Music and the Middlebrow

The Nineteenth Century

Thursday, 14:00, Paper Session A

Chaired by Jonathan Hicks (Newcastle University)

Aesthetic Education and Beethoven’s Middlebrow Sublime
Nicholas Mathew (University of California, Berkeley)

∨ abstract

This paper traces the political paradoxes of the twentieth-century musical middlebrow to post-revolutionary projects of aesthetic education. Early nineteenth-century Schillerian theories of “culture power” — that is, the non-coercive, consensual molding of rational subjects through art — may have assumed high/low aesthetic and social hierarchies, but they were oriented primarily toward a notional “middle”. Theories of aesthetic education obviously shared the middlebrow preoccupation with aspiration and posited art as a vehicle of elevation. But, more than this, the Schillerian model positioned art itself in a middle space between the brute sensuality of our animal nature and the bloodless austerity of rational law. If art elevates us, then it does so via the characteristically middlebrow gesture of stooping to our level, of meeting us on our own debased ground. The risk of such a delicately poised “middle” art, then — as many early nineteenth-century aestheticians, including Schiller himself, warned — was that the politically desirable movement from low to high might happen in reverse, polluting art’s elevated vision of rational freedom with its irrational thrills and sensuous stimulations.

This paper focuses on this potentially unsettling oscillation within one of the highest-status aesthetic categories of the period: the sublime. After all, the early nineteenth-century sublime was founded on the paradox of art’s making sensible of otherwise super-sensible immensities, and, as contemporary commentators had long observed, it was thus uncomfortably close to registers such as the absurd, the nonsensical, the bombastic, and the turgid. With reference to several works by Beethoven composed during the last years of the Napoleonic Wars, when his music was pressed most clearly and self-consciously into the fraught projects of Viennese community-building and citizen formation, this paper sketches an archaeology of the musical middlebrow that seeks to explain the continuing prominence of the grand and the awe-inspiring in the middlebrow musical cultures of the twentieth century.

Beethoven or Bust: Materiality, the Middlebrow, and Canon-Building in Late Nineteenth-Century Germany and Austria
Abigail Fine (University of Chicago)

∨ abstract

The moral duty to uplift the masses through high art — defined as the “middlebrow” by educational programs in Britain and America — has a rich history in nineteenth-century Germany and Austria. In the wake of the Austro-Prussian War, German-Austrian frictions led to a competition for ownership of highbrow culture, which compelled institutions (like municipal governments and music societies) to claim composers materially through monuments, museums, street names, and bust-lined concert halls.

Yet in scholarship on German canon-building projects, such as the recent edited volume Der Kanon der Musik, this bird’s eye view can overshadow the ground-level activities of middle-class music lovers. The air of competition that shaped policies at the institutional level encouraged similar frictions between middle-class strata: while Bildung (self-cultivation) might seem egalitarian in theory, it was highly competitive in practice, with a musically educated public that disdained the petit bourgeoisie. Just as institutions made the canon material, middle-class fans likewise asserted their membership in a cultural elite through vitrines, albums, and so-called relics of composers — Beethoven chief among them. Tugged posthumously between his native Germany and chosen Austria, Beethoven set the tone for cultural competition; thus middle-class listeners increasingly came to possess mementos of Beethoven’s face, body and, of course, his music.

This paper examines the intersection between institutions and individuals as they claimed material ownership of Beethoven, arguing that the case of Beethoven reveals how the “middlebrow” functioned on the ground as a self-conscious performance of highbrow aspirations. I focus on three points of intersection: 1) claiming Beethoven’s face through his busts and life-mask, fashionable ornaments for the bourgeois home; 2) claiming his body through the circulation of relics, such as hair locks, from private to public ownership; and 3) claiming his music through texted parlor-song arrangements of his instrumental works. I argue that the middlebrow can be understood as the grassroots formation of the canon from the bottom up, with highbrow repertories solidified by a middle class that competed for material ownership of high art.

