Sunday, April 19, 2015

Brahms, Clara, and Op. 78.

by Paul Berry
NOTE: The following excerpt from Brahms Among Friends (Oxford UP, 2014) treats the Violin Sonata, op. 78, and its connections with Clara Schumann and the death of her son Felix. Opus 78 is sometimes called the “Rain Song Sonata” for its allusions to Brahms's Lieder “Regenlied” and “Nachklang,” from op. 59. Brahms Among Friends is no. 12 of AMS Studies, a series undertaken by the society in 2002 (see all titles HERE).

Felix Schumann
(1854-79)
Correspondence shows that Brahms might well have considered the sonata's overarching trajectory a direct complement to [Clara's] current mood. Two letters addressed to him survive from the months between Felix's death and the release of the complete work in manuscript form. Both conveyed clear evidence of ongoing sorrow, along with direct attempts to resist depression. May of 1879 found Clara guardedly optimistic, at least insofar as she was willing to admit to Brahms: “I often feel the clouds draw near my spirit, but they do not burst—I am constantly on the lookout.” The following month brought a return to darker ruminations. The immediate trigger was a depressing report concerning her eldest son, Ludwig, whom she had committed to a mental institution nine years prior, but her youngest still weighed heavily on her mind as well. She compared the two explicitly in a letter dated June 21: “Such a poor, miserable man lives on now, and the other, the intellectually gifted, to whom life stood open with all its attractions, dies. Why?” Within days of receiving Clara's brutally honest question, Brahms mailed her the complete version of the violin sonata. At the time, any new opus would surely have provided a welcome distraction regardless of genre, form, or mood. Given its allusive gestures and the curve of its unfolding, however, this particular work could also stir up and redirect the emotions of the moment in specific and positive ways. Like the allusive songs that Brahms had fashioned for Clara earlier in the 1870s, Op. 78 ultimately offered equipment for living as well as grist for performance or contemplation For a mind and body properly attuned to their appeal, musical structure and extramusical correlates could redirect the melancholic cast of present circumstances in the service of pleasure, closure, or—at the very least—change.

Clara Schumann in 1878
Such change might have touched Clara without her conscious effort or awareness. Particularly in a piece of instrumental music, the playing of her piano allowed her to imagine and enact complex adjustments in attitude without cataloguing their effects or relating them explicitly to the contours of her emotional life. By the same token, if she did perceive intentional connections between Brahms's music and her own recent bereavement, those connections may well have manifested themselves to her in ways incompatible with verbal description. Her initial written responses to the sonata stressed her own inability to explain how and why the piece had moved her so deeply. “My pen is poor, but my heart beats toward you”—“Many may perhaps understand better how to speak of it, but no one can experience it more than I.” Yet Clara's attempts to describe the ineffable also preserve hints that the finale had indeed struck her as transformative in relatively concrete ways. Not only did the last movement receive the lion's share of commentary in her letters; her descriptions of the borrowing from Regenlied and Nachklang signaled subtle but important shifts in her attitude toward the songs themselves. Already in her first response to Op. 78, she claimed: “I don't believe that one person perceives that melody as blissfully and melancholically [wonnig und wehmutsvoll] as I.” In previous correspondence the songs had always been associated unequivocally with sadness, but now an alliteratively paired opposite softened her characterization, balancing the emotional toll of nostalgia against the rewards of imagined contact with the past.

One can only assume that the delicately uplifting close of the finale had helped to alter Clara's stance. Within a few weeks, she went on to single out these measures as the pinnacle of the work as a whole, the apex of its affective arc. Her second response to the piece was dominated by the final, major-mode version of the borrowed song incipit—“the climax of the first melody in the last movement, where it comes back for the last time and rolls back and forth, melancholically, yearning!” Her enthusiasm was not confined to July 1879. To the contrary, the passage remained the focal point for future interactions with the sonata. Perhaps the most tantalizing of these came more than a decade later. In a letter dated June 16, 1890, she told Brahms of a recent performance of Op. 78 at her home in Frankfurt: “Joachim was with us on the 8th (Robert's 80th birthday), for two days we played a great deal, once more the Rain Songs sonata, which I reveled in again—I always wish that last movement for myself at the passage from here to eternity.” In the aging pianist's imaginary, the end of the movement eventually became a bridge to the infinite, its plagal benediction and bittersweet thematic transformation carefully positioned as the final sensory experiences of her own life. Her letter therefore drew together and recombined a complex of extramusical connotations analogous to those Brahms might have planned or predicted when he first sent her the completed sonata: the approach of death, the memory of a departed male relative, and the gradual achievement of a broader perspective on loss and the passage of time. At least in retrospect, Op. 78 had fulfilled its potential as an agency of consolation and transformation.

