The path was humbling, the path was steep, the path was sometimes so obscure that I wasn’t sure I knew the way. But earlier this summer, my first scratch-built digital research project went live on the shinyapps.io hosting platform. Written almost entirely in the R markdown programming language, A Visual Guide to Some Nineteenth-Century Composers and Their Publishers takes a quantitative look at the economic relationships that helped nine ten prominent composers to get their music into print during the long nineteenth century. You can go behind the scenes and view the code for the entire project here on GitHub.
As I continue to research the groundbreaking American music publisher Arthur P. Schmidt (1846–1921), I can’t help but marvel at the variety of businesses and institutions that now occupy the buildings in which his Boston-based publishing company operated during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
If you haven’t heard of Arthur P. Schmidt, you’ve probably heard some of his music. Schmidt was the first in history to publish a symphony composed by an American (bam!) and one of the first to publish a symphony composed by a woman (kaboom!). The works in question are John Knowles Paine’s Symphony No. 2 in A Major, Op. 34 (1880) and Amy Beach’s “Gaelic” Symphony in E minor, Op. 32 (1897), in case you’re curious.
Let’s begin our walk just outside the Park Street Station on Boston Common. The nation’s first subway tunnel was constructed beneath our feet in 1897, so this is one landmark that Arthur P. Schmidt himself would probably recognize. With our backs to the gold dome of the State House, we must first stroll down Winter Street towards the building that in 1876 served as Schmidt’s first place of business:
In my large lecture courses, I often introduce musical examples by displaying a portrait of the composer in question. For composers who lived up through the early nineteenth century, I show paintings. For the more recent composers, I show photographs.
The oldest of these photographs are (unavoidably) grainy, black-and-white affairs. They are an excellent means to illustrate the contemporaneous state of photographic technology, but less than ideal as a means to bring their subjects to life for the students.
Given the recent hubbub over the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to digitally upscale and then later colorize the famous Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, filmed by the Lumière brothers in 1895, I thought I would see what AI could do for my old photos of famous composers.
The University at Buffalo is the first institution at which I’ve encountered the undergraduate music history survey being delivered across only two semesters. Brandeis University offers a sequence of five courses, as I recall, but with the requirement that students take just three of them. The music history faculty here at UB have recently been thinking about which printed anthology of scores works best as a course text for the survey, the challenge being that most publishers now seem to divide the sequence into three volumes instead of two.
While thinking about this question, I have found it difficult to avoid broader considerations of course content and teaching style. A complex topic! But if we begin by taking the question at face value, there remains at least one ready solution.
I am very pleased to be presenting a paper entitled “Sounding the Interrogative: Cadential Attenuation as Syntactic Device in the Madrigals of Sigismondo d’India” on Friday, November 1, at the 85th annual meeting of the American Musicological Society. The session, to be chaired by my friend and colleague Joel Schwindt (Boston Conservatory), is entitled “Rhetorical Devices” and will also feature papers by Matthew Hall (Cornell University) and Russell O’Rourke (Columbia). My own research builds on some of the findings that I presented last year at the third annual Italian Madrigal Conference at Colgate University. The session runs from 10:45–12:15 at the Westin Waterfront Hotel (Stone Room) in Boston.
While participating in Maggie O’Rourke’s recent “Designing Experiences” faculty academy at the UB Center for Educational Innovation, we were asked to dig out our teaching statements and transform them into “teaching and learning philosophies.” Mine still sounds a bit stuffy, but here’s what I came up with:
My purpose as a teacher is to expose my students not only to the content of a course but also to the skills necessary to think and write as scholars.
When teaching the history of music, I first introduce my students to the people who helped make it happen. The styles, ideas, and events of music history can only have developed through the active participation of not just composers but also performers, critics, patrons, publishers, and many others. One of my favorite strategies for promoting this approach to music history is simply to encourage my students to cast people—not works or concepts—as the subjects of their sentences. For example, I ask them to consider the Piano Concerto in A Major, ᴋ. 488,not as the inevitable consequence of an evolving concerto genre but rather as Mozart’s response to the expectations and demands of the culture in which he lived.
On the weekend of September 15–16, I will be traveling to Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, to give a presentation at the Third Annual Conference on the Italian Madrigal. My talk is entitled, “Hearing the Interrogative in the Polyphonic Madrigals of Sigismondo d’India: A Quantitative Analysis.” The talk is scheduled for a Saturday morning session about poetic form to be chaired by Massimo Ossi.
Amidst the presentations and discussions, the conference will also include a live concert performance by the marvelous Blue Heron vocal ensemble. All events are free and open to the public. I hope to see you there!
On Saturday, April 30, I will be presenting a short talk at Boston University as part of Enter Textuality: Shifting Perspectives through Editorial Studies, the 2016 graduate student conference in editorial studies. The title of my talk is “Translation Across Time: A Case of Semantic Drift in the Musical Lexicon.” The conference is organized by the BU Editorial Institute. Here is the abstract:
The words with which generations of Western musicians have chosen to describe even the most basic of musical phenomena form an intricate tangle of cognates, loanwords, and homonyms. Some performance traditions retain the antiquated terminologies with which they have always been associated, while others have kept pace with (and helped to shape) current usage. To prepare in modern English edition the writing of a French theorist from the Baroque therefore requires the translator to negotiate not only the lexical divide that separates one language from the other but also the historical divide that separates its author’s seventeenth-century usage from that which is most likely to be understood—in English or in French—by the musicians of today.
The translation of Denis Delair’s Traité d’Acompagnement pour le Theorbe, et le Clavessin (1690, rev. 1724) by Charlotte Mattax (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991) remains the only published edition of the text available in English. Although Mattax undertakes to modernize some of Delair’s theoretical language for the convenience of her readers, the editorial complications that result from this decision reveal some of the difficulties inherent to the business of translating words about music across multiple historical dimensions.
”In a successful academic career, the dissertation is eventually going to be the worst piece of scholarship you’ve ever produced.” This classic piece of advice already feels right, in some respects, but I am nevertheless proud to report that I successfully defended my dissertation yesterday afternoon. Only some minor revisions now lie ahead. Here is the abstract:
The historical development of a musical style (“stylistic development”) reflects the artistic dispositions and circumstances (“artistry”) of the composers who participate in it. This dissertation investigates the theory that similar kinds of artistry can encourage similar modes of stylistic development no matter the style, taking as a case study the pattern of gradual stylistic intensification (“maximalism”) found in nineteenth-century orchestral music.
I am happy to announce that the Journal of Musicological Research has published my very first peer-reviewed research article, entitled “The Diegetic Music of Berg’s Lulu: When Opera and Serialism Collide,” in their January 2016 issue. Please visit my research page to view the complete citation information.
Alban Berg set his only serialist opera, Lulu, in the tumultuous and often noisy present of interwar Europe. During several scenes, Berg uses diegetic techniques to supply his characters with music that is appropriate to the depicted location. To accommodate such episodes, Berg must reinterpret popular genres within the opera’s twelve-tone context while preserving enough of the styles to render them familiar to the listener. The diegetic music of Lulu therefore exposes an artistic conflict between Berg’s compositional autonomy and his dramaturgical commitment to the realistic musical representation of a non-serialist world.
Having first arrived at this topic as a student in one of his graduate seminars, I am indebted to Eric Chafe at Brandeis University for having introduced me to the world of Alban Berg as well as for having encouraged me to submit this article for publication. Additional thanks go to Lisa Zeidenberg at Brandeis University and to the staff of the Lewis Music Library at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Permission to reproduce a portion of the opera’s vocal score was secured through an arrangement with the European American Music Distributors Company.