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My name is Avior Byron and I am a musicologist, blogger and composer. I write books, articles and a blog about music, performance, research, and theory. Read more at my about page

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Evaluating Sprechstimme: what early recordings tell us - the chapter

Evaluating Sprechstimme: what early recordings tell us

I am including here the first part of the chapter that I just wrote in the British Library as part of the Edison fellowship. You can read the whole chapter at my latest research page. This will be a chapter in a book that I plan to publish on Schoenberg and Performance:

After I wrote my article ‘Sprechstimme reconsidered’[1] I was sure that I finally solved what Boulez and Milhaud called ‘The Sprechstimme enigma’: namely, how should the vocalist in Pierrot lunaire perform the vocal part? As mentioned above, to many commentators the evidence seemed confusing: Schoenberg’s exact notation and demand to perform that notation without adding anything that is not notated, on the one hand, and his vague performance instructions at the preface of the score, and the recordings of him conducting the piece with Stiedry-Wagner not reproducing the notated pitch, on the other hand. I claimed quite confidently that ‘the test pressings of Pierrot lunaire confirm that a perfect reproduction was not Schoenberg’s intention.’[2] Stiedy-Wagner’s test pressings revealed a process of live improvisation in performance that was a very free (although not completely free) way of rendering the notated pitch.

            However, recently two books on Sprechstimme appeared. They were written by singers who perform Pierrot as part of their standard repertoire, and they argued the complete opposite of what I did. Aidan Soder suggested that Schoenberg did not have enough rehearsal time and that ‘the final product on Schoenberg’s recording is perhaps not how he heard it in his ear’.[3] If Soder is right, then perhaps my observations that are based on this recording should be seen as a compromise done by the composer.[4] In the second publication, Paul Mathews and the singer Phyllis Bryn-Julson gave preference to what they understand as Schoenberg’s ‘original conception of the sound’.[5] They argued that ‘the performer would likely prioritize a performance of the passage [in Pierrot] as notated, because … she will find correspondences of pitch and motivic shape in the surrounding texture’.[6] They claimed that ‘the correct interpretation of Sprechstimme is to emphasize the pitch and minimize the effects of “falling and rising”’ by doing glissando.[7] They seem to argue against (the aforementioned article by Stein that states) the idea that one can transpose the Sprechstimme part, since such transpositions, they believe, will cause ‘unintended consequences’.[8] They conclude that a performer that does not sing the notated pitch may feel ‘liberated’, yet many such performances ‘sound self-conscious and mannerist’.[9] At certain moments it seems as if they echo Eugene Narmour’s unfortunate claim that ‘many negative consequences’ will occur ‘if formal relations are not properly analyzed by the performer’.[10] Singers that have absolute pitch may feel it natural to perform the notated pitches accurately. One of them is Jane Manning who confessed: ‘From the outset I knew I wanted to try to adhere to the pitches the composer had written and to obey his every marking as far as I was able.’[11] The notion of the importance of being ‘faithful’ to the score is not shared only by some of the singers and musicologists that I have mentioned. As I wrote the current chapter, I stumbled upon a blog post by Maready of ‘The High Pony Tail’ that argued the following: ‘Would Schoenberg have taken such sweet care to imprison Pierrot inside a nightmare latticework of canons and free imitation, giving his instruments free rein to alternately mock and cradle and impersonate him, only to allow the singer to hit whatever notes she pleased? Pierrot’s predicament is that this dandified night music insists on being followed to the smallest workaday detail.’[12]     

            All this made me think that perhaps my article conclusion concerning Schoenberg’s intentions was premature. As I describe in the first part of chapter …., the manuscripts, writings, letters and other evidence by Schoenberg and his circle, are highly contradictory. The picture is far from being clear. In spite of the fact that Stiedry-Wagner was the performer that Schoenberg often employed for many years, it could well have been that he would not be against a performance that would render the notated pitch without variance. Perhaps, due to various reasons, this was the best performance he could receive at the time the recording was made. The singer Martha Elliott, whom is an established Pierrot performer, wrote that today there are quite a few singers that are able to perform Pierrot as notated. She raised the question whether Schoenberg would have liked it performed that way. She concluded that since ‘what Schonberg said he wanted regarding the Sprechstimme in Pierrot and what he got in his lifetime were quite different, we can never determine what the “correct” style really is.’[13] Moreover, she ended her chapter on the Second Viennese School stating that ‘singers today can come closer than many of the original performers to what these composers actually asked for. But whether the composers would ultimately approve of this approach remains unanswerable.’[14] Indeed, all this seems to suggest that one can never really know how Schoenberg intended that the Sprechstimme will be performed. Bryn-Julson and Mathews acknowledge the contradictions, evolution and change in Schoenberg’s conception of Sprechstimme.[15] However, their preference on what they see as the original view of Schoenberg is a very subjective one. Why should one prefer his conception of 1912 rather than that of the 1930s? The contrary may be argued: during the 30s he had much more performance experience and could now really know how he wanted Sprechstimme to be done.   

Apart from voice limitations, taste, and performance traditions, one can try to build an interpretation based on convincing historical evidence. Part of such evidence was presented in the previous chapters. In this chapter I will explore further data that is revealed by an examination of early recordings from the early history of the interpretation of Pierrot lunaire.I will start by discussing reviews of these recordings. The chapter will end with a discussion on how the historical evidence of early recordings and the reviews of these recordings may help one define criterions for aesthetic judgments.

            My case study is the song ‘Parodie’ which contains canonical relationships between the voice and the instruments.[16] It is these relationships that most scholarly commentators have commented on when writing about the song. These relationships may have a connection to the text of the song. Jonathan Dunsby suggested that the texture of contrapuntally related lines are ‘apt in a melodrama entitled ‘Parodie’, featuring knitting-needles’.[17] The canons put before the vocalist the question of how and whether to present them in performance. Dunsby, for example, claimed that ‘the “voice”, for all the strict compositional relationships to be read from the score, is nevertheless still Sprechstimme, with no special instruction to convey the pitches.”[18] Aidan Soder suggested that rhythmic accuracy is enough in order to be aware of imitative relationships.[19] Yet Bryn-Julson and Mathews aforementioned argument, as well as some of the recent recordings[20] show that some performers do find it important to do a Sprechstimme that reproduces the notated pitch. From this perspective, this song is ideal as a springboard for discussing the way vocalists perform Sprechstimme in early recordings.

