Guest Editorial
British Postgraduate Musicology:
2001 and After


With this new issue, British Postgraduate Musicology moves on: what began in 1995 as Musical Objects, a 'postgraduate review' that took its name from Stravinsky's dictum, 'My "Octuor" is a musical object that has a form', and continued in 1997 as a semi-formal journal with a new title, an editorial board and a commitment to a mix of articles, reviews, essays and listings, is now reborn on the web.  The move, of course, reflects the times.  For if, in our burgeoning world of international musicology, to be 'British' and 'Postgraduate' is to carry any meaning at all, then ease of communication among those who work mainly on their own, and who need to overcome the constraints of an insular society, is 'surely' all.

Or is it 'all'?

I believe the little history I have just outlined is, in fact, a cautionary
tale with a clear moral.  Publication, as we so often hear, should command our respect – and all the more so the easier it becomes to 'get things into print'.  But just as composers have an 'Opus 1' mentality, so too, I am convinced, should scholars and writers.  There is a moment in the formation of a thinker – typically the postgraduate – when the various strands which for so long have seemed impossibly tangled – overlapping fields of enquiry, disparate knowledge, confusion of approaches, uncertainty over lines of argument – suddenly sort themselves out: from the chrysalis there emerges – almost overnight – a mature, cogent and independent personality producing work that can – at last – stand up and be counted by anyone.  It is at this stage that work is 'ready' to be published.  The timing of this emergence – which may be sooner or later, and sometimes very much later – is of the utmost importance, and not just for the matter in hand, but for the future
of the author.  Ask any writer or creative artist of note, 'where –
meaningfully – did you start?', and you will get much the same answer: with such-and-such a piece of work, at such-and-such a time, in response to such-and-such a stimulus.  Ironically, as the years go by, the nature and – above all – the quality of the beginning becomes more, and not less, significant.  A benchmark has been set, and the more firmly and confidently the mark has been notched, the greater the power it will continue to exert.  Good 'first work' establishes its own authority: there is no reason to fall below the standards it sets.  (And was it not Matisse who once said, 'A man's worst enemy is his own bad work'?)

By these lights, then, what, when and where to 'publish' is a matter of self-knowledge and restraint, which can be guided – but not too much! – by an older and more established generation – tutors, composers, players, publishers, or whoever, whose responsibility is thus considerable.  Above all, it is crucial for a new generation not to 'jump the gun' and 'emerge' too soon.  This was also the problem with young composers in the 1960s and 70s, and is still true today, especially with young performers: those who become celebrities before their time can struggle later, unless they are truly precocious (some are) or can survive 'growing up in public' (as Benjamin Britten could: it was not until his Op. 8 , Our Hunting Fathers, that he could say, 'this is my Opus 1 all right!')  It is invidious to mention names of casualties, but they certainly exist.

There is, however, an important distinction to be drawn between
'publication' and early 'appearance in print', which can be productive as long as the appearance is relatively informal.  Indeed, it is a great help to any writer to understand the process of publication from an early stage: how to write concisely to a word-length, prepare discs, proof-read, understand publishers' problems with musical examples (analysts, beware!), and (most usefully) edit the work of others.  (And no author can forget that special blend of intimacy and remoteness that comes from seeing their work in print for the first time.)  The same too goes for composers: providing copy up to publication standard sharpens the sense of what and how to write, just as does copying or editing the score of some more established figure.

And this is where my 'moral' comes in.  In my view, the beginnings of this publication aimed a bit too high by presenting itself as a fully
professional journal, rather than as a fledgling postgraduate one: Musical Objects required too much work from an admittedly dedicated and gifted team, and (understandably) never made it beyond a single issue.  In order to turn some contributions into 'proper' articles, too much assistance was given by staff of the Department of Music at King's College London; and other pieces prompted such unexpected – and negative – 'professional'
response that, far from enhancing a contributor's research, they sounded its death-knell.

Much more realistic, then, was – and is – an enterprise such as the
reformed British Postgraduate Musicology, which in its very title
acknowledges that both community and enterprise are in statu nascendi.  Reports, reviews, bibliographical surveys and so forth are ideal for gaining experience of 'appearing in print', and certain kinds of essay can assemble useful knowledge, try out analytical presentation, or even condense masters' theses into perhaps their only preservable form.  Work-in-progress, on the other hand, strikes me as generally an ill-advised category for reasons I have already indicated (and in any case invites someone else in on your act before the 'first night': whoever we are, it is really difficult to unthink someone else's 'good idea'!)  I believe that in the handful of volumes produced so far, this publication has achieved about the right level: the editorial policy has been open but discriminating and the results generally pleasing.  (Indeed, as if to confound the 'cautionary' tone of this editorial, at least one contribution is of such excellence as to put its author right at the front of a field, even, so to speak, before the race has begun.)

It is a great honour for me to introduce this new 'issue' of BPM.  The
original iniative was the child of a lively research culture in London, and I was pleased to have been able to encourage and support it through the modest funds available at the time through the Institute of Advanced Musical Studies.  That the editorship and board has gone elsewhere, and will doubtless continue to migrate, is only to be expected: journals, too, must 'leave home'.  Whether BPM will remain British or open its doors wider, whether it will succeed in sticking to its postgraduate brief or become a forum for all, or whether it will continue to define the field of musicology broadly or fall prey to some fashionable ideology, remains to be seen.  But I, certainly, will follow its development with the keenest interest: and I am sure I shall not be alone.

London, February 2001


© Christopher Wintle, 2001 – visit


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