Review: IAGMR Symposium, 4th November 2020

By Frankie Perry, Royal Holloway, University of London

The Symposium of 4th November was the inaugural event of the Institute of Austrian and German Music Research, a network established in 2019 and based at the University of Surrey, which aims to ‘revise, rethink, and renew’ scholarly understanding of repertoires and musical cultures linked to German-speaking lands from, roughly, the 18th century to the present day. The event was well attended by a mix of senior and junior scholars, research students, performers, and musicians from beyond academia.

Two concerts were integrated into the Symposium, bookending the day, with both acting as points of reference as the event progressed. The first was streamed from the Royal Academy of Music, with conductor Ed Liebrecht introducing a performance of three Alma Mahler-Werfel songs arranged for string orchestra by Joy Lisney, followed by Liebrecht’s own chamber arrangement of the opening Adagio from Gustav Mahler’s tenth symphony. It was a particular treat to hear the three songs in this guise – they are heard rarely enough on the concert stage in their original voice-piano version, let alone in arrangement. While Lisney’s arrangement involved illuminating expansion, Liebrecht worked in the opposite direction, joining a long line of Mahlerian miniaturists who have relished the challenge of distilling his enormous orchestral textures for chamber forces. At the end of the Symposium, we heard music by Egon Wellesz (Cello Sonata, Op. 31) and Berthold Goldschmidt (Variations on a Palestine Shepherd’s Song, Op. 32), both of whom had widely influential musical careers in Britain following their exile from (respectively) Austria and Germany in the 1930s, but whose compositional work remains neglected in performing canons. This concert was given by Royal College of Music players, and streamed in association with the RCM’s AHRC-funded project ‘Music, Migration & Mobility’.

Whether by chance or by design, the focus of several of the Symposium’s sessions coalesced around the effects and legacies of Nazism, providing a welcome sense of continuity. After an introduction to the IAGMR presented by its Director, Jeremy Barham, the Institute’s honorary president Erik Levi (RHUL), a leading authority in this field, gave a paper on some ways in which music was used as a ‘vital accessory of foreign policy’ during the Third Reich. After the tea break, themes from Florian Scheding’s (Bristol) work on displaced musicians in the twentieth century came to the fore at several points during his joint talk on ‘Canonicity and Victimhood’. And in the middle of the day, Beth Snyder (RCM) introduced some of the work currently being undertaken by the ‘Music, Migration & Mobility’ project, for which she is Research Associate on an international and interdisciplinary team.

A central session involved introductions to the IAGMR’s deputy-directors, Beth Snyder and Genevieve Arkle (Surrey). Snyder spoke with a catching enthusiasm about her ongoing research into the productive ways in which musicologists and music historians might draw upon the musical and philosophical thought of Ernst Bloch. A short talk was then given on the topic of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion in music research and education by Arkle, who has spoken widely at EDI events this year and is demonstrably knowledgeable, experienced, and passionate about the pressing need to address these issues. Arkle’s thoughtful call for reflection and action was followed by a musicological paper of her own – a deep dive into the appearance of the turn motif, in its Wagnerian mediation, in Gustav Mahler’s symphonic writing. If there was a tendency for the Q&A to verge, on the part of the audience, into turn-spotting in other Wagner and Mahler scores, Arkle managed to recentre the discussion to consider bigger pictures: for one, that there are enticing possibilities for scholars of musical semiotics to be found within this developing corner of the late-nineteenth-century topical universe.

A highlight, for me, was the jovial and meaty joint address given by two invited speakers, Natasha Loges (RCM) and Scheding. In addition to their vibrant dialogue on various issues circling around canonicity, the duo highlighted the productive challenges of putting together a joint presentation, recommending such collaborative working to musicologists as a way of fostering illuminating exchanges of perspective and expertise, and also as welcome respite from the often solitary nature of musicological activity. The concluding Q&A session was replete with wide-reaching discussion, touching upon issues of defining nationhood; ideas for specific ways Austrian and German music could be ‘rethought’ historically, theoretically, and analytically; and recent challenges being made to the centrality of canonic repertoire to curricula in UK and US music departments, to name a few of the more lively talking points. The creation of the IAGMR feels timely, and I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Frankie Perry is completing her PhD at Royal Holloway. Her research focuses on arrangements and reimaginings of nineteenth-century lieder in the twenty-first century, and broader interests include reception histories of nineteenth-century music, completions of unfinished music, transcription and arrangement studies, and song studies. She has presented widely at conferences with papers on reimaginings of Schubert, Schumann, Mahler, and Brahms.

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