         In a lecture on Sprechstimme in Pierrot lunaire, the singer Jane Manning said the following: ‘I have a … preference for some of the early recordings, even though they are much less accurate than the recent ones, but they do seem to preserve the spirit of the age rather better than some of the modern ones’.[21] We will see in a moment that many critics heard these recording as quite distinct in character. Moreover, a close examination of early recordings shows a more detailed picture concerning the relation of these performances to notated pitch, as well as other aspects which are special to each performance.

        I will discuss four early recordings. The first one is the recordings by Stiedry-Wagner and Schoenberg in 1940. Three other recordings were recorded in the 1950s. The second was done by Ellen Adler, voice; and René Leibowitz, conductor, around 1951.[22] The next recording was done in 1954 by Leibowitz, once again, yet this time with Ethel Semser.[23] The forth recording that I will examine is from 1957 with Jeanne Héricard, voice and Hans Rosbaud as conductor.[24] One of the reasons behind choosing these early recordings is the strong connection between the conductors and Schoenberg. Leibowitz claimed that he studied with Schoenberg in the early 1930s (although there is no proof to substantiate this claim). He was in contact with Schonberg in 1945 and most of the correspondence between the two was done during the last decade of the composer’s life. Leibowitz promoted Schoenberg’s music after the Second World War by organizing concerts and writing Books.[25] Rosbaud corresponded with Schoenberg from the 1930s and up to the composer’s death. He performed Schoenberg’s music before and after the Nazi period in Germany. He premiered Beglietmuisk zu einer Lichtspielszene, Op. 34 (1930) and Vier Orchesterlieder, Op. 22 (1932). In 1948 he led the South-West German Radio (SWF) where he continued to promote modern music. This broadcast was recorded during two days with the SWF. In 1954 he gave the premier of Moses und Aron.

Where is the rest of the chapter?

You can read the rest of the chapter at my latest research page.

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[1] Avior Byron, ‘The Test Pressings of Schoenberg Conducting Pierrot lunaire: Sprechstimme Reconsidered’, Music Theory Online (MTO), 12/1 (February 2006). http://mto.societymusictheory.org/issues/mto.06.12.1/mto.06.12.1.byron_frames.html

[2] Ibid., 4.8.

[3] Soder, Aidan, Sprehstimme in Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire: A Study of Vocal Performance Practice (Lewiston, Queenston, Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2008), p. 18.

[4] Although she underestimated the authority of the recording as reflecting Schoenberg’s ideal intentions, she does not advocate a performance that renders the notated pitch in a perfect manner.

[5] Bryn-Julson, Phyllis and Paul Matthews, Inside Pierrot lunaire: Performing the Sprechstimme in Schoenberg’s Masterpiece (Lanham, Maryland; Toronto; Plymouth, UK: The Scarecrow Press, 2009), p. 49

[6] Ibid., p. 57.
[7] Ibid., p. 62.
[8] Ibid. p. 58.
[9] Ibid.

[10] Eugene Narmour, ‘On the relationship of analytical theory to performance and interpretation’, in Eugene Narmour and Ruth A. Solie (eds.), Exploration in Music, the Arts, and Ideas (Styvesant: Pendragon, 1988), 340. Quoted in Rink02, p. 36. 

[11] Jane Manning, ‘A Sixties “Pierrot”: A Personal Memoir’, Tempo, Vol. 59, July 2005: 17-25.

[12] Erika Sziklay: ‘Pierrot lunaire’, 23 August 2009, http://highponytail.blogspot.com/2009/08/erika-sziklay-pierrot-lunaire.html Retrieved on 24 August 2009

[13] Martha Elliott, Singing in Style: A Guide to Vocal Performance Practices (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 238.

[14] Ibid., 250.

[15] It is strange that Bryn-Julson and Matthews claimed that ‘Byron argues that Schoenberg’s view of Sprechmelodie remained fairly consistent’ (Inside Pierrot lunaire, p. 76) when I actually wrote that ‘The history of Schoenberg’s conception of Sprechstimme proves that he understood it differently in different periods.’ Byron, ‘The Test Pressings of Schoenberg Conducting Pierrot lunaire: Sprechstimme Reconsidered’, Music Theory Online (MTO), 12/1 (February 2006), [4.12].

[16] For analyses of such relationships in this song see Dunsby, Pierrot lunaire, pp. 64-65, and Bryn-Julson and Mathews, Inside Pierrot, pp. 187-191.

[17] Dunsby, Pierrot lunaire, p. 65.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Soder, Sprechstimme in Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire, p. 91.

[20] For example, Christine Schäfer, voice; Pierre Boulez, conductor (recorded: IRCAM/Espro, Paris, France, September 1997) *Deutsche Grammophon 457 630-2 GH stereo DDD (1998) CD.

[21] Jane Manning, ‘Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire in performance’, Saul Seminar, 7th June 2005, British Library (1CDR 0022875).

[22] Ellen Adler, voice; Paris Chamber Ensemble (Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute & piccolo; Ernest Briand, clarinet; André Dupont, bass clarinet; Francine Villers, violin; Colette Lequien, viola; Sean Barati, violoncello; Claude Helffer, piano); René Leibowitz, conductor; Dial DLP 16 mono (1951?) LP  

[23] Ethel Semser, soprano; Virtuoso Chamber Ensemble (Edward Walker, flute & piccolo; Sidney Fell, clarinet; Walter Lear, bass clarinet; Lionel Bentley, violin; Gwynne Edwards, viola; Willem De Mont, violoncello; Wilfrid Parry, piano); René Leibowitz, conductor (recorded: 1954?)  *Argo RG 54 mono (1955?) LP

[24] Jeanne Héricard, voice; members, Sinfonie-Orchester des Südwestfunks, Baden-Baden (Kraft-Thorwald Diloo, flute; Otto Voigt, piccolo; Sepp Fackler, clarinet; Hans Lemser, bass clarinet; Günther Weigmann, violin; Ulrich Koch, viola; Anton Käsmeier, violoncello; Maria Bergmann, piano); Hans Rosbaud, conductor (recorded: Musikstudio, Südwestfunk, Baden-Baden, West Germany, 4-5 April 1957) *Wergo WER 6403-2 (286 403-2) mono AAD (1993) CD

[25] For example, René Leibowitz, Schoenberg and his School (philosophical library, 1949).

 

9 Tips for creating and publishing academic research

9 Tips for creating and publishing academic research

 
In this essay I will give a few tips for creating and publishing that I found helpful for myself.
 

