Category Archives: Music Studies

Alastair Williams reflects on writing Constructing Musicology…

9780754601340I am delighted to have been offered the opportunity to reflect on how Constructing Musicology has fared during the years. The idea for the volume came from my first book New Music and the Claims of Modernity (Ashgate 1997), in which I build on Adorno’s view of modernism in music. During the 1990s, there was a surge of interest from English-language musicology in Adorno’s writings on music, since they focus squarely on meaning and subjectivity – areas that had been neglected by the positivist musicology of previous decades. So I was able to develop this tendency and to link it to a growing awareness of the resources that a broader range of literary and critical theory could bring to musicology. My intention in writing the book was to provide a guide to how musicology was absorbing critical theory, while demonstrating the wider importance of the theories being used.

In particular, I was keen to demonstrate that these theories have significance beyond the confines of postmodernism. And this aspect of the book has certainly proved to be prescient, because the once ubiquitous postmodernism is now an historical phenomenon. This is partly because terms such as ‘intertextuality’ and ‘deconstruction’ have become so commonplace that they do not require a larger framework, and partly because postmodernism turned out to be more an expansion of previous views than their antithesis. Beyond the postmodernism debate, critical theory has remained an important resource for musicology, but with growing familiarity (which the book has facilitated) it no longer seems so different. What, however, has remained is my argument that critical theory is democratic, because it facilitates the understanding of music from more than one perspective.

Another topic that the book addresses, from a theoretical perspective, is the widening repertoire that is increasingly being considered by musicology. Notably, the volume looks at the field of popular music, showing how identity is constructed by a struggle between authenticity and mobility, and between production and reception. On the flip side of the coin, the reduced cultural prestige of classical music has taken place at a time when there are increasingly diverse ways of encountering it, through a variety of media such as film, TV, radio and internet. Debates about identity in popular music have expanded since my book was published, just as there is now increasing significance attached to the ways in which classical music can connect with modern life.

There has been consistent interest in Constructing Musicology ever since it was published, from students and professionals alike, and readers have generally fallen into two camps. The first of these is readers who are seeking some assistance with what can be the bewildering terminology of critical theory, and are grateful to receive some help. The second group of readers is one that values my argument for its willingness to use critical theory to push beyond the postmodern consensus and for its insistence on understanding music in terms of subjectivity. In addition, there are readers from both camps who use the volume as what Professor Nicholas Cook has called a ‘Rough Guide to a changing discipline’. Published in 2001 Constructing Musicology has managed both to reflect on the achievements of the 1990s and to set the tone for the following decades.

 

 

williams_alastairAlastair Williams is Reader in Music at Keele University, UK. He has research interests in modernism and modernity, Austro-German music, critical theory, and subjectivity in music. He is the author of New Music and the Claims of Modernity (Ashgate, 1997), Constructing Musicology (Ashgate, 2001), and Music in Germany since 1968 (Cambridge, 2013), and a contributor to The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century Music (2004). He has also published articles in a wide range of music journals. He has received funding from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the British Academy and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Mary Natvig on Teaching Music History

This is a guest post from Mary Natvig, author of Teaching Music History

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Teaching Music HistoryI am honored and delighted that Ashgate has selected my 2002 essay collection, Teaching Music History, as one of its works that has made the most significant impact on the author’s field.

Considering the long-term effects of its publication, the genesis of Teaching Music History is comparatively paradoxical. It was not the result of calculated thought or scholarly introspection. The idea came in a flash—an impulse that once voiced, was impossible to take back. Early in my career, I attended an evening session on “Diversity in the Classroom” at the 1996 annual meeting of the American Musicological Society in Baltimore, MD. As I listened to the panelists, I was suddenly inspired and motivated to do something about the lack of pedagogical writing for those who teach music history and music appreciation. Most of us who become musicologists end up teaching; and most of us spend much of, or most of, our time on that activity. The semester before, I had just received my first smattering of “bad” teaching evaluations. After several years as a TA, an instructor, and as a young professor with very good evals, I wondered what had gone wrong. So during the session’s Q&A, I stood up and announced that I was editing a collection of essays called Teaching Music History, and anyone who would be interested in contributing should see me. At that point I had been editing the collection (in my imagination) for about five minutes—fueled by a scholarly intoxication (that only a conference can produce) and hubris (that only inexperience can excuse). By the end of the meeting I had four or five contributors and sobriety set in; I was now the self-appointed editor of a collection of essays on music history teaching, a project that no one had ever attempted and one that I had no idea how to get published.

