Back to Schedule for Joint Sessions

Session 5-2
New Histories of Western Music

Michael Tenzer (University of British Columbia), Organizer

 

Bruno Nettl (Emeritus, University of Illinois)
Vicky Oveson (University of Alberta)
Michael Tenzer (University of British Columbia)
Yayoi Uno Everett (Emory University)

Non-European contemporary art music composers, working with primarily Western-derived tools, instruments, and compositional craft, have fused Western musical concepts and resources with those of their local traditions. Such fusion may take place in the music itself via manipulation of materials, but this is not the only or even primary way. Especially in the second half of the century, since materials began to migrate freely and unpredictably across and against cultural borders, we cannot necessarily discern a work's cultural origins from its content. Rather, and just as significantly, fusion may be evidenced through the adoption of special aesthetic stances and the building of artistic communities that combine local musical values and perspectives with Western ones. These processes may result in a hybrid conception of tradition (perhaps harmonious with or reflective of a modernizing local culture), wherein the local musical past is seen as culturally antecedent to contemporary music in Western media. Our presentations will explore how Western music has, over the past century and in the hands of diverse practitioners globally, come to acquire many such "new" histories. These will be viewed, among other possibilities, in aesthetic, music-structural, historical, and socio-cultural terms, through case studies.
As we continue to revise our perspectives on the story of Western art music in the twentieth century, its growth outside of Europe and North America emerges more clearly than before as one of the most striking and characteristic developments. The death knell of tonality in early twentieth-century Europe was not only a clarion call to new means of expression for the immediate heirs to Brahms and Mahler. It was also an invitation to composers from all over the world to shape the newly liberated resources of Western music and adapt this freedom to their own ends, creating languages and aesthetics particular to their circumstances. In this regard Bartók and Stravinsky were of course exemplary cases, though Russia and the Balkans were merely peripheral regions, not entirely foreign and hardly unknown. Thus their new voices could more readily be heard and assimilated.
Aided by the disseminating arm of Western powers, Western music in colonially administered lands not geographically contiguous with Europe was strongly shaped by the debilitating facts of political domination: it came to symbolize Western "progress" in juxtaposition with the so-called "stasis" of traditional musics. At the same time Western music was promoted as universally learnable, an essentially technical challenge open to musicians everywhere (Nettl 1985:117). For some non-European composers trained in conservatories established by colonizers, or at conservatories in the West, using a nineteenth- century Germanic style was tantamount to adopting progressive Western values. Here is one example: raised between the world wars in the U.S.-occupied Philippines, composer Lucrecia Kasilag completed an M.A. at Eastman in 1950. She wrote her Violin Concerto in 1965 in Mendelssohnian idiom, asserting that such music would lead to a modernized musical culture for her country.
Music like Kasilag's reflected special types of Asian-, African- and Latin- American musical nationalism, but with the spread of post-war European musical technology and technique, other possibilities soon asserted themselves. Since the 1960s, conventional Western/non-Western distinctions have become notoriously much more difficult to sustain. As Ryker argues (1990:13), "the issue is no longer one of regional origin, but of levels of technological development." Urban composers in Seoul, Lagos or Brasilia experience themselves not as outsiders to a centralized Western cultural production, but as cultural entrepreneurs creating an international music that is relevant to their particular situations. Far from succumbing to Western hegemony, many resist it by forging their own "specific paths through modernity (Clifford 1988:5). At the 1966 UNESCO Symposium on "Musics of Asia," organizer José Maceda remarked presciently that

Asian Music is bound to change - how is this change in Asian music to take place? This is of course difficult to foretell - and to control. However by dealing with avant-garde music in the discussions as well as by preparing concerts in which Asian and avant-garde musics are played in sequence, the symposium may suggest ideas and directions toward such a change (1971:11-12).

The manifestations, in the years since, of the suggestions and directions hinted at by Maceda are an important part of what we plan to explore in our panel. We also hope to intertwine the concerns of conventionally separate ethnomusicology and historical-musicology subject matters via introduction to this diverse and little-known (to North Americans) world of art music composition.

References: Clifford, J. 1988. The Predicament of Culture. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press.
Maceda, J., 1971. "The Aim of the Symposium," Musics of Asia. Papers read at the Intern.l Music Symposium, Nat.l Music Council of the Philippines and UNESCO Nat.l Comm. of the Phillipines. J. Maceda, ed. Manila.
Nettl, B., 1985. The Western Impact on World Music. New York: Schirmer.
Ryker, H., 1990. New Music in the Orient. Buren: Frits Knuf.

Back to Schedule for Joint Sessions