1. Publish as early as possible

It is highly recommended to start publishing as early as possible. The challenge of writing something that might be accepted for publication is important for your development. It is not easy to publish material at a respected journal. Doing that, even when you are a student (I did it at my third year as a PhD student) will gain you important experience and confidence. It will help you prepare your material for the viva (if you are PhD student).
 

2. Gain experience by publishing reviews

If you just started writing (or want to start) you may want to start gain writing and publishing experience by writing reviews to books. You may approach journals such as Music and Letter, The World of Music or various online journals that are looking for reviews. This could help you write in a text that is not too long and see what happens when it is edited.
 

3. Publish at online journals

Some Universities do not appreciate online journals. They were (and at some places still do not) seem to be less valued as some printed journals. However, as Nicholas Cook wrote at my blog, this seems to be changing and more and more people find it important to publish at online journals. The advantage of this is simple. When your work is online it will clearly gain more reactions from scholars (and other people). The web is one of the strongest tools for research, and I am not talking only about Google Scholar, Google Books, online databases, JSTOR and various online indexes. It is also the simple web search that many scholars are using in order to reach information about what they are doing research. People will find your work on the web in an easier manner than on an offline journal, and they will react (if they find your work worth reacting to). I have published articles on the web form the very first start of my academic career and still do. It paid off. Look how many people found my research on the web and quoted or reacted to it in other ways.
 

4. Publish books online or offline?

Recently Daniel Leech Wilkinson published a whole book on the web. This is a very revolutionary act that more academic people on his level are not willing to make. His reasons are stated here:
 
it is quite unreasonable to ask the reader of a book like this, who may well be a student or an underpaid musician, to invest (as buyers of my last two books were required to invest) £60 ($85/120) or more in order to have a copy on hand for future reference. Almost all this sum remains with the publisher and distributors.
 
In a private conversation with Wilkinson, he told me that he does not recommend young scholars to publish books on the web. Such scholars should gain reputation and recognition by being published with a serious publisher. He does think that the future of publishing book is on the web and he hopes that this will reduce the costs of book. In any case, if you do publish on the web, I would recommend you not only to put it as an HTML document as Wilkinson did. Add also as a PDF document and remember to add it to Google Book (a process which is straight forward and fast).
 

5. Publish various types of publications.

Do not publish only articles or only books. Try to be active in publishing various sorts of publications: articles, books, book chapters, edit books, edit journals, reviews, and even blog posts, etc. This would gain you invaluable experience in various types of writings.
 

6. After every few years find new a direction

It is sad to see that some scholars simply recycle their work or even research methods again and again. Every few years try to reinvent yourself by actively seeking new ways of making research and new subjects. My research is on Schoenberg and performance. At these very days I am thinking about a new subject for doing research.
 

7. Discuss your research in conferences

One of the ways of checking your ideas is to present and discuss them at conferences. This is a way of receiving feedback as well as making good contacts.
 

8. Ask a friend to read your work

Sometimes a friend could give you valuable feedback even if this person is not an expert in your field. Such criticism (like any criticism) should always be listened to with caution. This brings us to our last point.
 

9. Listened to critics and readers with caution

I had the experience of receiving very negative response to one of my articles by two people. I asked did not back off and answered the journal why I think that the main arguments of these reviewers were not completely right. I asked that the article would be submitted again to other people who may be more open to my kind of research and this is what the journal editor did. At the end the article was not accepted to that journal. However, I have learned two things. The other two reviewers were much more helpful and kind. This proves my point that no one likes all types of research (and that the review process is not always objective). All reviewers gave me comments that helped me improve my article before sending it to another journal. This kind of experience was very important for me. In other words, do not give up. The process can be long and not pleasant. However, it will improve your writing.  
 

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Evaluating Sprechstimme – what early recordings tell us

Evaluating Sprechstimme – what early recordings tell us

Before writing my new chapter on Pierrot, I am thinking about its general structure. Things will probably change as I start writing, yet this helps me orgenize in my mind all that I have done in the past few weeks in the British Library. If you have any comments or ideas, please write to me. Here are the various sections of the chapter:

  1. Reviewing Bryn-Julson’s argument (2009) for exact pitch.

  1. Put forward my argument for “liberal informed” interpretations.

  1. Explain why it is useful to examine early recordings.

  1. Present the early recordings, the singers and conductors.

  1. Write about the reviews of these early recordings.

  1. Show what they actually do in these early recordings – especially how they do Sprechstimme but also balance of ensemble, and relation of all this to score. Focus on the song Parodie (explain why).

  1. Criteria (apart for pitch fidelity) for evaluating Sprechstimme Interpretations: structure, text, improvisation, voice limits, what else?

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Bronislaw Huberman – funding ideas

Bronislaw Huberman – funding ideas

I want to write a book about Bronislaw Huberman. He was an exceptional violinist and he founded the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. I think that it is a scandal that there is no book in English or Hebrew about Huberman and I wish to devote a few years to make research in his archive in Tel-Aviv and study his recordings, writings and letters.
 
Prof. Jehoash Hirshberg kindly agreed to supervise this project as part of a post-doctoral program that I hope to do in the Hebrew University. My PhD was on the same period and I am acquainted with the aesthetics and history of the first part of the twentieth century, as well as with the most updated and sophisticated performance-studies literature and research methods. 
 

The problem

The only problem is that due to the economical crisis in the world there is no possibilities of funding via the University. This means that I will need to find external sources of funding if I wish to write the book.
 
I was thinking to approach someone in the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra and ask if they might be interested to fund such a project. After all, it should be their interest to give to the Israeli public, in particular, and the world, in general, a book that would tell Huberman’s (as well as their) story. If you know who I could approach in the IPO that might be sympathetic to the idea, please contact me.
 
Another idea I have is to approach the Tel-Aviv Municipality which are in charge of the Felicia Blumenthal Library. Perhaps that might have interest the public would have access to the valuable information that is stored and maintained there for years. If you know whom should I approach there please let me know.
 

Do you have any ideas? 

I would appreciate any ideas for funding such a project. Do you know any relevant post-doc scholarships? Please write to me or comment on this post if you have other ideas? Thank you for your time.




Review of The Glenn Gould Reader

Review of The Glenn Gould Reader

I am a great admirer of Glenn Gould. I always loved the two versions of the Goldberg Variations that he recorded (as usual I have included in this post several video that you might find interesting).
 
However, the first time that I was really amazed from his interpretation was when I heard him play Schoenberg’s Piano Piece Op. 33a. In his performance I heard something that I cannot describe in words. It is simply magic. As he often does, Gould deviates from the score. He does it on purpose from the reason that I will mention in a moment.


 
I bought several months ago The Glenn Gould Reader (edited by Tim Page. Published by Vintage Books, 1990). It includes essays written by Gould to journals such as the Piano Quarterly and texts that accompanied his recordings. Some of the texts are funny and light hearted. Others have incredible insights into music, performance and musical history.
 

Gould on Stokowsky

His essay ‘Stokowsky in Six Scenes’ is a master piece. A passage from it may give you an idea why Gould himself had the habit of deviating from the score as well as give you a taste of his literary style:
 
‘Stokowsky was, for want of a better word, an ecstatic. He was involved with the notes, the tempo marks, the dynamics in the score, to the same extent that a filmmaker is involved with the original book or source which supplies the impetus, the idea, for his film. “Black marks on paper”, he would say to me a quarter-century later. “We write black marks on white paper – the mere facts of frequency; but music is a communication much more subtle than mere facts. The best a composer can do when within him he hears a great melody is to put it on paper. We call it music, but that is not music; that is only paper. Some believe that one should merely mechanically reproduce the marks on the paper, but I do not believe in that. One must go much further than that. We must defend the composer against the mechanical conception of life which if becoming more and more strong today.”’ (p. 264)
 
This, of course, could represent not only Stokowsky, but also Gould himself. At another place in the essay Gould tells us that Stokowsky modified his studio interpretations so that they will suite the living-room acoustics where the music will be heard. Indeed, when Gould writes about other performers, he often gives valuable and interesting information about himself.
 
 

Gould on Schoenberg

Another excellent essay is ‘Arnold Schoenberg – A Perspective’. This is was originally a monograph published by the University of Cincinnati (1964). What I love about this essay is that it makes an interesting overview on Schoenberg’s compositional development, yet it also tries (as early as 1964!) to understand his significance on the history of music. Gould raises questions such as ‘what will happen to Schoenberg in the year 2000?’ He notes the fact that Schoenberg’s technique had entered the grade-B horror movies and that it is much more acceptable in operas than in the concert hall.     
 
Gould had a deep understanding of the aesthetics, philosophical and technical problems that occupied Schoenberg. When he deals with technical issues, he usually does not divorce them from social and historical events (although he takes caution not to suggest too strong connections), and he describes in a very lively way what might have been the composer’s feelings when embarking on new and unknown paths of composition.


 

Gould on  Rubinstein

In his essay on Rubinstein he includes a conversation that tell us volumes about Gould’s philosophy of recording:
 
‘…when you begin, you don’t quite know what it is about. You only come to know as you proceed… I very rarely know, when I come to the studio, exactly how I am going to do something… I’ll try it is fifteen different ways… I don’t know at the time of the session what result is finally going to accrue. And it does depend upon listening to a playback and saying “That doesn’t work; it is going to go that way; I’ll have to change that completely.” It makes the performer very like the composer, really, because it gives him editorial afterthought…’ (p. 287)
 
It is interesting to read this, since Gould had a dream of being a composer – a dream that was fulfilled only in his performances.
 
Gould was an incredibly knowledgeable musician. He writes about people such as Byrd, Gibbons, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Hindemith, Boulez, Terry Riley, Rubinstein, Menuhin, Barbra Streisand and many others. I the book one can find essays about technology, recordings, Gould various broadcast and TV projects, and other interesting things. I recommend reading this book to anyone who is interested in classical music in general and Glenn Gould and performance in particular.    
 

Gould on Recordings and Media

Some of the most interesting essays can be found in part three of the book, which is entitled "Media". The first article, "The Prospects of Recording", is perhaps the most interesting. In it Gould explains his views on editing, the affect of recordings on the listener in particular and art in general. I also recommend reading the next essay: "Music and Technology". In this section one can find texts that Gould used for some of his broadcasts. For example, for The Idea of North. One can listen to these broadcasts, as they have been released two years ago on CDs on CBS Records.


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Further Reading

Artur Schnabel and Schoenberg’s Performance Aesthetics and Practice

Artur Schnabel and Schoenberg’s Performance Aesthetics and Practice

During my short Post-doc in Berlin (January-February 2008) I visited the Stifung Archiv Der Akademie Der Künst. I saw there interesting things concerning Arnold Schoenberg (concert programs and record sleeves as well as some items from the Stuckenschmidt Nachlass). I bought there a book which was published by the institution titled Artur Schnabel: Musiker Musician, ed. Werner Grünzweig (Hofheim: Wolke Verlag, 2001). 

Only today, I open the book for the first time (it took me one year!). This book contains many interesting items such as writings on Schnabel, writings by Schnabel, letters, various lists and other items that only German musicology is able to collect in such a wonderful manner (and I am only half sarcastic when I say so). 

One of the most interesting items in this book is an article by Claudio Arrau (the pianist, 1903-1991) titled “Artur Schnabel: Servant of the Music”. The article is from 1952, first published in Musical America (p.31). 

The article is interesting in more than one respect. It seems that Arrau is suggesting, what may seem as a contradiction. On the one hand, he claims that “Schnabel completely rejected the nineteenth-century notion of music as a vehicle for self-expression, at the service of the virtuoso for his own self-gratification.” Arrau mentions that Schnabel was not satisfied with the Urtext edition of his time. He conducted research and “corrected” that version. 

Yet his recording and printed editions show that he used flexible tempo when playing. His editions mention tempo fluctuations that were not originally printed in the score. These tempo fluctuations were not seen as a contradiction to being faithful to the spirit of the composition. On the contrary, music was seen (as Arrau argues) as “a living organism with an inner fluctuation and flexibility above and below metronome markings”. 

This view of seeking to understand an objective musical object (or spirit, if you like) while expressing it with vitality of an “organism” was also the performance aesthetics of Arnold Schoenberg, a contemporary and friend of Schnabel.   

On the one hand, on 24 August 1909 he wrote a letter to Busoni criticizing the latter’s transcription of Schoenberg’s Op. 11 No. 2. Trying to understand why Busoni had decided to create his version of this piece, a matter that seemed to irritate Schoenberg, he enquired of Busoni: ‘I would like to ask you if you have perhaps taken too slow a tempo. That could make a great difference. Or too little rubato. I never stay in time! Never in tempo!’ (Ferruccio Busoni, Selected Letters, trans. and ed. Antony Beaumont (London, Boston: Faber and Faber, 1987), p. 395.) Here Schoenberg admitted that his approach to performance transcended his own score indications. 

