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Beyond centre and periphery

October 17, 2011

New book examines the place of place in art music today

By Caitlyn Spencer

In 2008 the university hosted a conference on two eminent Hungarian composers, István Anhalt and György Kurtág. The conference attracted scholars from around the world, who presented papers in English and French. This fall, a book containing articles from the conference, as well as new contributions, is being released.

“When discussing art music, we traditionally speak of German or French music, or the music of Paris,” says music professor Friedemann Sallis, one of the book’s three editors. “We situate it geographically, and through that we assign value judgments, identifying centres of importance. Traditionally, these centres were major cities in France, Germany, and Italy. Everything else was peripheral.”

The 20th century’s massive spike in immigration, however, changed that. “The old categories, even within Europe, have become obsolete,” Sallis explains. “Most people would still think that there’s French music, or American music, or Canadian music. But people need passports, not music. We live in a time in which the population is constantly moving, acquiring information from all over the world.”

Centre and Periphery, Roots and Exile explores these themes of place and displacement, using Anhalt, Kurtág, and Sándor Veress as foci for discussion. All three composers were born in Hungary, but while Kurtag remained in Budapest for most of his life, Anhalt emigrated to Canada, and Veress to Switzerland.

“They began in a peripheral place, and moved to other points of periphery,” Sallis says. “Both Anhalt and Veress left and had prestigious, important careers as composers, scholars, professors, and administrators. But you can’t change your musical education as easily as you can a passport. They both have something of Hungary in them. So do we call this music Hungarian? Hungaro-Swiss? Swiss? Hungaro-Canadian? Canadian? The book doesn’t exhaust those issues; it opens them up.”

Besides Sallis’s contributions, music professor Kenneth DeLong, and the University of Toronto’s Robin Elliott, also served as editors. The book features contributions from nearly 20 scholars, including chapters from Veress’s son and Kurtág’s godson. “It’s a culturally heterogeneous book,” Sallis says. “The contributors are presenting positions on aspects of this music from many cultural perspectives.”

On October 21 at 4:30pm in Craigie Hall F210, Friedemann Sallis and Kenneth DeLong will be present for a celebration of the release of Centre and Periphery. Light snacks and refreshments will be provided. Centre and Periphery, Roots and Exile is available for purchase here.