The Institute of Musical Research, part of the University of London and located in the shadow of the world-famous Senate House Library, played host to this year’s TAGS event, which welcomed delegates from all over the world and as far afield as the US, Canada and Taiwan. With seventeen postgraduate students presenting papers along with highly distinguished keynote speakers, Arnold Whittall (King’s College, London) and Michiel Schuijer (Conservatorium van Amsterdam), the programme proved to be remarkably diverse, testifying to the dynamism, vibrancy and open-mindedness of the Society as a whole.
Following warm welcomes from the SMA Vice-President and Events Officer, Kenneth Smith, and the SMA President, Michael Spitzer, the programme got underway with a session on ‘Post-Tonal Analysis’. Helen C. Thomas (Lancaster) began with an insightful discussion on the fragmentariness of Boulez’s Éclat, while Ju-Sun Kim (Arizona) explored, with impressive technical virtuosity, aspects of serialism in Barber’s Sonata Op. 26. Olga Sologub (Manchester) concluded the session with a revisionist approach to the chromatic practices of Prokofiev, illustrating how the latter’s music resists being pigeon-holed as diatonic, late Romantic or atonal music.
With so much variety on offer, parallel sessions allowed the delegates to choose between topics. That also meant, unfortunately, that this reviewer was not able to sit in and report on the following sessions:
• ‘Analysis, Pop Music & Mass Culture’ – Paula Propst (Tennessee) and Mei-fen Hsin (Durham)
• ‘Analysis & Performance’ – Paola Cannas (Sussex), Yi-Mei-Yu (National Chiao Tung University, Taiwan) and Gilvano Dalagna (University of Aveiro)
• ‘The Musical “Idea”’ – Indioney Rodrigues (Goldsmiths) and Jacob Thompson-Bell (Royal Northern College of Music)
In session ‘2B’, entitled ‘Music & Culture from Gesualdo to Wagner’, Joseph Knowles (York) deftly discussed extra-musical qualities that had been projected onto modes and hexachords in the sixteenth century, with a view to musically and historically contextualising his argument for eroticism in Gesualdo’s Sparge la morte. I had the honour to speak in this session on the tensions within modern philosophy, specifically, the tensions between analytical philosophy and the continental tradition, as located within contemporary Wagner scholarship.
All delegates were, subsequently, brought together for Arnold Whittall’s keynote entitled ‘”Written off?” Theory, Analysis, and Twenty-First Century Musicology’. Michael Spitzer wittily suggested, in his introduction, that presenting Arnold Whittall to the SMA was the equivalent of introducing Nelson Mandela to the ANC. With that in mind, Professor Whittall embarked on a highly entertaining and, indeed, thought-provoking address concerning the future of music theory and analysis. Arnold Whittall’s carefully constructed reflections were made in light of Richard Taruskin’s soon-to-be-published idea that the tensions between musicology and music theory and analysis somehow represent a debate between ‘evolutionists’ and ‘creationists’. We will have to wait and see what Richard Taruskin has to say on the matter when his latest views are published later this year in Music Theory Spectrum. In the meantime, Professor Whittall argued that it was the responsibility of the music analyst to engage with these tensions by initiating some manner of discourse with the other side of the divide. In addition, he discussed how music analysis and music theory might continue to justify their existence in relation to contemporary composition and performance, especially with high-profile premieres by Sandy Goehr, Turnage and Ferneyhough, together with important bicentenaries for Verdi and Wagner lying imminently before us.
With so much to think about following the keynote address it wasn’t surprising that discussions surrounding the content of the day’s talks continued throughout the conference dinner, which was held at ASK just around the corner from the British Museum.
After much good food, drink and conversation the night before, Thursday morning commenced with parallel sessions on ‘Analysis & Performance’ and ‘Poststructural Analysis’. In the latter, Matthew Mendez (Edinburgh) convincingly argued against the monolithic interpretation of the figure of John Cage by illustrating, with particular flair, how the evolution of the latter’s artistic output coincided with the dissolution of Lyotard’s apolitical thought. Chris Fuller (Lancaster) followed with an enlightening paper on the problems of collapsing music analysis into poststructuralism by using David Schwarz’s and Naomi Cumming’s Lacanian analysis of Steve Reich’s Different Trains as an illustration. Mark Bishop (York University, Toronto) closed the session with a Deleuzian analysis of Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony, an approach that has the potential to contribute much to Deleuze scholarship by moving beyond Deleuze’s original conceptualisation of Messiaen through engagement with the former’s theory of the haptic function of colour, and its potential application to music.
The final parallel sessions for postgraduate students were on the themes of ‘Analysis & Cognition’ and ‘The Musical “Idea”’. In the former, much healthy debate was sparked in the question time following Patrick Hinds’s (Surrey) study of the history of music as conceptual phenomenon and its revision as non-conceptual cognitive structure. Adrian Trevisan (London Metropolitan) followed with an intriguing presentation of a new device that turns brain output into music. It was agreed that both talks hold exciting prospects for the future.
Following a hearty lunch, Michiel Schuijer delivered the second keynote address of the conference entitled ‘The Modern Conservatory and the Practice/Theory Dichotomy in Music Education’. Reflecting on his experiences at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and the Royal Conservatoire (The Hague), Michiel Schuijer focussed his talk on the problem of the theory/praxis dichotomy as highlighted by Kant. He explored the conceptual problems of that binary in music pedagogy and traced its evolution as courses and music making became increasingly professionalised. Following a developed, insightful and enlightening study of the problems surrounding the theory/praxis binary in music education, specifically, the problems of trying to categorise a certain task or piece of work as either practical or theoretical, it was made clear that there is little consensus in the modern conservatoire of what constitutes either praxis or theory. Michiel Schuijer closed by focussing on how these problems have the potential to affect the music theorist or analyst in the context of music education.
TAGS 2011 concluded with a lively roundtable discussion chaired by Professor William Drabkin (Southampton). If a recurring theme of the two days was that of healthy debate, then the roundtable certainly echoed this theme through discussions on the teaching of music theory and analysis in universities and conservatoires. This followed with a look at the typical backgrounds of a student coming to study music analysis, with Arnold Whittall and Michiel Schuijer sharing their views on what was typically expected of those students. Following some lively (and sometimes horrifying) anecdotes from the postgraduates in attendance on their experiences of music analysis as an undergraduate, the conference ended with a palpable sense of optimism, pessimism and realism all contained within the same room as we all bid a fond farewell to the Institute of Musical Research.
It was great to see so many speakers and conference delegates come and contribute to the content of TAGS 2011. I would like to end by thanking Kenneth Smith and all those who make up the SMA Executive Committee for organising an inspiring, enjoyable and ruthlessly well-run event. I am sure we are all looking forward to next year.
Royal Holloway, University of London