Perhaps the above anecdote explains why I’m still slightly bemused when I hear the book cited as the beginning of a “movement,” or as Ashgate has deemed it, “having made the most impact in the field.” Of course I am honored beyond belief, but I am more delighted that the collection has sparked a discourse among musicologists that teaching is a topic to be discussed out loud and in print. Although several in our field had written previously on pedagogical issues (mostly in College Music Symposium), the publication of Teaching Music History in 2002 created something like a communal “happening” that attracted others to go public with their ideas and activities concerning pedagogy. The year after the book was published Kathryn Lowerre organized the first and now annual conference called “Teaching Music History Day.” Soon after (in 2005), Jessie Fillerup, Peter Burkholder, Alice Clark, and Jim Briscoe spearheaded the formation of the American Musicological Society’s Pedagogy Study Group, leading to regular pedagogy sessions at that society’s Annual Meeting and eventually to a prize, sponsored by the AMS, for innovative teaching projects. Matthew Balensuela founded the Journal of Music History Pedagogy in 2010 and Jim Briscoe published the second collection of essays that same year (Vitalizing Music History Teaching). Two years later Jim Davis’s The Music History Classroom appeared. This is just the tip of the iceberg. So many scholars have been involved in delivering papers, publishing articles, and organizing conferences, that music history pedagogy is now “a thing.”* Who knew? And who could have predicted that in 2013 the venerable American Musicological Society would change its Object statement—for the first time in history—to include a reference to teaching alongside its traditional mission of promoting and supporting musicological research.

Many scholars, in addition to the ones named above, took part in the transformation of “music history pedagogy” from quiet, after hours discussions in conference bars to public sessions, a journal, and new publications, but the fourteen contributors to Teaching Music History, some of whom were my own marvelous mentors and all of whom entered the project with expertise and enthusiasm deserve mention here: Maria Archetto, Noël Bisson, J. Peter Burkholder, Susan C. Cook, Vincent Corrigan, Robert Fink, Carol Hess, Mary Hunter, Ralph P. Locke, Patrick Macey, Russell E. Murray, Kenneth Nott, Michael Pisani, Marjorie Roth, and Pamela Starr. Thank you all, and thank you to Ashgate Publishing for taking a chance on a new idea.

*For more on the twenty-first century music history pedagogy movement, see Scott Dirkse’s recent dissertation, Music History Pedagogy in the Twentieth-First Century:The Pedagogy Movement in American Musicology (UC Santa Barbara).

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Mary Natvig is Professor of Musicology and Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the College of Musical Arts, Bowling Green State University. Her areas of research are: the sacred music of the 15th century, music and social reform, and music history pedagogy. She is the author of Teaching Music History (Ashgate, 2002) and co-author with Steven Cornelius of Music: A Social Experience (Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2011).

War, Exile and the Music of Afghanistan – book review in The Independent

War exile and the music of AfghanistanWhere making music is a matter of life and death

Read Michael Church’s review in The Independent of John Baily’s War, Exile and the Music of Afghanistan.

“A vivid picture of what has been happening since the communist government was worn down by the jihadis, and mujahideen rule gave way to that of the Taliban”

Reaching for Messiaen’s Dream: Et Exspecto on La Meije – Nigel Simeone

Posted by Luana Life, Marketing Co-ordinator

Nigel Simeone is an independent writer and musicologist, a regular broadcaster guest lecturer, and teacher. He is co-editor of Messiaen: Music, Art and Literature and co-author of Olivier Messiaen: Oiseaux exotiques (both published by Ashgate). Nigel is also the co-author (with Peter Hill) of an acclaimed biography of Messiaen, the French edition of which was awarded the Prix René Dumesnil by the Académie française in 2008. Since 2005, Nigel has been invited annually to lecture (in French) at the Festival Messiaen au Pays de la Meije, held in the village of La Grave (Hautes-Alpes). This post is an account of his most recent visit.

