Musicology, mediation, metatonality: Rethinking the music of Rebecca Clarke and Erwin Schulhoff

Book chapter


Dromey, C. 2021. Musicology, mediation, metatonality: Rethinking the music of Rebecca Clarke and Erwin Schulhoff. in: Fleet, P. (ed.) Musics with and after Tonality: Mining the Gap Routledge. pp. 233–247
Chapter titleMusicology, mediation, metatonality: Rethinking the music of Rebecca Clarke and Erwin Schulhoff
AuthorsDromey, C.
Abstract

Two incontrovertible yet apparently contradictory facts about tonality coexist, and each has a huge influence on how we learn about, perform, hear, and analyse music. The first fact is that, as a conceptual category coined in the early nineteenth century and refined by musicologists of all types ever since, tonality occupies a proud and privileged place in music theory and, by extension, in the telling and retelling of music history. This is why received wisdom continues to teach students that tonality’s ‘evolution’ is a primary factor in the division of musical epochs, and to attune listeners to new thresholds of consonance and dissonance (and, relatedly, of continuities and discontinuities). Such qualities have become central to comprehending and enjoying many kinds of music – a reality that, for better or worse, is ultimately rooted in the concept of tonality being entwined with that of an historicizing narrative almost as soon as it had been conceived. The second fact about tonality highlights a chasm that separates this first set of truths from another: that tonality, for all its significance, is virtually absent in public discourse about music. It is tempting to assume that we simply take tonality for granted; that it is the proverbial invisible hand, shaping countless musical choices, each subject to a vast number of cognitive, personal, and social biases. Similar assumptions have long been fruitful starting points for psychologists and sociologists keen to understand how musical judgements are formed and enacted, and for scholars setting out to disabuse the exceptionalizing notion that Western music between the seventeenth and early twentieth centuries renders other musical cultures and epochs subservient to it because of its tonal framework (Small, 1977). However, the ‘taken for granted’ argument does not adequately recognize the tangible problems that the discussion and teaching of tonality typically pose, nor the interesting implications of such issues for musicologists and pedagogues alike. To compound matters, pedagogical perspectives are rarely examined by musicologists, and this neglect is reciprocated as musicological advances struggle to influence (pre-tertiary) curricula. Two prime features of musicology in the 2010s were to advocate for more equitable representation in music historiography and to fashion a new sense of applied practice, including public-oriented musicologies. Yet, analytical musicology has been slow to embrace such trends. This is not for want of the tools to unpick and celebrate musical accomplishment. Rather, its own august history has evolved alongside wider musicological narratives that have served to narrow its scope of influence and widen the perceived incompatibility of public and analytical knowledge. The power of these narratives (or dogmatic metaphors, as we might describe them, e.g. the ‘death’ of tonality or successive ‘waves’ of modernism) is such that, as Lloyd Whitesell has observed, ‘the cultural symbolism brought to bear on the concept of tonality is extremely telling. As a “common practice” of harmonic conventions, it has the prestige in the minds of many, whether vanguard or conservative, of a repressed, shadow image of modernism’ (Whitesell, 2010, p. 104). The schisms embedded in this quote are as chronologically and thematically relevant to this volume’s ‘with and after’ reading of (meta)tonality as they are to this chapter, which will adopt public-oriented and analytical approaches in order to elucidate certain mediative problems music faces today and to recalibrate our understanding of tonality in the interwar period. The chapter duly explores the subject of tonality from three related perspectives: broadcasting, programme notes, and pedagogy. Then, against this backdrop, it examines two dual-heritage composers, Rebecca Clarke (1886–1979) and Erwin Schulhoff (1894–1942), whose music has deservedly begun to be revived in the last twenty years. The interwar years are generally understood as being crucial to the development of both classical music and musicology. They also marked the tragically brief highpoints of both composers’ careers: Schulhoff was a victim of the Holocaust and suffered critically for his eclecticism; Clarke suffered because of her gender and eventually stopped composing. To rewrite music history by recognizing such neglected composers is not a new challenge, but the perspective of metatonality, being a mutable and referential concept, brings the potential or even the imperative to add a significant new dimension to analytical musicology. This chapter’s structure reflects this by framing its analytical findings with discussion of tonality’s multivalency and of musicology’s modern purpose, including its relationship with the public. In short: how metatonal- inspired readings might help us look afresh at tonality and musicology themselves.

Sustainable Development Goals4 Quality education
Middlesex University ThemeCreativity, Culture & Enterprise
Research GroupMusic group
LanguageEnglish
Page range233–247
Book titleMusics with and after Tonality: Mining the Gap
EditorsFleet, P.
PublisherRoutledge
SeriesAshgate Studies in Theory and Analysis of Music After 1900
ISBN
Hardcover9781138316362
Paperback9781032182865
Electronic9780429451713
Copyright Year2022
Publication dates
Online30 Dec 2021
Print31 Dec 2021
Publication process dates
Accepted2022
Deposited10 Oct 2023
Web address (URL)https://www.routledge.com/Musics-with-and-after-Tonality-Mining-the-Gap/Fleet/p/book/9781138316362
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429451713-11
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