The Musical Middlebrow at the 1885 Exhibition of Inventions
Sarah Kirby (University of Melbourne)

∨ abstract

The International Exhibition of Inventions and Music, held in London in 1885, was lauded as “the largest and most important [Exhibition] ever held” in relation to music. While the Exhibition’s official aims were to educate the public and illustrate progress and modernity in industry, in the Music Division, organizers also looked backwards to the history of the discipline. Immediately, ideological tensions arose through this separation: displays of new musical inventions, representing progress and “the new” were exhibited independently from “historical” instruments and manuscripts displayed to emphasize their artistic and cultural value. This dichotomy was also reflected in recitals of and lectures on “ancient” music held well apart from popular organ, instrumental, and brass band concerts. While instrument makers and organizers used populist programming and the attraction of new musical technologies in the hope of enticing a paying audience, the musical press expected the event would broaden access to high art, “without the slightest concession to that vulgarity of taste which is supposed to reign supreme among the masses”.

In this paper I argue that the reception of the musical “middlebrow” — that is, an institutional movement to broaden access to elite culture, and cultural products that blur the boundaries between high art and mass culture — within the Exhibition reflects a wider late-Victorian response to the challenges modernity and progress placed on the social class system. I do this by exploring the intersections between technology, popular culture, commerce and class present in the Music Division of this Exhibition. The elite musical press claimed to support the dissemination of high art to the masses. Yet they were, paradoxically, disparaging of new instrumental technologies (often involving mechanical simplification which created accessibility and effectively democratized both musical performance and appreciation) and the daily and widely appreciated popular concerts, where potpourri, medley, and fantasia arrangements of works of musical high-art were heard. Instead they reserved their enthusiasm for recitals of “ancient music”, which necessitated highly specialized performers and educated audiences. I argue, therefore, that the critical rejection of the musical middlebrow at the Exhibition in favor of an increasingly esoteric “historical” music was, ultimately, a broader rejection of the democratizing forces of modernity.

Composing the Middlebrow

Thursday, 14:00, Paper Session B

Chaired by John Covach (University of Rochester)

Reaching for the Middlebrow: The Electric Light Orchestra at Wembley, 1978
Matthew R. Baumer (Indiana University of Pennsylvania)

∨ abstract

In most accounts, the middlebrow in music is defined by art music composers with highbrow aspirations who “miss” the mark by conceding to conventional tastes. Rock music has lowbrow origins, but by the 1970s a highbrow/lowbrow discourse had emerged as prog and art rock groups aimed at highbrow targets. Rock critics have generally adopted the modernist disdain for the middlebrow articulated by Virginia Woolf and others, lavishing praise on the lowbrow; meanwhile, musicologists have often gravitated towards prog rock. Left in the cold are a number of groups that were once both popular and aspirational, including Styx, Rush, the later iterations of Yes and Genesis, and the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO). Formed in 1969 by Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne, ELO began with prog rock intentions but soon recalibrated as a middlebrow synthesis of early rock (doo-wop, Chuck Berry) and mainstream classical (Beethoven, opera). Combining rock and classical with such middle-class favorites as flashy technology, virtuosity, and commercialism, ELO successfully updated middlebrow popular music for the 1970s.

ELO reached its apogee in 1978 with a world tour promoting its new double album, Out of the Blue. With a massive flying-saucer stage and laser light show, the tour capitalized on post-Star Wars enthusiasm for science fiction and projected the monumentality of a large orchestra. The opening concert at Wembley on June 2 was perhaps the apotheosis of middlebrow ‘70s’ rock. Introduced by Tony Curtis, presided over by the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, and filmed for TV broadcast, the concert was also a benefit for the Invalid Children’s Aid Association – all of which burnished its middle-class, middlebrow status. By taking a closer look at this concert and ELO’s music of this era, we can better understand the pleasures of middlebrow rock and how they subtly shaped and responded to the cultural hierarchies of the day.

1970s Soft Rock, Baroque Pop, and “Prog-Lite”; Or, What Does Middle-of-the-road Popular Music Sound Like?
Nick Braae (Waikato Institute of Technology)

∨ abstract

In popular music discourse, the phrase “middle-of-the-road” (MOR) often refers to a particular aesthetic encompassing both social and stylistic features — music that appeals to a conservative and older audience; that may be considered “easy listening”; that exhibits a “clean” production style; or, in a more pejorative sense, that avoids innovation and experimentation.

