Journal of Music Criticism – 1 (2017)


José Ignacio Suárez – Claves estéticas de la primera recepción de la teoría wagneriana en Madrid

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In the 1860s, Spanish music criticism propounded an opposition between two repertories, considered to be mutually exclusive: Italian opera and Wagnerian music drama. The debate surrounding these two repertories raised the issue of what relationship there should be between music and text in opera, centring on the question of which of the two disciplines should prevail in composition. Italian opera gave total prevalence to music over text, thus reflecting an «idealist conception» of art. Wagner’s point of view, conversely, put the text in a position of superiority: Wagner he believed that music should always be subjected to the requirements of the text to achieve a credible, «realistic» production. Wagner linked his ideas with Gluck’s notion that music must support the text in order to reinforce its dramatic authenticity. However, in the 1870s a change emanated from the influence of a philosophical current imported to Spain: Krausism (from the thinking of German Karl Christian Friedrich Krause). The Krausist followers, who strived for the establishment of a Spanish opera, addressed the issue from the perspective of the harmonisation of opposites, seeking to resolve the opposition between tradition and modernity, nationhood and universality. Concerning the latter, they attempted to reconcile the different operatic schools. They used Richard Wagner as an example, as they considered him to be the most genuine and avant-garde German representative of opera composition at the time, and the figure most likely to be taken into account in the creation of a national genre.

Davide Ceriani – Mussolini, la critica musicale italiana e i festival della Società Internazionale di Musica Contemporanea in Italia negli anni Venti

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Following the end of World War One, Europe experienced a rebirth of cultural exchanges among its countries. In the field of music, the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) provided a forum to keep abreast of the most recent trends in the music field. The bylaws of the ISCM stipulated that there were to be annual meetings, and that the venue of these meetings would shift from year to year. In the 1920s, Italy hosted these meetings twice: once in Venice (1925), and once in Siena (1928). In this paper, I investigate two aspects of the two festivals of the ISCM held in Italy in the 1920s. First, I explore how the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini used these two events to promote the image of fascism as a form of enlightened regime. Having come to power in 1922, and having established a dictatorship in January 1925, Mussolini’s government was still relatively young in the mid-1920s. I argue that Mussolini’s patronage of the ISCM gatherings was part of a strategy that aimed not only to legitimize his political movement, but also to build an international reputation for himself as an open-minded patron of modern art. Juxtaposed against Mussolini’s forward-thinking advocacy of the ISCM are the comments of Italian music critics of the day. These comments lead to the second point of my paper, where I examine what Italian music critics said about the most controversial foreign works presented at these two festivals. I contend that these critics were not really concerned with offering an objective assessment of the quality of these works. Rather, many of them expressed their animosity toward, or dismissal of, the most daring and forward-looking works. By exploring these two points, I aim to demonstrate that the Italian musical and political establishment used the Venice and Siena ISCM festivals to achieve goals that were not coherent with the purpose of this organization. More than strengthening the cause of contemporary music, these two ISCM meetings reinforced the reputation of a fascist dictatorship and served as an opportunity for the Italian music critics to voice their opinions against the foreign production of modern music.

Timothy R. McKinney –  A Tale of Two Critics; or, A Wolf at the Door: Recovering a Critical Dialogue between Eduard Hanslick and Hugo Wolf

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As a young man whose dream of becoming an eminent progressive composer remained unfulfilled as yet, Hugo Wolf ardently and brashly defended the New German School in the concert reviews he wrote for the Wiener Salonblatt in 1884-1887, pitting himself against the conservative Viennese music establishment in general and increasingly against highly influential critic Eduard Hanslick in particular. Though Wolf began to quote Hanslick’s reviews and attack him by name in 1886, it generally is thought that Hanslick did not respond to Wolf’s harangues in his own critical writing; indeed, to my knowledge he did not mention Wolf in the Neue Freie Presse until his well-known review of a Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde concert containing two of Wolf’s works in 1894. However, much of the commentary on Hanslick’s critical writings has been based upon the collections that he selected from his total corpus and redacted for republication. When all of Hanslick’s original Neue Freie Presse reviews from 1884-1887 are laid beside Wolf’s in chronological sequence, one begins to see subtle responses to Wolf and catch glimpses of a dialogue between artist and critic that speaks to the role and professional responsibilities of criticism in addition to aesthetic issues. The current study focuses on recovering this dialogue and examining its stimuli and connotations, from early oblique fencing over the Brahms/Wagner controversy and the concerts of the visiting Meiningen Orchestra under Hans von Bülow in 1884, through Wolf’s infamous direct assault after the 1886 Viennese premiere of Brahms’s fourth symphony, and continuing until Wolf abandoned his critical career in April of the following year. In Wolf’s case in particular, his personal circumstances and his inability to achieve recognition as a composer very much informed his critical and philosophical stances. While Hanslick was not writing of Wolf’s own music during Wolf’s time as a critic, it is nonetheless from this perspective that Wolf’s attacks on Hanslick are properly understood. Their vehemence and personal nature were motivated by Wolf’s own personal life-or-death struggle as a composer against the dictates of conservative taste as much as by the general Brahms/Wagner controversy.