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In 1963, André Malraux gave Messiaen a commission from the French government for a work to commemorate the dead of the two World Wars. According to a note the composer made after their meeting, Malraux asked for ‘a work that was simple and solemn’ (‘une œuvre simple, solenelle’), with powerful sonorities. After initially contemplating a piece with large chorus, Messiaen finally settled on an unusual formation of woodwind, brass and metallic percussion. The result was Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (‘And I await the resurrection of the dead’), first performed for an invited audience at the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris on 7 May 1965, and given on 20 June 1965 in Chartres Cathedral with General de Gaulle in attendance.

In the preface to the published score (Leduc, 1967), Messiaen wrote that he conceived the work for performance ‘in vast spaces: churches, cathedrals and even in the open air and on mountain tops’, adding that he had composed Et exspecto ‘in the Hautes-Alpes, in front of the solemn and powerful landscapes which are my true home.’ When Jacques Longchampt reviewed the Chartres performance of Et exspecto for Le Monde (24 June 1965), he was more specific, revealing that ‘Messiaen hoped that it could be heard in front of the mountain of La Meije, in the Alps’; the composer repeated the same wish in conversation with Claude Samuel, declaring that his wanted to hear it ‘at La Grave, facing the glacier of La Meije’.

La Meije, overlooking the village of La Grave in the Hautes-Alpes, stands at 3,983 metres (over 13,000 feet), and its most prominent feature is the magnificent glacier mentioned by Messiaen. He visited La Grave on many occasions, including a trip on 2 August 1964, while he was hard at work on Et exspecto. Since 1998, this village has been home to the annual Festival Messiaen au Pays de la Meije, the brainchild of Gaëtan Puaud, planned by him each year with vision and daring to focus on different facets of Messiaen’s music. I’m very fortunate to have been back every year since 2005, invited by Gaëtan to talk about an aspect of Messiaen’s life and work that reflected the festival programme.

01 Arrival at glacier2015 is the 50th anniversary of Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum; in January, Gaëtan Puaud asked if I’d be willing to give a talk on its genesis and early performance history. I was delighted to accept, particularly as he told me that he planned an open-air performance of Et exspecto on the large plateau at the téléphérique station situated at 2,400 metres, with the glacier as a stupendous backdrop: a vast and savage space. It was a bold and grandiose celebration of the half-century of Et exspecto. The performers were the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg, Les Percussions de Strasbourg (whose original members had played in the 1965 première), and the Slovenian conductor Marko Letonja, the orchestra’s Music Director since 2012.

The morning of 18 July 2015 was overcast but pleasant in La Grave, and by the time I started my pre-concert talk on Et exspecto at 11 a.m. in the village’s Salle des fêtes, the sun was starting to break through. Afterwards, I sat outside the Hotel Castillan (which faces the glacier), talking to French and Belgian friends, and the mood was one of the keenest anticipation for what was to come later in the day: even the most jaded concert-goer could hardly fail to be excited by the prospect of hearing one of Messiaen’s greatest works performed in such a fabulous setting. Our lunch was also enlivened by the unusual spectacle of very large instrument flight cases being airlifted up to the venue by helicopter. Except for experienced mountain walkers, the only realistic way to the glacier is by téléphérique, and the small cabins of the cable cars are not up to moving the vast array of percussion – including three very large tam-tams, a whole family of gongs and three large sets of cencerros (cowbells), all of which play an essential part in Et exspecto. The orchestral players made their way up the mountain soon afterwards to rehearse, and to film a complete cover performance of Et exspecto for Arte TV, which was there to record the concert for later broadcast.

