Saturday, February 19, 2011

Winter Chapter Meeting, February 19, 2011 (Wellesley)

AMS-NE Winter Chapter Meeting
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Wellesley College

Erinn Knyt, "Ferruccio Busoni and the Absolute in Music: Nature, Form, and Idée"

“Absolute music! What the lawgivers mean by this is perhaps remotest of all from the absolute in music.” With these enigmatic words, Ferruccio Busoni opened his second aphoristic essay in The Sketch of a New Aesthetic of Music. Although he could be called an advocate of absolute music because of his frequent description of music as “absolute” and his discussion of music as consisting of pure tones found in the vibrating universe, Busoni nevertheless developed idiosyncratic theories about the term, its usage, and its ideal manifestation in Tonkunst that remain largely unexamined in scholarly literature. True, Carl Dahlhaus noted Busoni’s use of the concept to refer to music unconstrained by traditional forms, but this is merely one aspect of Busoni’s views, which also allowed for and included the visual and explicit connections to culture.

In my paper I seek to delineate Busoni’s understanding of “absolute music” through analyses of his aesthetic texts and compositions. Allowing for the composer’s multi- faceted use of the term and the inevitable maturation of Busoni’s theories over time, my discussion also takes into account his reference to other related concepts, such as the nature of music, the essence of music, and “Ur-Musik,” all of which can be seen as integral to his understanding of absolute music.

In addition, I place this discussion in the context of current musicological debates about the importance of absolute music as a regulative concept in the early 20th century and as an aesthetic paradigm for studying compositions.

Claire Fontijn, "Hildegard’s Ordo virtutum: From Vision to “Opera”?"

Might the paraliturgical morality play Ordo virtutum (The Play of the Virtues) composed by Hildegard of Bingen (1098–1179) represent the first “opera”? In its final guise, copied posthumously into the Riesenkodex (Wiesbaden, Hessische Landesbibliothek, Codex 2), it appears to be one of the first through-composed sung dramas of music in history. Laying aside for now the question of genre, this paper examines the genesis of the Ordo. It appears first in Vision 13 of Hildegard’s treatise Scivias (c. 1140s) in texts without neumes to heighten the characters’ speech into song. By contrast, the texts of twelve shorter musical compositions precede the majority of the dialogue: psalm antiphons such as O splendidissima gemma for Mary, votive antiphons such as O successores fortissimi leonis for the confessors, and responsories such as O nobilissima viriditas for the virgins.
The version of the Ordo from the Scivias vision shows every sign of being a sketch for a work whose notation would only be complete after Hildegard’s death, in the Riesenkodex; the Ordo does not appear in the Dendermonde manuscript (Abdij St. Peter en Paulus, Codex 9), which was prepared under her supervision in the 1150s. The fact that several of the antiphons and responsories mentioned in Vision 13 are contained in Dendermonde suggests that a performance of the Ordo without them may be historically inaccurate, if the Vision indeed represents a plausible performance indication.
Using the two extant manuscript sources, as well as research by Stühlmeyer, Dronke, Newman, and Davidson, this paper brings the nascent Ordo into confrontation with the posthumous end product. A very different artistic project emerges, with illuminated miniatures, spoken proclamation, and sung dialogue connecting the psalms and antiphons to the fabric of the paraliturgical play. Ultimately, this paper presents historical evidence for more vivid—and perhaps even operatic?—twenty-first-century performances of the Ordo virtutum.

 Karrin Ford, "Wellesley and Female Interpretive Communities: Patterns of Reception"

Female interpretive communities based on social networks of shared values have typically operated beyond the reach of the professional music critic, establishing independent cultural traditions and practices. The numerous women’s colleges prominent by the close of the nineteenth century in America offer rare opportunity to examine the response of audiences comprised largely of one gender, a community functioning cohesively in ways that reflect prototypical modes of reception.

Because of its early commitment to musical instruction for women, Wellesley was among the first institutions in the nation to feature concerts incorporating works by female composers. In particular, Wellesley held special significance for Amy Beach, since Beach’s only formal music training occurred with Junius Hill, who later became head of the Wellesley music faculty. Beach appeared several times in recital at the school during the 1880s and 1890s, including an 1894 recital, which marked the first time she had appeared in a concert devoted exclusively to her own works. Other women who appeared at Wellesley at the fin de siècle included Helen Hood, Helen Hopekirk, and Margaret Lang.

