Monday, January 05, 2015

musicology as identity politics first and musical analysis second?

Poor Charles Ives. He never got over his father’s death, and kept trying to fill in the gap. He was driven to keep using certain tunes and instruments in his music because they reminded him of George. He kept pretending that he’d learned more from his father than from his college teacher Horatio Parker. Unlike most composers, Ives couldn’t make up his own tunes anyway, so he’d find one and rearrange it until no one could recognize it. He never knew what he really wanted. He claimed that he didn’t need any public recognition for his music, but he mailed it out into the world anyway. He was clearly really conflicted. He was laden with a lot of gender issues that made him express himself inappropriately, and he tried to write about Transcendentalism, though he didn’t really understand it. He wrote crackpot letters to the president about crazy schemes involving political referendums, and he really didn’t understand the issues involved. He took all those dissonances out of his music for fear people wouldn’t take his music seriously, and then when he made friends with other composers who wrote dissonant music, he piled dissonances back in, with the competitiveness of a former athlete, so he could seem to be more modern than they were.

Gann goes on to explain the how of the satire of contemporary musicology in the above-linked post.  A bit further along he puts his complaint another way.
As Larry Polansky once said to me, “Composers are now doing the work that musicologists used to do, while the musicologists are all off doing gender studies.” And now composers aren’t even allowed to do that in books anymore.

and on the other side of the world, Tom Service at The Guardian is lately remarking:

Diagnosing composers’ ailments from their music has become something of a mini-industry over recent years. The latest is research that suggests that the quirkiness and elemental unpredictability of Beethoven’s rhythmic imagination stemmed from a putative arrhythmia of the heart. According to Zachary Goldberger’s findings, Beethoven’s deafness would have meant he was hyper-aware of his dicky ticker, whose off-kilter rhythms ended up in his music, such as the late string quartets, not least op 130. I say Goldberger’s “findings”, but an actual diagnosis of whatever Beethoven was suffering from can only ever be high-level speculation, since we don’t and can’t know what precise cocktail of conditions led to his death in March 1827.

Richard Taruskin has proposed that the reason music criticism about popular music actually gets read (in contrast to criticism of concert music) is that popular music deals with the concerns of regular people while music criticism in classical (or perhaps also jazz) devolves into shop talk, stuff about chains of chords and structural stuff.  But perhaps there's some kind of golden mean here. 

No comments: