A triumph of the new musicology

A triumph of the new musicology


norman lebrecht

November 23, 2019

Forthcoming release from Oxford University Press:

Queering the Field: Sounding Out Ethnomusicology (9780190458034)
Gregory Barz and William Cheng

The first large-scale effort to queer musical fieldwork and expose new horizons of ethnomusicological scholarship, Queering the Field addresses ethnomusicology’s normalized approaches to musical ethnography and investigates the sexual identities and modes of identification at play in the field.

Some more sales points?
– Documents queer voices of authors, musicians, and field colleagues in new ways
– Highlights the voices of younger scholars in ethnomusicology
– Presents analyses of queered musical performances that serve as cornerstones for further research
– Serves as launching pad for further monographic-length ethnographic studies in ethnomusicology


  • John Borstlap says:

    It has nothing to do with Western classical music, but appears to be an attempt to explore non-Western cultures for Western PC categories, thus offering new generations of musicologists a fresh field where the existing field has been farmed to exhaustion. So, we can expect subjects like gendered congo drumming, gay representation of chinese opera, the suppression of feminine representation in the maqam, the archetypal manipulation in carnatic traditions, etc. etc. – spreading the layer of minority politics over innocent practices.

  • sam says:

    30 years ago Oxford University Press used to be a trusted name in academic publishing, now it churns out niche faddish crap that goes out of print even as it is being printed, don’t bother buying it, it’s twitter scholarship in the twitter age for twitter consumption.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      All academic publishing is niche and “out-of-print” as soon as it is published. The only exceptions are textbooks.

  • Bill says:

    There’s only so many papers that can be written on Brahms or Schoenberg. If you want to get a tenured position at this a decent university, you gotta come up with something original.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But there are enough research subjects to be invented. For instance: the relationship Brahms had in his later years with his house keeper Frau Truxa, who lived on another floor in the same block at the Karlsgasse. Brahms spent the Christmas days with her family. How was that? There must be letters, diary texts, etc. And then: how did Frau Truxa carry-out the cleansing of B’s appartment? Was it messy, or smelly? There is a mention in a letter of a visitor that B kept his sausages in the stove – in summer time, I assume. Did Frau Truxa crawl over the floor with a brush or could she use the early vaccuum cleaners? Did she wash his clothes and if so, how? The installation of electric light in the appartment, against B’s wishes, would furnish many chapters. About Schoenberg far not enough has been written about his hobbies: three-dimensional chess, little inventions for the household, and his extensive reform plans for the public transport system in Berlin (I’m not making this up, he really sent-in a proposal because he got irritated about the lack of – you guess it – coordination). And, in his American years, what about his tennis playing – how was that? Enough material for new volumes.

  • Armchair Bard says:

    (say in Truman Capote voice) That’s not musicology, it’s sociology.

    • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

      Here’s the thing: musicology has become sociology. Take a look at the slate of presentations at the recent AMS conference in Boston and you won’t find much about “the music itself.” Politics has replaced aesthetics.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Uh, no; psychology. Next thing Musicology (or Fetishism) will have its own entry in the DSM!!

  • Greg says:

    They started to lose me at “expose new horizons of ethnomusicological scholarship” then sealed the deal with “investigates the sexual identities and modes of identification at play . . .” I suspect this will be of interest only to those who seek their livelihood in the anoxic zone of Critical Theory.

  • Anon says:

    This is a joke? Right? You made this up to see how gullible we were.

  • John Rook says:

    Spare us this bollocks, please.

  • Ian Pace says:

    I would imagine this sort of work requires few prior skills specific to music. The fashion is now to make musicology this way, so deskilling a whole profession. Few people have the strength to fight such a tendency, because it suits their career interests not to do so.

    • MusicBear88 says:

      This is the sort of work that made me decide that I didn’t want to go further in musicology, even though several valued professors were pushing me in that direction. Sexuality (for instance) probably makes a difference in Britten’s choice of subject matter, focusing on alienation, and of course his pieces for Peter Pears. But trying to find hidden homoerotic messages in Schubert when he didn’t write his own song texts seemed like a stretch then and it’s a stretch now.

      • Hilary says:

        Tippett’s choice of words are a further case in point.
        Act 1 of “The Midsummer Marriage” ends with the following text:
        “Gallant, grim and gay”.

        Gay is set to a resplendent B-flat major 6th chord.

        • John Borstlap says:

          I always had grave suspicions about that very chord.

          • Sue Sonata Form says:

            Yes, it’s used to pull the other one!!

            I’ve got a brilliant potential area of study; ‘how humor has been lost in the academy by self-appointed SJWs”.

    • Alexander Tarak says:

      Quite right !! A lot of this “New” Musicology doesn’t require a great deal of musicianship, if any, and there is nothing very new about it either.
      I was fortunate enough to study with an outstanding ethnomusicologist and have also heard some so-called scholars of the New Musicology persuasion talk a lot of rubbish.
      There is no doubt in my mind that the profession is being deskilled and dumbed down.
      A huge shame!!

    • Ninedragonspot says:

      When you’re critiquing a book you haven’t read, you probably shouldn’t complain too loudly about “deskilling” in the academy.

  • Gustave Reese says:

    And you are all musicologists and work in academia? What does it matter to you the research these scholars conduct? Are you paying their salaries? Did you endow their professorships? Would it make you all happy if they published some new Schenker graphs (and yes, I know that is music theory/analysis)? What research have all of you done, what advanced degrees have you earned, and do you have the guts to list it all as you criticize others doing work they are interested in?

    • Gerry Feinsteen says:

      Actually it does matter. This super remote branch of alt-musicology takes a share of funding that could otherwise go towards legitimate research. There was once a time when musicologists did the necessary research to inform (and dare I say inspire) musicians in various musical topics, which trickled down (or up) to performers, teachers, and audience members. There’s a lot of twisting of logic in these new cases. No, I haven’t read the book, and neither have I visited websites that espouse conspiracy theories. I am all for equal rights and acceptance of others, but most of what I’ve read in this alt-musicology is nothing but the imagination of a skilled writer with very little to write about, desperate to make use of their new thesaurus and university funds. Should you read it and find some interesting quotes of value, I welcome you to curate and share a couple.

    • Jon Simpson says:

      It’s the queer part that all of these people are reacting to. The post is a classic homophobic clickbait/dog whistle and anyone from the queer community recognizes it as such. A bunch of homophobes, who also know nothing of gender studies or modern musicology.

      • Paul Brownsey says:

        I am gay but was also an academic philosopher by profession and many of the things uttered by ‘queer theorists’ strike me as very dubious. I do not want to be regarded as a member of the ‘queer community’, having been humiliated at the age of 16 (in 1961) in front of my work colleagues by a gratuitously nasty boss who, out of nowhere, suddenly shouted at me, “All the girls in here think you’re a queer”), nor do I want to be informed that I belong to the ‘LGBT+ community’, which initialism makes as much sense as saying that all single parents and all sex workers make up ‘the SPSW community’.

        Oh, and please don’t tell me I’m ‘self-hating’. That is move #12 in the lumpenposter’s playbook.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I have a Cambridge degree, studied musicological subjects, worked through a mountain of scholarly research, wrote some myself, suffered from Schenker Analysis and Headache, quarreled with unskilled collegues, and call a spade a spade when I see one.

  • Dan P. says:

    I take it that everyone who has commented on this book has actually read it. Right? I have no idea what this book has to say, but I think it’s only intelligent to refrain from commenting on things one has no first hand knowledge. Otherwise, one just comes off as a silly, pretentious ass. So, I assume all these intelligent people here have read the book. I remember all the idiotic things that were said about Schenker or Schoenberg by people who had no firsthand knowledge but weren’t bothered by that fact. And what about the reaction that pioneering early music scholars and performers received. Most “clever” people of the time thought they were amateurs at best who could never be good enough to play Tchaikovsky because they didn’t play Purcell as if it were Elgar Why not read what these folks have to say first and then take issue with specific points they have with evidence to the contrary? But that would take effort.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It is also about the new trend of new musicology which tries to find a new viewpoint from a gender study’s position, like explaining the beginning of the recapitulation in Beethoven 9 as reflecting rape and explaining the ‘sixte ajouté’ as sexually-informed. To understand what it is when your leg is being amputated, you don’t need to first undergo the operation before being allowed to have an opinion. Also opinions which merely touch the general outside of a phenomenon, can have value, like the idea that gulags are not meant to be luxury hotels.

  • The View from America says:

    Oh, joy.

  • Fan says:

    I have a vague feeling that all these have some distant relevance to Gustav Mahler, our esteemed host‘s speciality. Was that person who wrote a book on Mahler — Adorno I mean — part of the Frankfurt School founding members whose critical theory approach leads to everything despised by the conservatives here (I don’t necessarily use the word “conservative” in a negative sense) Did Freud call Mahler queer? Is Mahler’s music, which presumably “contains the whole world”, perfect for ethnomusicological study? It appears Paul Henry Lang despises Mahler’s music for the same reasons you guys despise the book you haven’t read, although you might be perfectly right, as most of these manufactured academic products are predictable…

    • John Borstlap says:

      My PA who happens to know the niece of one of the editors of the OUP, has got hold of a proof of the book and has been 2 hours late on her work for a week now. Her enthusiasm confirms me in my opinion.

  • Terence says:

    It sounds horribly PC at first glance but if it offers new insights (based on evidence) then I could accept it as genuine scholarship.

    It’s not my field so I would have to rely on others to critically evaluate this book.

  • Paul Brownsey says:

    These people who love using the abusive word “queer” of themselves when it is safe to do so… “Oooh, aren’t we, you know, REBELS, thumbing our nose at society?” How insensitive they are to people against whom “queer” was a very nasty weapon, sometimes accompanied by a fist.

    And don’t tell me it’s been ‘reclaimed’. That’s just little people in committees getting all excited about using it of themselves.

  • Pete says:

    I never really liked the world of musicology (its more a part of academia than it is of music).

    I remember back in conservatory where I would just want to be practicing more, but no….I had to spend several hours every week being harassed by bitter musicologists and their mostly meaningless course work!

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Waste of resources that could be better used in climate science to save the Earth.


  • Scott Fruehwald says:

    To Dan P.

    I have read the materials on the Amazon site. This book is just another example of applying postmodernist nonsense to a new field. It is saying the same exact things that postmodernists have been saying for years. There is nothing new here; just the same old stuff applied to a different field. No originality.

    The main point of the book is that this ethics of doing ethnomusicolgy is heterosexual and that this marginalizes homosexuals. In other words, nothing new.

    To Jon.

    No, the reactions here are not due to homophobia. The reactions are because the book is nonsense. My reaction is the same to postmodern theory on any subject. I have written a lot on postmodernism and cognitive biases. Just check my Amazon page.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    A ‘triumph’? Not so much.