All Was Foreseen; Nothing Was Foreseen
Abstract of the lecture
Using my own exceptionally lucky career as illustrative material, I will address some issues in historiography and criticism, as well as the relationship between musicology and other aspects of musical study and practice. They include the dialectic, or interplay, between agency and contingency; the nature of causality; the proper balance between factual reportage and value-laden interpretation or critique in scholarship; the importance of discourse in the mediation of artworks, and the role of musicologists in establishing it.
In one sense mine has been a straightforward career in which I followed a path that was already clear to me in childhood. In another sense it has been a tortuous journey that has taken me into areas of inquiry I never predicted, and has given me opportunities that rarely arise for an academic scholar. My activity as a musicologist and music historian has benefitted enormously from my temporary pursuit of other musical activities that might have tempted me off the path I did pursue had chance not intervened. These have included, within music, the study of composition and a brief career as a professional performer of early music, and, outside of music, the field of Russian language, literature and culture. The opportunity to practice journalism alongside more formal academic research and writing has taught me important lessons in style and communication that I have tried to pass on to my pupils. Moreover, my idiosyncratic combination of experiences and expertise have led me to some seemingly improbable, but eventually fruitful and influential, hypotheses. The unlikelihood of my path to them leads me to reflect on the contingent and provisional nature of all human achievement.
As I used to tell my pupils, all significant creative careers require three things: aptitude (talent, ability, call it what you will), ambition (or, if you prefer a less contentious term, drive or motivation), and opportunity (also known as luck). Without any one of these, the other two will not suffice. What is true of each of us is true of all of us. In my historical writing I have therefore given what I consider due emphasis to the push and pull of strategy and contingency as determinants, along with the talents or genius of the major figures, of the course of events. To the extent that the historiography of the arts has retained traces of the romanticism that attended the birth of the discipline, these more realistic emphases have been at times controversial. Introspection is therefore a necessary reality check, and I welcome the opportunity this occasion has given me to engage in it.