On the other hand in 1912 Schoenberg cited Mahler saying: ‘I consider it my greatest service that I force the musicians to play [spielen] exactly what is in the notes’. (Schoenberg, Style and Idea, ‘Gustav Mahler‘, 464-5.) In the preface to the first edition (1914) of Pierrot lunaire, Op. 21 Schoenberg argued quite clearly that actions originating with the interpreter, which are not included in the score, have a negative effect. 

For Schoenberg and Schnabel, therefore, extensive tempo fluctuations that go beyond the score indications, was not contradictory to being a servant of the composer’s intentions. In 1912 Schoenberg claimed that playing the right notes results in the performer’s participation in ‘the spirit of the music’. (Schoenberg, Style and Idea, ‘Gustav Mahler’, 464-465.) A work of art which is a spiritual entity demands spontaneity in performance.

Pianist Arthur Schnabel Home Movie 1937


Artur Schnabel plays Beethoven Sonata #32 in C min Op. 111


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A letter from Oxford University Press: Schoenberg’s Writings on Performance

I just received a letter from Oxford University Press that starts as following:

"I hope this message finds you well!  I’m delighted to report that I am now returning the fully countersigned contract for Schoenberg’s Writings on Aesthetics and Interpretation in Performance to you, and I am pleased to welcome you as an Oxford University Press author. Congratulations!"

This letter speaks me being the editor of the book Schoenberg’s Writings on Aesthetics and Interpretation in Performance, which is the fourth out of nine volumes called Schoenberg in Words: Teachings, Correspondence and other Writings (1890-1951), general editors: Severine Neff and Sabine Feisset, Oxford University Press.

The letter made me very happy and I am looking forward to continue working on this book. It will be the first time that all of Schoenberg’s writings on performance (articles, unpublished manuscripts, sketches, letters, etc.) will be published in one place. Some of the manuscripts were not published in the past. My job is to edit the translations and write a short forward to each of Schoenberg’s writings, giving them a context that will help the readers understand them better. I will also trace significant themes throughout Schoenberg’s life from Vienna to Weimar Berlin to Los Angeles. I assume that I was chosen edit this book since my PhD was on Schoenberg as performer. I have written elsewhere how doing a PhD in a good University is important for ones future publications and research.

At this stage I am looking for a good translator for this book and I am reading many of Schoenberg’s letters (he really wrote lots of them!). Together with the general editors of the nine volumes mentioned above, we decided that Joseph Auner’s book The Schoenberg Reader will serve as a model for my book.

The whole project is very exciting and hope to devote to much of my energy in the coming years.

How to become a freelance musicologist

Being a freelance musicologist: if Mozart did it - also we can!

I have discussed the problem of having a music or academic career. Since I made a decision of living in Israel, my academic opportunities have dramatically diminished. The situation where a country gradually kills its academic music life is true not only for Israel but also for other countries such as Germany. However, I have spent a large amount of my life experiencing and studying music and I do not intend to end my carrier at this point. In this post I will discuss how I plan to challenge my situation and embark, at least temporarily, on a freelance musicologist path.

I was lucky to do a PhD in Royal Holloway, University of London with John Rink. This university has lots of funding and I cannot imagine a better supervisor than John Rink. The result was many funded research trips to the Arnold Schoenberg Archive in Vienna. I conducted several trips to conferences. I spent lots of time in the British Library (and other smaller libraries such as the Senate House in London), which is the biggest library in Europe. The work with Rink was extensive and extremely helpful. Moreover, from the four years that I did my PhD, two if them were devoted completely to studying and in the rest I worked only part time. This, as well as hard work on my part, gave me the opportunity to write a piece of work that several parts of it were published in important music journals such as Music Theory Online. It is also the reason why I received a contract with Oxford University Press, to write a book on Schoenberg’s writings on performance.

My PhD work served as a spring board for future research. Apart of the book on Schoenberg’s performance writings, where I will serve as an editor, I plan to write another book on Schoenberg and performance, which will be based on my PhD and research that I did thereafter. I have written an article on Op. 33a and performance during a two months Postdoctoral research trip to Berlin. I just returned from Manchester where I gave a paper on Schoenberg’s and Adorno’s performance aesthetics. I will be an Edison fellow during August 2009 and I will stay in the British Library working on Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21 and performance. I have also conducted an interview with Schoenberg’s children that might enter (at least part of it) the book. All these events serve as deadlines for doing research while I actually work during 80% of my time in a family business as a general manager of a translation company and language school.

It is not easy to bounce between the two careers. Yet also music academics usually need to juggle between a teaching post and a research post. Only in France (as far as I know) there is separation between those who do research and those who do teaching. One needs much discipline, long term planning and faith in oneself.

Discipline

The natural this would be that the family business would gradually take over my time. However, this business is also a source of money that helps me embark on research trips and attend conferences (giving a successful conference paper is not a simple task). For example, in order to give a conference paper in Manchester I had to pay much money for traveling to London and for accommodation (the conference kindly paid for train traveling and waved to conference registration fee). I am glad that I could do this trip since it forced me to write something that will probably turn out to be another chapter in my book on Schoenberg and performance. I also attended the CHARM conference in Egham a few days before the conference in Manchester. The CHARM conference was about recordings and performance and was extremely interesting (it was also wonderful to return to my university after two years!). During my student life or during the period that I worked at the Bar-Ilan University in Israel, I could never afford to do such expensive trips on my expense.

In healthy music departments, such as Royal Holloway, if one does not publish, one finds him of herself without a job. Working as a freelance musicologist needs much discipline. One must make sure that there is funding as well as deadlines in order to keep on writing. One of the things that can help is long-term planning.  

Long term planning

Publishing a book is a big project. This is true especially if one has a double career. Although I am not 100% clear about the structure of my book, I do have at this point much material for this project. It is clear to me that my first priority should be to finish editing the book for Oxford University Press, and only then finish the second book on Schoenberg and performance. The point that I am trying to make is that such long term project are very helpful in keeping one going as a freelance musicologist.

Faith in oneself

I was luck to be raised in a family where I was always told that I was talented and received much encouragement in every path that I have chosen. Moreover, John Rink and other people in RHUL gave me similar support during and after my studies there. Without firm belief in my abilities and talent I would not be able to do this research. A freelance musicologist must have belief in the importance of what he of she have to say and write. It is perhaps good advice to stay close to people who believe in you and distance yourself from those who do not.

