From the Erotic to the Demonic: On Critical Musicology

Article excerpt

From the Erotic to the Demonic: On Critical Musicology. By Derck B. Scott, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. [258 p. ISBN 0-19-515195-X. $65 (hbk.); 0-19-515196-8. $35 (pbk.).] Music examples, illustrations, index.

It does not seem all that long ago that Susan McClary said "when cultural-studies methods first appeared in musicology fifteen years ago, they triggered a storm of polemics that sometimes overshadowed the important issues being raised. As the canon wars recede, however, scholars are finding it possible to focus on the concerns that led them to cultural criticism in the first place: the study of music and its political meanings" (Western Music and Its Others: Difference, Representation, and Appropriation in Music, ed. Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh [Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000], back cover). In her forward to the volumes in the Roulledge series Critical and Cultural Musicology, Martha Feldman claimed that "Musicology has undergone a sea change in recent years." Indeed, Derek Scott's book can be seen as a continuation of a growing body of critical musicology dedicated to examining issues that have been marginalized by musicologists such as ideology, identity, gender, and racial representation in Western music. To this end, Scott asserts that musicology is no longer an autonomous field of academic inquiry, but has entered a phase of "postdisciplinarity" (p. 4), and a vibrant intellectual movement in the interdisciplinary field of the arts, sciences, and humanities.

Scott embraces the notion that the rise of critical musicology was advanced by the collapse of the binary divide between classical and popular, which broadened the scope of musicological inquiry to topics such as gender, race, identity, sexuality, and narrative. In doing so, Scott is committed to social semiotics advanced by Richard Leppert, Susan McClary, and Lawrence Kramer and puts forth a series of exemplary essays articulated in a rich, engaging, and provocative interdisciplinary style.

The book is divided into four parts, each with two chapters. Part 1 concerns gender, sexuality, and musical style rooted in social practices. The first chapter deals with erotic representation from Monteverdi to Mae West. Building on McClary's work on seventeenth-century narrative, Scott analyzes "Pur ti miro" from Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Popea (1642) as a representation of the mutual arousal thought necessary for sexual reproduction in the seventeenth century, to the stereotypes dominating American erotic songs of the 1920s and 1930s in what he refers to as the "predator," Mae West, the "innocent," Helen Kane, and the "prim and proper" Ann Suter (pp. 27-29). The second chapter examines eroticism in the Victorian era. Scott argues for disjunctions in representation rather than universals or constants that can be traced through "evolution" or "progress." The author contends that music can be negotiated, building on conventions rooted in style codes and social practices.

Part 2 concerns the working of ideology in relation to popular music. Scott examines representation of the American Indian in popular styles of Western music from the eighteenth century to the present. He thus moves from sexuality to ethnicity in order to show how cultural difference is represented and how shifting perceptions of the Native American can be related to changes in attitude to the "civilized" and the natural world. Scott traces the appropriation of the Native American from Rameau's harpsichord piece Les sauvages (1725) to J. P. Richardson's pop song "Running Bear" (1960). Here we are confronted with a host of signifiers delineating the "enemy" as alien and whisky drinking or courageous and wise, reflecting shifting political and cultural changes. Scott claims that even films that attempt to depict Native Americans in a more positive image, such as Dances with Wolves (1990), are no less dehumanizing and have a tendency to imply that Native Americans are unable to cope with the grim practicalities of modern life. …