Poetics 32 (2004) 211–221
Historical perspectives in music sociology Tia DeNora Department of Sociology, SHiPSS, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4RJ, UK
Abstract Over the past twenty years, historical perspectives in music sociology have linked music to a wide range of social processes. These include the material culture of performance and reception, distribution organisation, critical discourse and music education, the social shaping of musical style, the politics of taste and patronage, and the changing nature of the musical audience, music reception, reputation, authenticity, innovation. This work has partially overlapped with ‘new musicology’ and its deconstruction of the idea of aesthetic autonomy. More recently, new topics have been drawn into the frame including: music as a medium of political action, music’s role in relation to the history of science and the body, and music as a technology of identity and memory. In all of these areas, music’s presence is highlighted as a resource for social ordering, in particular as an agent of psycho-cultural change. # 2004 Published by Elsevier B.V.
1. Music and its status in social theory and sociological enquiry Since this article covers historical perspectives in music sociology, it seems fitting to begin with a brief recollection. One of the first articles I read as a new graduate student in 1984 was Richard Peterson’s signal (1979) article, ‘Revitalising the culture concept’. I had begun my programme at UCSD, like many new students, quite certain of the project I wished to pursue a critical appraisal of experimental music after 1950, seen in light of Adorno’s concepts of the ‘progressive’ and ‘reactionary’ compositional tendencies in 20th century music. Luckily for me, and thanks to my teachers who initially placed Peterson’s article under my nose, I soon abandoned that topic. The Peterson piece not only offered a gallery of new methodological procedures for cultural sociology, it also sketched a theory of culture and its link to structure that (so unlike Adorno) was devoted to specifying connections between that culture, social relations, institutional arrangements and technologies at the actual, situated, level of practice. In E-mail address: [email protected]
(T. DeNora). 0304-422X/$ – see front matter # 2004 Published by Elsevier B.V. doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2004.05.003
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short, that piece taught me that to understand how culture is shaped and how it works it is necessary to examine the tangible and often minute processes of producing, distributing and consuming cultural products. Anything else is, at best, hypothetical and, at worst, self-indulgent in so far as it posits historical realities leaves ungrounded (see DeNora, 2000:1–5). The late 1970s and 1980s were watershed years for historical music sociology. The production of culture tradition (described in detail by Dowd this volume) dramatically reshaped cultural sociology. With respect to historical work on music, it proposed new ways of exploring musical styles and works from within the practical and institutional contexts of their making. Peterson and Berger’s study (1975), in which ‘innovation’ was linked to cycles of production organisation, Becker’s Art Worlds (1982) and Cerulo’s (1984) study of social forces and musical styles all highlighted how change in musical styles could be understood as taking shape in relation to the available conventions and ways of crafting within production networks or ‘worlds’ of practice. All of these researchers located the social shaping of art works much closer to prosaic matters involved in getting things (any sort of things) done – the interaction order, materials, patterns and institutions of music making, gatekeepers and arbiters, technologies. They effectively re-materialised culture, reminding us that (a) culture was more than ideas and values and (b) that culture’s relation to structure could not be handled adequately by assuming a homology between the two. They also showed that the often overlooked, practical (and proximal) features of musical work provided a matrix of the possible/ probable of music’s ‘development’, and that these features were far more prescient as determinants of cultural forms than distal ‘forces’ such as whether an artist’s or composer’s home country is at war, or whether she espouses or is enmeshed in a particular economic, religious or political ideology. At last it was possible to theorise culture in grounded ways, and to begin to speak with more precision about links between music, social structure and change over time. This theme was further elaborated by some highly innovative work on music classification and the articulation of social boundaries. William Weber’s research on the connections between social groups and repertory in Europe (1975) and Paul DiMaggio’s (1982) study of cultural entrepreneurship in Boston both showed how the musical canon was established through the work of elite music activists and how the new music practices of distribution and consumption they fostered led to forms of social exclusion and hierarchy within and beyond musical life. These hierarchies were not merely about class and cultural capital; they were, for musicians, composers and performers, gendered in their consequences as Citron (1993) has shown. My own work on Beethoven (1995) can also be lodged here. I wanted to examine the canonic ideology – which later served as a resource for taste makers in pan-European and American context – as it was initially articulated. This meant a focus on cultural change inthe-making, rather as Bruno Latour advocated for Science ‘in action’ (1987). I focused therefore on the organisational basis and its proclivity for the concept of ‘greatness’, on the social connections and career patterns of Beethoven versus his contemporaries and on the interactive, linguistic, programming and technological practices through which Beethoven came to assume the mantle of ‘Europe’s premier composer’. These changes in music ideology were accompanied by new ways of apprehending music, and this topic was
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explored with great finesse by James Johnson (1995) whose study of listening in Paris chronicled the shift from casual, inattentive and sometimes irreverent listening to rapt silence in the face of ‘great’ music during the 19th century.
