Composing Capital: Classical Music in the Neoliberal Era

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

The familiar old world of classical music, with its wealthy donors and ornate concert halls, is changing. The patronage of a wealthy few is being replaced by that of corporations, leading to new unions of classical music and contemporary capitalism. In Composing Capital, Marianna Ritchey lays bare the appropriation of classical music by the current neoliberal regime, arguing that artists, critics, and institutions have aligned themselves—and, by extension, classical music itself—with free-market ideology. More specifically, she demonstrates how classical music has lent its cachet to marketing schemes, tech firm-sponsored performances, and global corporate partnerships. As Ritchey shows, the neoliberalization of classical music has put music at the service of contemporary capitalism, blurring the line between creativity and entrepreneurship, and challenging us to imagine how a noncommodified musical practice might be possible in today’s world.
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About the author

Marianna Ritchey is assistant professor of music history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Aug 5, 2019
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Pages
216
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ISBN
9780226640372
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Language
English
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Genres
Music / General
Music / Genres & Styles / Classical
Music / History & Criticism
Social Science / Sociology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Why is classical music predominantly the preserve of the white middle classes? Contemporary associations between classical music and social class remain underexplored, with classical music primarily studied as a text rather than as a practice until recent years. In order to answer this question, this book outlines a new approach for a socio-cultural analysis of classical music, asking how musical institutions, practices, and aesthetics are shaped by wider conditions of economic inequality, and how music might enable and entrench such inequalities or work against them. This approach is put into practice through a richly detailed ethnography which locates classical music within one of the cultures that produces it - middle-class English youth - and foregrounds classical music as bodily practice of control and restraint. Drawing on the author's own background as a classical musician, this closely observed account examines youth orchestra and youth choir rehearsals as a space where young people learn the unspoken rules of this culture of weighty tradition and gendered control. It highlights how the middle-classes' habitual roles - boundary drawing around their protected spaces and reproducing their privilege through education - can be traced within the everyday spaces of classical music. These practices are camouflaged, however, by the ideology of 'autonomous art' that classical music carries. Rather than solely examining the social relations around the music, the book demonstrates how this reproductive work is facilitated by its very aesthetic, of 'controlled excitement', 'getting it right', precision, and detail. This book is of particular interest at the present moment, thanks to the worldwide proliferation of El Sistema-inspired programmes which teach classical music to children in disadvantaged areas. While such schemes demonstrate a resurgence in defending the value of classical music, there has been a lack of debate over the ways in which its socio-cultural heritage shapes its conventions today. This book locates these contestations within contemporary debates on class, gender and whiteness, making visible what is at stake in such programmes.
From the 1920s to the 1950s, neoclassicism was one of the dominant movements in American music. Today this music is largely in eclipse, mostly absent in performance and even from accounts of music history, in spite of—and initially because of—its adherence to an expanded tonality. No previous book has focused on the nature and scope of this musical tradition. Neoclassical Music in America: Voices of Clarity and Restraint makes clear what neoclassicism was, how it emerged in America, and what happened to it.

Music reviewer and scholar, R. James Tobin argues that efforts to define musical neoclassicism as a style largely fail because of the stylistic diversity of the music that fall within its scope. However, neoclassicists as different from one another as the influential Igor Stravinsky and Paul Hindemith did have a classical aesthetic in common, the basic characteristics of which extend to other neoclassicists This study focuses, in particular, on a group of interrelated neoclassical American composers who came to full maturity in the 1940s. These included Harvard professor Walter Piston, who had studied in France in the 1920s; Harold Shapero, the most traditional of the group; Irving Fine and Arthur Berger, his colleagues at Brandeis; Lukas Foss, later an experimentalist composer whose origins lay in neoclassicism of the 1940s; Alexei Haieff, and Ingolf Dahl, both close associates of Stravinsky; and others. Tobin surveys the careers of these figures, drawing especially on early reviews of performances before offering his own critical assessment of individual works.

Adventurous collectors of recordings, performing musicians, concert and broadcasting programmers, as well as music and cultural historians and those interested in musical aesthetics, will find much of interest here. Dates of composition, approximate duration of individual works, and discographies add to the work’s reference value.

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