04 November 2010

Listening in Roslindale

Lest it seem that all is gloom and doom around here, it's time for a long overdue installment of "Listening in Roslindale," covering my listening (or at least most of it) for September and October.  

Perhaps an even more mixed bag than usual: blues, jazz (and especially jazz piano), classic R&B and its descendants, African music, classic early country, Jewish music, and the beginning of a Schubert orgy. Even (gasp) some Mozart.

Son House, Delta Blues: The Original Library of Congress Sessions from Field Recordings, 1941-1942.
Interesting, but lacking in variety.
Butterbeans and Susie, Complete Recorded Works 1924-1927 in Chronological Order, Volume 2, 1926-1927
Pretty much a single shtick—but I’ll bet they were fun to see on stage.
Jackie McLean
Destination Out. Surprisingly dull.
Bluesnik. McLean plays consistently out of tune...and not in a good way (as opposed to, say, Eric Dolphy, who turned his intonation into a fully consistent part of his distinctive voice.)
Cannonball Adderley Sextet, Dizzy Business. Great straight-ahead playing.

Big Maybelle, The Complete Okeh Sessions, 1952-55. Rock & Roll!!

Skip James, Complete 1931 Recordings in Chronological Order

Ghana: Ancient Ceremonies, Dance Music & Songs (Explorer)

East Africa: Witchcraft & Ritual Music (Explorer)

Lonnie Johnson, The Essential (Classic Blues). Wonderful.

Prince, Musicology
Prince may not be the greatest poet of his age, but his sense of sonority is extraordinary. I was surprised (but perhaps I shouldn’t have been) to hear echoes of (among many other things) Frank Zappa.
And the title makes sense after all.
Cedar Walton Plays, featuring Ron Carter and Billy Higgins

Jimmie Rodgers, The Early Years, 1928–1929. O-de-lay-ee!

Earl Hines Plays Duke Ellington, vol. 2, tracks recorded in 1971 and 1972

Shalom: Music of the Jewish People. Roumania, Roumania!

Schubert orgy (ongoing):
Symphony in B-minor, “Unfinished,” D 759
Bruno Walter, New York Philharmonic (recorded 3 March 1958)
Roy Goodman, The Hanover Band
Josef Krips, Vienna Philharmonic (March 1969)
Kleiber, Vienna Philharmonic
Riccardo Muti, Vienna Philharmonic
Giuseppe Sinopoli, Philharmonia Orchestra
On a first listening, my favorite is the Krips. But I know some may disagree... For my least favorite, perhaps a tie between Muti and Goodman.
Symphony in C major, “Great,” D 944
Josef Krips, London Symphony Orchestra (May 1958)
Music to Rosamunde, D 797
Roy Goodman, The Hanover Band
Mass in A-flat, D 678
Mass in E-flat, D 950
Wolfgang Sawallisch, Chorus and Symphony of the Bavarian Radio. Soloists: Helen Donath, Brigitte Fassbaender, Francisco Araiza, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Mass in C, D 452
Wolfgang Sawallisch, Chorus and Symphony of the Bavarian Radio. Soloists: Lucia Popp, Adolf Dallapozza
Tantum ergo, D 962
Wolfgang Sawallisch, Chorus and Symphony of the Bavarian Radio. Soloists: Lucia Popp, Brigitte Fassbaender, Peter Schreier, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Offertorium, D 963
Wolfgang Sawallisch, Chorus and Symphony of the Bavarian Radio. Soloists: Adolf Dallapozza, Peter Schreier
String Quartet in D minor, D 810, “Der Tod und das Mädchen”
String Quartet in A minor, D 804, “Rosamunde”
Takács Quartet
String Quintet in C major, D 956
Emerson String Quartet with Mstislav Rostropovich
James Brown, Star Time (4 CDs)
YeeeAAeeaah! (Now there's a sound that is beyond transliteration) Take it to the bridge!

A great chronological survey of Brown's career, from the beginnings to the early 90s. Includes a substantial booklet with a very good historical essay.
Miles Davis, Bitches Brew
I hadn’t listened to this in decades. I bought in when I was in high school, and nearly wore it out at the time. It’s amazing how much of it is still in my memory. Nearly as vividly remembered as Kind of Blue.
Johnny Hodges, With Billy Strayhorn and the Orchestra

Marion Brown
Alto saxophonist Marion Brown, a long time figure on the avant-garde scene, died on 18 October 2010 at the age of 79. I had known of Brown ever since the 1970s, but didn't really know his playing.  So I'm enjoying the tribute at destination out ...  "Iditus" is especially entertaining:  sort of a "Viennese waltz meets free jazz"
Mozart, Last Four Symphonies
Sir Charles Mackerras, Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Kenny Barron Trio, Live at Bradley’s
I didn't know Barron's playing, and it captivated me on a first listening, and it inspired me to check out all the rest of the Kenny Barron CDs from the Newton Library.
Vijay Iyer, Reimagining
I like Iyer, a lot. He plays rather the way I do in my own (recently revived) “free” playing: a stew of influences, in a unique personal amalgam that (at least for Iyer) never sounds derivative, sometimes structured, sometimes less so. I’m looking forward to listening to more.
Art Tatum, Solo Masterpieces, vol. 3. Tracks recorded in 1953–55
Beyond extraordinary, beyond commentary.  Just listen.  Really listen.
Listening to this inspired me finally to read James Lester’s biography of Tatum, Too Marvelous for Words. Tatum is beyond sensible commentary, but I may have more to say about the biography here.
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18 October 2010

Review of "On Mozart" (1996), Part IV

This is fourth and final part of my review-essay on the collection On Mozart (ed. James M. Morris).  I wrote the review for the journal Notes in 1996, but it was not published at that time. This is its first publication.  See also Parts 1, 2, and 3.

Wye J. Allanbrook is justly celebrated for her brilliant and subtle readings of Mozart’s mature operas in light of their rhythmic and musical topics (or topoi).[26] In recent years she has turned her attention increasingly to his instrumental music. Her essay here, “Mozart’s tunes and the comedy of closure,” opens with a critique of the “dark and troubled” Mozart that, in her view, is a legacy of the romanticized Mozart of the nineteenth century. This Mozart survives in the guise of a “subversive” in recent writings by authors such as Rose Rosengard Subotnik and Susan McClary. Allanbrook writes:
The musical result of the pursuit of the Gloomy Mozart is an agenda that shapes a dangerous misconception of the conventions of the Classic style—a presumption that these conventions have somehow been imposed from without, by the enlightenment’s musical thought police, and that it is intellectual progress to grow away from them, even if in the process the individual becomes divided against himself. (p. 172).
This is surely right (although one wonders just how “dangerous” these misconceptions are; perhaps the rhetoric is a bit overheated). What may in hindsight seem like stifling conventions were continuously and dynamically forming and reforming in the eighteenth century. As Allanbrook points out, the prevalence of major keys in the late eighteenth-century was actually a novelty (compared, say, with J. S. Bach), and sonata form, far from being a formal straightjacket, was “a gradually emerging compositional process” (p. 175).

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One Man's Fight For Same-Sex Marriage

On Friday, Morning Edition at NPR broadcast a moving story about David Wilson, a black man who was one of the plaintiffs in the suit in Massachusetts that led to the 2004 decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

You can read the story here, or listen to it here.

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17 October 2010

Review of "On Mozart" (1996), Part III

This is part 3 of 4 of my review-essay on the collection On Mozart (ed. James M. Morris).  I wrote the review for the journal Notes in 1996, but it was not published at that time. This is its first publication.  See also Parts 1, 2, and 4.

Christoph Wolff’s essay deals with Mozart’s fragments: those works that exist in partially completed full scores written in Mozart’s “public” composing hand (“sketches,” in contrast, are generally private documents, written in a spidery hand that Mozart did not intend to be readily legible to anyone other than himself, which he used for working out melodic continuity, contrapuntal elaborations, and the like).[19]

Wolff, echoing Zaslaw, writes that some may consider it “blasphemy” to claim that Mozart worked hard at composing. Even so, he continues to maintain that Mozart “conceived and shaped” all his music in his head (Wolff’s essay does not take into account Konrad’s book on Mozart’s sketches, although that book appeared in 1992, two years before On Mozart). Wolff divides Mozart’s fragments into four types: those with a single line (melody) notated on a fully laid-out score; those with upper voice and bass line; those with upper voice, basso and some transitional passages; and those with all parts written out in full.[20] Wolff’s article breaks little new ground, but is a good, succinct introduction to the topic of Mozart’s fragments. It is worth noting that Wolff’s chapter (the sixth) is the first in On Mozart to include musical examples (p. 116) and facsimiles.

