CONFERENCE REPORT: MUSIC CRITICISM 1950-2000

Barcelona: October 9, 2017

Conference Organized By: 

Centro Studi Opera Omnia Luigi Boccherini, Lucca,  and the Societat Catalana de Musicologia, Barcelona

This is the final conference is a series that encompasses studies on music criticism from the nineteenth century to the present day. It has brought together an impressive range of scholars from around the world, presenting papers on a wide assortment of topics: everything from criticism of film music and jazz, to aesthetics, ideology, and reception history. Musicology in general usually operates under the radar: the concerts and recordings that we all enjoy are merely the surface manifestation of a vast network of scholarship working tirelessly to understand the depth and significance of our musical culture. For this reason, it’s a particular pleasure to have the opportunity of participating in the process, and to give our readers a taste of some of the more interesting work enlivening academic life.

The conference opened with two papers by Spanish musicologists–Juan José Pastor of the University of Castilla-La Mancha and Maria Gratacós of the host organization Societat Catalana de Musicologia–exploring the relationship between music criticism and literature. This was followed by a session (chaired by your trusty correspondent) devoted to “Criticism and Gender Perspectives,” and featuring a fascinating paper by Ohio scholar Lee Ellen Martin on the reception of 1950s mixed-race (and sex) jazz vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. Next, Federica Marsico of the University of Pavia-Cremona described the controversy caused by the 1980 production of Sylvano Busotti’s openly homosexual opera La Racine, a (for the day) shocking recasting of the French playwright’s Phèdre. To close the session, Magdalena Nowicka-Ciecierska, from Poznan, Poland, discussed the impact on Polish musical culture of noted critic Andrjez Chlopecki.

The major presentation of the day came courtesy of Massimiliano Locanto (University of Salerno), who offered a comprehensive and probing discussion of Stravinsky’s negative reaction to criticism of his late, serial style. The presentation featured videos of interviews with the composer, as well as the expected citations of comments both by his critics and, naturally, his alter-ego Robert Craft. The bottom line: for many reasons both personal and practical, Stravinsky detested music critics and, while pretending to disdain whatever they said, was privately terrified of them.

Day one (of three) concluded with a wide-ranging series of discussions on criticism in its social context, with papers on everything from an analysis of the writings of Spanish critic Manuel R. de Llauder (Hèctor Gasol Calvo), to Alan Rawsthorne’s study of Chopin’s Ballades (Abdullah Khalaf, coming all the way from Kuwait), to Salzburg University’s Ingeborg Zechner’s detailed discussion of the reception of Hollywood composer Franz Waxman’s concert and film music. The session ended with Brazilian musicologist Monica Vermes’ study of how new technologies influenced the music criticism published in one of São Paolo’s largest daily newspapers in the 1990s.

With two days to go, the conference was off to a very promising start in a setting, the gorgeous Institut d’Estudis Catalans, that couldn’t be more conducive to a lively exchange of ideas and perspectives. Stay tuned…

David Hurwitz