Join us at 6.30pm (UK Time) here.

Joseph Straus (Graduate Center, City University of New York)

Abstract. Modernist music is centrally concerned with bodies and minds that deviate from normative standards for appearance and function.  The musical features that make music modern are precisely those that can be understood to represent disability.  Modernist musical representations of disability both reflect and shape (construct) disability in a eugenic age, a period when disability was viewed simultaneously with pity (and a corresponding urge toward cure or rehabilitation) and fear (and a corresponding urge to incarcerate or eliminate).  The most characteristic features of musical modernism—fractured forms, immobilized harmonies, conflicting textural layers, radical simplification of means in some cases, and radical complexity and hermeticism in others—can be understood as musical representations of disability conditions, including deformity/disfigurement, mobility impairment, madness, and idiocy.  At the end of this presentation, I will take up a new, related topic: old age as a disability condition, i.e. a stigmatized, non-normative body, and the implications for “musicking while old.”

Short bio. Joseph Straus is Distinguished Professor of Music Theory at the CUNY Graduate Center.  He has written numerous articles and scholarly monographs on a variety of topics in modernist music. He has also written a series of articles and books that engage disability as a cultural practice, most recently Broken Beauty: Musical Modernism and the Representation of Disability (Oxford UP, 2018), recipient of the Wallace Berry Award for best book from the Society of Music Theory.   He was President of SMT in the late 90’s.