Wendelin Bitzan

Wendelin Bitzan

A Conspectus of Four-Part Harmony

The final week of my semester at TU Dortmund University is over, having reached an intriguing (and literal) climax in the examination of Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, and finishing with the workshop concert of my historical composition seminar. Eleven pieces, created during the last months, were performed by the students themselves: Renaissance-style partsongs, Lutheran choral settings in Schütz’s and Bach’s idioms, and Romantic folksong adaptations in various four-part realisations. The vocal ensemble consisted of twelve dedicated students from the BA programmes in music education and music journalism, the latter of who contributed a number of written and spoken work introductions. This was quite a rewarding experience—many thanks to everybody involved!


Teacher Shortage and Issues of Qualification

Like many professions and businesses, music education in Germany is suffering from a severe lack of adequately trained staff, in particular at elementary schools. The umbrella organisation of German music life, Deutscher Musikrat, recently made a statement regarding the qualifications of music teachers and the demands and requirements set in their training. According to general secretary Christian Höppner, the standards of music teacher education should stay unaltered as they used to be in the past decades, emphasising the traditional subjects and ideals of our cultural heritage in order to prevent an allegedly impending deprofessionalisation.

In my opinion, this is a misjudgement and dangerously shortsighted strategy. The desolate current situation results from long-term adherence to outdated structures and values in the education of music teachers. Given that universities and cultural administrations have already changed their orientation and educational policies, the Musikrat’s claim appears highly anachronistic. Sticking to the elitist ideals of the educated middle class and lamenting the decline of formerly high standards is of no use and will lead even further into the crisis. Instead, we should foster the motivation of pupils and prospective applicants of music universities, and create stimuli to opt for a teaching profession in music by reshaping and diversifying curricula, integrating various musical styles and instruments to choose from, and reconsider the demands of entrance exams. Last but not least, the profession needs to grow more financially rewarding to strengthen its image and help to win higher numbers of applicants.

These strategies would account for the total opposite of deprofessionalisation, or even »betrayal of the educational chances of the youth«, as Höppner puts it. In fact, the situation would significantly improve if schools were able to hire well-qualified Bachelor graduates with sufficient practical experience instead of reacting to the declining numbers of Master graduates with a plethora of career changers and lateral entrants. We do not need long and difficult music education programmes, but larger amounts of university places and new applicants to satisfy present and future demands, and to comply with our responsibility to offer equal chances to the generations of students to come.

Brahms, Hölderlin, and Schiller

So glad to appear in a choral-symphonic concert again next Sunday, 22 January, performing Brahms’s Schicksalslied, Op. 54, and Nänie, Op. 82, with Vokalsystem Berlin, Enchore, and Berliner Sibelius Orchester, alongside orchestral music by Verdi and Sibelius. This will also be the conducting debut of my dear colleague Johannes David Wolff in the Grand Hall of the Berlin Philharmonie. There are still some tickets left—I’d be delighted to see you there!

Tonality as a Family Affair

I wrote a few lines on Johanna Kinkel’s imaginative description of sonata form, as comprised in her Acht Briefe an eine Freundin über Clavier-Unterricht (1852). Kinkel creates a tongue-in-cheek analogy between harmonic regions and family members, assigning masculine and feminine properties to the primary and secondary theme zones of a sonata exposition, which prompted me to make some observations on the sociological and political dimensions of her writings. The resulting paper is, as it seems, my first contribution to musical gender studies—in German, though, but I might consider preparing an English translation in the future. Hope you enjoy the read.

» Tonality as a Family Affair

Let’s Ditch That Token of Hierarchy

So Berlin’s most revered senior conductor has resigned from his job as music director of the Staatsoper Unter den Linden (while, naturally, still maintaining his lifelong post as chief conductor of Staatskapelle Berlin). I fully understand the urge to praise his accomplishments, and I share most of the views on Barenboim’s impressive lifetime achievements. But can we please take this opportunity to stop using the outdated term maestro? This designation clings to toxic traditional hierarchies, corroborates disparity and abuse of power, and engenders artistic and administrative subordination. I’d really appreciate if we could, in music journalism as well as in colloquial discourse, move a step forward in this respect.