Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Taruskin, the Director's Cut

My profile of UC Berkeley musicologist Richard Taruskin ran in The Chronicle on Sunday, at about 70 percent of the length at which I filed it. That was right and just — the original was far too long, and I knew it would have to be trimmed — but there was some choice material that I was sorry to see consigned to the cutting-room floor. Here are a few outtakes, including some quotes that didn't even make it into the first draft.

• "Anytime you do anything in musicology," says [Klara] Moricz, "you generally check to see what Taruskin did. Then you arrange your view either with him or in opposition."

• His scholarly role model, he says, is Edward Lowinsky, a German-born Renaissance scholar who died in 1985, and who taught briefly at Berkeley.
"Lowinsky was wrong about everything — he made a whole career of being wrong. But the process of disproving all his grandiose hypotheses did more than anyone to advance musicology.
"As opposed to Oliver Strunk, who did practically nothing but is considered to be the irrefutable mandarin of rightness: little ventured, little gained. And actually I managed to disprove one of his hypotheses when I was doing my Busnois research! So the mighty Strunk, who hardly ventured to say anything because what if I'm wrong — even some of the little that he said was wrong.
"I think it's much better to be bold and put out a hypothesis that makes a difference, and then let them tear it down. Because even tearing it down accomplishes something.
"People are so invested in being right. I can honestly say that I'm not. I'm more interested in saying something that is interesting and significant — and if it turns out not to be right, I can live with that."

• "I spent a wonderful year in Moscow in the early 1970s, at the height of the Cold War. Brezhnev was stagnating as they now say, and there was a treaty that had been carefully negotiated by the State Department for a student exchange on a strictly one-to-one basis: 40 and 40. But of course the Russians were all studying agronomy and technical subjects, and we were all studying Pushkin or something really innocuous."

• "Think of all the composers who, during the Cold War, wrote serial music who otherwise wouldn't have. Sometimes they say so — in fact, it became a cliché for a while. 'I felt such a pressure to write serial music and I never even liked the stuff!' And on the other side, think of someone like Khrennikov. They know they have to write music that is tuneful and accessible and conveys the right message. These are social pressures, and we are more inclined now to recognize them as such."

• "Writing about 15th-century music is like walking into a dark room where there are dozens of people sleeping on the floor. Anywhere you move, you wind up stepping on someone, and they shout at you."