forum at the University of Pennsylvania. She completed the PhD in musicology at Harvard University in 2013, with a dissertation on early modern female performers at the Opéra in Paris. She holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in violin performance from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she played on both baroque and modern instruments.

1. ELOGE HISTORIQUE DE MR. RAMEAU, Compositeur de la Musique du Cabinet du Roi, Associé de l’Académie des Sciences, Arts & Belles-Lettres de Dijon. Lu à la Séance publique de l’Académie, le 25 Août 1765, par M. MARET, D. M. Secretaire Perpétuel (Dijon: Causse, 1766), 64.

2. ESSAI d’Eloge historique de feu M. RAMEAU, Compositeur de la Musique du Cabinet du Roi, Pensionnaire de SA MAJESTÉ & de l’Académie Royale de Musique in the MERCURE DE FRANCE, / DÉDIÉ AU ROI. / OCTOBRE 1764. / PREMIER VOLUME (Paris: Duchesne, 1764), 182. See also LE NÉCROLOGUE DES HOMMES CÉLEBRES DE FRANCE, / PAR UNE SOCIÉTÉ DE GENS DE LETTRES. / ANNÉE 1765 (Maestricht: Dufour, 1775), 39.

3. ÉLOGE DE M. Rameau, Par M. CHABANON, De l’Académie Royale des Inscriptions & Belles-Lettres (Paris: Lambert, 1764).

4. Jacques Derrida, Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michale Naas, (Stanford UP, 1999), 9.

5. Emmanuel Levinas, “What do we know of Death?—Friday, November 14, 1975,” in God, Death, and Time, trans. Bettina Bergo, ed. Jacques Rolland (Stanford UP, 2000), 14.

6. Ibid., p. 12.

7. Levinas, “Freedom and Responsibility”—Friday, February 27, 1976,” in God, Death, and Time, p. 176.

8. Transl. Richard Howard, as A Lover's Discourse (Hill and Wang, 1978), 168.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

New Perspectives on the Germania Musical Society

NOTE: “‘A program not greatly to their credit’: Finding New Perspectives on the Germania Musical Society through the American Memory Sheet Music Collection” was the title of Nancy Newman's Library of Congress lecture on 22 April 2014, cosponsored by the American Musicological Society.

The Germania Musical Society formed an important link in the evolving relationship between art and popular music in nineteenth-century American life. As a touring ensemble, the orchestra offered about nine hundred concerts to nearly one million listeners from 1848 to 1854. Long acknowledged for their frequent performances of Beethoven’s symphonies, Mendelssohn’s overtures, and the introduction of Wagner’s music to the U.S., the Germanians’ repertory included lighter genres such as waltzes and polkas, many written by the orchestra members themselves. However, it was virtually impossible to gauge the quantity or significance of these pieces until they were available in online databases such as the Library of Congress American Memory digital history project.

My presentation discussed the full range of the Germanians’ programs and their performances with virtuosi such as Jenny Lind, Ole Bull, and Alfred Jaëll. Their 'mixed repertory' concerts were typical of the 'social orchestras' that arose during the 1840s on both sides of the Atlantic. My analysis of more than 250 programs, culled from broadsides and serials, shows how the Germanians carefully calibrated their offerings to emerging local needs and taste in the towns they visited, with audiences eventually numbering in the thousands.

Online and on-site sheet music collections reveal about three hundred titles associated with the Germanians and published as piano arrangements for domestic use. Nearly one-third of these compositions are held by the LC Music Division. Particular pieces illuminate the orchestra’s history, such as conductor Carl Lenschow’s 'Betty Polka,' written for Zachary Taylor’s inauguration, and 'Uncle Ned' Quickstep, based on Stephen Foster’s minstrel tune. Many pieces by Carl Bergmann (later conductor of the New York Philharmonic) were associated with Newport, Rhode Island, where they spent summers. Far from being a less creditable feature of their programs, the Germanians embraced such “modern” compositions for their ability to reach a broad public, contributing to the orchestra’s success and the flourishing of public concerts generally.

Nancy Newman is Associate Professor of Musicology at University at Albany, SUNY. Her book Good Music for a Free People: The Germania Musical Society in Nineteenth-Century America, was published by University of Rochester Press in 2010.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Schenker Documents Online

General Editors: Ian Bent, William Drabkin

by Ian Bent

Within Schenker’s vast Nachlass is a mass of documentation that reveals his “human” side, neglected by scholars for half a century after his death in 1935: his private life, his psychology, his interactions with other people.  These documents chart the long-term growth of his theoretical ideas, the genesis and development of each individual work, published and unpublished, his day-to-day mode of working, his internal thoughts, and all his dealings with the outside world, personal and commercial.