Plan you time carefully

One cannot do everything (at least not in a professional level). If you believe in your abilities as a musicologist and trust that what you have to say will be interesting and important to other people, invest your time in this. Do not let other things interfere in your work. This might sound strange from someone who has two careers. My solution is to have certain periods (weeks and sometimes months) where I do only musicological research. I can do this because I have a translation company of my own. Other creative solutions can be found.

Open a website and a blog

The internet is a great place to meet people. This is important for at least three reasons: (1) Publishing opportunities – meeting the right people and letting them know about your work can help your find publishing opportunities in the future. You may be approached to write a book (this is how I received my book contract from Oxford University Press), or a book chapter; (2) Receive feedback on your work – I developed my best ideas from interacting and receiving comments from people; (3) it is fun to meet interesting  people and see what they think about your work or blog post (feel free to comment in the form below).

A music website and a musicological blog help to foster an identity which is somewhat fragile outside the official academic context.

Find a community

Since I became a freelance musicologist I was interested to see whether it is at all possible and other people do it. I found that there are people who do it. The conductor and violinist Antony Beaumont does not live from doing musicology. Yet he writes great books on Zemlinsky, Busoni and letters by Mahler.  

Conclusion

Being a free lance musicologist is not simple (yet also academic life is not a bed of roses). If one has a good background, contacts, discipline, ability for long-term planning as well as faith in oneself, than it is indeed possible. Only time will tell whether I will be able to continue my plans in being a freelance musicologist.  My first goal is to finish the two aforementioned books of Schoenberg.

 

 

Conference paper: Schoenberg’s or Adorno’s Performance Aesthetics?

Schoenberg’s or Adorno’s Performance Aesthetics?

On 3 August I wrote a post with a selection of quotations from Adorno’s book Towards a Theory of Musical Reproduction (Cambridge UK and Malden MA USA: Polity, 2006). During the past few weeks I have read this book and wrote down my own thoughts on it. This is the paper that I plan to read next week in the conference on Adorno’s performance aesthetics in Manchester. The paper might pass slight changes before the conference. I plan to expand it into an article after I receive reactions. I hope you will find it interesting. Since it is a conference paper, I removed the footnotes. If anyone is interested in the exact source of any quotation please contact me.

Introduction

For many years, Schoenberg and Adorno wanted to write (separately) a book on musical performance.Both authors never completed the projects and left in their Nachlaß articles, fragmentary sketches and other relevant writings on the subject. This paper will examine the relation between what we know about their performance aesthetics. My main thesis is that a clear and objective definition of its ‘essence’ is difficult, if not impossible to achieve.

The Second Viennese School performance aesthetics narrative           

Several scholars speak about the existence of a Second Viennese School with relation to performance aesthetics. In 1986 Hermann Danuser argued that the most important motivation for Schoenberg’s theory of performance is to protect performance from the will of the performer. He insisted that this is true also ‘for the total theories that came out of the performance of the Viennese School: above all those of Rudolf Kolisch, Erwin Stein, René Leibowitz, Theodor W. Adorno and Hans Swarowsky’. Although Danuser acknowledges that Schoenberg’s performance theory is fragmentary, at the end of his article he refers the reader to the theory of performance of Kolisch in order to answer questions that were not answered by Schoenberg. David Satz, a student of Kolisch, mentioned that in Darmstadt in the 1950s Kolisch and Adorno discussed performance. Satz wrote that this ‘leaves open the question of how the joint project’s scope might have related to the notes which Adorno left, or the work which Kolisch actually brought about. I believe that it is a serious mistake to assume an absolute identity between the two’. Helmut Haack referred mainly to the performance aesthetics of Kolisch in order to examine what he called, the ‘aesthetics of the school’, and argued that it was influenced by Mahler. John Butt made a comment in passing claiming that Stravinsky had a ‘very similar aesthetics of performance … [compared to the one] promoted by Schoenberg and his students.’ In this context, Butt mentioned Rudolph Kolisch, Erwin Stein, René Leibowitz, Theodore Adorno and Hans Swarowsky. Finally, in 1997 Alfred Cramer suggested that ‘Adorno’s vision of silent reading echoed Schoenberg’s own mind’.

In light of this Second Viennese School performance aesthetics narrative, I would like to raise two questions. What are the criteria to decide whether a certain thinker belongs to a certain school? What are the ideological implications of declaring that a specific individual belongs to a certain group and not to others? I suggest that it is possible to construct a different narrative that would highlight not only the similarities but also the differences between people such as Adorno and Schoenberg.

When discussing the so-called Second Viennese School with relation to performance, one finds significant differences between the aesthetics of its members. Schoenberg disagreed with some of Kolisch’s ideas in the latter’s article ‘Tempo and Character in Beethoven’s Music’. In a letter dated 1949 from Schoenberg to Steuermann regarding the latter’s recording of Schoenberg’s piano music, he wrote: ‘I do not at all share your anxiety lest anyone should hear a wrong note. I am convinced that it had happened only a few times in the history of musical reproduction that some wrong note did not come in.’ He stressed: ‘there is no absolute purity in this world… But I am convinced that you can play music so convincingly that it evokes the impression of purity, artistic purity, and, after all, that’s what matters. Let’s leave this quasi-perfection to those who can’t perceive anything else’. Steuermann’s refusal to release his recording for publication resulted in rupture between the two old friends. On 13 January 1950 Schoenberg wrote to Ross Russell from Dial Records concerning a plan to record his music with Steuermann and Kolisch. He warned Russel ‘not to be too indulgent’ to Steuermann’s and Kolisch’s wishes to play the music ‘over and over again, until there is nothing which … [they do] not like’. Schoenberg stresses that ‘it has no sense to aim for a perfection which is not human’. I do not wish to argue that there are no similarities between the performance aesthetics of members of Schoenberg’s circle, yet one should be very cautious about making casual assumptions about links between one aesthetic and the others. In order to point to some of the problems with this concept I will start by examining Schoenberg and Adorno’s relationship.

