A couple of years ago a remarkable article appeared in a Dutch daily. In it, composer and musicologist Anthony Fiumara makes a plea for the removal of Bach’s name from the walls of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in favor of a composer whose name is (wrongfully) lacking: John Cage. His arguments: Bach’s music was for a long time was not very popular, his style of composing not very innovative, and he had no students who have borne the test of time – all this contrary to Cage.
What we are confronted with in this dispute is the so-called ‘canon of big names’ in music history. And, it is this canon which serves as one of the instruments by which music is disciplined: music history is organized around a linearity marked by some 10-15 famous (male) composers whose music acts as a kind of standard against which all other music and music producers are measured. Music is furthermore disciplined by being put into discrete categories like Baroque, Romanticism, or Modernism, categories like jazz, pop, and classical music, categories like sonata, rondo, or concerto, etc.
However, as Jacques Attali makes clear in his famous book Noise. The Political Economy of Music, music itself also disciplines. The working of music can, after all, be defined as the organization of noise, the ordering of noise into codes. Music aligns itself with society in that both are trying to establish order, that is, to ban subversive noises. Music’s structuring thus helps to guarantee and consolidate a community. On another level, music disciplines the ear, the ear of the musician, when s/he is trained to play or sing in tune.
At the same time, however, we might notice a disruption, a blurring of the disciplinary role of music. An increasing attention for composers outside of the canon; the idea that a canon is contingent in the first place, determined through a continuous dialogue among a plurality of voices; the rising of ethnomusicology; the preference of many contemporary composers for eclecticism and (musical) citations from a wide range of sources – these are all indications leading to what Robert Morgan calls a ‘multi-canonic structure’, a state of diversity and instability.
In light of the above, the aim of this course is to examine both music’s disciplining and un-disciplining sides.
Authors whose texts are discussed: Michel Foucault, Jacques Attali, Katharine Bergeron, Gary Tomlinson and Robert Morgan, among others.