This paper addresses some style elements of MOR, with respect to 1970s’ artists who are associated with its various namesakes (e.g. soft rock, “prog lite”, etc.) — Queen, Billy Joel, Elton John, Eric Carmen, and ABBA. My focus is the musical strategies by which these artists pitched themselves in “the middle”, with the corollary of questioning where and what “the middle” is in this context. These artists provide fertile ground for such enquiries given the varying degrees of classical training in their upbringings: from the outset, then, there is an inherent dynamic between “low” (i.e. popular) and “high” (i.e. classical) culture in their music.

Several “learned” traits recur in songs by these artists (Everett 2000): the appropriation of classical figuration, the use of melodic sequences, and a rich harmonic vocabulary within a tonal framework. Furthermore, the artists frequently expand the formal scope of songs through the presence of multiple and/or non-repeating sections. Crucially, however, they remain tied to pop song foundations both formally (in terms of regular phrasing) and texturally (in terms of instrumentation; Moore 2012). There is a balance between what we might regard as “crafted” and “artistic” musical elements, to draw on Covach (2005). The “middle” exists thus as the meeting point between simplicity and complexity. More importantly, vis-à-vis Holm- Hudson’s “prog-lite” tag (Holm-Hudson 2005) and the understanding of middlebrow in a classical music context, I would argue that the “middle-of-the-road” is a space approached from below, as it were, with these artists seeking to elevate the pop song form towards something more adventurous, rather than retreating from the world of modernism.

Jazz as Middlebrow Music
Catherine Tackley (University of Liverpool)

∨ abstract

The ways in which jazz has been studied, and the purposes to which it has been put by the cultural establishment, have often privileged its autonomous high-art status over its popular reflexivity. In order to understand the potential and limits of jazz it is necessary to understand its relevance, or otherwise, outside the confines of the jazz scene and its specific community of musicians, fans and critics. In this paper I argue that jazz, rather than being at the cutting edge of musical development, can be readily positioned in the “middle of the road”; and rather than reflecting identities in a sophisticated way, can provide music which commonly understood globally.

This paper focuses on the introduction of jazz to Britain from around the end of the First World War. While scholars have tended to focus on manifestations of the genre that demonstrate the flourishing of jazz in the country at this time, and in particular to look for indications of a “British jazz”, the broader influences of jazz on multiple aspects of cultural and social life can often be overlooked. Maintaining a primary focus on music, this paper will consider on the one hand, the reception and impact of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on British understanding and appreciation (or otherwise) of jazz; and on the other hand the integration of jazz within a burgeoning dance music scene – a musical mainstream which has persisted into the present.

Origins and Pre-Histories

Thursday, 16:00, Plenary

Chaired by Roger Parker (King’s College London)

Which Way is Up?

Thursday, 17:30, Keynote

Chaired by Christopher Chowrimootoo (University of Notre Dame)

Which Way is Up?
Richard Taruskin (University of California, Berkeley)

Elevating Popular Music

Friday, 09:00, Paper Session A

Chaired by Phil Ford (Indiana University Bloomington)

Burt Bacharach’s Middlebrow Middle-Eight: A Sentimental Waltz in “A House is not a Home”
Stephen Downes (Royal Holloway, University of London)

∨ abstract

One way to negotiate the contested terrain of the musical middlebrow is to explore stylistic and cultural transformations of a specific genre. This paper tracks the shifting presence of the “sentimental waltz”, offering a reading of Bacharach/David’s “A House is not a Home”. Bacharach, a classically trained composer (he studied with Milhaud) and serial hit-maker, has a notably ambiguous reputation. His music, while often identified as “easy listening”, was considered difficult by many performers (famously so by Sinatra). It combines sophistication with the directly emotive; but its “madeness” or constructiveness and its bittersweet beauty lead to suspicions of empty artifice or bad taste – characteristics often associated with the sentimental.

