University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Faculty of Music Colloquia > ‘Un pezzo … di una grandissima serietà e con una grandissima emozione … e con elementi totalmente bruti’: aesthetic and socio-political considerations and the failure of their integration in Mauricio Kagel’s work post-1968

‘Un pezzo … di una grandissima serietà e con una grandissima emozione … e con elementi totalmente bruti’: aesthetic and socio-political considerations and the failure of their integration in Mauricio Kagel’s work post-1968

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Scholarship on new music is still characterised by advocacy: works are commonly explained in accordance with their composers’ stated intentions and their own theories; analysis is reduced to composition in reverse whereby the composer’s creative process is retraced and so forth. The result is a public debate on music whereby scholars appear as little more than spokespersons for composers and their works and where serious research is hard to distinguish from PR. It is my belief that, as in most comparable fields, musicology has to develop its own methods and theories, independent of the composers and repertoires discussed and that scholars have to retain a critical distance from their subjects. The result would be a more intellectually stimulating discourse on new music which would ultimately benefit composers too. My discussion focuses on certain of Mauricio Kagel’s works from the late 1960s and early 70s. As I argue, these works often thematise failure, while at the same time, they themselves represent failure. They are characterised by the tension between aesthetic considerations and socio-political if not downright pedagogic intentions that had been a latent feature of Kagel’s oeuvre for some time but that came to the surface in the wake of the events of 1968. Although this tension was often productive and led to interesting results, Kagel proved ultimately unable to reconcile the conflicting imperatives inherent in his praxis. This failure led him to largely abandon socio-political ideals and withdraw into the comfort zone of pure art in the course of the 1970s.

Björn Heile is Reader in Music since 1900 and Head of Music at the University of Glasgow. He is the author of The Music of Mauricio Kagel (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), the editor of The Modernist Legacy: Essays on New Music (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009), co-editor (with Martin Iddon) of Mauricio Kagel bei den Darmstädter Ferienkursen für Neue Musik: Eine Dokumentation (Hofheim: Wolke, 2009) and co-editor (with Peter Elsdon and Jenny Doctor) of Watching Jazz: Encountering Jazz Performance on Screen (OUP, forthcoming). He is currently preparing a large collaborative research project on the performance practice of Mauricio Kagel’s experimental music.

This talk is part of the Faculty of Music Colloquia series.

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