Rehearsal on glacier

Rehearsal on glacier

The concert was due to start at 5:00 p.m., and at 3:45, I set off in one of the cable cars with my wife Jasmine, and three friends who were also in La Grave for the performance: Tom Owen and Jess Jevon from England, and Lucie Kayas from the Paris Conservatoire – the leading authority on the music of Jolivet and a treasured friend who made the French translation of the Messiaen biography I co-authored. By the time we reached the station at 2,400 metres, the sky was slate-grey, and the clouds were looking ominous. But what we saw and heard – with the audience finding places to sit on the grass, and the glacier as a breathtaking natural stage-set behind the orchestra – was both elemental and extremely moving. The orchestra was rehearsing the third movement, and it was a wonderful experience to hear Messiaen’s sets of giant cowbells played on a mountain in the Alps – an artistic, gamelan-inspired reimagining of something that has always been such an essential part of the Alpine soundscape. After the third movement, we heard a complete run-through of the fifth and final movement, inspired by a verse from the Apocalypse: ‘Et j’entendis la voix d’une foule immense…’ (‘And I heard the voice of a great multitude’). Messiaen’s scoring here is brilliantly effective for the outdoors: the incessant beats of the tuned gongs, punctuated by tubular bells and tam-tams, combined with the splendid austerity of the broad theme announced by bass saxhorn, tuba, trombones and horns. It was a mighty and imposing sound that became still more electrifying when the woodwind and trilling cencerros added their jubilant descants. The final, heaven-storming resolution seemed to mirror the sublime grandeur of the landscape itself.

Rained off

Rained off

All this was an enticing avant-goût of what should have followed. With about 15 minutes to go, the orchestra cleared the stage and all seemed set for a memorable occasion. But five minutes later a light drizzle began to fall; as a precaution, the librarian collected the orchestral parts off the stands, and the instruments still on the stage were covered. Before long, the drizzle turned into a sustained downpour, and by the scheduled start time of 5:00 p.m., thunder could be heard rumbling in the mountains, quickly followed by flashes of lightning. There was some uncertainty about what was going to happen, but by about 5:15 it was clear that the concert couldn’t take place (not least because there was no covering for the orchestra), so the players packed up their instruments, and the large audience (my ticket was No. 564) either headed straight for the téléphérique, or took refuge in a mountain barn. With heavy hearts, we finally joined the long queue to go back down the mountain once the concert had been definitively abandoned. 04 Helicopter transportWe reached the foot of the mountain at about 7:00 p.m., by which time the helicopter had already airlifted most the large instruments back down, their flight cases swaying at the end of a long cable. The weather is notoriously capricious in the Alps, with sudden and completely unpredictable changes, and nobody would have foreseen what happened next: within half and hour the sun was shining in La Grave and on the glacier, and it continued to do so for the rest of the evening. By then, players and audience could only watch the virtually cloudless sky with poignant regret for what might have been. But it was too late: the treacherous Alpine weather had won, and Messiaen’s dream remained unrealized, at least for the time being.

La Grave, 7.30pm

La Grave, 7.30pm

There had always been an alternative plan: to give the work indoors at the splendid Collégiale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Nicolas in Briançon.

Ticket for the concert and téléphérique

Ticket for the concert and téléphérique

Had the weather been bad the day before (in fact it was perfect), or had there been a seriously threatening forecast, no doubt it would have been relocated there. But the concert could not be moved anywhere once the orchestra was already installed on the mountain. While that turned out to be a risky decision, nobody I spoke to at lunchtime thought there was a serious threat of rain: on the contrary, the consensus among experienced alpinistes was that the omens were good. The timing could not have been more unlucky: had the concert been scheduled for an hour earlier – or two hours later – it would have taken place. My fervent hope is that Arte’s film is sufficiently complete for them to be able to broadcast the performance recorded at the rehearsal earlier in the afternoon: it should be an unforgettable communion of Messiaen’s music with nature at its most majestic.

Nigel Simeone, 20 July 2015

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

James Saunders has uploaded his interview with Evan Parker. This is the final interview from this series.

