I’ve been asked by Jonathan and Phil to offer an occasional
blogpost this summer.
Here’s something that caught my eye at From Beyond the Stave, which is the blog run by Michael Richards of the academic
book publisher Boydell and Brewer. (The
word play in the blog's title is clearer if you use a long “a” when pronouncing
“stave”—which is the five-line thing that in America we call the “staff.”)
Hugh Wood is a noted composer and critic in England. On March 19, he objected strenuously in the pages of the Times
Literary Supplement to objections by American musicologist Byron Adams to
Anthony Payne’s much-heralded completion of the Elgar Third Symphony. Along the way, Wood also took a swipe at musicological work written in a spirit of cultural critique. (The immediate context, or perhaps pretext, was the recurring focus on the British Empire—e.g., provincial/patronizing attitudes toward the peoples of India—in various chapters of one of the books Wood was reviewing, Elgar and His World, edited by Adams.)
Objections to objections tend to stir up more objections. Of the three letters that followed, Richard Taruskin’s was predictably quotable,
accusing Wood—and perhaps English music critics more broadly—of “defensive
insularity, anti-intellectualism, know-it-all complacency, proud ignorance,
[and] blimpish spite.”
An Englishman (and noted authority on ancient Roman literature), Leofranc Holford-Strevens, wondered plausibly
how long the rage for this new symphony by, or we should perhaps say “by," Elgar will continue.
then wrote in turn, objecting to Taruskin’s objections.
Oddly, I don’t recall that any of these objections, whether to Elgar or to the New
Musicology (if we must use that unfortunate term), have been mentioned in
musical blogs other than From Beyond the Stave or in
postings on any musicological e-list. Surely
there’s room for another round of objections to the objections to the . . .
I can say that I’ve listened to the
Elgar-Payne Third Symphony (at least two superb recordings
are available) and that I was taken with it, despite my initial doubts. Maybe Anthony Payne is a composer whose output I ought to get to know better. Or is he the Süssmayr of our age,
capable perhaps of producing pages that will endure—but only when he is working with
material left behind by, as T. S. Eliot said admiringly of Ezra Pound, un miglior fabbro (a greater craftsman)?