Composing in the Ivory Tower

In a recent interview in the neue musikzeitung, Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, a prolific composer and professor at Hochschule für Musik und Theater Leipzig for almost 20 years, admits that he has no idea why there are hardly any domestic applications for studying composition at music universities in Germany. After that, he complains at length that his works and conceptions, which he routinely submits to orchestras and opera houses to be considered for performance, keep being rejected all the time. Seriously, Herr Mahnkopf? I wonder how somebody involved in the training of composers for decades can be so clueless about the deficiencies in pre-university education, and the immense decline in meeting the preconditions needed for applying to a music university. And, besides this discomforting lack of care for the young generation, both he and the interviewer fail to notice the obvious interconnection of the two issues in question: the absence of a sustainable and integrative system of encouraging and supporting young people in a possible professional career in music, and the alienation of classical music business from everything topical and contemporary. Shouldn’t a professor of composition be more concerned about the future of his profession, and at least take interest in strategies of how teenagers can be introduced to composing and performing new music? Nearly every of Mahnkopf’s sentences demonstrates that somebody is speaking who totally lost contact with the basis of early education and promotion of young musicians. #ivorytower #upperclassproblems

A Little Appreysal

One of my most formative teachers who influentially shaped my way of thinking about music and art is the music theorist, double bassist, mathematician at heart, and philanthropist Stefan Prey. At the end of the current semester he will take his leave after four decades of teaching at Universität der Künste Berlin. His career has been a silent and dedicated one: never striving for publicity or reputation, but constantly focusing on the subject and the students’ interests in a way I have not experienced anywhere else. The appearance of his website tells more about him and his attitude than I can explain here. This is just to say that my approach to teaching and my general understanding of how music can be perceived and comprehended owes quite a lot to Stefan and his paragon. So I am grateful and humbled to contribute my bit to the online festschrift for his 65th birthday—an analytical paper on the music of Amy Beach, which is accessible here. Thank you so much!

Female Composers in Music Theory Classes

I compiled a playlist of music by female composers which I have used with great benefit as examples and exercises in my music theory classes. Most of the pieces turned out easy to integrate into the curriculum and suited my topics and purposes very well. Here is a list of fine compositions ranging from Maddalena Casulana to Sofiya Gubaidulina. Please let me know if you think something is missing or should be included for whatever reason.

Diversifying Music Theory

During the past semester I tried to augment my music theory classes with music by women and BIPoC composers. In doing so, I was delighted again and again to see how well these fit into my teaching, and to discover pieces that I hadn’t been aware were existing. There is so much more that is worth listening and analysing beside the so-called classical canon (which I didn’t want to exclude, but to enhance with lesser-known compositions), and I got a number of very positive reactions from the students, so there’s no reason not to continue in this manner. Promoting diversity in the music theory curriculum turned out so easy that I feel I should have done this so much earlier.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of composers from whose music I took the most inspiring and rewarding examples offered during the last four months: Maddalena Casulana, Raffaella Aleotti, Francesca Caccini, Anna Amalia of Prussia, Joseph Bologne de Saint-Georges, Juliane and Louise Reichardt, Maria Theresia Paradis, Sophie Westenholz, Maria Szymanowska, Louise Farrenc, Emilie Mayer, Pauline Viardot, Ella Adaïewsky, Cécile Chaminade, Mélanie Bonis, Ethel Smyth, Amy Beach, Leokadiya Kashperova, Elena Gnesina, Florence Price, Germaine Tailleferre, and Lili Boulanger.

Rethinking Music Universities

I would like to direct your attention towards the newly established Initiative for a New Music University that introduces a comprehensive alternative conception for the system of professional music education in Germany. By tradition, music universities are hierarchical organisations with solid power structures, tending to preserve routines such as master-student dependency, cult of genius, and pressure to perform. The new initiative aims at replacing these structures with an open, holistic, and consensual environment of learning and teaching. Thus, the creative and innovative potential of music education is rethought under the terms of equality and maturity of all persons involved. Even though the conception seems not to include some important aspects of administration and content so far (such as the abandonment of traditional repertoire limitations), the initiative and its creators, Hans-Christian Hauser, Sebastian Haas, and Hayo Keckeis, deserve the highest possible attention and appreciation—to which I wish to contribute with the present post.