Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Review of Thomas Christensen, the Work of Music Theory (Ashgate, 2014)

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Review of Thomas Christensen, the Work of Music Theory (Ashgate, 2014)

Article excerpt

[1] Thomas Christensen's The Work of Music Theory is a recent addition to Ashgate's new Contemporary Thinkers on Critical Musicology series, in which each title, in the words of the publisher, brings together "a selection of previously published and some unpublished essays by leading authorities in the field of musicology." The author chooses what essays to include, and then writes an introduction that puts them into context. Unless the volume includes previously unpublished work, this introduction is the only new material in the book. Ashgate simply photographs and compiles all the essays, without resetting them or allowing any changes. It then adds the title, introduction, and index, and puts a generic black cover on the whole. The series began with the publication of Gary Tomlinson's Music and Historical Critique in 2007, and has continued with collections of the work of Simon Frith, Nicholas Cook, Susan McClary, Richard Leppert, Lawrence Kramer, James Hepokoski, Richard Middleton, Scott Burnham, Derek B. Scott, Tia DeNora, Lucy Green, Robert Morgan, and Annegret Fauser, as well as Christensen.(1) With Kramer, Leppert, McClary, and Tomlinson, the list clearly recognizes the cutting-edge American musicology of the 1990s. But it also includes a number of British scholars who have worked primarily, or at least occasionally, in popular music; a music educator (Green); and, happily, a robust selection of writers whose work across their careers has straddled the disciplines of music theory and music history (Christensen, Cook, Burnham, Hepokoski, and Morgan).

[2] The series, of course, has predictable plusses and minuses. On the plus side, it is indeed illuminating to have in a single volume a large body of work from some of the scholars who have definitively shaped their disciplines for the past twenty-five to thirty years--especially when they have (as is the case with most of the writers here) ranged across an impressive expanse of repertoires, issues, and points of view. There's much to be gained from reading their volumes straight through: doing so gives a sense of a scholarly voice, and of a scholarly corpus, that one does not get so easily from reading an author's essays piecemeal over a long period of time. And Ashgate rightly advertises the fact that virtually all of the volumes include important but hard-to-find essays published in obscure venues (festschrifts, foreign-language journals, etc.), and occasionally even essays not previously published at all, so the books make available much material that would be difficult or impossible to gain access to otherwise. In addition, since the essays are printed in facsimile from the original source, readers can see each original publication and cite exact page numbers from that original version, as well as those of the Ashgate volume. On the minus side, though, Ashgate is being a bit disingenuous (to say the least) in the way it promotes and sells the series. The labor-saving means of production for the books assures not only that 1) in a given volume the fonts and the general appearance of the different essays will vary, sometimes dramatically--not a critical problem, necessarily, but an odd one; 2) authors cannot correct errors, add citations of other important work that has appeared since the original publication, or alter their points of view, even many years later; and 3) the publisher realizes significant savings by cutting production costs to the bone--a point not insignificant to us as consumers, and not insignificant even to libraries, since the volumes all cost around $200 (Christensen's is listed at a regular price of $225, or $202.50 if purchased from the Ashgate website).

[3] All fifteen essays in Christensen's collection have been published before--a fact that immediately raises two questions about the series. First, why, in this age of the internet, would a publisher produce such books at all, since for the most part they recycle older and often readily available content, and thus would seem to involve risky financial ventures? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.