Gonna bore you for a minute...

...but my head is swimming with all the music history I've been reading for the past several days and I've just got to say that I hate this book on Twentieth-Century music by Robert Morgan. Grout's even worse. As a pianist, a collaborative pianist, I play a variety of repertoire. Even though I don't play solo piano music much anymore, I know a lot of it from past recitals, repertoire classes, and my own teaching experience. As a collaborative musician, I've done many songs with voice, instrumental sonatas, concertos (where I play a reduction of the orchestra part), and a handful of chamber pieces (all trios, come to think of it). With a few exceptions, I have found that these types of pieces are largely ignored in general history texts. Enough with the operas and symphonies already. Grout, for example, doesn't even mention that Poulenc wrote songs, even though mélodies are among his most important output, and he's considered one of the most important French song composers of the Twentieth Century. It's a crying shame, in part because it means I have to study twice as hard, since the "important" (scoff, scoff) repertoire is mostly in genres I'm less familiar with, and in part because from reading these texts, you'd think that the more people involved in the performance of a piece, the more important it is.

My second complaint is that Morgan, especially, doesn't give much context for the pieces he discusses. He blathers on about key relationships and atonality or whatever theoretical innovation is presented in a piece, but gives little or no information from a political or cultural standpoint, which I think is just as, if not more, important. In any case, the latter is easier to remember and write about than, say, "Uh, Stravinsky starts off the Symphony of Psalms in such-and-such tonality and then there's a fugal section in movement X..." Puh. Leeeeeze.

Obviously, I'm in a bit of a tizzy because I have a big exam in three parts, and the hardest part - the music history part - is a week from tomorrow. (Whimper.) Would it be so bad if my musicology prof told me which questions would be on it so I could study more specific material? (Whine.) Of course, that'll never happen. (Sigh.)

Done with my rant. Back to hitting the books. (Literally).

Comments

Jenn Hacker said…
I prefer punting the books, myself. That way I get to vent frustration and practice soccer all at once!
Becca said…
I hurled a trig book across the living room once. Throwing books can be fun!

Chip and Beth warped my fragile little mind. After AP Block, I can't learn in a silo anymore. I always wantt o know the context so I can put the pieces together and see the influences and larger picture. It makes it difficult as work sometimes, since I'm not a programmer, but I need to understand some of the concepts and know how the concepts apply to our projects so I can write the documentation for use and testing. Luckily, I work with some great guys who are very patient with my questions.
pamigelsrud said…
Ok, that's it. I'm becoming a musicologist. I love both of those books! So... either there is something really wrong with me, or ... hmmm... maybe there is something really wrong with me...
Anonymous said…
i was a teaching assistant for western music for one semester under a historical musicologist and one semester under an ethnomusicologist. the former didn't care one measly iota about historical context, acting as though it cheapened the music to discuss the atmosphere from whence it came, whereas the latter, though he was teaching historical musicology that wasn't high on his own list of research interests, always made sure students knew was going on socially and politically while music was being written. i saw the same group of kids respond with WAY more enthusiasm to the second approach. of course there were other factors involved, like the general appeal of the professors, but i do think the "extra-musical" context helped keep their interest.

in general i think western music history is very, very invested in the concept of the individual genius, isolated from society, to a fault. look at how people talk about mozart--all these "dictation from God" theories. Twyla Tharpe wrote in her book on creativity how people tend to gloss over the fact that he was born into a culture of court musicians, had access to the best musicians of his time due to his father, and received the most rigorous musical education a person could possibly have. his socioeconomic position, troubled as it may have been, had an awful lot to do with his success. but even academic music history gravitates towards the lone ranger theory when it comes to musicians like him.

keep truckin', babe. it'll all be over soon.

--Steph
Suze said…
steph, are you having trouble commenting non-anonymously here? still b/c of that blogger beta thing? weird. if you log out and then log in in regular blogger, maybe it would work.

anyway, i'm sure my annoyance with these texts has much to do with the fact that i've torn through both of them in just a few days, and something about seeing lists of composers and their works and their works' key relationships just isn't doing it for me.

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