Saturday, December 20, 2014

Kyle Gann: Analyzing Music No Longer Allowed

It's so short it can be quoted in full:

One of the things my Concord Sonata book is being criticized for is that all I do is analyze the music. Apparently I’m supposed to be bringing in multidisciplinary approaches: I dunno, historiography, reception history, gender studies. Musicology has moved on from the mere analysis of music, and by analyzing a piece I must be implicitly asserting that all I care about is the glorification of Dead White Males and the Great Western Canon. I am accused of a “music in a vacuum” approach (I thought that was called music theory) – and seriously, that’s being taken as a reason to prevent publication of the book. But as I say in the book, you have to see what something is before you can compare it to everything else in the world, and a lot of nonsense has been written about the Concord because no one’s ever written a close textual analysis of it. And what if analyzing music is what I’m trained at, and what I’m good at? Really, musicologists? To ply the trade I was academically trained in makes me a racist and sexist troglodyte? No good insight can some merely from close examination of a complex score? Even if I’m not trained in those other fields, even if other people are already doing that work, I have to do it too? 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.

Richard Taruskin has written that the reason music criticism about popular music gets read while criticism of concert music doesn't get read as much is because most music criticism of concert music has devolved into shop talk.  Much as Wenatchee The Hatchet is curious to see what writers have to say about the emergence of sonata forms and particularly how sonata form gets handled in guitar literature, that's pretty hard core.  There's still that question of why people would listen to guitar sonatas to begin with. 

And if there's a flip side to all this, Gann seems to be facing it lately, that there's a problem going the other way, so far into the cultural criticism and politics about the cultures that indirectly spawn music that you don't bother getting to the music itself. There has to be some golden mean in which we can discuss what the notes mean and also what the notes on the page do, or is there?

No comments: