Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fall Chapter Meeting, October 2, 2010 (Amherst College)

AMS-NE Fall Chapter Meeting
Saturday, October 2, 2010
Amherst College

Yu Jueng Dahn, "'Virgin Soil' for Bach's Music: The American Reception of Robert Franz"

 In 1867 John Sullivan Dwight asserted in Dwight’s Journal of Music that Robert Franz and J. S. Bach “have grown to be almost inseparable.” Criticized in Germany for his editorial emendations to Bach’s vocal works, which were considered historically inaccurate, Franz curiously found many supporters in the United States as early as 1855. This eventually led to benefit concerts in Boston in 1867 and 1872, to assist Franz financially because of his deafness. Dwight praised Franz’s editions of Bach’s vocal works as being “almost Bach-like in its spirit” and so true to the composer’s style that they could be considered “Bach’s having done it himself.”

This paper traces Franz’s positive American reception as an editor and composer, examines his opinion of the United States as “virgin soil” for promoting quality music, and posits why his favorable American reception preceded his German one. Franz’s biggest sympathizer in promoting Bach’s music and life-long friend was Otto Dresel, a German-American composer and pianist. Unpublished correspondence between the two musicians spans forty-five years (1845–1890) and sheds new light on Franz’s previously unknown American publications and issues the Bach proponents faced in promoting the works of German masters in the United States.
Beginning in the early twentieth century, the recognition of Franz as a Bach promoter noticeably disappeared from the American musical scene. Investigating the posthumous reception of Franz during this period, in context of the political conflict between United States and Germany, provides a possible explanation for the composer’s deteriorating reputation.

Yoel Greenberg, "Back to the Elements: Towards a Genetic Code of Sonata Form"

The flexibility of sonata form and its vague historic limits are frequently cited as central problems facing scholars attempting to reach a deeper understanding of its meaning, its history and its theory. These problems are also “the exciting, challenging, part of sonata theory,” in the words of William Drabkin. It would not be an exaggeration to describe the entire history of sonata form research, from Marx and Czerny to Hepokoski and Darcy, as an attempt to come to terms with these problems, whether by proposing detailed taxonomies, more nuanced definitions, more generalized principles or alternative sets of rules.

This research approaches the problem from a different, reductionist perspective, drawing from ideas in contemporary evolutionary theory and complexity theory. In analogy to the shift to “Selfish Gene” theory in biological evolution, the traditionally holistic view of sonata form (with parts interdependent and conditioned by the whole) is substituted here by a view of sonata form as initially little more than the sum of independent formal elements (sonata “genes”). Relying on statistics drawn from a large sample of binary form works dating 1670-1760, Sonata Form is shown to have come into existence by the coincidence of increasingly commonly used sonata elements. In the first stage of the proposed model, these elements are independent of each other, only later converging into emergent structures and only much later into the form as an entirety. The underlying model is shown to generate as inherent qualities those very aspects of sonata form that have been previously viewed as most problematic, particularly the form’s genealogy and its flexibility. Generalizing this to a model for the evolution of form in the creative arts in general, is a significant step in fulfilling Evan Bonds’ call for “a general theory of form that can account for conventional patterns and at the same time do justice to the immense diversity that exists within the framework of these patterns.”

Karen Desmond, "Jacobus's Witness to the Text of the Ars nova"

 According to traditional histories of European music, there was a fundamental shift in medieval music at the turn of the fourteenth century.   A particular style of polyphonic music, known as the ars antiqua, flourished until c1300, when a new style of music, the ars nova, was born. Almost twenty-five years ago, however, Sarah Fuller debunked one of the foundational concepts underlying this history:  she proposed that the figurehead most associated with the ars nova, and its putative creator, the composer Philippe de Vitry, had never actually written a theoretical text known as the Ars nova. Her thesis has since been widely accepted. Fuller separated the five treatises published in CSM 8 from their flimsy attributions to Vitry, and showed that none demonstrated an especial claim as the written exemplar for Vitry’s Ars nova. However, can we use the negative evidence assembled by Fuller to conclude that an exemplar never existed?  The one witness who has been given short shrift in this analysis is Jacobus, author of Speculum musicae.  Scholarship to date has held that Jacobus’s criticisms were focused specifically on Johannes de Muris and more generically on a group of anonymous “Moderns.” It is claimed that there are at most two direct quotes from the Ars nova of CSM 8. In this paper, I shall show how the central section of Speculum musicae Book 7 is an attack on the theories of one specific author (who is not Muris). Supplemented by an analysis of contemporaneous sources, I attempt a reconstruction of Jacobus’s exemplar, and show that it was, in all likelihood, a written document.

Karen Jones, "Virtuoso Asceticism and the Problem of Theatricality in Late 19th Century. Performance"

This paper explores how the opposing concepts of theatricality and authenticity shaped conceptions of virtuoso performance in the later nineteenth century. By examining how one influential group of performers, the Brahms-Schumann circle, negotiated the ambiguities surrounding theatricality, authenticity, and the demands of public performance, it addresses fundamental questions concerning the performing self and the nature of its engagement with musical works.

I pursue these issues through two complementary lines of inquiry. First, I examine the self-representations of these performers, who through their performance style and various forms of “publicity” created an impression of absolute, nontheatrical sincerity. This was necessary to satisfy an aesthetic of virtuoso performance that demanded of the performer an intense, authentic emotional investment in musical works – an investment the audience would intuitively believe in without seeing it theatrically expressed. At the same time, I explore how behind assertions of total “authenticity” we can often detect suspicions of an insidious theatricality. Such concerns were not limited to musical performance, but were rather a more generalized cultural preoccupation that was explored particularly well in Max Weber’s analysis of the virtuoso ascetic. Weber brought out some of the ambiguities in apparently nontheatrical performance, providing the basis for a critical approach that examines elements of spectacle in even the most “authentic” modes of virtuosity.

Tiffany Kuo, "Race, Music, and Breach of Loyalty: the Censoring of Luciano Berio's Traces"

Traces, an unknown chamber opera by Luciano Berio, takes its name and source of inspiration from the political rhetoric surrounding the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: “to eliminate... every trace of discrimination.”  Berio’s interpretation of these “traces” was censored by the Chief of the Music Division at the Library of Congress, Harold Spivacke, five months before the scheduled premiere. This paper investigates the role of Spivacke in the shaping of a national music making scene during a sensitive period which Mary L. Dudziak termed “cold war civil rights.” Drawing on the United States Information Agency report on Spivacke from 1960, Spivacke’s speech “Music in International Relations” and his correspondence with Berio,  I argue that Spivacke’s censoring of Traces was grounded on his “loyalty to the United States,” and his belief that Traces would have demonstrated a breach of loyalty in 1964 as the intended drama exposed racism, a targeted fault and weakness of American democracy by communist states.

Johanna Frances Yunker, "Music and Feminism in the GDR: The Case of Ruth Zechlin's La Vita"

In the 1970s and 1980s, the German Democratic Republic saw the emergence of a prominent feminist movement in literature and painting. This included some of the most renowned artists in the GDR, such as writers Christa Wolf and Irmtraud Morgner, whose works focused almost exclusively on women. It is commonly thought that this trend did not extend to music: very few female composers emerged in those years and the most eminent of these, Ruth Zechlin (1926-2007), rejected the importance of gender in her work. By focusing on Zechlin’s ballet La Vita, however, I will show that the movement did have an impact on music.

Premiered in 1985 in Berlin at the Komische Oper, La Vita: Constellations for Ballet was intended by Zechlin as an abstract ballet, with musical elements isolated to represent different emotions and then recombined in various ìconstellations.î However, to aid the choreographer, dramaturg Bernrd Kˆllinger added a plot centered on the lives of three women, which made the ballet similar to the works of GDR feminist artists. The kinship between the ballet and these feminist works was also emphasized in the reviews, specifically in one that compared the ballet to Morgner’s famous novel Leben und Abenteuer der Trobadora Beatriz. Even though Zechlin would later express disappointment with the plot, she originally praised it publicly, thus conforming to the model of the GDR feminist artist focusing on women.
The case of La Vita illustrates the significance of feminism for East German culture, as well as the relationship between music and other arts in the GDR. As such, it invites for interdisciplinary investigation into the question of gender in the music of Zechlin and other GDR composers.

William Cheng, "Flights from Fancy: Mise-en-Abyme as Spectacular Allegory in Korngold's Die tote Stadt"   

Shortly after Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Die tote Stadt premiered to great acclaim in Hamburg and Cologne on 4 December 1920, the critic Adolf Weissman praised this three-act opera for its "problemlessness" ["Problemlosigkeit"], while Rudolf Hoffmann similarly admired that it did not "abuse the stage to philosophize or propagate mysteries." Since then, critics and scholars alike have continued to downplay the opera’s political and philosophical valence. Korngold was commonly regarded as a sheltered child who was altogether uninterested in the post-war Opernkrise and other musico-political matters. His reputation as an eternal Wunderkind – a musical prodigy frozen in a cocoon of not only social but also stylistic pre-maturation – led many contemporary writers to portray Die tote Stadt as an over-ripe manifestation of the dread nineteenth century. Musicologists have likewise delighted in describing Korngold’s compositions and musical aesthetic as "succulent," "meretricious," "oozing endless aromatic goo," "a wet musico-dramatic dream," and "more bombastic and ‘Wagnerian’ at times than it needs to be." Such remarks underscore Korngold’s output as allegedly anachronistic and little more than a decadent feast for the senses.

In this paper, I present an interpretation of Die tote Stadt that problematizes the perceived apoliticality and problemlessness of both the opera and its composer. I argue that the tremendous initial reception of Die tote Stadt in Germany and Austria owed at least in part to the resonances between the opera’s mise-en-abyme narrative of trauma and the post-war conditions of the early 1920s. In celebrating its nested diegetic realms as communal rituals of mourning and coping, Korngold’s operatic narrative reflexively allegorizes the revitalizing power of music – and of live spectacle more generally – in the wake of cultural fallout. Excerpts from my interviews with Inga Levant – director of the 2001 Strasbourg production of Die tote Stadt – are used to supplement my broader examination of the ways in which Korngold’s reputation as an apolitical child prodigy has impacted critical, dramaturgical, and hermeneutical orientations toward this opera since its earliest post-war performances.