Paul Berry is Assistant Professor of Music History (Adjunct) at the Yale School of Music. A historian of 19th-century chamber music and song, he received his BA and PhD from Yale University and has served on the faculty of the University of North Texas College of Music. Among his awards is a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is also a active as a tenor, specializing in early music, German Lieder, and new compositions.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Lilacs

Library of Congress
1
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

2
O powerful western fallen star!
O shades of night—O moody, tearful night!
O great star disappear’d—O the black murk that hides the star!
O cruel hands that hold me powerless—O helpless soul of me!
O harsh surrounding cloud that will not free my soul.

3
In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash’d palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.

4
In the swamp in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary the thrush,
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.

Song of the bleeding throat,
Death’s outlet song of life, (for well dear brother I know,
If thou wast not granted to sing thou would’st surely die.)

5
Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities,
Amid lanes and through old woods, where lately the violets peep’d from the ground, spotting the gray debris,
Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes, passing the endless grass,
Passing the yellow-spear’d wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprisen,
Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards,
Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave,
Night and day journeys a coffin.

6
Coffin that passes through lanes and streets,
Through day and night with the great cloud darkening the land,
With the pomp of the inloop’d flags with the cities draped in black,
With the show of the States themselves as of crape-veil’d women standing,
With processions long and winding and the flambeaus of the night,
With the countless torches lit, with the silent sea of faces and the unbared heads,
With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces,
With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn,
With all the mournful voices of the dirges pour’d around the coffin,
The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—where amid these you journey,
With the tolling tolling bells’ perpetual clang,
Here, coffin that slowly passes,
I give you my sprig of lilac.

7
(Nor for you, for one alone,
Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring,
For fresh as the morning, thus would I chant a song for you O sane and sacred death.

All over bouquets of roses,
O death, I cover you over with roses and early lilies,
But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first,
Copious I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes,
With loaded arms I come, pouring for you,
For you and the coffins all of you O death.)

8
O western orb sailing the heaven,
Now I know what you must have meant as a month since I walk’d,
As I walk’d in silence the transparent shadowy night,
As I saw you had something to tell as you bent to me night after night,
As you droop’d from the sky low down as if to my side, (while the other stars all look’d on,)
As we wander’d together the solemn night, (for something I know not what kept me from sleep,)
As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west how full you were of woe,
As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze in the cool transparent night,
As I watch’d where you pass’d and was lost in the netherward black of the night,
As my soul in its trouble dissatisfied sank, as where you sad orb,
Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone.

9
Sing on there in the swamp,
O singer bashful and tender, I hear your notes, I hear your call,
I hear, I come presently, I understand you,
But a moment I linger, for the lustrous star has detain’d me,
The star my departing comrade holds and detains me.

10
O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved?
And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone?
And what shall my perfume be for the grave of him I love?

Sea-winds blown from east and west,
Blown from the Eastern sea and blown from the Western sea, till there on the prairies meeting,
These and with these and the breath of my chant,
I’ll perfume the grave of him I love.

11
O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls,
To adorn the burial-house of him I love?

Pictures of growing spring and farms and homes,
With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright,
With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air,
With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific,
In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there,
With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows,
And the city at hand with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys,
And all the scenes of life and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning.

12
Lo, body and soul—this land,
My own Manhattan with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships,
The varied and ample land, the South and the North in the light, Ohio’s shores and flashing Missouri,
And ever the far-spreading prairies cover’d with grass and corn.

Lo, the most excellent sun so calm and haughty,
The violet and purple morn with just-felt breezes,
The gentle soft-born measureless light,
The miracle spreading bathing all, the fulfill’d noon,
The coming eve delicious, the welcome night and the stars,
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.

13
Sing on, sing on you gray-brown bird,
Sing from the swamps, the recesses, pour your chant from the bushes,
Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.

Sing on dearest brother, warble your reedy song,
Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.

O liquid and free and tender!
O wild and loose to my soul—O wondrous singer!
You only I hear—yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart,)
Yet the lilac with mastering odor holds me.

14
Now while I sat in the day and look’d forth,
In the close of the day with its light and the fields of spring, and the farmers preparing their crops,
In the large unconscious scenery of my land with its lakes and forests,
In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb’d winds and the storms,)
Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the voices of children and women,
The many-moving sea-tides, and I saw the ships how they sail’d,
And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labor,
And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages,
And the streets how their throbbings throbb’d, and the cities pent—lo, then and there,
Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail,
And I knew death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars and ghostly pines so still.