The aim of Schenker Documents Online (SDO) is to publish this material in its entirety in German and in English translation, with detailed critical notes and commentary, and make it available free of charge to all on the web.  A large amount is already accessible at the main website, and more is presented on an older site, the contents of which are being ported across to the main site.

At the heart of this personal corpus lies his diary, 4,000 pages spanning his entire 40-year professional career and preserved at the University of California, Riverside, which record (among other things) progress on current projects, the stages of publication, the letters he sent and received, his impressions of plays, concerts and radio programs, his reaction to newsworthy events and political developments, his purchases of household items, books and clothing, and (increasingly) his health.

Schenker conducted a vigorous correspondence with probably close-on a thousand people and organizations.  Of this, over 7,000 items survive with some 400 correspondents, preserved in many collections in the U.S., Austria, Germany, Holland and elsewhere, with new finds still turning up.  A major part of this comprises correspondence with his publishers, a very significant part that with his pupils and close professional friends;  but there are letters to and from family members, and communications with educational institutions, commercial companies, and individuals.

For the years 1912 to 1931 he kept meticulous records of the private lessons that he gave to all his pupils.  These detail works studied, theoretical topics covered, performance practice issues and source studies engaged in, and analyses carried out.  They are preserved in the New York Public Library.

In addition to edited documents, SDO also has its own internal “dictionary” of people, places, and institutions.  Called “profiles,” these can be linked direct from the documents, and can themselves link to other documents and profiles.

SDO has an editorial team of about 20 scholars working (unremunerated) in the U.S.A., the U.K., Austria, and Germany, and a team of technical experts.  It is currently run under the auspices of the University for Music and the Performing Arts in Vienna in collaboration with the Music Department of the University of Southampton and the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London.  It gratefully acknowledges funding from the Leverhulme Trust, the U. K. Arts & Humanities Research Council, the Austrian Science Fund, and the research funds of Music Analysis and Music and Letters.

Ian Bent is Professor of Music, emeritus, at Columbia University and Honorary Professor of the History of Music Theory at Cambridge. He is the general editor of the Cambridge Studies in Music Theory and Analysis series. Columbia website HERE.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

On Copland, Beyoncé, and the Question of Musical Politics

by Annegret Fauser

Seventy years ago today, Aaron Copland and Martha Graham’s ballet, Appalachian Spring, had its premiere at the Coolidge Auditorium of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. As I am currently writing a book about this fascinating work, I had planned on preparing a contribution to Musicology Now celebrating the anniversary by taking us back to the United States at the end of World War II and by exploring the ramifications of the premiere’s historical in-between moment for the reception and reading of the work.

But instead, my thoughts are circling back to my beautiful visit to Carleton College earlier this month, where I spoke about Appalachian Spring, and to the discussions following a presentation I gave there on this topic. I had framed my talk at the College within the larger question of music’s associations with politics—broadly conceived—moving from such Coplandiana as the music for Governor Rick Perry’s infamous 2011 campaign advertisement to more recent events that related music and politics, in particular Beyoncé’s performance at the MTV Video Music Awards on August 24, 2014 (cuepoint 10'20"). Here, Beyoncé added eye-catching visuals to her performance of “Flawless,” a song that samples lines from the TED talk “We Should All Be Feminists” by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and is itself remix of sorts of “Bow Down” from early 2013. “Flawless” had already garnered discussion about Beyoncé’s feminism when it was released in December last year, but neither the track nor the official music video rendered Adichie’s words as visible as the MTV/VMA performance, which projected them in huge letters above and behind the musicians.

This performance was a political act. Despite the celebratory articles in the national press, however, an underlying current of comments worried whether it was an empty gesture by a celebrity, and one out of place in an MTV performance. How appropriate was such a political claim in a musical context, and in a commercial pop-music event at that? The question of Beyoncé’s musical and performative feminism bubbled up again a month later, after Emma Watson’s beautiful United Nations speech on September 20. Within hours after Watson’s speech, her demure poise and expressive clarity were held up as an example on how to do feminism right in such tweets as “Well done, Emma Watson. THAT is feminism (watch and learn, Beyoncé),” or “That’s feminism. . . . Not a neon sign and spandex.” It seems to me that not only is this kind of patronizing comparison utterly racist by invoking cultural tropes of racialized intellectual ownership, but it also speaks to the tightly circumscribed roles we accord to musicians in our world right now. It implies that a musical performance cannot—and should not—lay claim to serious political issues in the case of a female pop star who performs race and sexuality in multiple complex ways.