2. Historical music sociology and musicology Both sociologists and musicologists have sought to deconstruct the ‘canon in the musicological toolbox’, as the music historian Donald Randel has termed it (1992), though we have conducted this work in quite different ways. For better and worse, we sociologists have mostly avoided analysis of musical works (whether as scores or performances) per se (think, for example, of the essays collected in Leppert and McClary, 1987). Instead, we have focused on the pragmatic bases for musical ‘developments’, sticking close to what people do, what they say, and to patterns of production, distribution and consumption. And when we have examined works, it has been from the perspective of their social shaping. Since the path breaking studies of the 1980s, we have dealt with a wide range of topics. These include the shape of individual musician’s careers (Elias, 1993, on Mozart), cultures of listening (Johnson, 1995 on 19th century Parisian concert life), social control (Russell, 1987) and music technologies (DeNora, 1995; Pinch and Trocco, 2002). In short, a great deal of work has been accomplished in historical music sociology. And yet, when I interact with musicologists, their chief complaint about music sociology is that we do not take music seriously. There is a grain of truth to this criticism: we have not paid sufficient attention to the role of musical sound and its performance in social ordering in general and, more specifically, to the role of organised sound as a dynamic medium in relation to historical process and to cultural and political change. In other words, there has been a good deal written about the social shaping of music (its context of production and its various appropriations for identity politics and distinction). There has also been a lot published on music and affiliation, music and social boundaries. But there has been much less said about how music’s specifically musical properties may be involved in social processes or ordering and re-ordering and when there has (by cultural studies, by musicology) this focus is text-based, too concerned in my view with what individual works might ‘mean’ rather than with what they might make possible. Music, in other words, is either ancillary to other social projects (such as distinction and boundary work) or it is treated as a finite (and implicitly impassive) object, either to be explained (its social shaping) or read (as if it ‘contains’ meaning). I find this an odd state of affairs. We know music’s specific properties have counted a great deal in past times – the history of music in the West, for example, is punctuated with attempts to enlist and censure music’s powers and much of this activity have centred on how sound is performed and/or organised in composition. (Think, for example of Shostakovich’s commission for a symphony to mark the anniversary of the Russian revolution as compared to his later censure for writing ‘decadent’ music, or the banishment of atonal music in Nazi Germany, or, in more recent times, the furore over national anthem renditions [the Sex Pistols God Save the Queen or Jimi Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner] all attest to the idea that music can instigate consensus and/or subversion.)
