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Media-shaped Perceptions Panel

Sunday, January 17, 10:00am
Geiringer Hall
Scott Dirkse, chair

Media-shaped Perceptions Panel: Jonathan Waxman, Sasha Metcalf, Linda Shaver-Gleason, Matthew R. Morrow, and Scott Dirkse

Media-shaped Perceptions Panel: Jonathan Waxman, Sasha Metcalf, Linda Shaver-Gleason,
Matthew R. Morrow, and Scott Dirkse (chair)

"The Pleyel-Haydn 'Rivalry' of 1792: How a Conflict Concocted by London Newspapers became Music History"

Linda Shaver-Gleason, Musicology
University of California, Santa Barbara

Franz Joseph Haydn's London symphonies have featured prominently in orchestra concerts since their premiere. Some historians attribute Haydn's ambitious compositions during his second season of London concerts to a desire to conquer his former student, Ignace Pleyel, who produced new compositions for the rival Professional Concert. By the end of the concert season, Haydn was clearly victorious, but over whom did he triumph? Though Pleyel's compositions also met with contemporary praise, too often historians have conflated his stylistic shortcomings with the failures of his promoters, casting him as an ungrateful, presumptuous pupil whose inadequacies made defeat inevitable. Yet various accounts suggest that Haydn viewed the events of 1792 as a victory only over his harshest critics and that he felt no malice toward Pleyel, whom he viewed as an unwitting participant in the conflict. Rather, the antagonism between master composer and former student appears to have existed only on the pages of British periodicals in order to sell newspapers and fill concert halls.

This paper examines contemporary accounts of the Haydn-Pleyel conflict in British periodicals such as the Morning Herald and the Gazetteer, placing them within the broader context of eighteenth century London's concert culture and media practices. The discussion also considers Haydn's version of events as related both through his personal correspondence and to his biographers years later. Finally, an exploration of how recent historians present the events of 1792 reveals the extent to which great musical figures receive preferential treatment at the expense of their lesser-known contemporaries, as well as how fabrications from notoriously-unfactual sources became accepted as music history.

"'Reading Nature's Book': An Ecocritical Analysis of Debussy's Published Criticism"

Matthew R. Morrow, Musicology
Eastman School of Music

In light of the ecological crisis confronting humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century, the abundant nature imagery in Debussy's published criticism acquires newfound sociocultural import. A late bloomer as a musical pundit, Debussy nonetheless produced a substantial corpus of trenchant prose between his 1901 debut in the pages of La Revue blanche and his untimely demise during the waning months of the First World War. Although many of the composer's essays assume the guise of garden-variety concert reviews, Debussy's impression of a given performance typically serves as a point of departure for the articulation of some greater aesthetic truth involving "the mysterious affinity between Nature and the Imagination." In spite of this striking proclivity, scholars have yet to subject Debussy's critical output to the increasingly relevant gaze of ecocriticism, an interdisciplinary field that seeks to negotiate the complex relationship between cultural artifacts and the natural environment. Viewed through this interpretive lens, Debussy's criticism emerges as the credo of a composer deeply devoted to the majesty of the natural world. Throughout his various articles, Debussy argues that nature is the ultimate source of beauty in the universe, a point underscored by his humorous tendency to decry the bothersome concerts that so frequently interrupted his plein-air reveries. Nevertheless, Debussy believed that music possesses a singular capacity to echo the enigmatic poetry of nature; indeed, the numerous compositions in his oeuvre that evoke natural phenomena attest to this conviction. Reciprocally, Debussy regarded nature as the ideal catalyst for innovation in the realm of music because it defies the stifling academicism of rationalized institutions like the modern conservatory. Ultimately, Debussy's compositional and critical output constitutes an authentic challenge to the environmental exploitation that accompanies urban life in the industrial age, an interpretation that subverts his decidedly facile association with modernism.

15-minute break

"Perceptions of Philip Glass's Operas"

Sasha Metcalf, Musicology
University of California, Santa Barbara

Abstract removed at request of the author.

"Musical Discourse at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1908-1956)"

Jonathan Waxman, Historical Musicology
New York University

By the turn of the twentieth-century, audiences had become dependent on program notes and other verbal descriptions as a means to access musical meaning, and thus this period saw an explosion in explanatory literature about individual pieces. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra created perhaps the most extensive program notes of any major American orchestra during this time. Information provided by the pieces' creator and edited by the program annotator Felix Borowski accompanied almost all the original works the CSO debuted from 1908-1956. This study presents a close analysis of the program notes for world premieres performed by the CSO to analyze the different kinds of information composers made publicly available and to evaluate how this material was presented to the audience.

Most composers offered similar content for their notes such as descriptions of musical themes, and programmatic references. However, the differences in the length and specificity of these notes illustrate that more famous composers or those affiliated with the CSO such as the program annotator Borowski or the conductor Frederick Stock, were either allowed by the symphony to provide longer program notes or were more concerned with the audience's understanding of their compositions. By showing that the program notes for premieres bear a striking resemblance to those for the nineteenth-century pieces already performed by the orchestra, I will argue that writing program notes for new pieces afforded a way for the CSO to align contemporary works with the established repertory, and to grant legitimacy to these unknown pieces.

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