And the singer so shy to the rest receiv’d me,
The gray-brown bird I know receiv’d us comrades three,
And he sang the carol of death, and a verse for him I love.

From deep secluded recesses,
From the fragrant cedars and the ghostly pines so still,
Came the carol of the bird.

And the charm of the carol rapt me,
As I held as if by their hands my comrades in the night,
And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird.

Come lovely and soothing death,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each,
Sooner or later delicate death.

Prais’d be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,
And for love, sweet love—but praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death.

Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all,
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly.

Approach strong deliveress,
When it is so, when thou hast taken them I joyously sing the dead,
Lost in the loving floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss O death.

From me to thee glad serenades,
Dances for thee I propose saluting thee, adornments and feastings for thee,
And the sights of the open landscape and the high-spread sky are fitting,
And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night.

The night in silence under many a star,
The ocean shore and the husky whispering wave whose voice I know,
And the soul turning to thee O vast and well-veil’d death,
And the body gratefully nestling close to thee.

Over the tree-tops I float thee a song,
Over the rising and sinking waves, over the myriad fields and the prairies wide,
Over the dense-pack’d cities all and the teeming wharves and ways,
I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee O death.

15
To the tally of my soul,
Loud and strong kept up the gray-brown bird,
With pure deliberate notes spreading filling the night.

Loud in the pines and cedars dim,
Clear in the freshness moist and the swamp-perfume,
And I with my comrades there in the night.

While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed,
As to long panoramas of visions.

And I saw askant the armies,
I saw as in noiseless dreams hundreds of battle-flags,
Borne through the smoke of the battles and pierc’d with missiles I saw them,
And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody,
And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,)
And the staffs all splinter’d and broken.

I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them,
I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
But I saw they were not as was thought,
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffer’d not,
The living remain’d and suffer’d, the mother suffer’d,
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffer’d,
And the armies that remain’d suffer’d.

16
Passing the visions, passing the night,
Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades’ hands,
Passing the song of the hermit bird and the tallying song of my soul,
Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying ever-altering song,
As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night,
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy,
Covering the earth and filling the spread of the heaven,
As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses,
Passing, I leave thee lilac with heart-shaped leaves,
I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring.

I cease from my song for thee,
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous with silver face in the night.

Yet each to keep and all, retrievements out of the night,
The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird,
And the tallying chant, the echo arous’d in my soul,
With the lustrous and drooping star with the countenance full of woe,
With the holders holding my hand nearing the call of the bird,
Comrades mine and I in the midst, and their memory ever to keep, for the dead I loved so well,
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands—and this for his dear sake,
Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.

                                                                                    —WALT WHITMAN

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Carla Zecher Named Executive Director,
Renaissance Society of America

Carla Zecher, a member of the American Musicological Society, has been named Executive Director of the Renaissance Society of America effective July 2015. She is presently Director of the Center for Renaissance Studies and Curator of Music at the Newberry Library in Chicago.

A specialist in 16th- and early 17th-century French writing about music (poetry, travel narratives) and iconography, she is author of Sounding Objects: Musical Instruments, Poetry, and Art in Renaissance France (University of Toronto Press, 2007) and of a forthcoming monograph on music and travel in the Levant, 15001700. She has served as director of numerous projects and initiatives, presently including two major grants from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in the field of French paleography.

Zecher holds bachelor's degrees in organ performance and French from Oberlin College, a diplôme supérieur in clavecin from the Strasbourg Conservatoire, and the Ph.D. in French from Duke.

“The RSA,” she writes, “is presently almost twice the size of the AMS, at  some 6,000 members. About 1/3 of the RSA membership is international. Roughly half the membership attends the annual conference each year, which I'm told is a good percentage. In 2000, the RSA held its annual meeting in Europe for the first time, and has continued to have a European meeting every fifth year. The European members appreciate this, and the North American members also look forward to the opportunity to visit European cities. So far these have been Florence, Cambridge (UK), Venice, and Berlin. So I think of both societies as being in the mid-range of scholarly societies as far as size is concerned. Not huge like the MLA and AHA, but significant on the national and international scene. I'm very fond of the AMS and of its director, Bob Judd, and will doubtless be calling there for advice often in the months and years to come.”

Past presidents of the RSA include three prominent musicologists: Jessie Ann Owens (2004–06) Howard M. Brown (1990), and Gustave Reese (1971–72).

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ruth Tatlow on Mrs. Bach

What seems to us (and many others) a cogent and measured assessment by Ruth Tatlow of the Mrs Bach brouhaha (see Tim Cavanaugh's essay, our post of 13 November 2014) appears in no. 10 of the online journal Understanding Bach, published just now. It's a must-read, handsomely presented and with facsimiles of the manuscripts in question.

“A Missed Opportunity: Reflections on Written by Mrs Bach

Tatlow appears briefly in the film.

Ruth Tatlow

photo: Klas Palm
Understanding Bach is the web journal of Bach Network UK, founded in 2004 by the musicologists John Butt, Reinhard Strohm, and Ruth Tatlow. It has appeared annually since 2006. The Bach Network also sponsors annual Dialogue Meetings; in even-numbered years these are a constituent of the International Conference on Baroque Music (ICBM).

Ruth Tatlow is an independent scholar currently based at Statens Musikverk (Swedish Performing Arts Agency) on a project funded by the Swedish Research Council. She teaches musicology at Musikskolan Lilla Akademien in Stockholm and was recently visiting professor at the Eastman School of Music. After a brief career as the prize-winning clarinettist Ruth Ballard, she took degrees in musicology and then theory and analysis at King's College, London (Ph.D. 1987). Between 1999 and 2003 she was research consultant to John Eliot Gardiner during the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage. Tatlow is author of Bach and the Riddle of the Number Alphabet< (Cambridge UP, 1991) and Bach's Numbers: Compositional Proportion and Significance (Cambridge UP, 2015). Statens Musikverk feature HERE; Academia.edu profile HERE; Festival O/Modernt bio HERE.

Friday, April 10, 2015

JAMS 68/1: Spring 2015

Volume 68, no. 1, of the Journal of the American Musicological Society—or JAMS, as it is familiarly known—is now live online. All of the articles contain embedded multimedia.

Subscriptions to the Journal of the American Musicological Society are included with AMS membership; the online version is available through JSTOR.

Here is the table of contents of the new issue, followed by abstracts of the four articles.

Journal of the American Musicological Society

VOLUME 68 · NUMBER 1 · SPRING 2015

Articles
Fragments of an Eleventh-Century Beneventan Gradual
ALEJANDRO ENRIQUE PLANCHART

Staging Singing in the Theater of War (Berlin, 1805)
KATHERINE HAMBRIDGE

Carlos Chávez’s Polysemic Style: Constructing the National, Seeking the Cosmopolitan
LEONORA SAAVEDRA

Digital Analogies: The Keyboard as Field of Musical Play
ROGER MOSELEY

Reviews
Dramatic Expression in Rameau’s “tragédie en musique”:
Between Tradition and Enlightenment

by Cynthia Verba
OLIVIA BLOECHL

Body Knowledge: Performance, Intermediality, and American
Entertainment at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

by Mary Simonson
DAVINIA CADDY

MP3: The Meaning of a Format
by Jonathan Sterne

DANIEL VILLEGAS VÉLEZ

ABSTRACTS

Fragments of an Eleventh-Century Beneventan Gradual
ALEJANDRO ENRIQUE PLANCHART

This article describes and analyzes two leaves from a mid-eleventh-century Gradual that survive today in the Franciscan Library repository in Dublin’s Trinity College Library and in the Archivo Histórico Nacional in Madrid. The fragments contain parts of the masses for St. Lawrence and for St. Martin, including introit tropes, a number of prosulas for the alleluia, and the beginnings of the prose for each mass, in Beneventan script. Despite the small amount of music and text that survives, a collation with manuscripts from Benevento and Montecassino allows us to posit that the Gradual was copied probably at but not for Montecassino, that the context of some of the pieces as cited in the extended tonary in MC 318 points to the cathedral of Capua as the place for which the Gradual was copied, and that these two leaves are virtually the only surviving monument of the Capua liturgy in the eleventh century. A number of the prosulas are apparently unica, which adds considerably to our knowledge of the repertory of prosulas south of Rome. Moreover, the notation of the proses was clearly modeled on an exemplar written in a manner used virtually nowhere else in Europe outside St. Gall and Reichenau, indicating that in some cases the Notkerian canon reached southern Italy in versions unmediated by north Italian transmission. The concordance pattern of one of the proses also indicates apparently unmediated transmission of parts of the Beneventan repertory to southern France, confirming direct contacts between Aquitaine and Benevento that have hitherto been observed only in the transmission of Aquitanian material to Italy.

Alejandro Enrique Planchart is Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as well as a composer and conductor. He is issuing a new edition of the Opera Omnia of Guillaume Du Fay, to be published online by DIAMM, and his monograph Guillaume Du Fay will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2016. He is currently working on an edition of all the proses copied in Beneventan manuscripts, Beneventanum Prosarum Corpus.