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These are not issues, though, that can be explored adequately with the traditional tools of new musicology, namely, music criticism and the interpretation of texts because, as we now acknowledge, ‘readings’, are inevitably performative not descriptive of those ‘texts’ (see, e.g., DeNora, 1986, 2000 chapter 2; Martin, 1995). At the same time, we can learn a great deal from collaboration with musicologists. This learning process, if it is to be truly successful, requires adaptation on both sides. We should no more seek to collapse our perspective into musicology than to expect the musicologists to abandon their concern with musical scores and performance practices. Instead, a genuine interaction needs to occur. Antoine Hennion (1995) has outlined one form this interaction might take, suggesting that it is now time to move beyond ‘musicologising’ music’s effects (by reading off what music might ‘cause’ from texts) while also moving beyond ‘sociologising’ music’s specifically musical properties (where we dismiss music’s dynamism as an agent of social ordering and suggest that music’s meaning or emotional powers are merely attributions). Hennion has suggested a much more cooperative project, one that retains both discipline’s specific foci. With this I fully concur. On the one hand, sociologists have highlighted just how useful it is to consider the culture-structure nexus in terms of specific practices. They have highlighted how these practices create links, or articulations, between forms of music and forms of life. And they have underlined the importance of illuminating actual articulations. As Hennion puts it (1995), ‘it must be strictly forbidden to create links when this is not done by an identifiable intermediary’. On the other hand, the musicologists remind us that social life is not merely ‘socially’ constructed, but is crafted with reference to materials, conventions and technologies, of which music is one, and that these materials may mediate the things that are done with and to them. How, then, might we develop historical music sociology in the 21st century, in ways that highlight music’s role as an agent of social ordering and social change? And how might this be done while holding on to the grounded, populated approach honed by sociology of culture over the past twenty-five years? I would like to suggest that these questions can only be answered via situated studies. To that end, for illustrative purposes, I want to return to terrain I have covered many times – Beethoven in late 18th and early 19th century Vienna.
3. Music, experience, consciousness and subjectivity In a discussion of music’s rise within the arts during the 19th century (and in relation to Liszt’s championing of Beethoven in performance), the music and cultural analyst Richard Leppert (1999:253) has ventured: . . .for the first time in Western history, the cultural pecking order of the arts was rearranged so that music, formerly judged lesser than the textual and visual arts, was considered pre-eminent. Music was the sonorous sign of inner life, and inner life was the sign of the bourgeois subject, the much heralded, newly invented, and highly idealised ‘‘individual.’’ The European gold standard of the sonorous inner life was quickly and generally established as Beethoven
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I find this passage fascinating. To me Leppert is suggesting (in keeping with classical social theory) that modern social institutions both inculcate and depend upon the notion of the individual subject, that is, actors characterised by interiority and the capacity for selfdetermination. ‘Self’, understood as individual identities and their subjective and embodied properties, is both a social construct of and social obligation in modern societies (Giddens, 1991). From this idea arise various empirical questions that deal with the cultural production of subjectivities and the resources for this production. They highlight a case for why historical music sociology needs, in my view, to equip itself for the study of, as it has been termed within critical theory, psycho-cultural change. The term psycho-cultural refers to the pre- or non-conscious features of social orientation and styles of cognitive orientation (for example, critical orientation or acquiescence). While the concept of psycho-cultural is intriguing, it is also in need of further specification and this is what I now wish to consider – using music, and Leppert’s comment, as a case in point. First, if there is a sonorous ‘inner’ life, might it be useful to also think about its external corollary in terms of, for example, not necessarily conscious forms of behavioural and embodied practice? Second, how might inner and outer be linked – how, for example, might new forms of expression provide resources for new forms of ‘‘inner life’’? Third, can questions such as these be pursued in ways that retain and make use of the methodological advances bequeathed to music sociology by the production and worlds approaches and by the empirical tradition of reception studies? On this last point, Leppert’s focus gives a new twist to music sociology’s concern with the social shaping of music. No longer focused on how musical works are produced and valued, it is, by contrast focused on how selves and their associated subjectivities (emotions, feeling and embodied states) are produced and valued and how music can be involved in this process. Applying this focus to historical music sociology, as Leppert’s comment implies, and using the three questions I have just outlined above, I suggest it is possible to develop historical music sociology in ways that remain dedicated to a study of the actual practices of specific people over time. Accordingly, in the next two sections I address these questions – in reverse order, however, since I think that the methodological issues help to clarify the theoretical ones about the nature of consciousness, subjectivity and the changes in these things over time.
