This paper will consist of an examination of new musicology and compare it to old musicology. Then, the next section will examine how new musicologists see the works of Britten by examining some of the themes that are inherent in his work, themes that have been teased out by prominent new musicologists. …
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Benjamin Britten was an opera composer of the modern age. Because he lived in the modern age, there has been a range of interpretations that musicologists have taken towards his work. The range of interpretations depend mainly upon whether the musicologist who analyzing his work is an example of a new musicologist or an old musicologist.
New musicologists essentially are focused upon the meaning of the work (Eyerman & McCormick, 2006, p. 2). New musicologists may derive meaning from examining the composer himself, discerning what a particular composer may have meant by his work by examining the life of the composer in search of clues (Seymour, 2004, p. 1). They may also derive meaning by applying other disciplines to the work, such as literature, religion, philosophy and psychology (Zolberg, 1990, p. 8). They may derive meaning by associating the work with a body of studies, such as gender studies or queer studies. They may apply sociology to the work in an effort to discern the work’s meaning (Brett & Britten, 1993, p. 633). Or, they may use a combination of the above to arrive at what the meaning is. New musicologists may be compared with old musicologists. For them, new musicology is a corrupting influence in that, by applying other disciplines, the inherent musicality of a particular piece is lost (Miles, 1995, p. 12). Old musicologists analyze work by using musical theory, and may be formalistic or positivistic in their approach to composer’s work (Agawu, 1997, p. 299). What they do not do is attempt to discern hidden meanings behind the composer’s work. The shift from old musicology to new musicology can be traced to Joseph Kerman (1985), whose book Contemplating Music: Challenges to Musicology, was the first instance where a musicologist proposed analyzing music by bringing in history, communication, the existence of other works of art, affects, texts and programmes (Kerman, 1985, p. 18). Since then, prominent musicologists such as Susan McClary and Philip Brett have analyzed music from the perspective of gender and queer studies, respectively (McClary, 1993; Brett, 1993). These scholars represent the tip of the iceberg for new musicologists, but they are examples of how new musicology approaches music. This paper will consist of an examination of new musicology and compare it to old musicology. Then, the next section will examine how new musicologists see the works of Britten by examining some of the themes that are inherent in his work, themes that have been teased out by prominent new musicologists. The next section will handle how old musicologists examine Britten’s work. Finally, the last section will be a conclusion which ties together the concepts and analyzes what it all means. New Musicologists Approach to Britten’s Work A new musicologist would not analyze Britten’s operas in a superficial way – such stating the innocent themes of a certain opera, without going into subtext – but would also go beyond what is on the surface and delve not only into Britten’s psyche but also the sociological mores of the times to determine what the true meaning is behind the operas that he has written. For instance, Seymour (2004) state that if one examines a Britten opera, there are a number of superficial themes, but that, if one looks closer at Britten’s operas one can see that he is trying to find a voice that “might embody, communicate, and perhaps resolve, his private concerns and anxieties” (Seymour, 2004, p. 1). Seymour was a definitive new musicologist, as she attempted to examine several operas written by Britten – Paul Bunyon, Death in Venice, three of his church parables and several of his children’s operas – and analyzed these creatively by linking them to psychological factors and biographical events that were occurring with Britten during this period of time (Seymour, 2004, p. 1). It was Seymour’s theory that Britten, through his music, was able to express ideas about his sexuality and identity that were difficult for him to come to terms with and
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