Reader Amy Bauer responds with mild indignation to my post on composers overlooked by academia:
I think you’re unfair to music academics! I love Sibelius, Dvorak, Martinu, and many other supposedly ‘unacademic’ composers, and loathe the music of. . (um, afraid to say, as it may get me in trouble )
Seriously, many of my musicologist friends adore much of the music you’ve noted
above. I fear you may confuse academic taste with what are acceptable topics of
research, which – as in any other field – are subject to changing fashion.
There are plenty of Nielsen scholars now; he represents only one of the many composers
rehabilitated by academia in recent years. It is true that there are egregious conventions
regarding what is worthy of study, and it takes a paradigm shift by those with power
and influence to let new works into that particular canon (Taruskin’s influence
is a case in point). But in my experience, what academics write about and what
they actually listen to often have very little overlap.
I will leave tilting at the windmills of compositional fame to those in the know.
Well, there’s some truth in this. I was primarily not thinking of musicologists, but of theorists and composers, who seem loathe to subject to analysis any music not granted paradigmatic status. And I was also thinking not so much of “academic taste” as much as “acceptable topics of
research.” I’ve never quite gotten over how perplexed my fellow grad students were that I lowered myself to write an analytical paper on Bruckner.
Still, while I haven’t spent much time consorting with musicologists, I have spent enough to learn what a strict composer-based hierarchy the world of musicology is. I was once on a panel with some big names, and highly complimented a famous scholar on his book on Muzio Clementi, which had been a great help to me. He seemed almost irritated that I had brought it up, as though it were some secret from his past that he didn’t want mentioned in front of his colleagues. He had now written a book on Beethoven, which meant he had climbed a couple dozen steps up the musicology ladder. And I have learned in that world that to have written the first book on Nancarrow was a miniscule accomplishment, almost negligible, compared to writing the 67th book on Bach, Beethoven, or Brahms. In the world of music historians, your stature is exponentially proportional, not to the quality of your research and writing, but to the prestige of the composer you can claim to be an expert on.
(Many years ago I spent a pleasant evening with a new acquaintance who was writing a book on Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf. I’d love to hear from him, and learn how that project went. We had a better time, down there at the bottom of the musicology ladder, than the bigwigs were having up above.)