4. Method? The musicologist Scott Burnham has identified Beethoven’s music as the lynch pin around which new images and conventions concerning the self and the individual were articulated during the 19th century. These notions include the concept of the ‘heroic’ in music (and the musician as hero, that is as demonstrating various forms of technical and social ‘mastery’). Also included was the idea of the powerful and autonomous artistindividual, the notion of the composer and/or musician as one who startles his audience and as someone engaged in moral (and visible physical) struggle, and the idea of music as a quest. Burnham’s work is intriguing – from an historical sociological perspective – because he is concerned with psycho-cultural phenomena as they were represented and indeed
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instigated by Beethoven’s musical rhetorical practices. Burnham is, foremost, a musicologist and cultural historian and, accordingly, his work does not delve into the music producing, distributing and consuming worlds in which these representations were enacted, revised and internalised. We do not learn, for example, about the experience of Beethoven, socially situated in terms of consumption. And yet, an exploration of just these issues can help to ground the emergence of new forms of musical subjectivity at the level of practice – which is to say, at a level at which the mechanisms of psycho-cultural change may be illuminated. Moreover, attempting to focus on how Beethoven’s contemporaries performed and defined their experience of his music simultaneously is overtly an approach that tries (not always successfully, not always fully) to be explicit about the source of attributions to Beethoven’s music – namely, from his contemporaries or from us. (Hennion and Fauquet (2001:77–78) make a similar point in their study of Bach and his ‘grandeur’ when they speak of how they wish to avoid proposing ‘‘yet another, unexplored approach to deciphering [Bach]. ‘‘By contrast,’’ they say, ‘‘it is this relationship that we wish to reveal, rather than exploit by proposing another in a long line of Bach-interpretations’’ (see also Fauquet and Hennion, 2000]. By this they mean they wish to follow other, historically located agents as they make Bach meaningful to themselves and others, not to merely add another interpretive layer.) How, then, methodologically, might we lodge Burnham’s concerns at the level of the production, distribution and consumption of Beethoven’s music? Did physical practices of music making inform the linguistic and critical discourses through which Beethoven’s work came to be evaluated and discussed (for discussion of the relation between tacit practices and linguistic discourses see Biernacki, 1995)? If Beethoven’s music was associated with psycho-cultural changes related to the self in modern societies, is it possible to specify how his music and its performance entered and informed that process? For if it is not possible to ground the meaning of these things, and to trace them ‘in action’ and production organisation, then it is also not possible to explain the mechanisms through which music works. One way of grounding Burhham’s topic is by focusing on its external expression in musical practice. Who, for example, performed Beethoven and how and with what reactions? For if music was a realm in which new (and not necessarily conscious) notions of the self were articulated in the early 19th century, we should be able to observe the external correlates of this process in musical occasions and events. While various sites provide opportunities for examining embodied display (dance, dining, promenading, physical pursuits such as riding), one of the best places to observe the enactment of embodied and emotional attitudes was in music performance where listeners were gathered specifically to observe – visually and aurally. While action on the stage (opera; drama) offered a similar opportunity, in music, physical action was, ostensibly, ancillary to performance. And yet, the actions of performers (their performance of performance, in other words) was noted and discussed. Piano performance was thus an opportunity to delineate meanings (see Green, 1997 for a discussion of delineated meaning) – about the nature of virtuosity but also meaning more broadly about the nature of the performing self. The piano in late 18th and early 19th century Vienna provided a focal point for discussion and debate about aesthetic practice. It was a site at which new and often