Staging Singing in the Theater of War (Berlin, 1805)
KATHERINE HAMBRIDGE

Almost fifty years after the original event, Willibald Alexis’s historical novel Ruhe ist die erste Bürgerpflicht (1852) commemorated a musical performance that had taken place on October 16, 1805, at Berlin’s Nationaltheater. According to both Alexis’s reimagining and contemporary reports, after the closing “Reiterlied” of Schiller’s Wallensteins Lager a new war song was sung by audience and actors. The sensation this caused—in a city awaiting its troops’ departure for war against Napoleon—established Schiller’s play as a privileged site for political singing in Berlin and across German lands for the next decade. In this article, I account for this first occasion, its unusual press reception, and its influence by contextualizing it within a growing early nineteenth-century discourse on public communal singing, arguing that Berliners were self-consciously enacting French patriotic behaviors. As well as indicating longer-term continuities, I distinguish the political role attributed to war songs in this period from the more familiar Bildung-orientated discourse on choral singing and folk song. In contrast to established accounts that locate the emergence of popular political song in the volunteer movements of the Wars of Liberation and the national politics of the Burschenschaften and male-voice choirs, I suggest that these early performances show the official imposition of public political singing—as a kind of “defensive modernization”—in response to the Napoleonic threat. I thus revise our understanding of the establishment of singing as a modern political tool in German lands, and of the role of singing in the development of political agency and national sentiment more broadly.
Katherine Hambridge is a Research Fellow at the University of Warwick, where she is working on the AHRC-funded project “French Theatre of the Napoleonic Era.” She completed her PhD, “The Performance of History: Music, Politics and Identity in Berlin, 1800–1815,” at the University of Cambridge in 2013, and is now writing a book on music, theater, and genre on French and German stages under Napoleon I. She is also editor of the forthcoming collection of essays The Melodramatic Moment, 1790–1820.


Carlos Chávez’s Polysemic Style: Constructing the National, Seeking the Cosmopolitan
LEONORA SAAVEDRA

The critical discourse on Carlos Chávez’s music is full of contradictions regarding the presence within it of signifiers of the Mexican, the pre-Columbian, and the indigenous. Between 1918 and 1928 Chávez in fact developed, from stylistic preferences that appeared early in his compositions, a polysemic language that he could use equally well to address the very modern or the primitive, the pre-Columbian or the contemporary mestizo, in and only in those works in which he chose to do so. Chávez’s referents emerged in dialogue with the cultural and political contexts in which he worked, those of post-revolutionary Mexico and modern New York. But he was attracted above all to modernism and modernity, and was impacted by cosmopolitan forces at home and abroad. By the end of the decade he had earned a position within the modern musical field’s network of social relations, and had drawn the attention of agents of recognition such as Edgard Varèse, Paul Rosenfeld, Aaron Copland, and Henry Cowell. These composers and critics added Chávez’s constructed difference to their much-sought collective difference as Americans within a European art. Chávez’s own use of explicit Mexican referents in some of his works shaped the early reception of his music as quintessentially American/Mexican, eventually influencing the way we understand it today.

Leonora Saavedra is Associate Professor of Music at the University of California, Riverside, and at Mexico’s National Center for Music Research (CENIDIM). She is currently editing a book of essays entitled Carlos Chávez and His World (Princeton University Press, forthcoming in 2015) and is Scholar in Residence at the Bard Music Festival for 2015. Her book Constructions of the Self in the Mexican Musical Imaginary is under contract with Oxford University Press.

Digital Analogies: The Keyboard as Field of Musical Play
ROGER MOSELEY

Relating evidence from the mythological to the contemporary in both historical and media-archaeological registers, this article explores how techniques of sonic generation and representation shuttled between what might be defined as digital and analog domains long before the terms acquired their present meanings—and became locked in a binary opposition—over the latter half of the twentieth century. It proposes that such techniques be conceptualized via the “digital analogy,” a critical strategy that accounts for the nesting of techno-musical configurations. While the scope of digital analogies is expansive, the focus here falls on a particular interface and mode of engagement. The interface is the keyboard; the mode of engagement is the play, both ludic and musical, that the keyboard affords. Operations at the keyboard have been integral to ludic communication and computation as well as to the practices of composition, performance, and improvisation. To map out this genealogy and to show how it continues to inform loci of musical play from sound art to digital games, the article draws on an array of critical and theoretical texts including Friedrich Kittler’s media analyses, Vilém Flusser’s writings on technology, and post-Foucauldian discourses on cultural techniques.
Roger Moseley is Assistant Professor in the Department of Music at Cornell University. His current research explores the ways cultural techniques of play have informed improvisation, performance, and recreation at the keyboard. His article on Brahms’s Piano Trio in B Major, op. 8, was awarded the Royal Musical Association’s Jerome Roche Prize in 2009. Active as a collaborative pianist on modern and historical instruments, he is currently completing his first book, The Keys to Play: Music as a Ludic Medium from Apollo to Nintendo.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Musicology and the Entrepreneurship of Ideas (II)

