[Smt-talk] the impossibility of listening

kos at panix.com kos at panix.com
Wed Oct 31 19:03:53 PDT 2012

On Wed, 31 Oct 2012, Richard Cohn <richard.cohn at yale.edu> wrote:

> I just received a copy of A History of Opera, a new book co-authored by
> Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker. In their preface, they write that "at a
> very early stage... we we decided that this history would contain no
> musical examples...we wanted to write a book without reference to musical
> scores." After the usual justification about not wanting to swamp readers
> with anything that might be challenging to their technical facility, they
> write the following: "Readers will look in vain for abstract structural
> analyses of music, or extended descriptions of notes interacting with each
> other: that kind of information, although relatively easy --- with training
> --- to extract from a score, is virtually impossible to extract from
> listening to or attending an opera."

My guess is that the authors were under pressure from their publisher to make 
their book (two volumes) able to sell.  And it's not just any musical form 
but *opera*.  Based on running an email list for opera (27 years!), I know 
that many opera fans care about the performers of opera much, much more than 
they care about opera's music, or even music in general.

How to make musical writing more appealing is a topic that is occasionally
discussed on AMS-L (the discussion list of the American Musicological 
Society).  While not coming to definite conclusions, many have pointed out that 
it is possible to write in an accessible style so as to be published in a 
newspaper (e.g. The New York Times).  Perhaps this is what Abbate and Parker 
have attempted.

If you want your book to actually sell and not make your publisher regret 
having invested in it, you're going to eschew the deep analysis that 
would appeal to so many subscribers of SMT-LIST.  Clearly, this book is not 
intended for that type of audience.

Bob Kosovsky, Ph.D. -- Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts,
Music Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
blog:  http://www.nypl.org/blog/author/44   Twitter: @kos2
   Listowner: OPERA-L ; SMT-TALK ; SMT-ANNOUNCE ; SoundForge-users
--- My opinions do not necessarily represent those of my institutions ---

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