Jacques Barzun argued that “sentimentality is feeling that shuts out action, real or potential”: it is “self-centred and a species of make-believe”. The song’s lyric describes a typical sentimental confluence of domesticity and amorous loss. In the middle eight the sentimentalism is intensified as the song moves from objects of the home/house to the subject’s inner vision of the lost beloved, into “make-believe”. Here the music shifts from previously straightforward quadruple time into an unstable, dissonant, slow waltz. By contrast with the whirling waltz of the dance hall, which brings the couple together in circling motion, the slow sentimental waltz can express suffering felt at separation through yearning and unfulfilled teleology.

As listeners we are thus drawn to sentimental identification with the song’s suffering figure. Bacharach’s training and technique is fully on show. A likely inspiration is Ravel, the sentimental waltzes of Daphnis et Chloé, one of Bacharach’s favourite pieces, and L’enfant et les sortilèges, evocations of a popular idiom which, in turn, express failed union and the sympathetic response of pity at the painful loss of domestic comforts. Thus the sentimental waltz moves as “low” genre into “high” art (Ravel) and then returns, with “high art” complexities, to commercial music (Bacharach), shifting across the ambiguous terrain of the middlebrow.

Rock Music, the Hippie Aesthetic, and the Middlebrow Impulse
John Covach (University of Rochester)

∨ abstract

While rock and pop music are typically thought of as relatively uncomplicated in musical terms — indeed, even celebrated for their simplicity and directness — there have been many attempts across rock/pop history to make this music more “serious”. There is almost no era in rock/pop’s six-decade history that does not include some element of musical aspiration or “self-improvement”. Beginning in small ways with the wordplay of Chuck Berry and the classical inflections in the songwriting and production of Leiber and Stoller in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and continuing through Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to Tales from Topographic Oceans, And Justice For All, OK Computer, and beyond, figures within rock and pop have sought to elevate this music from its lowbrow and blatantly commercial position to something more highbrow, sophisticated, respectable, professional, and artistic — and sometimes, ironically, with marked commercial success.

This paper explores why rock and pop musicians might have been eager to “improve” the aesthetic and cultural status of their work. Building on Joan Rubin’s writing (including the secondary literature and middlebrow culture it surveys), as well as on my own and others’ work, I will argue that the “hippie aesthetic” is driven by a “middlebrow impulse” — an earnest desire to produce music that is “better” than the music around it. “Better” is most often determined by highbrow values, though it is probably not useful to think of the resulting music as middlebrow music per se. Emphasizing an American context, I will investigate how the attitudes of these musicians, as well as those of their fans, were formed by the same middlebrow culture Rubin explicates. I will illustrate my points by drawing examples from across the history of rock music.

The Easy Listening Era: Hearing Maturity and the Middlebrow in Vera Lynn’s Postwar Radio Work
Christina Baade (McMaster University)

∨ abstract

Popular music studies, with its roots in rock criticism and cultural studies, is often confounded by music that is mainstream and respectable. In contrast to the many rich accounts of rock ”n” roll and rock, fewer scholars have addressed the postwar popular mainstream. One exception is Keir Keightley (2008) who, classifying Mantovani, Frank Sinatra, Broadway cast albums, and Ella Fitzgerald”s songbook albums together as “easy listening”, makes the case for regarding 1946 to 1966 as “the Easy Listening Era” by excavating the term in the contexts of U.S. commercial radio, mainstream LPs, and Billboard’s early 1960s adult singles charts. For Keightley, the Easy Listening Era bound musical aesthetics, industrial imperatives, and the celebration of adultness together with the growing hegemony of an affluent postwar middle class — and middlebrow culture. He argues that, rather than popularizing highbrow culture, “the true innovation of postwar middlebrow culture” was its “often-paradoxical… elevation of the popular to respectability”.

