Profile picture
Jon Silpayamanant @Silpayamanant
, 25 tweets, 6 min read Read on Twitter
Thread: Classical Music, the Perpetual Foreigner Trope, and Colonialism

I've been thinking how we discuss Classical Music. I've been in lively & robust discussions about Diversity in CM only to be derailed by the "That's not really Classical Music" trope.
2/ Usually this is in response to my bringing up the evolution of Classical Music organizations (e.g. Orchestras) that have been continually evolving throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century.…
3/ This evolution of Classical Music has taken forms we don't recognize, & often in parts of the world we don't associate w/ this European art form, even when this evolution (e.g. Mandolin Orchestras) takes place in the 4 meccas of CM (i.e. England, France, Germany, Italy).
4/ And that's part the problem--referring to Classical Music as a "European art form" is essentialist and belies the fact that it's pretty much a Global thing now, and really has been for some centuries.
5/ It's true that Classical Music originated & developed primarily in parts of Europe, but for the same reason we tend to neglect Women Composers and Composers of Color, we neglect CM that developed in regions outside of Europe.
6/ That development was due to local aesthetics, environment, & culture. For ex. Uzeyir Hajibeyov wrote the 1st opera of the Muslim World, "Leyli və Məcnun," (Layla and Majnoon) in 1908, a tale based on Persian poet Niẓāmi Ganjavi's narrative account.

7/ Three things stand out here with Hajibeyov's opera:

1) The libretto is in Azeri
2) Incorporates Mugham instruments
3) It is sung in Mugham style

c.f. Puccini's "Turandot" (1926), also based on source material traced to Niẓāmi Ganjavi but performed much more frequently.
8/ One could argue that the latter is performed more frequently because it's an orientalist fantasy that plays to the Colonialistic prejudices of the Western world and how it views the Near East.…
9/ But, I submit Ladislao Bonus (dubbed the "Father of Philippine Opera") & his Tagalog opera, "Sangdugong Panaguinip" (from 1902) which could be considered anti-Muslim & isn't performed w/ any regularity in Opera companies outside of the Philippines.…
10/ These are textbook examples of Colonialism & how native voices (Hajibeyov and Bonus) are systematically suppressed in favor of a Colonizer's voice (Puccini). Bonus' Opera also plays against the backdrop of American rule (1901-1935) after centuries of Spanish Colonization.
11/ The Canonization in Classical Music extends well beyond the repertoire/composers. Discussions of Diversity in CM invariably centers on Canonical types of performing organizations. In fact, this is a much more subtle problem than the rep/composer Canons.
12/ William Bolcom's perfectly illustrates this with "There is a landmark moment in which the evolution of the orchestra was brought to a standstill" with his essay about the Future of the Symphony Orchestra. Here, he's actually bemoaning this "fact."…
13/ Again, this ignores the contribution of experiments and developments with the Orchestra by musicians and composers in non-European and non-Western countries.…
14/ Daniel Barenboim has said "It’s better to send the Berlin Philharmonic to play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 because [that is something] they can’t imitate. Neither the Beethoven nor the orchestra" and “Now I want to explore all those places where music hasn't been brought to."
15/ The implication being that only Western Countries, and in particular European ones, could create Classical Music, and falling into the Great White Savior Trope we must bring "Great Art" to the unenlightened masses of the Non-Western World.
16/ The unquestioned assumption is that, since non-Western countries can only imitate (i.e. not create), then Great Music must be brought to them. Never mind that they've been adapting Classical Music to their local Art Music traditions and cultures for, in some cases, centuries.
17/ Nevermind that "Classical Composers" have been doing the same for some centuries. That doesn't count because their native, folk, indigenous traditions were already Western anyway. Those foreign musical elements don't belong here. We need to Make Classical Music Great Again!
18/ In other words, these "other" orchestras and ensembles are Perpetual Foreigners to Classical Music and we shouldn't stain the Master Music with inferior imitation orchestras, repertoire with mixed elements, or composers who write in different idioms.
19/ Since the Orchestra stopped evolving, pace Bolcom, in the early 20th century into its modern form. We have no need to consider works outside the Canon since the only ones that count are those written for the Canonical Ensemble types.
20/ The vast majority of these "other" orchestras regularly perform music by People of Color (PoC) and have their own Canons of musical works and composers.…
21/ The thing is, we're now in a world where composers freely write in multiple styles and no longer feel the constraint of Canonical Ensemble types, much less Canonical musical style.
22/ This is starting to emerge in rising number of newer intercultural orchestras and ensembles. The American Balalaika Symphony & Shen Yun Symphony Orchestra are a couple of the largest examples of this. Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble are probably the most famous of these.
23/ Ironically, the Silk Road Ens. & Alim Qasimov that would introduce the West to Hajibeyov's "Leyli və Məcnun" in a concert version of the opera touring it on its 100th anniversary. Here's to not waiting 100 years to hear all these other compositions.

PS/ One of the things that opened my eyes to the global Classical Music was hearing album by Ars Femina: "Musica de la Puebla de Los Angeles - Music by Women of Baroque Mexico, Cuba & Europe" 10 years ago. Yes, Baroque Women composers in Mexico and Cuba!
PS2/ This is for the complaints about the usage of "Classical Music"--while a problematic term, it has a fairly standard & practical usage. From "The NPR Classical Music Companion: An Essential Guide for Enlightened Listening" (yeah, "Enlightened Listening" is also problematic!).
Missing some Tweet in this thread?
You can try to force a refresh.

Like this thread? Get email updates or save it to PDF!

Subscribe to Jon Silpayamanant
Profile picture

Get real-time email alerts when new unrolls are available from this author!

This content may be removed anytime!

Twitter may remove this content at anytime, convert it as a PDF, save and print for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video

1) Follow Thread Reader App on Twitter so you can easily mention us!

2) Go to a Twitter thread (series of Tweets by the same owner) and mention us with a keyword "unroll" @threadreaderapp unroll

You can practice here first or read more on our help page!

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just three indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member and get exclusive features!

Premium member ($30.00/year)

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!