by Christopher J. Smith
Part 2 of 2 parts.
In July 2007, in a blog-comment, I argued for the philosophic and practical value of such intentional outreach amongst one’s colleagues and peers:
Something I have not yet seen in the comments, however, is something I have taken to include in all my own mentoring, both in-house and remote, at both graduate-student and pre-tenure professional levels. It is, simply put, the candidate’s responsibility to be an effective, approachable, collegial, advocate for his/her teaching, service, and research/creative activity. In the world of academia, almost no one has time to keep up with colleagues’ achievements in a consistent or informed way: not their awards, their new creative works, their grants won, their students’ accomplishments. We are all simply too busy to keep track of colleagues’ professional development, no matter how much we might wish to. Yet it is essential, for our own individual professional advancement, that colleagues (on tenure, promotion, and budget committees, for example) should be aware of our accomplishments.
This means that each candidate must take time to develop skills at conveying his/her achievements. There are a lot of different ways to do this, and many are even tactful and un-self-aggrandizing. In mentoring, I make sure to talk about, assist with, and demonstrate such “outreach to colleagues”: I have found it not only fosters a friendlier collegial atmosphere, but also makes it much easier for committee members and superiors to arrive at accurate, well-informed, and positive evaluations.

In October 2008, I wrote about presentational flexibility: the capacity to recognize and adapt to contrasting venues and audience profiles:
One of my pet peeves about academia is the degree to which we prioritize and reward very finely-argued and subtle arguments presented to one’s peers, while de-emphasizing or failing to reward effective and accessible presentation to general audiences. This beefs me because I think the latter—speaking “outward” to a wider audience—is a lot more important than we sometimes credit, while the former—speaking “inward” to our very small circle of co-expert peers—is less significant, in terms of overall positive impact, than we presume it is. Moreover, speaking “outward” is a much closer parallel to the actual day job that we do, which is teaching. It’s good to be a scholar, because it drives our own individual inspiration and continuing curiosity, but it’s equally important to be an advocate for scholarship—to be able to frame, present, and argue the value of our insights to wider communities.
DIY

photo: Tif Holmes
It’s easy to respond with the accusation that mandating wider outreach runs the risk of dumbing-down content, but I think that’s an excuse, employed by people who don’t really believe in the value of teaching or of being public intellectuals. We need to be scholars and teachers, researchers, and advocates. Learning to succeed at both sides of these dyads—just like learning to teach undergraduates and graduates and continuing-education students—is an essential part of what the role of a public intellectual can be.

Peter Burkholder teaches that “you should be able to articulate the point of your research in the scope of an article, a lecture, or a dissertation—or of a public talk, a note-card, or a single sentence.” I’ve extended that aphorism, with my own students, in a parallel fashion: “you should be able to articulate the point and the relevance of your research to any audience: expert or non-expert, student or colleagues, undergrad or graduate, specialist or generalist, in any medium: scholarly or popular print, radio, television, lecture, conversation, or conference question-and-answer period.” This is how to be a public intellectual; this is how you renew and revitalize the argument that historical, sociological, musicological, intellectual expertise and insight have something to say in a changing public world.

In November 2007, when our school's director was heading off to the annual meeting of the National Association for Schools of Music, in response to his (bold-face) prompts I responded:

future of art music — the roles of our institutions in developing public understanding and support
We need a redefinition of both “art music” and the role of the public arts, in order to redefine our institutions’ role in these areas. As long as we are associated with hierarchized models of musical value—models which seek (speciously) to identify inhering greater or lesser value in one music idiom versus another—we are tied to out-of-date and potentially biased perspectives. It is my opinion that a major factor in the erosion of public understanding and support for “art music” is precisely this hierarchizing tendency: the tendency to say “this music is good for you and you should listen to it and fund it, whether it speaks to you or not; and that music is not good for you, it doesn’t merit study or funding, and so we in education don’t have to deal with it.” In the face of such a condescending and dictatorial perspective on any music that doesn’t “measure up,” is it any wonder that more diverse audiences have lost interest in “art music”? In fact, perhaps we also need to retire that term entirely. Duke Ellington said “there are only two kinds of music: good and bad.”

