Tuesday, February 12, 2008

New directions in musicology?

Kyle Gann has a superb post outlining potential topics for musicologists. It's the text of an endowed musicology lecture and pretty long for a blog post, but very much worth reading in its entirety.

Two points had special resonance. He quotes Leonard B. Meyer's book from 1967, Music, the Arts, and Ideas: Patterns and Predictions in Twentieth-Century Culture as an attempt to understand the present, comparing the plethora of books available in the 1960s and 1970s that described music of the same period to the dearth of books available today that discuss music by living composers. In the 1970s, I had a small shelf of books devoted to Stockhausen, Cage and Boulez, even though none of those composers had even reached the midpoint of their careers at that time. Now, I'm trying to find information on contemporary composers, pretty much without success. Gann discusses this point at length and provides several possible reasons for the knowledge gaps, which I won't duplicate here, but I certainly feel the truth of his argument.

The second point concerns the changing way composers need to promote themselves today. In particular, he mentions six conditions shared by virtually all composers of my generation, which include the relative ease of releasing recordings and the relative difficulty of publishing scores. In my experience, it is extremely difficult to obtain scores for new compositions. Composers are seldom published commercially. Some composers, such as Charles Griffin (whom I've written about before), have scores for sale at their web site. I've also had some success contacting composers for scores via email. But there are others, including some mentioned specifically in Gann's post, who either don't have or don't respond to email, so their scores are totally unavailable. Is this because I'm a nobody in the classical world, and it is extremely unlikely that I will perform these works in public? Does one need a personal introduction to get new music scores? This situation was also much better back in the 1970s, when I wrote to several composers and got unpublished scores for little more than the cost of copying and postage.

I look forward to reading responses to this post on the various musicology blogs. Meanwhile, Professor Gann has been on a roll lately, with wonderful reading on Feldman and a host of other topics. His post on the question and answer period for a group of graduate students sums up the musical dilemma of our time. A welcome voice in the wilderness.

No comments: