[Blueboard] Public Lecture on Twentieth Century Music: A Case Study in The Sociology of Modernity by Eduardo de la Fuente

Office of International Relations oir at admu.edu.ph
Fri Jun 17 16:47:24 PHT 2011

Thesis Eleven Centre for Cultural Sociology
La Trobe University


Philippines Australia Studies Centre

La Trobe University


Philippines Australia Studies Network

Ateneo de Manila University


invite you to a public lecture

Twentieth-Century Music: A Case Study in the Sociology of Modernity  




Eduardo de la Fuente

Lecturer, School of English, Communication and Performance Studies 
Monash University


21 June, Tuesday, 
11.00 am - 12.00 pm
Social Sciences Conference Rooms 1 & 2
Ateneo de Manila University
Loyola Heights, Quezon City




When sociologists and other social scientists use the term "modernity" they often mean a certain type of society, one that is opposed to tradition. In recent years not only have sociological theories of modernity started to question such binaries; they have also paid much more attention to the various cultural forms and practices that the "modern" can assume. As one recent text puts it, one of the challenges associated with theorizing modernity is that the "modern experience" can be associated with "symbols of modernity" as diverse as abstract painting, the motor vehicle and the airplane, the skyscraper and the movie camera (Jervis, Exploring the Modern, p. 5). Or, we could suggest, with music involving tone-clusters, excessive use of glissandi and abrupt changes in tempi, not to mention compositions that include sirens, electronically generated noises, and even prolonged silences or repetition of the same notes.


This paper draws on my recent book-length study of the latter example of modernity. It takes the  "classical" and "avant-garde" or "art-music" of the last century as a "case study in modernity." The musical culture in question revolved around a series of paradigm-shifting musical styles (e.g., atonality, rhythmic complexity, neo-classicism, serialism, aleatoric music, and electro-acoustic composition); charismatic leaders (names such as Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Les Six, Ives, Boulez, Cage, Messiaen, Stockhausen, Glass, and most recently Ferneyhough and Adams); and myths of origins and associated mythological narratives (e.g., the riot caused by the first performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in 1913 or the sense that music changed more in the 20th century than perhaps in all of human history before it).


My argument is that the very existence of musicians devoted to such a specialized cultural activity, in an age of democracy and populism, is itself a puzzling sociological curiosity-one that needs to be traced back to the cultural influence of Romanticism (for, e.g., the notion that the duty of the "true" artist is to push the boundaries of good taste and accepted conventions) and its transformation into Modernism (i.e., the celebration of stylistic innovation and theoretical exegesis over communicability or accessibility).


However, I finish my sociological account on a positive note, by highlighting that a century that began with the desire to smash all taboos and break with all existing codes, ended with a "return of the repressed," including the desire to communicate with audiences and to reconnect music with "sacred"/spiritual themes. If 20th-century Modernism and then Post-Modernism (e.g., pastiche and mindless repetition) could not kill the communicative and transcendental qualities of music, then perhaps nothing will.

Eduardo de la Fuente is Lecturer in the School of English, Communications and Performance Studies at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia. He has recently published a book entitled Twentieth Century Music and the Question of Modernity (Routledge, 2010) and co-edited (with Peter Murphy) Philosophical and Cultural Theories of Music (Brill, 2010), as well as a number of essays on art and aesthetics in modern culture, in journals such as Sociological Theory, Cultural Sociology, Journal of Sociology, Classical Sociology, Distinktion and Thesis Eleven.  


RSVP by June 20, 2011: 

426-5907 / 426-6001 local 4037 (c/o Fe Soliman, Office of International Relations) 

or email: oir at admu.edu.ph

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