We should seek an inclusive, culturally-informed, and functional definition and valuation of musical idioms. If a musical idiom speaks to a group within the population of American culture, if it provides meaning and enhances quality of life for that group, then we in education should both recognize and advocate for this value. Any other criteria for value are dated, biased, and exclusive—and they work against our continuing relevance.”
clientele and community:
We should reach out to local and student constituent communities, celebrate their musics and musical values, and make space in concert programs, general education, and public advocacy for those diverse musics.
faculty and students:
We should facilitate, encourage, and fund programs which permit music faculty and music students to perform service as resources to the community: playing, teaching, and talking about the ways that music creates social, community, and human value. We cannot be isolated in our classrooms, teaching studios, or recital halls. We must reach out: to public schools, social-service organizations, city and county governments, employing every persuasive demonstration of the value of music (by both performing and talking about music). We should volunteer our expertise.
Suggestion: Every music program should have a “music volunteerism” office or officer, who can field requests from community educators, organizations, or groups and channel music faculty or students into such service throughout the community.

Rationale: The most persuasive argument in support of music’s irreplaceable contribution to public and individual quality of life is to make that contribution: to demonstrate an inclusive, non-hierarchical, culturally-diverse, and passionate commitment to music as a tool for creating community. Every music program should seek public performance, education, and advocacy opportunities—and such service should count significantly as part of tenure dossier considerations.

[We should] continue to argue passionately for the value of fine arts education as part of both the complete university experience, and as part of public community life. In Texas, this is easier: band, choir, and orchestra are accepted to be essential parts of primary and secondary education. Seek language and metaphors that connect these elements as essential continuations in the tertiary arena; e.g., “we educators and you parents and your children have all worked so hard, have given so much time, effort and money for so many years, to make music a part of your child’s life; why would or should we abandon the wonderful contribution that music continues to make in the very important years of college?

This means advocacy: every faculty member, every staff and administrative member, needs to be provided with language, talking points, printed materials, and most importantly a sense of mission that will let each one be, and continue to be, an articulate advocate for arts education. Every student should receive, as part of the sophomore barrier, a “jump-start” class (as well as continual reinforcement in classroom, rehearsal hall, and studio) in arts advocacy. Every writing-intensive course should provide for at least one writing assignment on the topic of “why I think music improves the life of my community” or something similar. These should then be published on the School’s website and on a Facebook group. Students should receive credit for such writing and the most articulate and passionate arguments should receive prizes.
What should we be doing to advance music and music study beyond our regular responsibilities?
See area I above. Also, much better conceptual, organization, and administrative integration and cooperation between and across academic and performance areas. We need to teach music as an integrated, multi-media, participatory, liberating, ancient, contemporary, revitalizing force for community good, accessible to participants of every age, background, attribute, and so forth. Our teaching, advocacy, administration, research, and development should all seek to do this.
Since I wrote the above series of quotes eight years ago, much has changed for the better. The adoption and integration of entrepreneurship concepts and skills has only been accelerated by the recession and the continued transformation of the performing-arts landscape: my own Texas Tech Vernacular Music Center, for example, now offers a 15-hour “Certificate in Community Arts Entrepreneurship,” courses from within which may be (and are) taken by a wide variety of students who recognize that their own contemporary career arcs will likely require new and much more self-actualized paths, as well as by other students heading toward advanced degrees and careers in Arts Administration. That universities and conservatories are recognizing the value of entrepreneurship for developing careers in the fine and performing arts is a good thing.

But we academic musicians, we musical scholars, ought to opt in as well. There is a role for the public scholar—more specifically a role for articulate, accessible, rigorous, and dedicated discourse around music and society in Western technological culture. If, as I suggested in Part I of this essay, we are again experiencing a wider social recognition of the merit of the classic liberal arts skills of critical reading, writing, speaking and (in the case of music) listening; of the ability to observe phenomena, deduce patterns, and tender hypotheses that explain those data; of the ability to discern aesthetics, values, and meaning across diverse, non-hierarchized, transnational societies—if we (again) conclude that all these have value as practical tools for functioning in a global 21st century, then we must, as professional scholars, pedagogues, and advocates, be prepared to engage, employ, model, and teach these skills.

Such usage helps our own careers, the organizations of which we are part, the students we teach, and the worlds of experience which those students will in the future touch.

There is no down-side to enhanced expertise in engagement. A wider world awaits us.


