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PETER DALE reads from a
Liverpool University symposium on the musical work


This volume is the compendium of papers given by eleven scholars to a symposium at Liverpool University. The title of the book The Musical Work: Reality or Invention? was the theme of the symposium. I think it was a good one. It contains both the germ of a real issue and also something provocative, something quite literally to take issue about, and that's precisely what the book chronicles.

Though four of the contributors belonged to the host university, the other seven came from elsewhere in Britain and from the United States. Together, they form a good spread of opinion, but it was Liverpool University that was ideally placed to convene the event because it has not only a Department of Music but also -- and quite discretely -- an Institute of Popular Music. Michael Talbot, the editor, assures us that the two readily co-operate 'especially in undergraduate teaching' but somewhat ruefully admits that they 'don't have much occasion for direct contact in the scholarly arena'. In some respects then this book represents deliberate exercises in bridge building. That much is explicit. What is implicit, however, and what makes the book perhaps provocatively interesting is the unspoken context.

Liverpool Music Symposium: The Musical Work - Reality or Invention? Edited by Michael Talbot
Liverpool Music Symposium: The Musical Work - Reality or Invention? Edited by Michael Talbot

Like it or not (and I suspect that most of the contributors would not), this is a dispatch from The Culture Wars. The context may be no more than a Cold War, and in that sense an artificial trial of shadow boxing, but it is still deemed the proper form -- even for a reviewer -- to tread extremely carefully indeed, but not so much to avoid stepping into a minefield (this is after all a de-militarised zone) as not to step on the sensitive toes of ingrained academic hubris on the one hand and culturally relativized (and therefore, in politically correct terms, absolutely sacred) personal taste on the other. Reckless or not though, I think I'm bound to throw caution to the wind and try to spell out just what is at issue. If I don't, you might not think the book worthy of your attention and that would be a shame because, despite all the scholarly etiquette it contains, which by and large keeps those swords rusting in their scabbards, there is something quite important at issue here.

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Copyright © 12 January 2003 Peter Dale, Danbury, Essex, UK


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