Cursed Questions: On Music and Its Social Practices.

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Date: Summer 2021
Publisher: University of California Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,072 words
Lexile Measure: 1530L

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Cursed Questions: On Music and Its Social Practices, by Richard Taruskin. Oakland: University of California Press, 2020. 450 pp.

Both the feeling of ecstasy and the belief in the supernatural powers of music distinguish musical practice and ontology in the music cultures of non-Western peoples, thus clarifying why the oral and written traditions of all these people reveal a much more intensive engagement with music and its social practices than in the modern West. For them, music is not simply beautiful or ugly, but rather good and bad; it produces responses of tension and release for both the performer and the listener.... Music is conceived as a form of religious experience, which, in turn, subconsciously engenders the most material musical expression. (1)

I have always thought that Richard Taruskin would find the work of Robert Lachmann (1892-1939) much to his liking. Lachmann might well feature in the dramatis personae of earlier intellectuals and music scholars, many of whom appear in the pages of Cursed Questions as remarkable intellectuals whose contributions to thinking about music often emanated at a distance from the more orthodox traditions of music history and historiography. From the opening pages of Taruskin's "Introduction," in which the reader meets "the poet and underground revolutionary Mikhail Larionovich Mikhailov," to more contemporary analytical thought in Lev Koblyakov's Pierre Boulez studies (chapter 9, "Unanalyzable, Is It?"), to the unexpectedly modern historical position staked out by Alexey Vasil'yevich Finagin in the 1920s (chapter 13, "A Walking Translation? On Musicology East and West"), Taruskin charts his own path through Western music history with Russia clearly in view--with his own musicological light from the East. Ex or lente lux.

Robert Lachmann surely would have earned a place in this pantheon of intellectual luminaries, though he himself was not a product of the East in Europe or anywhere else. Yet there are many other reasons why Taruskin might invite his readers also to read and reread Lachmann. As in Cursed Questions, the complex relation between East and West played a decisive role for Lachmann, though he was writing globally about them, thereby locating them in caicial historical positions in a moment of historiographic revolution for music scholarship, the emergence of comparative musicology (vergleichende Musikwissensehafi) in the 1920s and 1930s. At a moment of stunning intellectual efflorescence, one of many we encounter in Cursed Questions, musicology was freed from national boundaries that would make it German or anglophone, the modern binary that the light from the Russian East undoes for Taruskin. What Lachmann and the comparative musicologists achieved in a brief period of remarkably intensive musicological conversation is preciselv what Taruskin calls for at his most hopeful moments in Cursed Qviestions, above all when he urges us to read again what music scholars who went before were able to do as they lifted up music as social practice.

Another reason why Taruskin might welcome Lachmann into his Lebenswerk of music and social practice is that Lachmann suffered in many ways as a result of his marginalization...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A679119007