This paper examines reviews of works by women composers presented at Wellesley during the closing years of the nineteenth century and considers how such reviews may have differed from those intended for mixed audiences. Since most reviews were written by male critics, the absence of a female voice in assessing women’s works shaped how audiences responded to their music. The multiple presentations of women’s works at Wellesley and similar institutions suggests that rich and diverse interpretations of women’s music exist and that considering such music from the hegemony of a male-dominated culture alone may lead to diminished appraisal of their music.

Wellesley College Collegium Musicum: Natasha Roule, viola da gamba; Ian Pomeranz, baritone, Elizabeth Bachelder, harpsichord. Works by Monsieur de Machy, Cadéac, and J. S. Bach,
Wellesley Blue Jazz Members: Ali Rucker, piano; Marie Leclair, bass; Emily Sessler, saxophone; Stephanie Newton, saxophone. Music of Duke Ellington.

Sarah Caissie Provost, "“Easy Money Blues:” Commercialism in the Swing Era"

The Swing Era occupies a precarious place in the history of jazz. As the most successful form of jazz and the predominant musical style of the 1930s, swing was as much popular music as it was jazz. This existence within two spheres had benefits as well as detriments. Firstly, a wide variety of music often appeared under the heading ìswing.î These styles ranged from improvised, loosely structured instrumental pieces to entirely structured vocal pieces with no improvisation. Critics responded to this disparity in several ways: some accused certain artists of being too commercial, while others decried swing as a whole. The artists themselves responded to charges of commercialism with their music. Of particular interest is Benny Goodman, whose orchestra was one of the most popular of the time, making him particularly susceptible to accusations that he altered his music for business reasons. However, at certain times, Goodman’s music was seen as an alternative to commercialism, and he consciously attempted to distance himself from types of music that he deemed too commercial. Secondly, the issue of commercialism and style in the Swing Era was also closely tied with swing’s interracial nature. For many reasons, black artists were immune to commercialism allegations, while white artists were accused (sometimes rightfully) of stealing a black style for the purpose of capitalizing off of a white audience. In this paper, I will examine the causes and effects of commercialism in swing music, focusing on Benny Goodman as well as discussing several other prominent swing musicians.

Andrea Bohlman, "Reconsidering the “Popular”: Nineteenth-Century Polish Religious Song at the End of the Cold War"

In May 1985, the Academy of Catholic Theology in Warsaw hosted a seminar at which intellectuals assessed a popular trend in Polish music: the performance of religious music outside of liturgical contexts. The discussants -- theologians, musicologists, and priests -- observed two musical strands of religious revival, each devoted to congruent repertories of patriotic religious hymns from the nineteenth century. On concert stages, large-scale symphonic and chamber works by Polish composers incorporated hymns that had been the anthems of the independent trade union known as Solidarity. At the same time, in churches across the nation, the Traugutt Philharmonic performed lesser known tunes that had been excavated from archival sources and arranged for a Liederabend ensemble by music critic Tadeusz Kaczyński.

In this paper, I situate the revivals that the seminar foregrounded with respect to the historiography of nineteenth-century Polish history as well as Polish politics of the 1980s. I argue that while both fundamentally advocated for “Polish” music, the composers and arrangers diverged through their location of the “popular” in revival. In his Polish Symphony, Krzysztof Meyer referenced the recently popular tunes to assert the transcendent commemorative potential of nineteenth-century genres, but the Traugutt Philharmonic sought to popularize forgotten patriotic religious songs in order to create historical continuity with the discourse of spiritual and national freedom that defined Polish romanticism.

Political dissent, the Roman Catholic Church, and the “popular” were inextricably linked in Poland from the election of the Polish Pope, John Paul II, in 1978 until the end of the People’s Republic of Poland. From 1980 onward, the populist Solidarity labor movement united workers, clergymen, and intellectuals in unifying the opposition: unifying the public, or the “populus.” In anchoring the opposition in Polish romanticism and religious song, musicians constructed an image of Polishness that foregrounded community and spirituality. I argue that the revivals attempted to model the opposition through music by linking the cultivated discourse of the Polish academy with the popular in symphonic works and by popularizing religious song among Poland’s elite intellectual class in sacred spaces.