Music Criticism 1900-1950

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

The second day of discussions concerning Music Criticism from 1900 to 1950 featured still more stimulating papers on a wide range of topics. These included Music Criticism under Italian Fascism, and a particularly intriguing trio of presentations on such diverse topics as “The Revival of Early Music in Austrian Music Criticism,” “Writing about Spanish Music in New York,” and the reception of Igor Stravinsky in Cuba.

It was only to be expected, given the parameters of period set out by the overall subject of the conference, that discussions on music criticism and politics often focused on the rise of Stalinism and Socialist Realist aesthetics. The result led to a certain similarity in focus in the papers coming from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet block: a case of “describe how music criticism reflected Communist ideology under [insert name of awful regime].” The answer, of course, is that it did, and in consequence in some respects gave up the right to be considered “criticism” at all—at least to the extend it had something meaningful to say about music. It was a sad chapter in the history of the profession, as for so much else.

The day concluded with a very thoughtful paper by Swiss musicologist Benedetta Zucconi on the resistance of early 20th century Italian thinkers to the lure of recorded music. The same panel also featured yours truly, rehabilitating the reputation of notorious Chicago Tribune critic Claudia Cassidy, whose record reviews were remarkably solid, witty, and are still worth reading today. Despite being reviled for her crusade against Rafael Kubelik in the 1950s, she arguably got it right far more than she got it wrong—Kubelik included.

The last day of presentations includes papers on such interesting topics as criticism of the “Melba Grand Opera Season” of 1911 in Australia, the musical culture of Cyprus, and Jazz reception in Austria after World War I. Teresa Cascudo of the Universidad de La Rioja will present a keynote address on the topic of “The Terms ‘Modernism’ and ‘Modernist’ in Madrid’s Music Criticism at the Start of the 20th Century.”

Altogether, the conference has gone a long way towards revealing the value of critical writing as historical source material, long after its original purpose ceased to have any relevance to us today.

David Hurwitz