Report on the Annual Conference of the Austrian Society for Musicology at the mdw, 22 – 25 November 2017

Musik lehren
©Michal Grosicki / Unsplash, Archive of Wiener Volksliedwerk

The annual conference of the Austrian Society for Musicology was held in autumn 2017 at the mdw. Taking up the university’s bicentennial theme, the conference trained its attention on music teaching and learning: How was and is music learned—in various cultural and social contexts, at various times, in various places, and via both teaching and autodidacticism? In looking at this range of topics, the work of three closely corresponding panels (on “The Formation of Traditions in Oral Cultures”, “Autodidactic Learning”, and “Places of Learning and Teaching Music”) was complemented with lectures delivered by the “Young Musicologists” panel. Additionally, the main entrance hall at the mdw campus played host to a presentation of projects currently being conducted at Austrian research institutions.

As moderator of the panel The Formation of Traditions in Oral Cultures, Matteo Nanni began by introducing the issue of orality and writtenness from a broad historical perspective. Julio Mendívil then dealt with this material in a more concrete manner in the first lecture, in which he referred to the question of how the methods used to teach players of the charango (a Peruvian instrument) have changed over the generations: while the charango player Guardia did develop a dedicated tablature, the lion’s share of his teaching method was based on oral transmission and artistic freedom. As professionalization set in, however, this freedom was eventually crowded out by ever-stronger codification, which raises questions as to originality and authenticity. Rinko Fujita, by way of contrast, focused in her lecture on the oral tradition in Japan: the basic principle there is based on exact imitation, and teaching does without explanations and without instructional books or written music. Instead, the material conveyed consists in kata, precisely defined ways of playing that are viewed as the artistic norm, with specialised schools set up to ensure that the tradition of gagaku (music at Japanese imperial courts) survives unchanged. Lena Nieper then introduced considerations on oral history as a method of historical musicology using Luigi Nono as her example.

Imitation can also be viewed as a major component of the second panel’s focus of Autodidactic Learning. On this, Peter Röbke picked up where the first panel left off, shifting the focus to emphasise autodidacticism by pointing to the issue of formal vs. informal learning as well as worlds of learning that are conceived in a way that goes far beyond regular instruction. Röbke then described “wild learning” as a fundamental notion of precisely this independent form of learning, and the fact that this is more than just a trendy pedagogical concept, with autodidactic learning much rather exhibiting a long-running presence in music history, was shown by the panel’s first two lectures. These revolved around two different 16th-century treatises: August Valentin Rabe spoke about the complex context within which Johannes Buchner’s Fundamentum was authored. Kateryna Schöning, on the other hand, focused on the handwritten lute treatise by Stephan Craus, which served more as a didactic manuscript and also represented a kind of standardised tool to aide in oral transfer. The lecture by Christiane Tewinkel centred on autodidactic learning in the 19th century, more precisely on the American pianist and autodidact Hugo Mansfeldt. Mansfeldt referred to himself as an autodidact, and apart from scattered individual piano lessons, it probably was indeed the case that he had never received any formal instruction. He never characterised this as a fault, but rather—possibly with an eye to marketing—emphasised the most prominent feature of autodidactic learning: freedom from curricula, freedom from others’ normative judgments, and the necessity of dealing cleverly with the material being learned. It does seem paradox, though, that Mansfeldt—as a so-called autodidact—still did end up writing his own instructional work on piano technique.

Michael Ahlers, who concluded this panel’s presentations, spoke to how formal instructional offerings often advance too slowly for individual technical and aesthetic developments in today’s strongly media-driven and digitised world. Particularly in jazz and pop, practices such as imitating a particular habitus, playing heard music by ear, jamming, and copying styles would seem more important. And this point provided the next substantive bridge: back to the previous panel “The Formation of Tradition in Oral Cultures”, as well as to the subsequent panel Sites of Music Learning and Teaching.

