Academic journal article Notes

The New 'Musik in Geschichte Und Gegenwart': First Impressions

Academic journal article Notes

The New 'Musik in Geschichte Und Gegenwart': First Impressions

Article excerpt

"Eine Enzyklopadie wird nicht fur den Augenblick abgefa[Beta]t," wrote Friedrich Blume in 1951,(1) taking a tone at once lofty and pragmatic: such an enterprise, best conceived as a potentiality, can come to a halt but not to completion. And so the unfinished-finished product may realistically be judged according to what it accomplishes, but not by what it neglects (thus far) to take into account. There must remain something, he continued elsewhere in a much remembered quip, for our grandchildren to do.(2) Those who have taken cognizance of that monumental edifice known as MGG in these pages -- apart from Blume himself, also Charles Warren Fox and Paul Henry Lang(3) -- have tended to echo this view, and it is indeed difficult to imagine how one's frustrations with this somehow amorphous sextadecalogue could not ultimately be salved by gratitude for the wealth it does bestow. Blume was only too conscious of the work's imbalances.(4) But even the slightest appreciation of the improbable odds under which the small editorial staff worked, in the first decades after the near-annihilation of European learning, engenders something more than mere admiration. In short, no undertaking of this ambition should be allowed to disappear into a cloud of self-deprecation, for, as Ludwig Finscher now reminds us, the old MGG played, even as it evolved, nothing less than a formative role in shaping the humanistic and sociological disciplines of music study as they are conceived and taught today.(5) This, at least initially, was the MGG of the most influential generation after that of the founding fathers - the MGG of Friedrich Gennrich and Jacques Handschin, of Heinrich Huschen and Heinrich Besseler, of Otto Gombosi and Paul Nettl, of Henry George Farmer and Thurston Dart, of Federico Ghisi, Higino Angles, and Charles van den Borren (a men's club, mainly, were it not for Nanie Bridgman and Anna Amalie Abert). A great many younger post-War scholars, of course, helped to fill the fourteen principal volumes issued by the end of the 1960s, their multilingual and trans-Atlantic exchanges contributing perhaps almost as much as ubiquitous conference rituals to the very creation of an international discourse on musicology. Encyclopedia editorship, however, requires efforts more herculean than the convening of congresses, for the random elements -- the interests and abilities of willing contributors -- must be aligned or discounted in favor of an internally consistent whole; Blume's achievement was a first distillation of a rapidly accelerating conference, held over the course of an entire generation, into an ordered representation of the field.

Blume doubted, at least for a time, that anything like the old MGG would ever be attempted again, since the dawning age of splintering specialization would render the grand synthesis impracticable, if not simply quaint and obsolete. Perhaps it was he who unwittingly commenced the intonation so often heard now that sweeping histories unified by a single vision will soon no longer satisfy our agile sensibilities. I recall the clever talk that greeted Gerald Abraham's one-volume survey in 1979 as no doubt the last masterful overview from the era of omnivorous all-rounders,(6) and indeed few readers of this journal will have missed noticing that collections of essays of various authorship do seem to have gained a certain ascendency. Yet even if we disregard trade or study texts,(7) there would be little point in denying the appeal of published generalists, especially if they are provocative -- it would be difficult to avoid mention of Carl Dahlhaus as an example -- including a few atavistic ventures that keep something called the "Abendland" from its penumbral rest.(8) (There is no "Abendland" in the new MGG, interestingly enough, presumably in recognition of the awkwardness of the term, even though the alleged dichotomy between Eastern fantasy and Western rationality has played a role in the historiography of European music from Charlemagne to Stockhausen. …

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