Christopher J. Smith is Professor and Chair of Musicology and director of the Vernacular Music Center at the Texas Tech University School of Music in Lubbock, TX (webpage HERE). Enjoy his TedX talk, “A Homeland of the Mind”:


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Musicology and the Entrepreneurship of Ideas (I)

by Christopher J. Smith
Part 1 of 2 parts.
It is a truism that traditional support networks for both the “highbrow” and “lowbrow” performing arts are disappearing; that organizations’ social and financial models are shifting. Those of us who teach in universities and conservatories are confronted with the responsibility of conveying to passionate young artists and scholars that the traditional avenues toward sustainable employment—even if defined as “subsistence wages” rather than “bourgeois comfort and health insurance”—are narrowing. Different institutions manifest different philosophies regarding their responsibilities toward graduates’ employability in this changing landscape, but unless or until such time as we arrive at a perfectly-balanced arts ecosystem, we have an ethical responsibility to be truthful about the steepening odds, while simultaneously providing tools for improving those odds.

Twenty-three years ago, in an issue of the Historical Performance newsletter published by Early Music America, I wrote a short essay describing the new “phenomenon” of the Internet and ways in which Historically Informed Performance might use this tool in entrepreneurial ways. Drawing upon my own experience in the worlds of folk/trad music and punk-rock, I suggested that HIP might employ the Internet with something of these other communities’ DIY (“Do It Yourself”) attitude. I had learned from punk rockers and folkies to haul my own gear, phone my own networks, contract my own vinyl, subsist cheaply, and perform rough roadside repairs on a Toyota Corolla or a GMC van. I suggested that perhaps the World Wide Web might represent for historical performers a similarly inexpensive yet powerful DIY tool. Even in 1992, I had an intuition that these new tools could be used to enhance the sharing—not merely the capturing—of performances, because sharing has been the constant in performing arts for roughly 40,000 years, all the way back to the sacred cave paintings under Cantabria and Lascaux.

Sharing about performance is likewise one essence of what musicological research can contribute in the world of 21st-century discourse—local, regional, national, and global. At least since the Middle Ages, and the myth of a “Dark Age” which supplanted and risked eradicating a prior “Golden Age,” scholars have experienced conflict between time spent recovering knowledge and creating scholarship versus time seeking wider public engagement with that scholarship. Systems of patronage, economics, intellectual advantage, class-based knowledge, and the corporatization of education have all nudged we scholars toward emphasizing scholarship (reading, writing, discourse and—one hopes—teaching) at the expense of engagement (though I am convinced that even Boethius moaned, at some point, about “not having enough time for my own research”).

Of course musicologists and cultural critics have advocated on behalf of works, creators, or genres, but entirely too often, and largely because both universities and public media have had to sell ideas in order to survive, scholarly and critical advocacy has advanced one art form or idiom over another, often—at least since Hoffmann—on the basis of inherent, inchoate value in the “Thing Itself”: the contemplated art object whose inhering aesthetic value enriches simply by being experienced.

But what happens when we become advocates, not just in service of a selected canon of objects, individuals, or genres, but for the wider cultural value of our skills? What if we more widely, consistently, flexibly, and intentionally assume the role of “public scholar” engaging with public discourse? There is a growing recognition of the value—the literal employability—of the critical reading, writing, thinking, and speaking skills which a “classic” liberal arts education creates. The transmission, value, and potential positive impact of this skill-set are situated directly within our day-to-day wheelhouse. Under the wider umbrella of the “liberal arts,” can we more widely engage public discourse around the values of historical insight, clear and cogent expression, sophisticated pattern recognition, and strategic intentionality?

The self-evident response is “Of course we can.” And so the follow-up question might be, “How do we remove barriers to doing public discourse even more effectively, with even greater engagement?” I suggest that, beyond the simple pragmatic consideration of necessary 21st-century job skills, entrepreneurship can also help us think about our engagement in public discourse.

The word “entrepreneur,” from the French entreprendre (literally, “to undertake”), is defined by Merriam-Webster as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” In the world of university “fine” arts, we have come to realize that advocacy, teaching, and research can all encompass “entrepreneurship.” There is a recognition that entrepreneurial thinking is both strategic and idealistic, enhancing students’ ability to operate in the 21st-century intellectual economy and as part of wider networks of advocacy and engagement. There are not only practical but also philosophical justifications for learning and using these tools and perspectives. Entrepreneurship is not relevant only for incipient performers or promoters: because its skills center on how to seek, identify, and target communities of readers and listeners, they have relevance to the new arenas in which musicological discourse occurs—including both within and beyond the confines of university campuses.

Christopher J. Smith is Professor and Chair of Musicology and director of the Vernacular Music Center at the Texas Tech University School of Music in Lubbock, TX (webpage HERE). Enjoy the following sample of his work.