Monday, November 30, 2015

AMS Honors 2015

Each year, the American Musicological Society names as Honorary Members longstanding members who have made outstanding contributions to further the society's objectives and the field of musical scholarship. This year there are four:

Carolyn Abbate's work on voice and narrative in Unsung Voices, exploration of the ineffable in In Search of Opera, and engagement with musical hermeneutics in “Music–Drastic or Gnostic” have broken important new ground in the study of opera. Her work on film scores and technologies and on musical automata has likewise fundamentally shaped a rich area of interdisciplinary encounter, and she has importantly put her research into action as a drammaturg and opera director. She has also served the Society as a member of the AMS Council and the Alvin H. Johnson-AMS50 Fellowship Committee; as chair of the Kinkeldey Award Committee and the Slim Award Committee; and as a member-at-large of the Board of Directors.

Susan McClary's early articles on Schubert and Beethoven and her books Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality and George Bizet: Carmen challenged and changed the study of musicology in terms of its approach to gender, sexuality, and subjectivity. McClary also broke new ground in her writings on mode, madrigal, and Madonna, and her publications have inspired and continue to inspire new and forward-looking musicological work across the field. She has also served the Society as a member of the AMS Council, Alvin H. Johnson-AMS50 Fellowship Committee, Kinkeldey Prize Committee, and Publications Committee; and also served as a member and chair of the Board of Directors of the America Council of Learned Societies.



Don Randel was recognized for his substantial body of scholarly writings, including his magisterial work on Mozarabic chant, his groundbreaking study of Panamanian popular artist Rubén Blades, and his contributions to discussions of the musical and musicological canon. In the remarkable sequence of Harvard Dictionaries he edited, Randel opened the field to include non-Western traditions and popular music, and in his elegant articles on Dufay he taught us how a Renaissance composer reads a text through music. Randel has also served the Society as a member of the AMS Council; as chair of Board Nominating Committee and Stevenson Prize Committee; and as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American Musicological Society.

Anne Walters Robinson was recognized for her groundbreaking approach to the study of music within the context of liturgical ritual, theological mysticism. Her research on French royal culture illuminates the musical history of the cathedral of Reims in which the kings of France were crowned and the abbey of St-Denis in which they were buried. Her interpretations of late-medieval polyphony and its sources have transformed our understanding of the musical giants of the fourteenth century—de Vitry and Machaut—and of the foremost mass and motet repertories of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. She has also served the AMS as a member the AMS Council, Publications Committee, and Communications Committee; as chair of the Local Arrangements Committee, Alvin H. Johnson-AMS 50 Fellowship Committee, Development Committee, Committee on Committees; and as a member-at-large of the Board of Directors, Co-Chair of the OPUS Campaign, and President.

Corresponding Members are those who at the time of their election are citizens of countries other than Canada or the United States and who have made particularly notable contributions to furthering the stated object of the American Musicological Society. This year there are four new Corresponding Members:
Stephen Banfield was recognized for his significant body of scholarly writings on British music in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries and on popular musical theater and vernacular music of both Britain and the United States during the same period. We also wish to acknowledge Banfield's establishment of the Centre for the History of Music in Britain, the Empire and the Commonwealth at the University of Bristol, which encourages and supports ongoing research in this broad area. In his own publications, whether on English song, Gerald Finzi, Stephen Sondheim, or Jerome Kern, Banfield's scholarship has broken new ground, while his close analyses have provided readers with a deep understanding of the music. Whether performing or writing, he makes the music come alive.



Ismael Fernández de la Cuesta was recognized for his significant contributions to music as a scholar, teacher, and performer. From his detailed investigation of Mozarabic chant books and his translation into Spanish of Francisco de Salinas’s treatise De musica libri septem to your catalogue of medieval music sources in Spain and complete edition (with Robert Lafonte) of the surviving melodies of the troubadours, de la Cuesta has helped to establish the foundations of modern musicological scholarship in the medieval period, especially in terms of Spain’s important contributions. He was also acknowledged as director of the monastic choir of San Domingo de Silos and his exceptional recordings of chant that have brought the beauty of this repertoire to a worldwide audience.


Laurenz Luetteken was recognized for his extensive body of scholarly work ranging broadly across the history of Western music from the early Renaissance to the twentieth century. The AMS also would like to acknowledge Luetteken's service to the field of musicology in his role on the editorial boards of Musica Disciplina, Early Music History, and Eighteenth-Century Music, among others, and as General Editor of MGGonline (forthcoming in 2016). His innovative research and writing, which includes major publications on Dufay, Mozart, Wagner, and Richard Strauss invites us to look, to hear, and to think again about composers and music we thought we already knew.


Susan Rankin was recognized for her significant work as a medievalist, church historian, and paleographer. In her writings on ritual in the liturgical drama of France and England of the 10th to 13th centuries, on liturgical practice as recorded in the Winchester Troper, and on musical notation in musical sources from Sankt Gallen, she has brought to life the rich and beautiful sound of music from this time.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Why You Really Can Forge a Musical Work

by Frederick Reece

The concept of authorship casts two long shadows across western creative culture: plagiarism and forgery. In the realm of music history, the first of these twin transgressions against the author will likely be rather familiar. From Franz von Walsegg’s appropriation of Mozart’s Requiem in the 1790s to the highly publicized (and still divisive) 2015 legal case surrounding the hit song “Blurred Lines,” the issues of style, authenticity, and identity raised by passing off someone else’s music as your own are profound. But what about forgery—the act of attributing your own music to somebody else without their knowledge or consent? Since musicology has remained curiously silent on this topic it is worth pausing to consider what musical forgery should be understood to mean, and why one might want to engage in such activity.