Schoenberg and Adorno’s relationship

Berg wrote about Adorno’s Two Pieces for String Quartet Op. 2 to Schoenberg, claiming that ‘in its seriousness and concision and above all in the uncompromising purity of its whole structure, it may be described as belonging to Schoenberg’s school (and to no other!)’. Yet including Adorno into the Second Viennese School was not part of Schoenberg’s wish. Schoenberg mentioned Adorno in his will as the person to whom he clearly does not want to entrust his Nachlaß after his death. On 5 December 1949 Schoenberg wrote to Stuckenschmidt after reading Adorno’s Philosophy of Modern Music: ‘I have never been able to bear the fellow… now I know that he clearly never liked my music.’ On the same day he wrote to Rufer: ‘The book is very difficult to read, for it uses this quasi-philosophical jargon in which modern professors of philosophy hide the absence of an idea. They think it is profound when they produce lack of clarity by undefined new expressions.’ On 10 December 1949 he wrote to Kurth List: ‘Wiesengrund’s attack is an act of vengeance. Once when he was getting on my nerves, I made him look ridiculous, and although I thoroughly excused myself on account of nervousness, sickness, etc., he has apparently not forgiven me for this.’ In December 1950, several months before Schoenberg died, he wrote a manuscript titled ‘Wiesengrund’. There he wrote: ‘I could never really stand him… Not without Rudi’s [Rudolf Kolisch] fault, he was regarded in our circle as a great scholar.’

Similarities between the aesthetics

Having said this, one should keep in mind that Schoenberg did appreciate Adorno. At the ‘Wiesengrund’ manuscript he wrote: ‘It cannot be disputed that he possesses certain estimable abilities. He is very musical, plays piano well, and possesses a great knowledge of the musical literature, from which he can play many pieces by heart due to his good memory. He has looked into musical-theoretical problems with a great deal and with success, and he knows the history of our art most thoroughly.’ Having studied with Berg for several months since January 1925 and being the editor-in-chief of journal ‘Anbruch’ between 1928 and 1931, it is not surprising that Adorno was influenced and possibly also has influenced the thoughts of people in Schoenberg’s circle.     

            It is interesting that both authors attacked the performance aesthetics of enemies of Schoenberg’s circle: for example, famous conductors such as Toscanini and Bruno Walter.

Both call for the help of the concept of ‘organicism’ in order to protect the work from irresponsible performers. Adorno is more ambivalent than Schoenberg towards this concept. He claimed that ‘the “living” totality of a performance, especially in larger forms, is probably a mere ideology, as in many other areas.’ Yet in the same breath he attacked the ‘”fascinating” conductor [that] is a fetish like the master violinist… [that] belong to the culture industry’. Schoenberg too attacked ‘the goat-like bleating [vibrato] used by many instrumentalists to curry favour with the public’, or singers for ‘ignoring dramatic requirements in favour of their own vocal effects’. Both authors wrote against the so called ‘beautiful tone’ for its own sake. The organic musical work is the thing that should be expressed in performance.

Yet pure objectivism was not part of their performance aesthetics. Schoenberg called for a ‘well-balanced’ performance style, one that does not veer towards either of the two extremes: the subjective over-expressive ‘romantic’ performance style and the objective performance practice of the Neue Sachlichkeit, which demanded full faithfulness to the score. This demand is echoed by Adorno who wrote that his performance study is ‘directed against 2 fronts. On the one hand official musical life, which … became part of the culture industry long ago: galvanized, spirited and culinary. On the other hand the front of abstract negation, the escape to the mensural realm. In the former case a false subjectivism, in the latter a residual theory of truth, the extermination of the subject (all forms of objectivism, from Stockhausen to Walcha, really amount to the same thing…)’. Adorno mentioned there that the ‘so-called young people protested against the “exaggerated expressivity” in Eduard’s [Steuermann] Schoenberg interpretation.’ Elsewhere he wrote: ‘Against intuitionism and positivism.’, and in another place he claimed that the ‘Secret of interpretation … [is] controlling oneself, yet not making music against oneself. One’s impulse must live on even in its negation.’          

Both Schoenberg and Adorno wrote volumes on the primacy of the imagined on the so-called ‘mere’ playing. Schoenberg complimented conductors for insisting on many rehearsals. In his essay on Mahler he claimed that Mahler the conductor demanded many rehearsals since he has a clear image in his mind of the music, and that during each rehearsal he corrected the orchestra in order to come as close as possible to this ideal.  Adorno argued that ‘Making music correctly demands an incessant verification of all real sounds in relation to the imagined… Whoever places doing before imagining in music today is guilty of regressive music-making.’

Differences between the aesthetics

Both authors suggested that it is not enough to simply play the music. There is an idea that is hidden that needs to be revealed in performance. Yet Adorno claimed that the idea ‘cannot even be recognized in its pure state, let alone realized.’ This leads to an extremely idealistic view of composition and a negative view of performance: ‘The measure of interpretation is the height of its failure’. Elsewhere he used the word ‘evil’ in order to describe what the performer does. Although Schoenberg too saw composition and the musical idea as something that is higher than performance, his writings usually do not give the impression that whatever the performer does, performance cannot communicate the musical idea. On the contrary, whether it is structure or feelings, Schoenberg strived to explain how performance can and should communicate the musical idea. Moreover, as I argue in my book on Schoenberg’s aesthetic writings on performance and interpretation (which will be published in Oxford University Press), in Schoenberg’s writings from the 1930s and 1940s he granted the performer an integral part in the role that in his earlier writings belonged solely to the composer: now both composer and performer have a mutual part in the presentation of the abstract musical idea. Although both authors’ views on this subject are not without contradictions, it seems to me that by large, Schoenberg tended to give more credit to performers and their creative role than Adorno.

On analysis and performance

Did Schoenberg, who was a world-famous theorist during his lifetime, expect performers to analyze the music they performed? Schoenberg did not write in any of his performance manuscripts explicitly about a type of analysis that the performer must undertake. On 27 July 1932 Schoenberg wrote to Kolisch that the latter had correctly worked out the series of Schoenberg’s Third String Quartet. He continued:

 

You must have gone to a great deal of trouble … But do you think one’s any better off for knowing it? I can’t see it that way … this [the series] isn’t where the aesthetic qualities reveal themselves … I can’t utter too many warnings against overrating these analyses, since after all they only lead to what I have always been dead against: seeing how it is done; whereas I have always helped people to see: what it is! I have repeatedly tried to make Wiesengrund understand this, and also Berg and Webern. But they won’t believe me… The only sort of analysis there can be any question of for me is one that throws the idea into relief and shows how it is presented and worked out. It goes without saying that in doing this one mustn’t overlook artistic subtleties.      

 

The fact that he did not insist that performers should conduct analyses before performing has great importance. It means that, unlike Adorno, Schoenberg did not consider analysis as the single path to music making.