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competing aesthetics were deployed and defended, at times through the overt medium of the ‘piano duel’ (DeNora, 1995, Chapter 7). I have described elsewhere (DeNora, 2002; DeNora, 1995) the ways in which Beethoven’s piano music and its performance challenged earlier notions of music aesthetics listening and performing. Performances of Beethoven’s piano music – its ‘manly style’ as one observer put it – involved a more visible and more ‘muscular’ body at the piano. In this way they sketched the lineaments or external markings of new ways of being a piano-performing subject – a particular type of energetic, strong and surprising performer. In this way, we see at the level of musical practice how Beethoven’s music may have helped forge new psycho-cultural and physically embodied stances, a new, active self characterised by physical prowess. We can also observe how this orientation and its physical-practical expression was socially distributed, at least along gender lines. While women were highly active on the piano concert stage in every sense, including in the performance of concertos, they most overwhelmingly did not perform Beethoven’s concertos. In my lists so far of who performed Beethoven between 1973 and 1810, only one woman performed a Beethoven concerto – Josepha Auernhammer, who, viewed both through her own eyes and through the eyes of her contemporaries, was perceived as ‘fat’ and as ‘no beauty’ (for discussions of the data so far, see DeNora, 2002 and DeNora, forthcoming). Were the new habits of self-presentation, and the responses they sought to elicit incommensurate with conventional femininity? And if so, was music one of the media through which ideas about men’s and women’s place in modern public life were dramatised? I believe this was the case (DeNora, 2002): during the 19th century, women came to be increasingly associated with ‘a stereotypically feminine world of decorative and sweetly plaintive expression, contrasting with the gigantic outbursts of Beethoven or the dazzling virtuosity of Liszt and Thalberg’ (Ellis, 1997:364). And there are interesting connections here with the ways in which the social distribution of musical material in opera during the 1780s also reinforced new, post-enlightenment notions concerning the ‘nature’ of the sexes (see Wheelock, 1993; DeNora, 1997) – showing us how the production of music and science may be seen, reciprocally, to draw upon each other. Music may have helped to delineate new subjectivities and their external correlates as conventions of (musical) action, in other words, but access to these was not open to all musical practitioners.
5. The ‘outer’/‘inner’ sonorous life I have been trying to highlight how a focus on music in performance/reception helps to ground the meaning of the term ‘‘sonorous inner life’’ by tracking its external correlates in musical practice over time – for example, what was new, shocking, old hat, out of place, illjudged or timed, exciting, excellent, inept? Through discussions about music, social meanings and distinctions (such as ‘heroic’ or ‘masterful’) come to be associated with musical gestures and musical materials. Beyond these associations, modes of attention (such as rapt silence, surprise, awe) come to be paired with these practices and their meanings.As Simon Frith once put it:
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in Adam Bede, George Eliot writes of her teenage heroine: ‘‘Hetty had never read a novel: how then could she find a shape for her expectations?’’ Nowadays our expectations are shaped by other media than novels, by film and television fictions, by pop stars and pop songs. Popular culture has always meant putting together ‘a people’ [CHECK quote] rather than simply reflecting or expressing them. . . (1990:424). Frith speaks about popular music. While Beethoven’s music rarely fulfilled the criterion of ‘‘popular’’ in his lifetime, it nevertheless provided a focal point for its observers and in this sense, Frith’s words have resonance for psycho-cultural change and its relation to musical practice in early 19th century Vienna. However, it is one thing to assert that music ‘‘shapes expectations.’’ It is quite another to document this process as it actually happens at the level of practice. It is here, that scholars such as Frith can help lead the way. It is also here that musicology can make use of sociological methods and techniques, and in the final section of this article I want to pursue the topic of how music may inform or otherwise structure subjectivity through a discussion of current work addressed to that question. In recent years, these issues have been explored by music sociology (Gomart and Hennion, 1999; DeNora, 2000; Bull, 2000). These studies have examined the practices by which actors consume and use music, sometimes with careful deliberation, sometimes unconsciously, and in ways that are consequential for the phenomenological features of the self – memory, emotion and corporeality. In short, they illuminate music as it is used to configure ‘‘inner’’ life’s emotional and embodied corollaries, for example as when actors use music to prime themselves for particular action styles. Music provides (and is described by respondents as providing) a template against which to feel, a material one can turn to for engaging in emotional work, in work upon the self – self-regulation and self-ordering. In the production of this work actors attune to some very specific musical properties – properties both of music’s compositional arrangement and its performative handling (i.e., how musical parameters are rendered in performance) – melodic structure, rhythm, pace, harmonic structure, genre (e.g., ‘love songs’, ‘dance music’), phrasing, performer-gesture, chosen tempo or orchestration and so on.