Han Van Meegeren’s “The Supper at Emmaus” (1936)—an infamous Vermeer Forgery  
The topic is a tricky one. For a start, the very possibility of forgery in music is apt to tie conventional wisdom about the concept of the musical work in knots. As the art-dealer-turned-Harvard-philosophy-professor Nelson Goodman put it, “in music, unlike painting, there is no such thing as a forgery of a known work.”[1] This is to say that, in the realm of western art music, referential forgery—that familiar trope of crime thrillers in which a flawless copy of a Vermeer or Degas is produced and then passed off as the original—makes no sense whatsoever.[2] As far as Goodman was concerned, any accurate notation or performance of a symphony or a sonata is just that and nothing more: merely one fungible token of the work, not the work itself. While many of us might want to push back against such a restrictive ontology, taking Goodman at his word does nothing to refute the possibility of forgery in music. What is elided in his assertion that forgery of “known” musical works does not exist is the inventive variety of forgery, which involves the creation of a new (or “unknown”) work designed to be falsely attributed, rather than a copy of something already made. While numerous examples exist in literature and painting, musical composition is particularly well suited to acts of inventive forgery. You might already have examples in mind. Amongst the best known are the forgedeighteenth-centuryworks produced in the wild-west days of early music revival and still performed and enjoyed the world over—sometimes under the names of their true composers, sometimes not.

While the faux Baroque of Kreisler and his ilk is typically considered an exceptional curiosity of the early twentieth century, one does not have to look far to discover that musical forgery extends both backwards and forwards in history well beyond this period. My most recent research on the topic, for example, has focused on a case that unfolded as recently as the winter of 1993–1994, when news broke that six “rediscovered” Haydn keyboard sonatas were not by Haydn at all. Having dubbed the works “The Haydn Scoop of the Century” in the January 1994 edition of BBC Music Magazine, H. C. Robbins Landon, arguably the most influential Haydn scholar of his generation, was forced just one month later to rebrand the sonatas as a brilliant hoax.

Joseph Haydn (??)—Sleeve Art for Paul Badura-Skoda’s CD recording of the forged Haydn Sonatas

The story is iconic of the kind of inventive musical forgery that I am talking about. On the one hand, the works were all newly written in the 1990s, and thus not referential in the sense Goodman deemed impossible. Yet the opening of each forged sonata was based on a distinct four-measure incipit that Haydn had recorded in his draft catalogue, with the effect that the discoveries seemed to correspond to compositions that had remained lost for over 200 years. “Known unknown” musical works such as these (to borrow an influential epistemological concept from Donald Rumsfeld) are the perfect invitation for deception. Forgery tends to succeed most spectacularly when given the opportunity to provide sought-after missing links in the “life and works” narratives constructed by academics—the shadowy lost compositions that we, as musicologists, believe should exist, but are unable to access. This unsettling symmetry between musicology and forgery goes deeper still. The skills necessary to forge musical works by following the parameters of a given idiom are, rather alarmingly, a longstanding staple of the undergraduate theory sequence, as anyone who has had to imitate the style of Palestrina, Bach, or the first Viennese school in a model composition assignment will acknowledge.

On one level, the rediscovered Haydn sonatas can be seen as masterful model compositions gone bad. Musically speaking, Robbins Landon was convinced not only that they were “of very high quality,” but also that, because of their perceived origin in the years leading up to the so-called Sturm und Drang period and use of “unexpected modulation,” they clarified “in a particularly striking way Haydn’s search for a new musical language of strength and beauty.”[3] Such glowing evaluations of “unexpected” details (when presumed to stem from a historical master, not a modern imitator) might be the most fascinating aspect of forgeries as aesthetic objects. There is no better illustration of the tension inherent in presuming authorial identity to be falsifiable by virtue of style alone (put simply, the idea that piece X could not possibly be by composer Y because of Z transgression against the norms of counterpoint) while simultaneously equating genius with inspired originality.

So why would someone bother to produce compositions such as these in the first place? Compared to the lucrative business of forging paintings there is little financial incentive to forge a musical work, especially given that the manuscripts falsified to contain such compositions tend to imitate the hands of obscure copyists, not illustrious authorial figures like Haydn. While there can be no simple or universal answer to the complex question of motivation, one compelling possibility is to read forgery itself as a critique—whether of aesthetic snobbery, experthood, or academic authority itself. With this in mind, it is precisely the fact that one cannot get rich by selling forged musical works that—for me at least—makes musical forgeries more intellectually intriguing than their better known visual counterparts. The relationships of power and authority at play as forgers compete against academic critics in the arena of musical composition are all the clearer without multi-million-dollar profits to consider. Beginning to take forgeries seriously as cultural acts on their own terms, then, is one means by which we can confront the ongoing challenges to authorship, authority, and truth itself that beset the modern humanities. As the Met Art curator Theodore Rousseau aptly reminds us, "we can only talk about the bad forgeries, the ones that have been detected; the good ones are still hanging on the walls." With this aphorism in mind, our familiar museums of musical works might never sound the same again.

Frederick Reece is a PhD candidate in Music Theory at Harvard University, where he is completing a dissertation entitled “Ringing False: Music Analysis, Forgery, and the Technologies of Truth.” He was awarded the Paul A. Pisk Prize at the 2015 meeting of the American Musicological Society, and his research has been published in the Mosaic Journal of Music Research.



[1] Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art: An Approach to a System of Symbols (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1976), 112.
[2] The distinction between “referential” and “inventive” modes of forgery is developed at length in Jerrold Levinson, Music, Art, and Metaphysics: Essays in Philosophical Aesthetics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
[3] H. C. Robbins Landon, “The Haydn Scoop of the Century,” BBC Music Magazine, January, 1994, 11.