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Interview with Evan Parker

Known for his fluid development of multiphonic aggregates to produce a constantly changing patterning, Evan Parker has evolved an instantly recognizable sound. Despite the flux of the music’s surface, he talks of his recent exploration of limited interval types to underpin his improvisations, emphasizing the reduced nature of his approach. Here practise and memorization are important, allowing the development of sequence-building methods which inform subsequent performances. The impact of group work is also of note: specific developments in his technique arose from the necessity of responding to the musicians around him, leading to the possibility of working as a soloist. Recently, his exploratory work with different groupings of musicians, taking on ‘the specifics of time and space’, has allowed the further development of the research ethos that lies at the heart of improvisation. Finding new things in new or old situations is central to experimentation. There are moments which leave an indelible mark on your memory, and hearing Parker perform live for the first time was, for me, one of these. At the beginning of a workshop in Huddersfield whilst I was a student, he talked a little about what he did, and then played for five minutes: I was completely unprepared for the complexity of the sound, and the shape of the resultant performance, and it has stayed with me since then.

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The interview was conducted by email between 24 February 2007 – 4 August 2008

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicRead the full interview here.

All the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music: The Interviews

Posted by Maxine Cook, Marketing Assistant

James Saunders has uploaded his interview with Bernhard Günter.

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Interview with Bernhard Günter:

Meticulous placement and balancing of sound is readily apparent in Bernhard Günter’s work, whether electro-acoustically composed or, more recently, improvised. Whilst he points out its wide dynamic range, it is essentially a quiet music, one which seeks to draw us in as listeners. The body of work for which he is perhaps best known – the series of recordings beginning with his 1993 release Un peu de neige salie – explores a reduced palette of glitch sounds, working with highly detailed textures which have an innate complexity. Günter’s approach foregrounds aspects of sounds that otherwise go unnoticed, whether due to existing on the border of sound and silence, or their perceived ancillary status as musical material. Whilst he is at pains to point out that he does not consider his music experimental, given it is ostensibly result rather than process oriented, this particular concern has much in common with other practitioners in the field. His processing of sampled sounds strips them of their more conventional meanings, allowing him to work more closely with them as abstract sonic materials. His recent improvisation projects have continued to explore this reduced soundworld, working first with Mark Wastell and Graham Halliwell as +minus, and later with Gary Smith as Klangstaub. Here too a slow, breath-paced layering of gradually changing drones allows the material’s detail to emerge over time.

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The interview was conducted by email between 2 January – 10 February 2004, with the postscript being added in August 2008.

The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental MusicRead the full interview here.

All the interviews from James Saunders can be found in The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music.

Interview with Lucy Green by Gareth Dylan Smith

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An Interview with Lucy Green

Lucy Green, Professor of Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London and author of How Popular Musicians Learn (2002) and Music, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy (2008) discusses research that sparked from a burning question. Listen and learn from this passionate music educator as she speaks with interviewer, Gareth Dylan Smith, author of I Drum, Therefore I Am (2013).

 

Sample of book reviews:

Music informal learning and the schoolMusic, Informal Learning and the School: A New Classroom Pedagogy

‘… this is a very important music education book, not only challenging established views and prejudices of music teaching, but also demonstrating how teachers could act to make a difference and work for change. Reading this book is a must for every music educator, not necessarily with the aim of copying every detail of the project, but to relate to, reflect and act upon in his/her ongoing music teaching. This project is also a very good example of praxis-based research. The thick descriptions and the sharp, well-structured analyses offer a great amount of valuable knowledge to researchers as well as educators.’ Music Education Research ‘… the sophisticated and methodical analysis that Green brings to this work is a helpful illumination that should empower, promote and extend the activity of music educators across our schools.’ Journal of Music Technology and Education

How popular musicians learnHow Popular Musicians Learn

‘… [a] stimulating book … lucid analysis … thought-provoking.’  Times Educational Supplement ‘Lucy Green’s latest book has been on the shelves for only a year or two, but already feels like a necessary part of music education literature … Returning to this book a year after I first read it, I have found new aspects of interest and value, as well as much which has quickly become familiar and helpful to educational discussion. Lucy Green has navigated the boundaries of academic disciplines and musical genres with great skill: I would recommend this book to any reader with an interest in musical learning …’  Popular Music

Examination Copies These titles are available on a 60 day trial basis for lecturers considering course adoption. To request a copy of a book, fill out the online inspection/examination form.