DAY 2. INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE: SYMPHONISM IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY EUROPE
Organized by:Centro Studi Opera Omnia Luigi Boccherini, Lucca; Research Group ERASMUSH, University of Oviedo (Oviedo, Spain)
in collaboration with:
Ad Parnassum. A Journal of Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Instrumental Music
Oviedo, Edificio Histórico de la Universidad de Oviedo
10-12 May 2018
Like most European cities and towns, Oviedo has its share of historic churches. They are supposed to have two towers apiece, but both the cathedral and the major Jesuit church only have one, albeit for different reasons. The cathedral ran out of money sometime in the sixteenth century, and that was that. The Jesuits, on the other hand, were kicked out of the region when they were still one tower short. Of course, the place is no less Catholic or less architecturally interesting, but it does have its own unique personality, and that’s a good thing. Indeed, if you’re looking for a slightly out-of-the-way destination that hasn’t been overrun with tourists, and still has all of the things you visit European towns for (fine local food, charming shops, a robust open-air market, people in colorful native garb selling stuff to celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin) you really should consider coming here.
As you might have guessed from the above tidbits of information, conference attendees were treated to a pre-lunch guided tour of the city today, where we learned, among other things, that Oviedo is also one of the cleanest cities in Europe, and perhaps the world. Garbage collection is strictly regulated, and citizens with dogs not only need to clean up after them, they have to carry around bottled water to wash the streets too. Fines start at 3,000 Euros. No kidding. I have no idea what comes after that–but make no mistake, the place is immaculate. The city center also has over 100 pedestrian streets: it’s the perfect place to walk when it’s not raining (something that happens rather frequently in this neck of the woods).
Anyway, Day Two of the conference on “Symphonism in Nineteenth-Century Europe” featured the paper presented by your correspondent: “Dvorák’s Fifth Symphony: A Politically Incorrect Inspiration for Brahms’ Third?” In the same group were three other intriguing talks. Canadian scholar Beatrice Madeleine Cadrin at the University of Montréal argued for viewing Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony as a Masonic tract, making her points with clarity and a very honest confession of the speculative nature of it all. Vadim Rakochi (Kiev Glier Music Institute) proposed an interesting and well categorized system for understanding Strauss’ tone poems through the alternation of tutti and solo passages–how the composer creates character and environment through changes in orchestral texture and timbre. Finally, Chloe Valenti from the University of Cambridge analyzed the health consequences of England’s way too high “Philharmonic Pitch” (A=455), a convention that came close to killing both vocal and instrumental soloists through much of the latter half of the nineteenth century.
The program wraps up tomorrow with essays on the dissemination and reception of symphonic models in Europe, plus a section on musical aesthetics and criticism, specially with regard to the age-old conflict between program and absolute music. Participants delivering papers have come from sixteen different countries, and tomorrow’s roster features scholars from Zagreb to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. If you ever thought that musicology was insular, think again. In truth, the program for this conference was particularly well chosen to encourage the widest possible range of international attendance, and its success does great credit to the organizers, the Centro Studi Opera Omnia Luigi Boccherini of Lucca, Italy, and especially our hosts at the University of Oviedo, who could not have been more friendly, considerate, and accommodating. I don’t know when there will be another conference here, but if it happens, count me in.