Marida Rizzuti –  Che cosa hanno da dire i compositori in merito alla musica per film? Il caso «Modern Music»

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The essay addresses the relationship between composers and music critics, specifically the role of the composer when he becomes a music critic of other composers. Case study is the quarterly Modern Music published between February 1924 and Autumn 1946. Modern Music is iconic because it aimed at informing and updating American and European professionals and audience about the new languages and styles of 20th-century music. The quarterly was a milestone for the debate on new forms of music, and especially for film music. Through articles and reviews Modern Music has become a forum on contemporary music events. Attention to film music and, in general, to sound cinema is attested by the column ‘on the Film Front’, in which composing methods for film, and scores written for films – produced between United States, Europe and Soviet Union – were discussed. Most reviews were written by George Antheil and Paul Bowles, but Aaron Copland has played a central role in the development of Modern Music, especially focusing on composers such as George Antheil, Charles Ives and Darius Milhaud, as well as dealing with jazz structures and with composers working also outside Hollywood. The articles and reviews published on Modern Music have assumed a theoretical character for the genre film music. A systematic study of these has allowed me to highlight the relationship between the poetics of the composer extensors of the writings from the one side and the film medium from the other side, observing how the medium has exerted an influence on the composers’ poetics and how the work in this field has been understood and interpreted by the composers themselves. The material has been questioned through multiple perspectives: observing the recurrence that theoretical writings have had on compositional techniques, looking at sociological aspects linked to the relationship between composers and productive structures, which were for them unusual, and ultimately establishing a relationship on the aesthetic niveau between the composers and the new medium, the sound cinema. This study has found within the Exilforschung’s study a natural framework, because addressing composers as critics of other composers has highlighted how working for cinema and dealing with cinema’s productive structures has been inscribed within the framework of building a new identity by those European composers who have emigrated to the United States, and who have worked intensively in the cinema. The focus is limited to the theoretical writings, since this aspect is still underdeveloped by the current bibliography. Through reviews, new ways of looking at the work of composers for cinema have been highlighted, and we have been able to observe in more detail how their approach to composing music for cinema has changed the way they conceive music and the compositional act tout court. The most innovative aspect is that the music critic is himself a composer, and therefore music criticism has affected parameters left – until then – in the background.

Massimiliano Locanto –  «Brother Criticus»: Stravinsky ‘the Serialist’ against Music Criticism

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Stravinsky’s struggle with music critics has become legendary. It began early in Stravinsky’s life, at the time of his works for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Its origins and motivations are likely to be found in the rather unfavourable reviews of Stravinsky’s ballets scores in his motherland, and in the composer’s need to push the musical criticism outside Russia in a useful direction for his ends. Many of Stravinsky’s writings and interviews that appeared between the two wars show that the composer’s contempt for the critics was closely related to his need to establish a direct relationship with the European public. Worried about the possible influence musical criticism could exercise, he tried to get total control over the reception of his works. By using as leverage the typically modernist – also found in Schoenberg, for example – idea that competence in writing about music consists in knowing what the composer knows,  and that this latter is the most qualified person to talk about his own music, he not only tried to impose his authority on musical criticism, but also to occupy its place, and to take for himself its role. This paper focuses the attention on the continuities and changes that this attitude toward music criticism underwent in the last period of Stravinsky’s life, following his ‘serial turn’. In his writings of this period, written in collaboration with Robert Craft, his controversy against music criticism reached its climax. Eminent music critics, such as Winthrop Sargeant, of The New Yorker magazine, or the musicologist and New Herald Tribune columnist Paul Henry Lang were accused of ignorance, incompetence, and «gratuitous malice» by Stravinsky. However, Stravinsky’s increased sensitivity to criticism was largely due to the peculiarities of the American post-war cultural context. He probably understood that, at a time when composers were continuously looking for novelties in compositional technique and musical language, audiences was turning to critics to get explanations and judgments about this increasingly difficult music. In this way the role of the critics as intermediaries between composers and listeners became more crucial than before. Stravinsky probably recognized that ‘words about music’ could serve an unprecedented role in shaping the reception of his serial compositions. He probably saw in the scientific ‘objectivity’ of the music theorist, which in those years was gaining ever greater prestige in the American music academy, a possible bulwark against the ‘arbitrariness’ of the kind of music criticism he had always hated. His involvement with academic specialists in theory of serial composition, such as Milton Babbitt and Claudio Spies can be considered as a new attempt to impose his authority on music criticism with the complicity of the music-theoretical academic establishment.

Journal of Music Criticism, Volume 1, Issue 1 (2017).

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JMC Volume 2 (2018)