Maynard Solomon’s essay on Mozart’s sister, “Marianne Mozart: ‘Carissima sorella mia’,” appears in essentially unaltered form as Chapter 26 of his recent Mozart biography.[21] There, it is deeply embedded in a densely woven web of narrative, whose principal antagonist is a heavily demonized Leopold, whom Solomon alleges to have secreted away a small fortune that he declined, even in death, to share with his wayward son. This is not the place for a detailed critique of Solomon’s biography. Suffice it to say that the chapter published here is representative of Solomon’s work in general. He is a vivid writer who is deeply engaged with his topic. He is highly attuned to distant and non-obvious resonances in the language of the Mozart family letters, and he has a gift for thinking critically about sources and documents (a gift that, alas, he does not often bring to bear on his own writing). What would perhaps make an engaging historical novel, however, does not necessarily make good history. Solomon’s essay here, and his Mozart biography as a whole, are to my mind vitiated by the same flaws of method and argumentation that seem to me pervasive in his work: the creation of densely woven structures of fragmentary quotations, often wrenched out of context and taken wildly out of chronological sequence, and inserted into a predetermined narrative built on allusion and innuendo which, at the next stage of the story, become taken as fact (Leopold’s reputed “fortune” being a prime example).
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Crisis in the Humanities

So it seems that at least a few academics employed in the humanities are beginning to get an inkling that something is wrong....although to judge by what they're writing, they have no clear idea yet what it is, much less what to do about it.

On Monday, 11 October, Stanley Fish published a piece at the Opinionator blog at The New York Times, "The Crisis of the Humanities Officially Arrives," occasioned (in part) by the announcement on 1 October by George M. Philip, president of SUNY Albany, that the university was cutting its programs in French, Italian, classics, Russian, and theater.

Some quotes:
And indeed, if your criteria are productivity, efficiency and consumer satisfaction, it makes perfect sense to withdraw funds and material support from the humanities — which do not earn their keep and often draw the ire of a public suspicious of what humanities teachers do in the classroom — and leave standing programs that have a more obvious relationship to a state’s economic prosperity and produce results the man or woman in the street can recognize and appreciate. (What can you say to the tax-payer who asks, “What good does a program in Byzantine art do me?” Nothing.)


What, then, can be done? Well, it won’t do to invoke the pieties informing Charlie from Binghamton’s question [Charlie is a reader whose e-mail Fish had discussed at the beginning of his post]— the humanities enhance our culture; the humanities make our society better — because those pieties have a 19th century air about them and are not even believed in by some who rehearse them.

And it won’t do to argue that the humanities contribute to economic health of the state — by producing more well-rounded workers or attracting corporations or delivering some other attenuated benefit — because nobody really buys that argument, not even the university administrators who make it.

And it won’t do, in the age of entrepreneurial academics, zero-based budgeting and “every tub on its own bottom,” to ask computer science or biology or the medical school to fork over some of their funds so that the revenue-poor classics department can be sustained. That was the idea a while back, but today it won’t fly.

The only thing that might fly — and I’m hardly optimistic — is politics, by which I mean the political efforts of senior academic administrators to explain and defend the core enterprise to those constituencies — legislatures, boards of trustees, alumni, parents and others — that have either let bad educational things happen or have actively connived in them.
Fish does not go on to suggest what those explanations and defenses might be.  It is symptomatic that Fish uses Byzantine art as a an example of the perceived uselessness of the humanities, while overlooking the obvious case that could be made that the availability of instruction in Russian language and culture (for example) might very well actually be of crucial importance to the nation's future political and economic well being.  (Not that I'm saying this is the only valid justification for the humanities; it's just indicative of a certain kind of blindness in academics that Fish overlooks this.)

For insight into what Fish might offer as explanations for and defenses of the humanities, Mark Liberman at Language Log looks back to an earlier NYT piece by Fish, "Will the Humanities Save Us?" (6 Jan 2008)....and doesn't find much that's persuasive there, either.

Meanwhile, two other reactions to the closures at SUNY-Albany, one direct and one indirect:

Justin Erik Halldór Smith sees the closure of the French department at SUNY-Albany as a symptom of a long-term general trend in the humanities (in the United States) away from teaching that is transformative (in the sense that learning another language actually rewires your brain) to a model which promises to enhance the skills students already have without actually requiring them to become....well....different.

He writes:
To expect students to master a foreign language would be precisely to have a design upon the wiring of their brains, but such a design would entirely go against the trend, now fully dominant across the humanities, of creating, for every course, a parallel universe of so-called 'learning objectives', where the singular and obvious objective of a course cannot be mentioned, and instead one must speak vaguely of enhancing critical thinking skills, nurturing confidence in public speaking, learning to collaborate with others through small-group work, etc. But obviously the only legitimate learning objective of, say, a Greek course is to learn Greek. Once that basic commitment is abandoned, real education in letters is doomed.

Foreign-language programs were, I mean to say, the anchor of the humanities, but it is not only since the recent economic crisis and the massive closure of these programs that we have been adrift. The institutional changes that made these programs irrelevant and ineffective occurred during boom times, and in particular during a time when universities came to realize they could get in on the boom by catering to students as if they were customers, adapting themselves to the 'learning styles' and degrees of motivation of potential tuition-payers. Soon enough, classics departments were spinning out parallel degree programs in 'classical studies', where --following the general rule in academia according to which 'studies' implies dilution, corner-cutting, and compromise-- students could now get degrees by taking courses about daily life in ancient Rome, say, without having to learn any Latin at all.

I will not run through the argument here that it was not the humanization of the university, but rather the corporatization, that brought these changes about. What I want to suggest is just that it is not only cost-cutting in difficult times that has brought about such a dire situation for the humanities. Humanities programs are dying off in this desert into which we've all strolled because they were already weakened by the junk-food diet they adopted while still in their old and bountiful habitat. Faculty members who did not share the financial incentives of the people whose interests were served by scams such as 'classical studies' nonetheless were complicit, since they held onto the inherited belief that the replacement of learning by 'learning objectives' was a part of the democratic opening up of higher education to all members of society.
Meanwhile, Cathy Davidson, co-founder of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) counters (without referring directly to Fish's piece):  "It's Not a Crisis in the Humanities, It's a Crisis in the Society." 

Well, no.  The humanities are, really and truly, in dire shape, and their condition is not just a reflection of problems in the wider society.

To be sure, developments in the humanities over the past three decades or so parallel those in the society as a whole (for example, the tendency of many in the humanities to peddle intellectual versions of credit-default swaps and collateralized debt obligations as means to quick and painless academic riches).  But that's only part of the story.

Davidson's piece, insofar as it is making a coherent point, seems mainly to be a puff piece for HASTAC....which, to judge by the projects that it is supporting so far, is not providing anything like a new model for the humanities to go forward.
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16 October 2010

Review of "On Mozart" (1996), Part II

This is part 2 of 4 of my review-essay on the collection On Mozart (ed. James M. Morris).  I wrote the review for the journal Notes in 1996, but it was not published at that time, and this is its first publication.  See also Parts 1, 3, and 4.

The stated objective of William J. Baumol and Hilda Baumol’s essay[4] “is to help explain the extraordinary confluence of composers whose activities centered in Vienna around Mozart’s time” (p. 72).  As they describe it, their fundamental hypothesis is:
...that the political division of the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburg possessions into many petty states worked to produce the circumstances (notably demand and a profusion of jobs) that help to explain the profusion of musical productivity (p. 72).
However, there is a fundamental misapprehension here.  It is perfectly true that non-Habsburg German portions of the “Holy Roman Empire” were an unruly collection of petty states lacking a strong central authority.  The Habsburg monarchy, on the other hand, did have a strong and increasingly centralized authority embodied in the person of the current head of the house of Habsburg, who held a satchel-full of titles from the various subject Habsburg territories, such as “King of Bohemia,” “King of Hungary,” and so on.  The so-called “emperor” (or empress) exerted direct control over most aspects of economic, religious, political and cultural life, implemented through a vast, if somewhat unruly, bureaucracy.  Thus, for example, when Empress Maria Theresia died at the end of November 1780, the crown decreed that theaters should remain closed in mourning for several weeks throughout the Habsburg lands.  Such a decree would have been impossible in Germany, and there was in any case no central authority to make it.
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The Simpsons

Still catching up.

For those few of you who are not among the 3,565,308 who have already watched the instantly classic opening sequence from last Sunday's The Simpsons, story-boarded by Banksy, here it is:

According to a post by Mike Masnick at Techdirt on Tuesday, Fox, apparently unhappy with all the free publicity, successfully had one instance of the sequence taken down from YouTube. But at that point, it had already gone viral...

At any rate, this copy is still up, and very popular.

For good reason. Some are calling this the best couch "gag" ever.
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15 October 2010

Review of "On Mozart" (1996), Part I

The following review-essay was commissioned in 1996 by Notes, but not published there for reasons that were not made clear to me. Because much of the review is still relevant, and because I make a number of points that I haven't published elsewhere, I am publishing the review in full here.  It is unchanged from the completed typescript submitted in 1996; I have not made any attempt to update the notes with references to more recent work (apart from one reference to my dissertation). 

I have not included hyperlinks for the notes because Blogger chronically breaks these when editing in "Compose" mode (please complain to Google, not me).

See also parts 2, 3, and 4.


James M. Morris, ed.  On Mozart (Cambridge, New York, Melbourne:  Woodrow Wilson Center Press, Cambridge University Press, 1994)
Dexter Edge

At the height of the Mozart frenzy of 1991, I sometimes diverted myself by trying to count the Mozart conferences and exhibitions taking place that year. Although I felt I had a pretty good handle on international events (I could count at least a dozen major conferences and a similar number of exhibitions), I simply couldn’t keep track of the bewildering variety of local ones. The round of international conferences alone must have taxed even seasoned academic jet-setters. Most senior Mozart scholars (and some junior ones as well) spent the year in a permanent jet-lag-induced fog.

Since 1991, this orgy of talk has been slowly trickling into print. The volume under review is one of several bicentenary “books of the conference” to have appeared over the past half decade. It is based on the symposium (of which I was only dimly aware at the time) “Mozart and the Riddle of Creativity,” held at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D. C., over four days in the first week of December 1991. In the mornings, the audience heard presentations on Mozart by scholars from a variety of fields (only about half were music scholars, and even fewer were Mozart specialists); these presentations were intentionally geared to a “non-specialist” audience, but they were (as the essays printed here suggest) no less intellectually demanding for being so. Each afternoon the symposium featured a film of a Mozart opera, introduced by critic Stanley Kauffmann. The symposium concluded on the afternoon of 5 December, the anniversary of Mozart’s death, “in time,” as editor James M. Morris explains, “for the participants to attend the performance of the [Mozart] Requiem given that evening by the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center” (p. 6).

The symposium was the inspiration of the late John Clive, who unfortunately did not live to see its realization. Clive had envisioned, in Morris’s words, a “bicentennial event that would instruct intelligent lay audiences about Mozart, and entertain them as well, by presenting the composer in a context that had the density of real life and was, by turns, personal, psychological, historical, cultural, and aesthetic” (p. 6). On the evidence of the essays published here, the symposium went a long way towards achieving that vision, and it was undoubtedly a stimulating and rewarding experience for audience and participants alike. The resulting book, in spite of many merits, seems rather less successful.

The book includes revised and expanded versions of ten papers from the symposium, plus two contributions, by literary scholar Denis Donoghue and musicologist Christoph Wolff, that were not part of the original program. As Morris explains it, the symposium “set [Mozart] first in the timeless ahistorical space reserved for individuals of spectacular creativity, then in his time, and finally in our time” (p. 6). This is a fair description of the overall organization of the book (and the same sentence appears in slightly altered form on the flyleaf). “Timeless ahistorical space” is represented by Donoghue’s opening chapter, and by the contributions of psychologists Howard Gardner and David Henry Feldman; all three concern themselves in various ways with Mozart as “genius.” Mozart “in his time” is represented by economists Hilda and William J. Baumol, in their chapter on the economics of music in the late eighteenth century, and by essays on Mozart’s life and compositional practice by music scholars Neal Zaslaw, Christoph Wolff, Maynard Solomon, Joseph Kerman and Wye J. Allanbrook. Historian Michael P. Steinberg’s chapter on Don Giovanni tacks between the intellectual history of Mozart’s time and our own by considering what the opera meant in the Habsburg monarchy of the 1780s, and how that meaning is reflected by Joseph Losey’s 1979 film of the opera. Mozart “in our time” (broadly defined to include the late nineteenth-century) is represented by Leon Botstein’s essay on the fin-de-siècle Mozart revival, and by Stanley Kauffmann’s critique of three films of three Mozart operas.

Morris’s introduction opens with some cogent comments on the excesses of the Mozart year. He complains that “Mozart” was marketed as if his name alone were assurance of equal excellence across the entire range of his oeuvre. Yet, in Morris’s view, this kind of marketing “flattens” Mozart’s achievement (p. 2) and runs the risk of trivializing his music in the minds and ears of the general public. We should remind ourselves, Morris implies, that many of Mozart’s early compositions are relatively ordinary:  they are, to be sure, extraordinary because they were written by a child whose music was (from at least his early adolescence onward) as good as anything by any other composer in Europe.  Seen, however, in the light of Mozart’s mature masterpieces, his early works shine rather less brightly.  It is no good pretending that La finta giardiniera, however delightful it may be, is on a par with Figaro.

Denis Donoghue’s “Approaching Mozart” opens with a literary meditation on three texts touching on Mozart in various ways: Kierkegaard’s Either/Or; Anthony Hecht’s poem “Dichtung und Wahrheit,” and “Mozart, 1935,” a poem by Wallace Stevens. After a brief nod to musical sociology (in the guise of Jacques Attali’s Noise), Donoghue goes on to argue for the essential secularity of Mozart’s music (even of such ostensibly religious works such as the C-minor Mass) and for its proto-Romanticism.  Donoghue’s essay is self-consciously literary and rather obscure. The author states early on that writing about music ought to allow it to remain “elusive” (p. 15). In this, at least, I think he has entirely succeeded.

The chapters by Howard Gardner and David Henry Feldman share an interest in the psychology of extraordinary talent and creativity, a topic about which the authors have written both separately and collaboratively. Gardner’s essay here, “How extraordinary was Mozart?,” draws on his recent studies of seven “creators of the modern era”: Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, T. S. Eliot, Gandhi and Martha Graham. Gardner describes some of the characteristics that these “geniuses” have in common:  comfortable backgrounds, supportive families, a tendency towards single-mindedness and egocentricity, and so on. Much of this seems to belabor the obvious; more interesting, perhaps, is Gardner’s hypothesis that a genius, as a rule, requires ten years of intensive practice and study to attain mastery of his or her field, and a further ten years until he or she achieves a dramatic breakthrough in that field. Another breakthrough may follow a decade after that (if the genius lives that long). This seems a bit pat (why not nine years, or eleven?), and Gardner’s sample population is exceedingly small, but the hypothesis is worth pondering.

Gardner goes on to consider the extent to which Mozart’s life is typical of the patterns he has identified in the lives of other creative geniuses, and how it deviates. He posits four ways in which Mozart’s life was “unique”:  in his evenness of productivity and artistic growth (the creators Gardner has studied typically have had periods of intense productivity punctuated by relatively fallow periods); in his “combination of childlike and adultlike characteristics”; in his “exquisite personal intelligences”; and in his position “on the edge of modernity.” All but the third of these seem problematic. Mozart did in fact experience fallow periods, although his great overall productivity tends to mask this. For example, between the completion of Così fan tutte in January 1790 and the completion of the Piano Concerto in B-flat, K. 595, in January 1791, he entered only four new compositions and two arrangements into his catalogue of his own works.[1] The notion that the adult Mozart retained childlike characteristics is a well-worn commonplace of his popular image, but this aspect of his personality is often exaggerated and taken out of context, and I don’t find Gardner fully persuasive here. Nor am I convinced that Mozart in particular was a key transitional figure between the era of “musician as servant” (Bach and Haydn) and the era of “musician as freestanding artist” (Beethoven). The reality is more complex.  Joseph Haydn is often used as foil to Mozart in this regard. Yet Haydn spent the better part of a decade in his late teens and early twenties scrabbling for a living in Vienna as a freelance, and he later adjusted rapidly and remuneratively to the entrepreneurial possibilities opened up by the death of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy in 1790 and the sudden dispersal of the Esterházy Kapelle. Mozart, on the other hand, was an (admittedly not very diligent and often absent) employee of the Archbishop of Salzburg until 1781, and he was granted a sinecure as court chamber composer by Emperor Joseph II in December 1787. Thus he spent only a little over six years as a pure freelancer. Mozart was not unique in mixing aspects of old and new professional patterns in his career:  virtually all professional musicians in the Habsburg Monarchy during this period were “transitional” in this sense, because the economic structure of musical life was changing radically and rapidly.

Feldman’s essay, “Mozart and the transformational imperative,” considers how Mozart the “prodigy” resembles and differs from modern musical prodigies.  Like Gardner, Feldman finds much that Mozart shares with typical prodigies (if the word “typical” makes sense in this context):  a history of family interest, being a first-born son, and so on. However, he identifies two qualities that set Mozart apart from the run-of-the-mill prodigy. One is his love of word play: his tendency “to alliterate, generate transformations, transpose, and twist meanings seems to have parallels in his musical inventions” (p. 60). This is an evocative notion, but one would like to see some specific musical examples.

Feldman suggests that Mozart’s literary talent was far inferior to his musical talent. As an example, he cites Mozart’s poem on the death of his pet starling, a poem dated 4 June 1787, just two days after Mozart had learned of his father’s death.[2] It seems odd to criticize Mozart’s poem as “amateurish” on the basis of a modern English translation, as Feldman does. And the German original of the poem is more than competent structurally: it consists of a sequence of rhyming iambic couplets, the first lines of which have three feet and the second two. Rhymes are alternately masculine and feminine. Mozart carries through this scheme consistently and with fairly clever and unforced rhymes. The general effect is one of whimsical and self-mocking satire with a hint of melancholy. It could be said, then, that the poem (assuming it is genuine) actually shows a good deal of literary flair, something which can be said of all Mozart’s writing. That his literary talent remained uncultivated, that it never developed a professional sheen, is hardly surprising; Mozart was, after all, a full-time musician. Yet we should remember that Mozart’s main literary outlet, his letters, remain more widely read today than the writings of his Austrian literary contemporaries, most of whom are today known only to specialists.[3]

Like Gardner, Feldman takes as given that Mozart was childishly naive and inept in his social dealings as an adult. He claims that “[Mozart] routinely overestimated how impressed people were with his work, or how loyal, committed, or reliable they were” (p. 67). Again, one would like examples, and I, for one, am skeptical of the “routinely.” Feldman take as established fact an extreme revisionist view of Mozart’s financial state at the end of his life. He writes:  “The Mozart family was solidly middle class....Indeed, contrary to the legend that Mozart died in poverty, he enjoyed a comfortable bourgeois life right up to the time of his death.” Even for me, a known fellow traveler of Mozart revisionists, Feldman’s second sentence seems a tad overstated.


[1] See Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Verzeichnüß aller meiner Werke vom Monath febraio 1784 bis Monath 1 , published in facsimile as Mozart’s Thematic Catalogue, a Facsimile: British Library Stefan Zweig MS 63, introduction and transcription by Albi Rosenthal and Alan Tyson (London: British Library, 1990).

[2] The pedigree of this poem is not impeccable. No autograph is known to survive, and it was first published in Gustav Nottebohm, Mozartiana (Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel, 1880), pp. 8-9. It is reproduced in W. A. Bauer, O. E. Deutsch and J. H. Eibl, eds., Mozart. Briefe und Aufzeichnungen (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1962-75) [MBA], III/49-50. Feldman’s essay disconcertingly gives the date of the poem as “1781,” although the surrounding discussion concerns Don Giovanni and “A Musical Joke.”

[3] The English translation cited by Feldman is clever in its own right: it retains Mozart’s rhymed couplets and his metrical scheme, and matches Mozart’s content quite closely, sacrificing only the alternation of masculine and feminine rhymes. This sort of thing is not easy to bring off in a translation, as anyone who has tried it will be aware. The translation is taken from Wolfgang Hildesheimer, Mozart, trans. Marian Faber (London: Dent, 1983), pp. 206-7.

This is Part 1 of four parts.

Continue on to Part 2.

Creative Commons License
This review of "On Mozart" by Dexter Edge is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Hunter S. Thompson Applies for a Job

This was posted by Max Fisher at The Atlantic Wire a couple of weeks ago, but I'm still slowly working through the backlog from the time of the great computer disaster, so I didn't get around to posting it until now.

A letter from 1958 in which Hunter S. Thompson applies for a job at the Vancouver Sun (extracts):
October 1, 1958 57 Perry Street New York City
I got a hell of a kick reading the piece Time magazine did this week on The Sun. In addition to wishing you the best of luck, I'd also like to offer my services.
Since I haven't seen a copy of the "new" Sun yet, I'll have to make this a tentative offer. I stepped into a dung-hole the last time I took a job with a paper I didn't know anything about (see enclosed clippings) and I'm not quite ready to go charging up another blind alley.
The enclosed clippings should give you a rough idea of who I am. It's a year old, however, and I've changed a bit since it was written. I've taken some writing courses from Columbia in my spare time, learned a hell of a lot about the newspaper business, and developed a healthy contempt for journalism as a profession.
As far as I'm concerned, it's a damned shame that a field as potentially dynamic and vital as journalism should be overrun with dullards, bums, and hacks, hag-ridden with myopia, apathy, and complacence, and generally stuck in a bog of stagnant mediocrity. If this is what you're trying to get The Sun away from, then I think I'd like to work for you.
Most of my experience has been in sports writing, but I can write everything from warmongering propaganda to learned book reviews.
I can work 25 hours a day if necessary, live on any reasonable salary, and don't give a black damn for job security, office politics, or adverse public relations.
I would rather be on the dole than work for a paper I was ashamed of.
It's a long way from here to British Columbia, but I think I'd enjoy the trip.
If you think you can use me, drop me a line.
If not, good luck anyway.
Sincerely, Hunter S. Thompson
You can read the whole thing here.

I think I'll try this approach if I ever apply for an academic job again. The outcome can't be any worse than with my previous cover letter....
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14 October 2010

Music Links

Some notable music links from the past couple of weeks.

Colin Eastock,  "What's Wrong with Classical Music?," at 3quarksdaily (4 October).  Worth reading.
His conclusion:
There are those who say that what’s needed is more music education programs, with a classical emphasis, in our schools. I’m certainly not opposed to this, but I fear that such efforts often create an academic aura around classical music that serves to further separate it from the “real world.” (This is the sorry fate that has befallen the art of poetry.) The goal should be to bring classical music back into the everyday lives of everyday people.

Musicians, educators, concert presenters, and all others involved in the promotion of classical music need to take a hard look at the cultural messages that may be undermining their efforts. It’s worth remembering that the division of musical cultures into “high” and “low” – separating the classical from the popular – was largely an invention of the classical music world itself. This kind of thinking has a long history, but it was only in the twentieth century that it coalesced into a rigid ideology of exclusion.

It’s time for classical music to finally get over the idea that it’s not merely different from, but opposed to, other musics: that classical music and no other kind is “timeless,” “universal” and “great.” This, in and of itself, will not solve the problem of getting people to appreciate (or even sit through) a Wagner opera. But it would, at least, bring classical music back into touch with the values of the contemporary world. If classical music today finds itself isolated on the wrong side of a cultural Berlin Wall, it’s a wall that it built itself. We need to demolish that wall, if we are to convince the world at large that classical music should and does have a place in the contemporary world.

The Economist (7 Oct) has a good summary of the current state of the music business: "Having a ball: In the supposedly benighted music business, a lot of things are making money."

The article has nothing whatsoever to say about the state of the classical music business, which is (as Eatock's essay emphasizes) too small to notice.

Philip Ball reports in Nature News (5 Oct) on the meeting The Musical Brain: Arts, Science & the Mind, which took place in London on 2 and 3 October, and took its inspiration from the life of Robert Schumann, whose 200th birthday is this year.  Ball discusses Schumann's (alleged) focal dystonia (from which pianist Leon Fleisher also suffers) and his (alleged) bipolar disorder, as well papers by Katie Overy on the expression of emotion in music and Stefan Koelsch.

An irritating quote:
In any event, Schumann is by no means unique among composers in having wrestled with mental illness: Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Leonard Bernstein are among others who seem to have done so.
When did it become a "fact" that Mozart suffered from "mental illness"?

Assorted short links:

Roberto Casati has published (5 Oct) a substantive revision of his article "Sound" at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Mark Changizi writes on the interaction in the brain between visual and aural perception, in "The Moving Look of Music: What Your Visual System Thinks Music Is" at Changizi Blog (28 Sep), drawn from his forthcoming book Harnessed: How Language and Music Mimicked Nature and Transformed Ape to Man.

Lisa Hirsch at Iron Tongue of Midnight has links to all of the reviews you could ever want (and more) of the new Rheingold at the Met.

Just what the world needs: another narcissistic "inheritor" of the mantle of Pavarotti. See Michael White's profile in the NYT of Vittorio Grigolo, who is making his debut at the Met this weekend in a revival of Zeffirelli's production Bohème, after making a smash in his debut in Covent Garden in June.

And wouldn't there be room in Pavarotti's mantle for at least two or three normal-sized tenors....?

A lost flute concerto by Vivaldi was recently discovered in Scotland among the papers of the Marquesses of Lothian; see the story by Severin Carrell in The Guardian (7 Oct).

Musicologist Reinhold Brinkmann, who taught at Harvard from 1985 until 2003, died this past Sunday, 10 October, at the age of 76. See the obituary in the Harvard Gazette; and another by Jens Malte Fischer at the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

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12 October 2010

Calvin & Hobbes in .... The Twilight Zone

I'm a big fan of Calvin and Hobbes, and sometimes read through the books when I'm feeling especially blue.

I'm also a big fan of the original Twilight Zone, which I think is one of the greatest shows ever to have been on TV (not that there has been a lot of competition).

The site Super Punch recently ran a contest to "draw Calvin and Hobbes or anyone else in the style of Calvin and Hobbes."

And the winners were Timothy Lim and Mark Pellegrini, one of whose entries placed Calvin in the role of Billy Mumy in the classic episode "It's a Good Life." 


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11 October 2010

Dinner with Leo Slezak and Tito Schipa

Sunday night, I had dinner with Dick Mackey, a retired horn player from the Boston Symphony, and his wife Wendy. Dinner parties at the Mackeys always bring together the most fascinating and unexpected assortments of guests, never failing to spark wonderful, warm, wide-ranging, and cultured conversation, without the least hint of pretense, fueled by a seemingly unending supply of good wine and good music.

Sunday was no exception.  The guests included Viennese emigre, Harold Basser, a structural engineer with the most wide-ranging cultural knowledge of anyone I've met in years (and who can apparently sing all of Rosenkavalier from memory); Robert Sheena, principal English Horn in the BSO and his wife Jane; Fredrik and Jane Wanger; and the most extraordinary dog & cat duo of my acquaintance, Hal and Clark.  (Also in attendance was an unemployed musicologist from Roslindale whose name escapes me at the moment.)

As usual, Dick showed off his most recently acquired Mozart first editions (beautiful).  Harold, who escaped from Vienna near the end of 1938, had avoided returning until 2005, when his daughter talked him into showing her the city from his point of view; he made me feel homesick by lapsing into Wienerisch (the rest of the time, he sounds like a New Yorker).  As I told him, Vienna is the only place for which I've ever felt homesick, and I mentioned Edge's Theory of Homesickness (developed from my experience in Vienna): you have to love and hate a place in order to feel homesick for it.

The main course (prepared by Wendy) was swordfish.  Outstanding.

After dinner, we listened to recordings of the tenors Leo Slezak (1873-1946), whose singing I knew only slightly; and Tito Schipa (1888-1965), whom I didn't know at all.  Because Schubert was one of the running themes of the evening's conversation (I had the opportunity before dinner to bore everyone with my recent research into the "Unfinished" Symphony), we listened to some of Slezak's extraordinary recordings of Schubert (and other) Lieder.  His soft singing was extraordinary, perhaps the best I've ever heard by a tenor.

So far as I can see, none of the Slezak recordings we listened to last night are available online.  But here is a recording of him singing "An die Musik" which gives a good sense of his subtlety, control, and nuance.

Today, while looking for recordings of Slezak online, I ran across ten digitized cylinder recordings from 1910-1913 at the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project based at University of California, Santa Barbara. So far as I can see, the site doesn't offer a way of embedding these recordings into blog posts. But for a sample, listen to Slezak's lovely rendition of the "Preislied" from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. (The accompaniment, somewhat disconcertingly, sounds like an Italian municipal brass band.)

Schipa was a revelation. We listened to recordings of him singing Scarlatti, Handel, Tosti, and the like. His tone glows (he reminds me of an Italian Wunderlich), his diction and intonation are perfect, and he sings with a wonderful directness and lack of affectation. He's apparently become a great favorite among some high-level instrumental performers, and I can see why. I wouldn't hesitate to use Schipa to illustrate how to play the cantabile lines in a Mozart sonata or concerto.

Here's one of the tracks we listened to last night, "Che farò senza Euridice?" It nearly made me tear up (something that hardly ever happens anymore).

Every word is crystal clear.

And finally, here are three photos of Hal and Clark. These date from 2008 (Wendy sent them to me when I was taking Bruce Blumberg's "Cogntive Dog" at Harvard Extension), and Hal looks a bit more mature now. But their easy and playful interaction is the same.

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Joan Sutherland has Died at Age 83

Soprano Joan Sutherland died Sunday in Switzerland at the age of 83; Anthony Tommasini reports in The New York Times.

I was not a huge fan (I like acting with my singing), but her voice was an extraordinary one. Here she is singing "Casta diva" from Bellini's Norma:

[Update: Tommasini has now posted his full obituary of Sutherland, here]
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10 October 2010

Revision to "Writings" Page

A couple of additional revisions to my "Writings" page, most importantly an item that I forgot to include under "Magnificent Torsos":

Review of James M. Morris, ed. On Mozart (1996)
Commissioned by Notes. Completed and submitted 24 September 1996, but not published, for reasons that were not made clear to me. 18 pages plus notes in typescript.
I plan to publish the review on this blog, as it is still relevant and contains some points that I have not subsequently published elsewhere.  I'll probably do sometime in the course of the coming week, probably divided across several separate posts.
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Happy 10.10.10

Or, in American style, 10/10/10.
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08 October 2010

Critical Theory vs. Theoretical Criticism

Nina Paley's "bonus" Friday installment of Mimi and Eunice.

Critical Theory
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07 October 2010

New pdf links on "Writings" page

Thanks to the generosity of one of my readers, I've been able to add links to pdfs of three additional articles on my "Writings" page:
“Mozart’s Reception in Vienna, 1787-1791,” in Wolfgang Amadè Mozart: Essays on his Life and his Music, ed. Stanley Sadie (Oxford University Press, 1996): 66-117. [pdf]

“A Newly Discovered Autograph Source for Mozart’s Aria K. 365a (Anh. 11a),” Mozart-Jahrbuch 1996 (Salzburg, 1996): 177-96. [pdf]

“Manuscript Parts as Evidence of Orchestral Size in the Eighteenth-Century Viennese Concerto,” in Mozart’s Piano Concertos: Text, Context, Interpretation (University of Michigan Press, 1996): 427-60. [pdf] Based on a paper read at the Michigan MozartFest, Ann Arbor, 16-18 November 1989.
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06 October 2010

New "Writings" and "Projects" pages

I'd like to point my readers toward two new "static" pages (the ones with the links across the top of the page).

"Writings" contains a list of:
  • All my published writings in musicology, with links to pdfs whenever I have them;
  • A list of my "magnificent torsos" in musicology (that is, substantial projects that exist in some more or less advanced state, but have never been published for one reason or another, usually because I was either so overworked at that there was not time, or because I was unemployed and broke);
  • Links to posts in the major series on this blog, Confessions of a Recovering Musicologist and Reflections on Life with BDD;
  • Links to other substantial original posts on this blog.
"Projects" contains brief descriptions of my main areas of current research and writing.
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04 October 2010

Is there abuse and corruption in musicology? Part 4

The following is the conclusion of an essay entitled "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?," which originated as a response to a discussion on the AMS-L e-mail list in May 2009 regarding an essay by Ilias Chrissochoidis in The Chronicle of Higher Education (8 May 2009). My essay was not published by AMS-L at that time, and this is its first publication. For contextual background, see the Introduction; see also Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this essay. A pdf of the complete essay, including the introduction, is available here.

What steps can be taken to combat the problems that I’ve outlined here?

First and foremost, every musicologist (and ethnomusicologist and theorist) who is involved with graduate education can (and should, on ethical grounds) make every effort to reverse the overproduction of Ph.Ds. This will not be easy for those of you (a large proportion, I expect) who are under strong pressure to have at least a few graduate students to protect your department and faculty lines from the depredations of administration. The AMS, for its part, can make a very clear public statement about the problem, which is the structural basis for all the other issues that I’ve introduced here.

Second, it is essential to provide opportunities for those who believe they have been wronged or who have witnessed abuse to have a forum where they can speak out without fear of reprisal or destroying their own careers, and procedures must be developed to allow those who have been wronged to take appropriate action, again without fear of reprisal, both through institutional and legal channels. I have recently pondered whether it might be possible to set up a website similar to Wikileaks[1](which, as many of you will know, provides an outlet for the online publication of documents that vested interests wish to suppress). Perhaps this is something AMS can consider, or perhaps it is best set up as an independent entity. Various obvious problems would need to be worked out: most importantly, it is essential that such a site not become an outlet for anonymous unsubstantiated accusations. But it is nevertheless essential that those who are afraid to speak out be provided a voice.

Third, ways must be found to allow more accountability and transparency in hiring and review. This will be difficult, because the current system is very deeply entrenched and its secrecy jealously guarded, at least in part out of fear of legal action. Most of you reading this will probably feel that you do your best to maintain integrity and objectivity when involved with searches. But if you look deeply into your hearts, I think you will realize that perhaps you, too, sometimes put applications in the reject pile because of the applicant’s age, the school the applicant graduated from, or unsubstantiated rumors you may have heard over cocktails at national AMS.

Fourth, it is high time that someone or some organization began to keep objective and comprehensive statistics about graduate education and employment in the field. How many students are entering graduate programs, how many become candidates, and how many complete their Ph.Ds.?  What is the employment state of graduates after six months? After two years? After five? As with the legal profession (see note 2 in Part 1 of this essay), it should be a requirement for departments to provide accurate and timely information on the employment of their graduates to a central authority on a regular basis. Perhaps this central authority could be AMS, or perhaps a new independent organization.

A rumor has gotten back to me that I have “left the field,” which came as a surprise to me; I’ve never said it (and frankly, no one has asked). It’s true that I feel that the field has left me, and it became clear that it was foolish (as well as economically impossible) for me to continue to make scholarly and intellectual contributions to the field for free.

But I have a very large basket of relevant skills and experience, and I’m still more than happy to entertain any and all reasonable offers.

This is the concluding part of the essay "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?"


[1] This essay was written long before Wikileaks unleashed a media firestorm by publishing a large cache of documents on the Iraq war. As of the date of publication of this essay, Wikileaks is offline, "under[g]oing scheduled maintenance."
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Is there abuse and corruption in musicology? Part 3

The following is Part 3 of an essay entitled "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?," which originated as a response to a discussion on the AMS-L e-mail list in May 2009 regarding an essay by Ilias Chrissochoidis in The Chronicle of Higher Education (8 May 2009). My essay was not published by AMS-L at that time, and this is its first publication. For contextual background, see the Introduction; see also Parts 1, 2, and 4 of this essay. A pdf of the complete essay, including the introduction, is available here.

As some respondents have pointed out, ‘twas (to some extent) ever thus in academia. The venality and petty corruption of academia has long been the fodder for novels and films. But there are several points to be made in response to those who think that it is sufficient to say (and it seems invariably to be the securely employed who make this point) “Grow up and deal with it”:

(1) The fact that similar abuses have happened in the past does not absolve members of the profession from the moral responsibility of standing up to such abuses now;

(2) There is a very strong case to be made that the level of abuse has increased considerably because of the long-term chronic problems of the musicological job market and the overproduction of Ph.D.s; and at the very least an extremely strong case can be made that there should be a disinterested empirical investigation of this situation;

(3) The personal damage to the lives and careers of far too many fine scholars is both morally unacceptable and is a long-term cancer that is eating the field from within.

From a practical standpoint, hiring committees often lack the competence to judge the scholarly qualifications of the very specialties that they wish to hire. This is perfectly understandable. If, say, a department wishes to hire an expert in eighteenth-century music, it is almost always because they haven’t got one. This is only natural, but how do hiring committees compensate? Mostly they don’t. Instead of, say, asking the eighteenth-century specialist from the university down the road to help out or even asking the advice of the local eighteenth-century specialist in the departments of art history or literature in their own university, committees tend to fall back on not always well-grounded rules of thumb: “Well, the candidate is from Great University X, so she must be good,” or “I recognize the name on this letter of recommendation, so I’m going to give it more weight than the recommendation of this person I don’t know anything about.” Lack of specialist competence on hiring committees does not, in itself, necessarily lead to abuse or corruption in the hiring process. But it does make it easier for a hiring committee to be led astray by factors that have nothing to do with the qualifications or competence of the applicant.

This general problem of lack of competence may sometimes also apply to the selection of papers for national meetings of the AMS. I’m sure many of you have attended meetings (I certainly have) where you know personally of abstracts in your specialty that were rejected (and perhaps had been repeatedly rejected) even though you know the work to be first-rate, important, in the mainstream of developments in your specialty, and something that you definitely would want to hear. And conversely you’ve almost certainly had occasionally to endure extremely weak papers in your specialty that were accepted. I do not at all mean to imply that all AMS papers are bad. I’ve heard many excellent papers in my field (as well as others) at national AMS meetings, and I’m sure that the selection committees have kept me from having to listen to quite a few that would have been dire. But at least in my areas of expertise, poor or derivative work is accepted for national AMS meetings more often than it should be, and part of the reason for this may be lack of sufficient specialist competence on selection committees.

The chronically dismal job market has also led to a serious erosion of common courtesy and respect toward applicants by hiring institutions. Treatment of applicants can sometimes be truly appalling. Applicants have not infrequently failed to receive notification that their application has been received, and distressingly often, not received any final notification of the outcome of a search, even after a face-to-fact interview. (And of course, such notifications, when they do arrive, often come six to nine months after the closing date, with no word of any kind in between.) I am willing to provide several examples from my own experience to substantiate all of these points.
In general, the academic “job search” in the U.S. has become an unconscionably protracted and ill-defined process. Jobs are now often advertised as early as July of the year before the starting date, even when there is no intention of interviewing until late fall or after the New Year. Job descriptions, particularly from second- and third-tier schools, have not infrequently begun to request ludicrously large baskets of skills, so large that no one could be adequately versed in all of them. And conversely, there seems to be no accountability regarding whether the published criteria have actually been met. I’ve often been told that I was foolish to restrict my applications only to those jobs where I felt that I was a reasonable fit to the job description. Yet I’m often advised that “everyone” applies for everything, because “you never know what a hiring committee is going to decide they want.” But if this is the case, and the hiring is really a free-for-all, what exactly is the purpose of a detailed job description that isn’t going to be honored? The absurdly protracted length of job searches is unnecessary and is one aspect of this process that could surely be improved without undue pain. Whatever problems the British system may have, the job searches there are much less protracted: the turn-around time between closing date, call to an interview, and final decision is, in my experience, typically less than two months.

The hiring process is currently also characterized by continual inflation in the rhetoric of recommendations and statements of qualification. In my experience on hiring committees and as a referee, one has to learn to “discount for inflation.”  How is one to distinguish among 15 or 20 applicants described as “the most brilliant student I’ve ever had”? What is one to write about (and how is one to distinguish) an applicant who truly is brilliant? How is one to evaluate the applicant who claims (and whose referees attest) not only to have done ground-breaking work on depictions of gender in the early-late Renaissance Transylvanian madrigal, but also to be a tuba virtuoso and distinguished opera singer?

There is much much more that could be and needs to be said about the current state of hiring in musicology, and the long-term effect of this unsustainable situation on the field as a whole. I could (and may) write a separate essay about the role of fads in “Theory” (and I don’t mean music theory) in the continual jockeying for position among job applicants. There is much to be said, too, I think, about the overall health of the field. For as I have now spent some time outside the locked gates of this particular ivory tower, and wandered down the hill a bit, looking back I can see that musicology isn’t so much an ivory tower, but more an ivory trailer. And it isn’t so much on a hill, but rather down in a glen behind some trees, out of touch with much truly exciting work that is going on in the rest of the intellectual world, and largely out of touch with much ground-breaking work that is going on in music in the cognitive and biological sciences. It has also become distressingly clear to me just how irrelevant musicology is to nearly everyone outside of it: not just to the person on the street in Roslindale (where I live), but to professional musicians and serious music lovers in all genres. And of course, musicology has virtually no presence in the discourse of other fields. Musicology, from my view outside, is in very real danger of marginalizing itself out of existence.

Continue on to Part 4 of "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?"
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03 October 2010

Is there abuse and corruption in musicology? Part 1

The following is Part 1 of an essay entitled "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?," which originated as a response to a discussion on the AMS-L e-mail list in May 2009 regarding an essay by Ilias Chrissochoidis in The Chronicle of Higher Education (8 May 2009). My essay was not published by AMS-L at that time, and this is its first publication. For contextual background, see the Introduction; see also Parts 2, 3, and 4 of this essay. A pdf of the complete essay, including the introduction, is available here.

I have read with great interest the responses on AMS List over the past ten days to Ilias Chrissochoidis’s essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Like many who have responded to the essay, I was initially put off by its rhetoric. What struck me quite forcefully even on a first reading, however, was that Chrissochoidis had dared to hint at unethical and even corrupt behavior in musicology, something that many (most?) of us know to exist, or at least suspect exists, but which is seldom if ever mentioned in print. Because I have worked in musicology for many years at a high level without ever landing a secure position, and because the level at which I worked and the topics I worked on brought me into contact with a perhaps unusually large number of well-established figures in the field, I have had ample opportunity to see the dark side of musicology. I am also perhaps one of the few respondents who has shuttled between both sides of the professional divide:  I have been on hiring committees, I have been an anonymous reviewer for several refereed journals and a reviewer of fellowship applications, as well as a writer of many letters of recommendation. I am also now on the outside of what seem to be the permanently closed doors of the field, and taking a breather (perhaps temporary, perhaps not) from beating my head and hands in vain on those doors. This post is long—for which I do not apologize in advance, for the topic is an important one, and I have a lot to say about it (after 25 years in the field), although I shall try to be succinct.

It was obvious to me from a first reading that the central point of Chrissochoidis’s essay had nothing to do with the use of music as torture per se, but rather with hypocrisy among the membership of the AMS in issuing a high-minded pronouncement on the immorality of that practice, while ignoring unethical and immoral (and perhaps even illegal) behavior in its own backyard. I have been heartened to see that at least some (although by no means all) of the respondents on AMS List have been able to see past the strained irony and to begin to address some of the very real issues that the essay raises. (As a friend has pointed out, the essay must have touched a nerve, because the volume of response is so great: around 72 responses within 10 days, from nearly 54 different individuals; this on a list that has lately seemed moribund.)[1]

However, the responses so far have, to my mind, been too narrowly focused, in two particular ways: many respondents have focused on whether the AMS as an organization is somehow morally culpable (as if identifying and rectifying that failing, or passing a resolution about it would fix the problem); and the discussion of employment has focused largely on the travails of the “freshly-minted Ph.D” to the exclusion of the wider population of Ph.D.’s, ABDs, and former graduate students in musicology (and related fields) who have never landed a secure job in the field, and may have simply disappeared from view. We all know people in this category, and some of us know very many. To my knowledge, no one has been keeping comprehensive statistics about employment in the field, and someone should.[2]

But to address issues of ethics and possible corruption within musicology, it is necessary to look at the field as a whole, including all of the individuals and institutions (universities, societies, publishers, and so on) that constitute it, across national boundaries; for to function as a scholar on an “international” level (an explicit desideratum in so many job descriptions, even from second- and third-tier schools), one has to negotiate all of those playing fields, not just the local and parochial ones; and corruption in any of these institutions can have a devastating impact on individuals and their employability, both locally and globally.

In any case, I, for one, would never suggest that the AMS as an organization is corrupt. Bob Judd’s temperate, thoughtful, and serious response at an early stage of the present discussion underlines that the organization, as represented by its staff and officers, does its best to behave ethically and with integrity. That some of the principal activities of the society—the production of JAMS and the selection of papers for the annual meeting—may not always be similarly unblemished is more a function of the individuals involved in those activities at any given point than it is of any structural problem with the organization per se.

In the remainder of my post, I’m going to examine the issue of ethics and possible abuse within musicology from two standpoints: on the one hand, I will discuss, from what I hope will be a reasonably dispassionate perspective, whether some aspects of current institutional practices and structures may abet unethical and even corrupt behavior; and I will interleave these comments with references to some of my own experiences and observations. By necessity, I will not name names or institutions. Some writers on this list have taken Chrissochoidis to task for not providing specific evidence of his charges. But obviously he would not have been allowed to do this on legal grounds, and I would not be allowed to do it here, even if I thought it were the right course (and I don’t; this is not the proper forum for specific accusations of that sort). So I will be as concrete as I can be without being specific.[3]

More than one respondent has claimed that the job market in musicology has “always been bad.” In fact, this is not so, as those of you will know who remember the career histories of members of an older generation—such figures as (in my case) Gene Wolf or Chappell White. However, the job market has been bad for as long as I’ve been associated with the field (since the early 80s). When I was in graduate school, we were told repeatedly that things would soon improve: that the older generation would retire and positions would open up. But as everyone who reads this list knows, things didn’t work out that way. Mandatory retirement ages were done away with or pushed upward, the number of students entering college decreased as the baby boom passed, and the increasingly managerial bean-counting mentality of university administrators saw opportunities to cut tenured faculty lines and to move toward increasing reliance on adjuncts, usually staffed by desperate Ph.D.s, who have continually, over several decades, been churned out in much greater numbers than the system requires or can absorb; this chronic overproduction has been driven, at least in part, by internal university politics, by departments that need to justify their own existence (and the continued existence of their tenured faculty lines) to the bean counters. Professors like Robin Wallace who give students an “apples on the street corner” speech are to be commended.[4] But such speeches are, in my experience, extremely rare (I’ve never heard one, or talked to anyone who mentioned hearing one). And one might also point out that giving the speech once does not necessarily absolve one of all further responsibility for the fate of one’s students on the job market. Many students will also receive frequent and much more positive estimations of their prospects: many will also be told (quite often repeatedly) how brilliant they are, and how interesting and potentially significant their work is. It’s simply not realistic to expect a single reality check to cut through the other blandishments that many students will face.

There are, it is clear, vastly too many Ph.D.s in musicology and related disciplines chasing an ever shrinking pool of jobs (a pool that has recently shrunk even more dramatically because of the current economic crisis). And this problem appears all the more intractable if we (realistically) include the ever growing backlog of Ph.D.s from the past two or three decades who have never found secure positions in the field, many of whom have been cobbling together an existence from poorly-paid adjunct positions, program notes, pre-concert lectures, and the like. Given that most of these people are fully qualified to do any teaching work that might be required of them and to function as productive scholars (although very few of them will be world class, because very few of us overall are truly world class), then the variance in quality of candidates will, on average, be quite low. In a very real sense, one hire will be pretty much as good as another for most jobs in most colleges and universities most of the time. Given that there are far too many people of roughly equivalent levels of skill chasing far too few jobs, it is only common sense to realize that such a situation may easily lead to abuse and even corruption; in fact, it very likely will, given that everyone on that market will be strongly motivated to make use of any advantage that he or she possibly can, however tiny, whether it is ethical or not. (Consider the analogy with black markets during and after World War II, in which many people of “good character” in normal times were driven to illegal behavior by the necessity to survive.)

Continue on to Part 2 of "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?"


[1] Some statistics may be of interest. By my informal count, between 4 May and the time that I posted this message [14 May 2009] there have been 72 responses on the various threads elicited by Ilias Chrissochoidis’s essay in the CHE, by 54 different people. This compares with around 16 messages on AMS List in the entire month of April [2009]. Of the respondents so far, 35% have been tenured faculty or equivalent (including emeritus), 20% junior faculty, adjuncts, or equivalent, 17% otherwise employed in musicology or a closely related field, 15% students or not currently unemployed in musicology, and 13% unknown. Thus at least 72% of the respondents so far are employed in musicology or a closely related field, and (so far) only 15% are explicitly not. Tenured faculty and equivalent have so far generated 42% of the responses, and over 75% of the responses overall have been generated by people employed in the field. I have not included my own message in these statistics. With one possible exception, the responses so far that can be characterized as strongly critical of Chrissochoidis have come from tenured faculty.

