Editor’s Message

[1] Greetings all, and welcome to Volume 29, Issue 2 of Music Theory Online! A life in academia—as most of our readers know—is one of peaks and troughs. The upward climbs, the periods of intense labor in which sudden, multiple deadlines stack up onto each other, can be daunting. But then, inevitably, comes the crest marked by the completion of multiple projects, and the relief of reaching the downhill that offers the chance to recover and to maybe even take in the scenery.

[2] A glance at past front pages for MTO issues will attest to the fact that, by some unknown mechanism of the seasons or scholarly conspiracy, a similar pattern of frantic activity and lulls likewise manifests, writ large, for our community of contributing authors. The present issue of MTO, for example, has fewer entries than usual (though note: gauging by the massive, post-spring uptick in submissions, upcoming issues will not!). Fortunately, the five offerings we have at hand are weighty and provocative, as always!

[3] The issue opens with an engrossing account of compositional influence. Eytan Agmon’s “‘Aus Mozart gestohlen’: Beethoven and Die Entführung aus dem Serail,” revisits the issue of Mozart’s impact, both as a composer and a cultural icon, on the developing Beethoven. The article moves deftly through its arguments, at one moment presenting new evidence from the manuscript record, at another subjecting seemingly dissimilar passages to expert technical comparison, in the end tying everything together with an informed rumination on Beethoven’s psyche across the decades of his life. Just as, upon finishing this article, you may never hear nor understand Leonore the same, more significantly, you may never think of Beethoven’s artistic development and biography the same way ever again.

[4] The second article by Owen Belcher, Catrina Kim, and Alan Reese, “Public Music Theory’s Neoliberal Learning Outcomes,” offers a deep philosophical dive into a timely topic. The outreach movement to promote awareness of scholarly music theory within the general public, known as Public Music Theory (PMT), has gained appreciable momentum over the past decade. It is increasingly visible as it is practiced by scholars who podcast, by talented amateur musicians who publish YouTube videos sharing complex analyses, and theory teachers who assign alternate-format, “outreach style” assignments to their classes. (Note further that PMT is the subject both of this year’s SMT Annual Meeting plenary panel event and of a newly minted publication award category from the Society!) And yet, as the authors remind us, there is a hidden cost to buying in to the Public Music Theory framework, which entails partaking in and promoting a specific, neoliberal agenda. Extending insights on the commercialization of the musical academy voiced separately by Andrea Moore and Marianna Ritchey, the authors investigate what theory professors are really saying when they couch learning to analyze music as a generally marketable job skill, effective pedagogy as “selling an idea,” and passive “learning” as a form of consumption. For readers who ever find themselves thinking of what they are and do in terms of values and products—which I would wager is most inhabitants of the modern Western world—it seems these would be critical views to give credence to.

[5] The third article by Henry Martin takes the form of a miniature treatise on a seemingly circumscribed harmonic topic. His “On the Tonic Added-Sixth Chord in Jazz” is modestly billed as an investigation into the major-mode tonic added sixth chord, a chord already well established by the 1930s. It manifests as an ambitious, historical account of the evolution of jazz style that is both sprawling in its scope of review—covering dozens of theoretical, compositional, and performance-based primary sources—and powerfully focused on its central argument about scale-degree 6 playing a signal role in the development of a new jazz dialect distinct from that of early jazz. Martin’s sensitive, novel categorizations on how this scale degree manifests—on a spectrum of behavior ranging from fully dependent to fully independent on scale-degree 5—are reminiscent of Kirnberger’s centuries-old claims about essential versus non-essential dissonances. And indeed, they may end up remaining just as central to jazz harmonic theory as it continues developing.

[6] In advance of previewing the last of this issue’s four articles, I wish to add an extra note about it. Readers may register surprise that it centers on music by Ye, a musician who—while long known for eccentric behavior—has gained notoriety for his recent public series of remarks expressing hateful ignorance concerning race, religion, and sexual abuse. While one may immediately be inclined not to engage with this MTO offering on that basis, I would entreat readers to consider the fuller context of the article—including the author’s substantial preface to it—before making the decision to read or not.

[7] Jeremy Tatar’s work does not constitute a celebration of Ye’s music, but rather a thoughtfully balanced consideration of it. Specifically, in “Injury, Affirmation, and the Disability Masquerade in Ye’s ‘Through the Wire,’” Tatar ponders the complexities arising at the important, largely overlooked juncture between hip-hop music and cultural disability studies. The focus in this case is a piece by Ye that exists in two versions. “Through the Wire” was originally written and performed in the immediate aftermath of a near-fatal 2002 car accident that left Ye with a fractured jaw: he in fact rapped the performance while his healing jaw was still wired. But then the work was re-recorded a year later. A mostly recovered Ye now rapped with clearer vocals; however, the song’s promotional materials and its accompanying video still fixated on imagery from the accident. Tatar’s thorough exploration of the song’s content, performance, and marketing shines considerable light not only on the song, but also on disability masquerade (“passing”) as it pertains to physical and mental health, to the music and film industries, and to society.

[8] The issue concludes with a report by Jade Conlee on the “Ruptures and Convergences: Music Studies and the Anthropocene” conference held in hybrid format at UC Berkeley and online in May 2022. Earth scientists originally coined the term Anthropocene to describe the era which human activities have had a measurable impact on the planet’s geology. Increasingly, however, scholars have recognized that these geologic developments are inseparable from histories of colonization, race, and industry. Conlee’s report opens with a valuable overview of this nascent field of inquiry in music, and follows with a detailed narrative both of who is working “to disrupt the traditional order of things” and what actions they are taking.

[9] At this time in late June, in which we might wish to pretend we are still in the early days of summer, we at MTO invite you all to enjoy a little break from the steep hills of fall and spring conferences and work assignments. And who knows? It may be that the act of “taking in the scenery” will manifest literally for you as you click through all the links in the Table of Contents and spend meaningful time with all of the pieces. Whatever path you choose to take over the next three months and whatever the gradient, we hope the going is smooth.


Brent Auerbach, Editor-in-Chief
University of Massachusetts Amherst