Had my Carleton story stopped here, this blog would still be about Copland alone (though I will return to Appalachian Spring in a bit). But the day after my presentation and discussion with students, I went to Convocation at Carleton College’s Skinner Memorial Chapel, where the poet and feminist activist Daisy Hernandez spoke about “Feminism, Sofia Vergara, and Writing about Familia: A Talk on Media Representations.” It was a moving and engaging presentation. In the Q&A, however, one of the students who had been at my lecture asked about Beyoncé and how Hernandez would see her contribution to feminism, given the controversy over her and Watson. Nimbly sidestepping any discussion of feminism in relation to musical composition and performance, Hernandez instead celebrated as feminist achievement Beyoncé’s commercial success as a businesswoman—just as, in her presentation, Sofia Vergara’s business acumen had been framed as the reason why the actress deserved our serious attention. Given capitalism’s inherent patriarchal structure, such slippage is troubling from a feminist perspective. Feminist critique, I had hoped, would question the masculinist hegemony of capitalism rather than embrace it by handing the primacy of social empowerment over to capital while relegating cultural expression into the realm of the ineffable—a surprising strategy for a politically engaged poet who, in her presentation, had spoken so eloquently about the power of words as cultural agents. Whether intended by Hernandez or not, her answer depoliticized (and feminized) music and its performance and, instead, located political meaning and value in a neoliberal construction of masculinist economics.

Hernandez’s neoliberal framing of Beyoncé seems like a strange echo of the France Musique website dedicated to Aaron Copland, where its comments show traces of Adorno-inspired marxism. I am reading this website as a culmination of decades of Copland reception during which the composer was increasingly represented as apolitical—most famously in the United States Information Agency (USIA) documentary, Copland Portrait, in 1976—until his musical idiom could stand for “America” however conceived, whether in terms of party politics or as a stand-in for the nation abroad. The biographical note on Copland on the France Musique site casts Copland as an audience-pleaser, a familiar way to feminize an artist in the world of Western music. But it gets worse: the text implies that he did so for financial gain as well, putting him perilously close to the nadir of artistic prostitution. His ballets—the paragraph ends—left him a “multimillionaire by the time of his death.” This is a scarcely veiled indictment of America as a place where business trumps everything else, an old chestnut of French anti-Americanism.

However the economic success of a musician might be constructed in a particular discourse network—positively by Hernandez for her American audience, and negatively by France Musique for its French readers—there seems to be a curious transnational agreement that music pleasing its audiences, or worse, targeting a particular market, is suspect when it lays claim also to a radical political message. There is no need for Jed Perls’s New Republic piece that crows “Liberals Are Killing Art,” and for whom true art is “unfettered metaphor and mystery and magic” transcending politics through its beauty. This kind of depoliticization of music is deeply engrained in our culture—even where liberals are concerned—when art does not follow the rather narrow ideology of what is allowed to be political, and what not. On the seventieth birthday of Appalachian Spring—a profoundly political piece, whose entanglement within historical and political contexts has been shown by colleagues ranging from Howard Pollack and Elizabeth Crist to Nadine Hubbs, Emily Abrams Ansari, and Alex Ross—it is perhaps useful to reflect on why we, as a listening collective, still refuse to take music seriously as a self-conscious expression of politics when it does not conform to what we consider political art. Appalachian Spring ensounded, and ensounds, concerns about war, nation, and personal identities. Likewise, a glitteringly spandex-clad and sexually affirmative performer can be, and is, a powerful musical voice for feminism. I would like to think that Copland, a musician invested in musical politics in all its ramifications, would have applauded Beyoncé’s performance and forgive me for transforming a birthday post on Appalachian Spring into a call to celebrate the potentially empowering politics of audience-pleasing music not despite its mainstream appeal but because of it.

Annegret Fauser is Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Music and Adjunct Professor of Women's and Gender Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is a past editor of the Journal of the American Musicological Society, and the most recent of her several books is Sounds of War: Music in the United States during World War II (Oxford UP, 2013). Website and video HERE.