[2] In a letter published in the Boston Phoenix on 7 May, Randi Friedman, Assistant Dean/Director of Career Services at Northeastern University School of Law, writes: “All law schools are required to survey their recent graduates regarding their employment status and provide that data to the National Association of Law Placement (NALP) every February. We are required to report all types of employment, which includes legal, non-legal, temporary, and permanent positions.” One wonders why the same is not done in other academic fields—although one suspects that the results in musicology would be sobering, to put it mildly.

[3] [New note:] I may be more specific in future posts on this blog.

[4] [New note:] Wallace's reference to the "apples on the street corner" speech is found in his message to AMS-L on 8 May 2009, in the thread “What do we owe our graduates?"

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Is there abuse and corruption in musicology? Part 2

The following is Part 2 of an essay entitled "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?," which originated as a response to a discussion on the AMS-L e-mail list in May 2009 regarding an essay by Ilias Chrissochoidis in The Chronicle of Higher Education (8 May 2009). My essay was not published by AMS-L at that time, and this is its first publication. For contextual background, see the Introduction; see also Parts 1, 3, and 4 of this essay. A pdf of the complete essay, including the introduction, is available here.

Are there structural aspects of academic hiring and review in musicology that offer opportunities for abuse and corruption?

First and foremost among these, to my mind, is the lack of transparency and accountability in hiring. Hiring committees in the U.S. (and also in Britain, a system with which I also have personal experience) are independent of oversight to a degree that would seem astonishing to someone from almost any other profession or industry. To be sure, the recommendation of a hiring committee can be overruled, and the institutional community from which the committee is drawn will usually have some chance to voice its opinion on the candidates who are actually interviewed. But crucially, committees are not typically required to account for the applicants they reject. There may well be cases in which someone from outside a hiring committee vets the 140 candidates who didn’t make the cut, in order to assess whether the rejections were fair or whether potentially excellent candidates were overlooked—but this has never happened, to my knowledge, in any search with which I’ve been involved, either as an applicant or a committee member.

Absence of accountability obviously allows at least the possibility of abuse and corruption. Does such abuse and corruption happen? Here I can speak only from my personal experience and draw on my conversations with many professional colleagues over the past couple of decades. Let me start with a pedestrian example. When I was most recently on the musicological job market in 2005-6 and 2006-7, I applied for every job that was at all reasonable: I applied for something on the order of 30 to 35 positions each year (I can provide exact figures if you’re interested). My professional friends who were helping and advising me in my job search were universal in cautioning that my age would work against me (I was, after all, applying mainly for junior positions in middle age). But with a six-page list of publications and papers (including six national AMS presentations in a span of 13 years), a long laundry list of publications to come, a wide range of teaching experience in more than 20 different undergraduate and graduate courses, a stack of enthusiastic student evaluations, a packet of glowing recommendations (including, at long last in 2006-7, a letter from someone who had actually seen me teach), two prestigious fellowships in 2006-7 (one of which I declined), a book in process, and a well-established international reputation in my field, I thought (and my professional friends thought) that surely someone would be interested. In both of those years, there were several job descriptions that sounded as if they had been written with me in mind. (Lest anyone think I’m exaggerating, I still have these job descriptions, and would happy to send them or post them here). And after all, age discrimination is illegal. The outcome? I had one phone interview in 2005-6 (and this not from one of the positions that sounded as if it had been tailored for me), and no response whatsoever in 2006-7. Was age a factor in at least some of the decisions to exclude me from serious consideration? Very likely. Can it be proved? Of course not. Because age discrimination is illegal, and no one would admit to it. Did I have any recourse? Of course not. Was there accountability or a system of checks in place to prevent that kind of abuse? Of course not.  (Some of you might be thinking, “Well, he was probably overqualified for some of the jobs.” But a moment’s reflection will show that the idea of “overqualification” for an academic job is, to say the least, bizarre.)

Lack of accountability and transparency in hiring also increases the power of old-boy/old-girl networks. Everyone on the musicology job market knows (or soon learns) that there are some universities that have prominent networks of graduates placed in schools around the country, and that there is a marked tendency for these people to hire their own. This may be human nature, to some extent, but it can also lead to unjust favoritism. Some of you, no doubt, may be tempted to retort: “But the most important thing about an applicant is that she (or he) be a good colleague, because we may have to see each other every day for the next twenty-five years,” as if that hoary chestnut were sufficient grounds to pick someone from your alma mater over more qualified and promising scholars. But in fact, this rationale is most often specious anyway. At any rate, to judge by the evident social dysfunctionality of such a high proportion of departments (and be honest; you know this is true, if not of your own department, then of those in which many of your friends work), the strategy of hiring “good colleagues” would not appear to be working very well.

Lack of accountability and transparency also allows unfair preference to be given to internal candidates. I have been told of one case that what was, for all intents and purposes, a false search, where the incoming applications from a national search for an academic position in musicology at a prominent American university were basically ignored because there was never any intention to hire anyone other than the internal candidate. An acquaintance of mine, who was in possession of a “smoking gun” regarding this particular incident, refused to come forward for fear of negative career consequences. This case may be extreme, but I see no reason to assume that it is unique. With greater accountability and transparency in hiring, it likely would not have happened. The unwillingness to stand up against injustice and malfeasance within the field is, in my experience, pervasive. I know of another case, regarding an important non-academic research position of considerable power and influence, where the job was allegedly advertised only in an obscure local newspaper where no one would see it—this so that the anointed candidate (one who on the basis of qualification and scholarly profile in that particular area of research almost certainly would not have been hired, and indeed, might well not have made it past the first round) could simply be installed without a legitimate search or vetting of alternative candidates. This hire is likely to have a profound effect for many years on the course of research in the area of scholarship with which it is connected. That several prominent and distinguished scholars in this area remain unemployed makes the incident all the more repellent.

There is also a crippling lack of any realistic recourse and legal protection for job applicants and junior faculty who feel that they have been the victim of injustice. An applicant who suspects discrimination or unjust favoritism has no access to any information about the selection process, which is entirely closed and which provides no feedback. Similarly, “everyone knows” that junior faculty must keep their mouths closed, smile, and take whatever is dished out (while, of course, attempting to brown nose as successfully as possible), because there is no protection from a rogue senior faculty member, who can easily make you or break you, or even destroy your career. Again, because there is little or no true accountability or transparency, and very little possibility that a perpetrator of any injustice will suffer significant consequences, the system is ripe for abuse. In one job review, my employer (to avoid any identifying job titles) systematically marked me much lower in every category than my actual production and performance warranted. In fact, he admitted to me cheerfully that he did this as a matter of policy with all new faculty (I wish I’d had a tape recorder). In effect, he had given himself the ammunition to get rid of me if he felt like it—and not long after, he did. I had no recourse. And “everyone knows” that even when legal recourse exists, one could very well be destroying one’s chance at a future career in the field to take it. We probably all know at first or second hand of cases in which this has happened.

If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we all know of other examples of ethically questionable behavior, blatantly unethical behavior, and perhaps even corrupt or illegal behavior in cases of hiring and review, or in the evaluation of fellowship applications or article and paper submissions. Many of us know of scholars who assisted their career development by sleeping with the right people. Many of us have witnessed or been victim of anonymous and behind-the-scenes denunciation.  (For those of you who have not been a victim of such a denunciation, I can assure you that it gives one a very vivid sense of what it must have been like to live under a totalitarian regime.)  Many of us know of cases of the unethical or dishonest appropriation by one scholar of the research and ideas of another, without proper (or any) credit being given. I have personally been involved in one case where I was asked to review an article that, in part, presented as original (that is, without citation) information and ideas that I had previously published or presented in public papers that the author had attended. The article was also unacceptable for publication on a wide variety of other grounds, and I presented all of this information to the journal in as dispassionate a form as I was able (while making clear that I wasn’t happy about the situation). The editor of the journal (not my principal contact during the review process) elected to publish the article with virtually no revision, without addressing any of my concerns or even contacting me. That there was personal collusion and favoritism in this case between author and editor, and perhaps also another reviewer seems very likely. I have been told (although I have no personal experience of this) that there is even corruption in the hothouse world of program notes and pre-concert lectures, where at least in one case that I have had described to me in great detail, pre-concert gigs have been given to the lover of someone in a position of influence over the selection (this was with a major orchestra, not a local community symphony).

Continue on to Part 3 of "Is there abuse and corruption in musicology?"
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