This panel’s presentations were introduced by Susanne Rode-Breymann, who pointed out how central the category of space is to the teaching and learning of music, as well as just how productive shifting perspectives on space can be—particularly in research on music. This point was supported by the spatial turn upon which Carolin Stahrenberg reflected in her talk. With the term “ghosts of place”, she pointed to the discipline of spatial analysis (as applied in the social sciences), which stresses how individual places are charged with symbolic components—and thus specific atmospheres—by their histories. The focus of the next lecture, given by Evelyn Buykens, was on the specific musical teaching and learning practices that existed in the Jewish domestic sphere around 1800 in Berlin. Buyken analysed this sphere with reference to music-making situations in the Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Itzig families. The Mendelssohns played together informally every evening, which led to the appropriation of works through group activity, while the Itzigs placed great importance on lessons with good private teachers in order to ensure a high level of music-making. Carolin Krahn reflected on the notion of heterotopy as a way in which to read the writings of Friedrich Rochlitz between the imagined space of Italy and their concrete place of origin in a German aesthetic. And the nation-as-space was focussed on by Dimitra Will’s lecture, in which she examined various treatises on singing from Italy, France, and Germany. In doing so, Will distinguished between ways of perceiving the voice (and language) as a component of identity and how the involved physical organs were consequently dealt with in terms of singing physiology and pedagogy. The spatial constellation of CLAEM (Centro Latinoamericano de Altos Estudios Musicales) was the topic of Pablo Cuevas. Conceived as a place of training for composers in Buenos Aires, CLAEM (which existed from 1961 to 1971) offered young composers two-year courses of study. Cuevas accordingly understood CLAEM’s space to be of a social character, describing it as a meeting place where identity-forming processes played out. Chris Kattenbeck’s talk was devoted to a non-scholastic place of learning: the “Rockmobil”. This converted lorry, which serves as a place of training for rock musicians, was the subject of an explorative study by Kattenbeck. Verena Liu concluded with a lecture on the job of woman music school directors during the 19th century. That century’s “piano plague” not only brought forth numerous woman pianists, but also gave rise to a commensurately great demand for woman teachers—representing a new opportunity for women to earn money as music teachers and thus achieve financial independence. Accordingly, the address registers from this period list numerous women as piano teachers—some of whom even went on to open their own music schools, which were sites of excellence in music learning. As an example, Liu spoke about Lina Ramann and Ida Volckmann, who between 1865 and 1890 ran a music school that was known far and wide. This panel’s series of presentations was concluded by a round table discussion led by Melanie Unseld.

In order to provide young researchers with a platform of their own, the Austrian Society for Musicology has for several years now also included a panel for Young Researchers in its annual conference. This gives young musicologists an opportunity to present their research topics to a large audience. Sonja Tröster moderated the panel, which was characterised by great versatility and also featured many substantive points of contact with the main symposium. To describe just two from this multitude of lectures: Milena Amann-Rauter used an intricate network analysis that employed “distant” and “close” reading to produce an interesting overview of the interrelationships between exiled musicians in Paris prior to and during the Second World War. In the foreground here was the anti-fascist struggle of the Popular Front in France, and Amann-Rauter also included a specific focus on the singer and song composer Ernst Busch. By digitally interlinking a large body of data and sources, she succeeded in drawing conclusions pertaining to the “music-geographical network” between Spain and France and the poets and composers working there. A different approach was taken by Walter Meixner’s lecture on folk music competitions in Tyrol and the Innsbruck region and how they have developed. In his work as a juror and organiser, Meixner has spent over 30 years collecting data, based upon which he provided a highly detailed impression of the development of the folk music landscape in society while also pointing out the associated way in which families handle music at home.

The conference’s accompanying programme took the participants to the Bockkeller, where an event was put on by the folk music organisation Wiener Volksliedwerk. They cooperated with the annual conference to host the lecture-concert “Was die Alten sungen – wie zwitschern denn die Jungen?” [What the Old Ones Sang – And How Do the Young Ones Chirp?] with Edi Reiser (contraguitar), Ingrid Eder (steirische harmonika), and Tommy Hojsa (piano, accordion, vocals). This intergenerational dialogue was moderated by Susanne Schedtler.


To the programme of the symposium on the website of the mdw – University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna:

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