Competition: Write us a piece of hoax musicology

Competition: Write us a piece of hoax musicology


norman lebrecht

May 23, 2017

It can’t be hard.

A brilliant phoney paper titled ‘The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct’ was accepted and published in a peer-reviewed, gender studies journal.

It contained such beautiful formulations as ‘We conclude that penises are not best understood as the male sexual organ, or as a male reproductive organ, but instead as an enacted social construct that is both damaging and problematic for society and future generations’. Here’s how it was done.

Now let’s apply these enlightened ideas to contemporary musicology.

Here are few gender themes for our creative readers to play around with as abstracts for academic papers:

– Gender suppression as subtext in Schumann’s piano concerto

– Intertextuality in the left hand part of Für Elise

– Manspreading in Mahler

– Penile aggression in Pli selon pli.

Have fun!

There will be a record prize for the winner.

UPDATE: The advanced class may choose to write their papers in the style of (a) Richard Taruskin, (b) Carol Oja or (c) Joachim Kaiser.


  • DAVID says:

    The irony is, isn’t a good chunk of existing musicology already a “hoax” to begin with — in the sense that only a very select group, among the initiated few, seem to have an exclusive privilege to understand it? Nevertheless, here’s my contribution for a possible title: “The Tyranny of Dynamic Indications in Late German Romantic Repertoire: Towards a Post-Structuralist Hermeneutic of The Composer’s Hegemony and its Post-Cagean Response as the Emancipation of the Oppressed Performer.”

    • Lynn says:

      Aside from digging through libraries to find works of neglected composers or identifying characteristics that can authenticate works of a given composer, what do musicologists actually do that is so important?

      • George King says:

        Well that’s a pretty noble achievement in itself.

      • John Borstlap says:

        A whole world of incomprehension opens-up.

        Musicology is divided in three departments: a) research, assessment, interpretation and preparation (for publication) of existing scores from all periods; b) analysis of music, with the aim to better understand its structures, meaning and aims; and c) exploring of music history which is changing all the time, according to new or fashionable insights, including the history of music history. The abberations mentioned by Norman come from a particular brand of musicology which is called ‘new musicology’, which is a relatively new approach informed by theory from other fields: gender politics, poststructuralism, Foucaultism, etc. This ‘new musicology’ is merely a small trend of musicology and is not taken seriously everywhere in the field.

        Musicology is part of the cultural sciences, which is part of the humanities, and an entirely legitimate and necessary field of academic research which came into being in the course of the 19th century. Without musicology we would have less means of understanding music history, the intentions of composers in the past, the way in which music ‘works’, the complex relationships between composer, performer and audiences, we would not have correct and authentic scores, etc. etc. etc.

        Also, if academia had not supported postwar modernism, which came with an avelanche of theory, it would have withered-away much quicker. ‘New musicology’ is another brand of misunderstanding by academics of what music is, merely creating a little unexplored territory of entirely irrelevant reflection and internal quarrels. But that does not diminsh the importance of musicology in general – as nobody would seriously want to do away with science because it also created the atom bomb.

  • CK says:

    A female music theory professor wrote an article on the supposed oppression of women in a Beethoven Symphony. You can’t make this stuff up.

    • Bruce says:

      Actually you can (take a look at the article).

      I know what you mean though: I remember seeing reference to a paper about how Handel’s voice-leading provided evidence of his homosexuality.

      • Just Sayin' says:

        What’s even funnier is the vast number of times a composer’s voice-leading or other compositional decision has been related to his supposed heterosexuality — yet no one snarks about that.

      • George King says:


    • Brian B says:

      The very fact that Beethoven was, apparently, a cis-gendered white male is sufficient to prove her thesis. Q.E.D.

  • Bruce says:

    I dunno, I think the term “conceptual penis” has potential — maybe to point out discrepancies between wanting to be the boss vs. actual leadership ability. Could be applied to many conductors and executive directors.

  • Write us a piece of fake journalism.

  • Emil says:

    It was not. It was published in a vanity, predatory journal where authors pay to publish and which has no quality standards. You could publish the “Lorem Ipsum” text you get by entering a random command into Microsoft Word in those journals. In fact, a few years ago, a professor, tired of getting predatory emails, submitted a paper where the only text was “Take me off your F….. mailing list” repeated over and over. It was published, of course.

    So this, of course, says nothing about the field itself or about academic standards, unless you have a giant bias against both of those to start with.

  • Edgar says:

    Makes me remember a broadcast feature on radio many years ago by a Budapest based Dutch or German correspondent. The story was about a cabaret where both Sigmund Freud and Kaiser Feznz Josef were onstage, the former analyzing the latter, and, gradually, as the skit went on, the latter analyzing the former who at the end found himself lying on the couch, under the thunderous laughter of the audience.

    Plenty material today for similar spoofs, I’d say…

    (Btw: the penis is a cigar symbol, not necessarily a social construct 😉 )

  • Scott says:

    How about a real one? William Chen, Just Vibrations: The Purpose of Sounding Good. A musicology book that doesn’t talk about music.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Work-in-progress, preliminary title: ‘The Conductor Stick as a Penis Surrogate: Power Dynamics in the Orchestra World.’

  • John Borstlap says:

    According to my PA, Slipped Disc is a social construct. (But I know she’s a closet Boulezbian.)

  • Peter says:

    We need to look no further than into the state-funded Swedish Science Council who granted $80,000 for a postdoctoral fellowship for research into “the trumpet as a symbol of gender.” For real.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It reminds me of the real hoax ‘Bubbles’ created by new-tonal composer Alexander Comitas, who let his two small children bang on a keyboard, put the result through a computer notation programme, and offered the resulting short ‘piece’ to the Dutch music fund for payment as a real, avantgarde composition. The two expert advisory committees agreed upon the high quality of the music and paid € 3,000.– for it. The composer did not change anything to the notes which had been ‘found’ by the children. Interestingly, since the fund knew that Comitas normally wrote tonal music, they added in the letter that this avantgarde piece was much better than his usual stuff.

    The Dutch music fund – a monopolizing subsidy foundation paid for by the Ministery of SiIlly Walks – finances commissions as issued by parties in music practice for composers, so that not only the commissioning party (ensemble, orchestra) makes its judgement in the choice of composer, but the fund makes its own judgement as well as a third party, to ‘keep control over the quality of new music’ as the fund put it.

  • trolley80 says:

    Is it necessary that this hoax article contain a lot of immature and uninformed satire about gender studies, or is that just for the purpose of this announcement

  • Cyril Blair says:

    Everything I’ve read by Richard Taruskin is sane, sensible, and in readable English. Am I missing something?

    • Cyril Blair says:

      Never mind. I clicked on the Taruskin link and see no point in reopening that bees’ nest.

  • Peter Owen says:

    This is helpful for would be art critics:
    I’m sure something similar could be done for aspiring musicologists.
    I’ve a theory that the really heavy-duty American musicology was kickstarted by Babbitt finding himself in the company of Einstein at Princeton when the meaningless likes of, richly grained, finely textured and structurally coherent”, would no longer cut the mustard. The scene is now set for Perspectives of New Music.