6. Music in (historical) action and cognition; music as an agent of change over time There is a growing body of work devoted to music’s role in relation to the organisation of action and to social and psycho-cultural change, in particular the ways in which music is linked to activism. Ron Eyerman and Andrew Jamieson have discussed just this issue in their 1998 book, Music and Social Movements. They critique overly cognitive models of movement activity and suggest that, in the case of 1960s activism, music can be seen to provide exemplars for action and at times may presage or prefigure action. For example, they describe how Todd Gitlin, president of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960s, described the SDS’s identification with the music of Bob Dylan (‘we followed his career as if he were singing our song; we got in the habit of asking where he was taking us next [p. 116]).
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The concern with music’s musical and performative properties and their impact upon social and political action is increasingly taking root in areas that are not overtly concerned with music. Social movement theory is one, the history of political activism another (Stomatov, 2002). Stomatov’s examination of how political activists were able to appropriate Verdi’s operas during the 1840s, thereby framing possibilities for aesthetic experience, illustrates how musical framing may be linked to capacities for political affiliation and how music’s social ‘force’ is constituted through an admixture of music’s properties and the ways those properties are accessed and foregrounded through music appropriation and music presentational devices. Similarly, on-going work by Roy (2003) and forthcoming work by Roscigno and Danaher (2003) follows music as it is acted upon and used to encourage modes of political involvement.
7. Conclusion Historical music sociology has moved, over the past three decades, from grand but ungrounded perspectives to grounded perspectives that showed us the institutional and organisational bases of musical production, consumption and distribution. More recently, the field has reconsidered the concerns of musicologists and the focus on music’s musical and performative properties and their links to the articulation of subjectivities across time and space. Both music scholars and sociologists are converging on, as Lawrence Kramer puts it, ‘‘. . .the way music helps shape historically specific modes of subjectivity on grounds that are, taking the term in its broadest sense, ideological’’ (2003:126). In short, we have moved away from a sociology ‘‘of’’ music to a consideration of music as a dynamic medium of social ordering. In short, music sociology, recently conceived, has helped to elaborate the ways in which non-propositional media may provide resources for the articulation of agency, ordering and of our conception of the (often tacit) dimensions of these things locally configured. In this respect, music sociology overlaps with other areas in cultural sociology concerned with the ways that objects and their use may structure social relationships, consciousness and subjectivity. As scholars outside the immediate field of music sociology grow increasingly interested in the cultural and psycho-cultural basis of action and agency – for example, organisational subjectivity, the role of emotions in political action – we shall perhaps see a great deal more interaction between music sociology, historical music sociology and sociology writ-large.
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Weber, William, 1975. Music and the Middle Class. Holmes and Meyer, New York. Wheelock, G. 1993. Schwarze Gredel and the engendered minor mode in Mozart’s operas. In: Solie, R. (Ed.), Musicology and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Music Scholarship. University of California Press, Berkeley, pp. 201–224. Tia DeNora teaches sociology at Exeter University (UK). Her most recent book is After Adorno: Rethinking Music Sociology (Cambridge, 2003). Her current research projects focus on music and health care and on the connections between music, material culture, science and social science in 19th century Europe.