Edward Elgar, Modernist
J.P.E. Harper-Scott
Cambridge University Press
ISBN-13 978-0-521-86200-4 Hardback
ISBN-10 0-521-86200-0 Hardback
Price: £50.00 (US$90.00)

J.P.E. Harper-Scott is an academic with scholarly interests in Elgar, Walton, Schenker, Heidegger, and meaning in music. In Edward Elgar, Modernist Harper-Scott combines several of these interests, particularly Schenkerian Theory and meaning in music, explaining that his book grew from a belief in meaning, and the desirability of discovering it, in musical works and human life. He asserts that Edward Elgar, Modernist was written: "To satisfy a perceived need for musical criticism that retreats neither into conservative, narrowly formalist analysis nor into poststructural hermeneutics guided by nihilistic Foucaldian or Derridian dogma."

Edward Elgar, Modernist claims to be the first full-length analytical study of Elgar's music, arguing - by blending existential and hermeneutic philosophy with the music-analytical method of Heinrich Schenker - that Elgar's music constitutes an authentically twentieth-century assessment of the nature of human being. Additionally, Harper-Scott also proposes a new analytical method for the study of late-romantic and early modernist music.

The author uses terms which may be unfamiliar to educated musicians. Ecstasis, enframing, thrownness, eucatastrophe/dycatastrophe, prosopon, prosopoeia and telos all appear in the glossary, briefly defined. As Harper-Scott explains, it is in the nature of a glossary that definitions be gnomic. "A work of music, being an intentional object with a supratemporal form, is a mimesis of humankind's lived temporality, and lights up for us the structures of our own existence," he says, going on to sketch a musicological context in observing that: "In the last twenty years a number of Schenkerians have been persuaded by Robert Bailey's rejection of the classic monotonal view of the structure of neo-Romantic and early modernist music, and his proposal that it may be better understood in terms of the prolongation of a 'double-tonic complex'.

In 1930, Edward Dent, Professor of Music at Cambridge, wrote a handful of cruel phrases about Elgar, describing him as a self-taught man whose music was not quite free of vulgarity. Maybe Edward Elgar, Modernist is another episode in the long history of ambivalence between Elgar and British university scholars?

John Adams recently complained that in the post-war years, Milton Babbitt and his followers wrote publications: "Aping the style of scholarly papers delivered by physicists or mathematicians and which... made me think of a satire by Thomas Pynchon... fantastically ornate, mannerist prose etudes with baroque uses of the English language which revel in their own ellipses and obscurities." Could this be a contemporary example of what Adams describes?

First published in Classical Music, 8th June 2007. Reproduced by kind permission.

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