Music Criticism: 1950-2000 (Day 2)

Barcelona: October 10, 2017

Conference Organized By: 

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

Day Two of the conference on Music Criticism: 1950-2000 opened with a morning-long session devoted to Music Criticism and Italian Film Music. Now, I love film music, and the Italian variety is a particularly rewarding field ripe for musicological discovery. Perhaps it’s the fact that Italian musicians have such a rich history in writing opera and theatrical music that they take to writing for the cinema so readily. Unfortunately, having already learned Spanish and French with varying degrees of success, I do not speak Italian; and so I was only able to admire the program from afar, as it were.

In any case, the Tuesday schedule included some double sessions, and so while the film music papers were being read, I had the opportunity to take in Stephanie Rizvi-Stewart’s exploration of the American critical reception (or more accurately, non-reception) of Shostakovich’s “Babi Yar” Symphony as part of the series of presentations devoted to the always tricky question of Music Criticism and Ideology. Other papers on this topic cast a very wide net, including subjects as diverse as the evolving musical canon in Uruguay, a “nationalist” opera by Brazilian composer Francisco Mignone (some may recall the BIS recording of his colorful orchestral music), and the evolving criticism of a uniquely Spanish art form: Flamenco.

However, I have to be honest and say that I was most preoccupied with preparing my own presentation, the second keynote discussion of the conference. It was a great honor to be invited to speak on a topic that has been percolating in my mind for many years, and has often featured in my critical writing: “The Twentieth-Century Recording Explosion: Challenges and Opportunities for Criticism.” Here is the abstract:

“The advent of the compact disc in the late 1970s led to the explosive and ongoing release of both new and reissued recordings, defying both the laws of economics and (some would say) plain business sense. In the field of classical music this bonanza produced both an epic duplication of performances of the standard repertoire, as well as the appearance of an extraordinary range of little-known pieces by unfamiliar composers of all periods. These latter recordings, especially, constitute a body of work with the potential to challenge commonly held notions of originality, canonicity, influence, and reception history. This discussion details the opportunities that the recorded evidence offers for the creation of a new critical discourse, probing the implications of possible connections between composers as diverse and seemingly unrelated as Dittersdorf, Mercadante, and Haydn; Mayr and Beethoven; Dvorák and Mendelssohn; Verdi, Mahler and Casella; Kalliwoda and Schumann; or Massenet and Sibelius. This, in turn, argues for a broader and more integrated view of European musical culture–especially today, when scholarship has become increasingly fragmented and specialized.”

The talk offered a great opportunity to present to a knowledgeable and interested audience a large selection of music both familiar and unfamiliar, and in particular to focus, thanks to recordings, on the act of listening as a principal vehicle of musicological investigation.

In the final session of the day, Music Criticism and the Web, four scholars looked at social media, blogging, and other modern vehicles as sources and resources of contemporary critical thought and practice. All this, by the way, took place against the background of the impending parliamentary declaration on the question of Catalonian independence from Spain. Never let it be said that musicology is dull. More on this, and the conference’s final day, in the next report.

David Hurwitz

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