            In ‘Notes towards a theory of musical reproduction’ Adorno mentions ‘Precise Analysis as a self-evident precondition of interpretation. Its cannon is the most advanced state of compositional-technical insight.’ In the notes taken after the Darmstadt lecture he wrote: ‘For the concept of reconstructing the neumic from the mensural, a genuine interpretation in the sense of decoding, the most important category of mediation is that of analysis as a necessary condition for interpretation.’ Adorno mentioned two meanings of the concept of ‘clarity’. The first is that ‘one can hear everything that is written’, or as Schoenberg famously wrote around 1923 ‘The highest principle for all reproduction of music would have to be that what the composer has written is made to sound in such a way that every note is really heard … that they all stand out clearly from one another.’ The second meaning of ‘clarity’, according to Adorno, which is ‘higher’, is based upon analysis: ‘Nothing should be played arbitrarily, simply because it is written’. Adorno adds that ‘this failing is one of the reasons for the incomprehensibility of many performances of new music’. In other words, Adorno seems to expect from the performer much rational and intellectual work in order to perform ‘correctly’.

Schoenberg often complains against insufficient number of rehearsal. Actually, the demand for many rehearsals is a major theme in his writings and letters. Performers who insists on many rehearsals (for example Mahler), have a clear image of the music in their minds. They seek to communicate the image by refining their performance. Adorno too complains against insufficient rehearsal, yet he connects it to the socio-economic conditions of interpretation. It can be generalized that Adorno, as an experienced philosopher and educated musician, went to great pains in order to contextualize his ideas with relation to the history of music. He related to the writings of Wagner, Dorian, Riemann and others, in a manner that Schoenberg usually did not bother to do so in such an extensive manner.

Developing theories

When one compares the fragments each author wrote during the years one finds that their theories are not internally consistent. Before 1963 Adorno believed in the ‘x-ray’ concept that reveals hidden structure that lies beneath the heard surface. During the 1960s he changed his mind: ‘My hypothesis that the performance is the x-ray photograph of the work requires correction in so far as it provides not the skeleton, but rather the entire wealth of subcutanea.’  

            Schoenberg’s performance aesthetics too developed and changed. From pronouncing anti-performance ideas in some (yet not all) of his performance writings in the 1920s, after 1933 he grants the performer more importance in the creative process. Unfortunately, this is something that is not acknowledged by scholars up to now. Leon Botstein, said: ‘we were taught by a generation of teachers in the composer and analysis world who were extremely hostile to performers. This generation was trained in its attitude to players by Schoenberg and Stravinsky, who were extremely negative about performers’. Authors such as Botstein, Nicholas Cook, Alfred Cramer and Danuser, who emphasize Schoenberg’s negative writings on performers, contribute to a meta-narrative that puts him in the position of a composer, which insists on complete cultural hegemony of composers over performers, manifested in the passivity of performers in a process of communication between composer to listener. My study of Schoenberg’s performance writings and the Adorno’s recently published fragments of performance challenge this meta-narrative by demonstrating that they held various changing views on performers and performance. The alternative narrative that I suggest calls for being sensitive to both the differences and the similarities between the performance aesthetics of the two musicians, as well as being aware of their fragmentary, multifaceted, developmental and at certain points contradictory character. The definition of the core or message of these writings depends not only on the fragmentary texts, but also on us: their readers, and on our aims and values.

What next?

 

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How to write a book review

There are several reasons why to write a book review. It is a good way to gain experience in writing. Publishing reviews is easier than publishing articles. One is not expected to contribute something completely new to the world of research. When you submit your review to a journal you usually receive feedback from the editor and that can improve the level of your writing. Another reason is that it may help you learn the book more thoroughly than if you would just read it. Good writing is a form of teaching. When one teaches something, one remembers it forever. Moreover, this is a way that other scholars in the field (especially the one whose book your will review) will know you and what you think. In other words, this is a way to start making a name in the field. Finally, if you where asked to review a book, although you will probably not be paid for it, you will receive the book. In this post I will mention some of the things that can help you write a good book review.

Read the book

If you decide to write a book review, it is highly recommended to thoroughly read that book that you are reviewing. The person who wrote the book invested in it an enormous amount of time and effort and you would like to be fair (see also the following point). Moreover, other people who read the book will read your review. They will want to compare their view of the book to yours. If you will not read the book thoroughly they might feel it from your review. This might result in a bad impression.  
 

Read review written by others

The best way to learn how to write is to carefully study how the giants do it. Scan the publication lists of scholars that you admire and find their reviews. Read some of these reviews and analyze them. Write notes about the strategy of their review, the structure, the tone of voice, and other points that you think that are significant.
 

Do not be too critical

One of the tendencies of young scholars (but not only young ones) is to be too critical. In order to demonstrate their abilities and perhaps also because of lack of confidence, many behave in what may be considered an over critical manner. If you are at the beginning of your carrier as a scholar, it may be wise to be aware that such a tendency could be also part of your behavior (at least to a certain extent). Try to accept that other people may have different views or perspectives of music than you have, which are not completely wrong. If you find something that you want to criticize, do it in a gentle manner.
 

Balance your criticism

Never write a completely negative review. It is important to balance your book review also with positive remarks. This will show that you are able to see the benefits in the book. There will always be some people that may benefit from reading the book. Try to ‘speak’ to them when you write the positive arguments. People who write too many negative reviews may not be asked in the future to review book.
 

Show your personal reading

Beware from writing a review that will be only descriptive (the first chapter contains… the second chapter contains… etc.) Make sure that you mention your opinion about the important part of the book. Although over criticism is something that you would like to avoid. Being not critical at all is also problematic.
 
Showing your personal view of the book or some of the issues in it may make your review more colorful. People are interested in personal perspectives and interpretations. Make sure that yours will sound clearly.
 

Be helpful

Try to keep in mind that many people are reading your review in order to know whether or not to read it themselves. It will be helpful if you point out things in the book that are interesting. If you thing that this book may be of interest to some people, make sure that you mention it at the end of the book. It can be useful to mention to whom you think the book may be interesting. 
 

Listen to the comments of the editor

Editors are usually experienced scholars. When they will send you comments, make sure that you read them very carefully. Pay attention to both comments on writing style and arguments. Reading their comments one by one and thinking about them is a great lesson for improving your writing.
 
Do you have any other points that you think that one should remember when writing a book review? Have questions? Feel free to comment on this post in the form below.

 

 

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