Resisting Closure: A Museum Studies Approach to Performing the Canonic Heritage of Symphonic Music

The repertoire that orchestras perform nowadays in concert halls all over the world is still largely dictated by what is commonly referred to as the canon of symphonic music. This canon comprises a broad range of musical works which are deemed crucial or iconic for the heritage of Western Art Music. At the same time, the canon is a social construct, the result of a variety of intertwined musical practices at work. It is through these practices that the canon has been conserved and thus became obdurate: The musical works it incorporates are deeply embedded in the practical procedures of today’s orchestras, concert halls and conservatories.

In my current PhD project, I examine what role material artefacts play in the formation of artistic heritage, how this heritage is negotiated in practice, and how it can be brought into the future in meaningful ways from the eyes of the practitioners. Particularly, I want to understand how obduracy of the symphonic canon has been maintained in the last decades through investigating three different material musical artefacts in practice: programme notes, the violoncello, and streaming applications for classical music.

My interdisciplinary approach, in which I borrow concepts from conservation theory developed within Museum Studies, helps me to explore how the tension between “conserving” and “opening up” artistic heritage can be analysed on a theoretical as well as a practical level in a highly professional and tradition-loaded community of actors. Thus, it is through first understanding how obduracy works that I aim to develop strategies and contexts together with the practitioners through which the canon can be understood. This is relevant because many orchestras struggle with how to navigate, articulate and introduce the works of the symphonic canon in innovative ways, while at the same time accounting for their responsibility to conserve them.

My project supervised by Prof. dr. Peter Peters and Prof. dr. Karin Bijsterveld and positioned in the “Maastricht Centre for the Innovation of Classical Music,” (MCICM) which is an interdisciplinary research collaboration between Maastricht University, Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, and The South Netherlands Philharmonic (philharmonie zuidnederland). 

Photo by Sònia Pereda.

January 2019