In this paper, I will examine Keightley’s provocative “elevation” argument, as well as his linkage of middlebrow culture with postwar middle class affluence by a) inflecting it with considerations of race and gender, and b) turning to the British context, where Austerity policies delayed middle class affluence, and the BBC’s public service imperatives gave radio in Britain a very different shape than it took in the United States. Did the “Easy Listening Era” extend to Britain, and, if so, how did it differ? To explore these questions, I will focus upon Vera Lynn, one of the few British singers who was regarded at the time as “bankable” in the U.S. adult-oriented record market. While I have argued elsewhere that her late 1950s television show animated elements of domesticity, respectable femininity, and middlebrow aspirationalism, I will turn in this paper to Lynn’s radio work for the BBC Light Programme, which spanned Keightley’s Easy Listening Era. Using BBC archival documents, sound recordings, and contemporary press coverage, I will explore how Lynn’s repertory and performance style developed in relation to middlebrow aesthetics and political economic formations during the Easy Listening Era. Ultimately, I will argue that “the middlebrow” is a useful concept for understanding the postwar popular mainstream.

Amateurs and Professionals

Friday, 09:00, Paper Session B

Chaired by Eric Saylor (Drake University)

The Middlebrow Dynamics of the Georgian Glee
Bethany Cencer (Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam)

∨ abstract

The glee reached the height of its popularity during the 1780s and 90s in London, primarily due to its marketing to amateur musicians, especially women. A few decades prior, however, this genre was generally associated with professional composers and aristocratic associations. Elite all-male vocal clubs such as the Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Catch Club, which counted among its members prestigious composers such as Thomas Arne, Benjamin Cooke, and Samuel Webbe as well as wealthy gentlemen including the Earl of Sandwich and the Prince of Wales (later George IV), had been responsible for the genre’s revival as a worthy successor to the partsongs of Tallis, Morley, and Purcell. As vocal clubs sought the cultural elevation of the glee, they also took advantage of London’s burgeoning music market to broaden the genre’s potential consumer base.

This paper examines how the twin pulls of aristocratic legitimacy and consumerism shaped the composition and reception of the glee. Compositional and performance practices associated with the glee were transformed to make it more approachable. For example, periodicals such as the popular Amusement for the Ladies (1780s-‘90s) assisted in the transition to standardized cleffing, in which all vocal parts except the bass were notated in treble clef. This in turn allowed for more flexibility in voice types. Another key development was the addition of piano accompaniment parts to what was initially an a capella genre. Well-known composers of glees such as Callcott published reharmonizations of earlier glees, simplified for amateur singers. These techniques brought greater cultural visibility to the glee among contemporary audiences and writers; but nineteenth-century critics argued that the genre’s supposed amateurization caused a decline in its artistic quality. Through this discussion, I illuminate the Georgian antecedents of the dynamics of class and cultural hierarchy underpinning twentieth-century middlebrow culture.

Music the Other Side of the River: Concerts in South London During the Edwardian Period
Simon McVeigh (Goldsmiths, University of London)

∨ abstract

The socially diverse communities of South London in the early years of the twentieth century nurtured a wide range of musical activities that have been comparatively little studied, beyond the Crystal Palace and the “high-art” chamber music societies revealed by Alan Bartley. Some of these activities reflect institutionalized political and social agendas — the socialist municipal concerts in Battersea, the National Sunday League concerts (“brightening the lives of the People on Sunday”), the London County Council’s band concerts in the parks. But from Brixton to Blackheath there were many much less formal types of professional and amateur music-making, ranging across orchestral societies, smoking concerts, temperance organizations, railway workers’ meetings and so on, as well as early gramophone clubs.

The repertoire at these events naturally intersects with what was to be heard at the West End concert halls — including the deliberately “accessible” commercial Sunday programs at Queen’s Hall and the Royal Albert Hall, as well as the Promenade Concerts. But the quotidian nature of South London programming gives an insight into a much less publicly visible culture, one that spans a range of social classes and environments, yet nevertheless shows a certain coherence that may reasonably be examined both socially and aesthetically through the middlebrow lens.

Modernism and the Ideology of the Amateur
Sarah Collins (Durham University)

∨ abstract

Skepticism towards professionalization during the inter-war period in Britain has often been most strongly associated in the popular imagination with athletics and sportsmanship. The history of amateurism in sport — its development in English public schools, its display internationally via the Olympic movement, its expression during and after the War, and its gradual decline in the second half of the twentieth century — has been closely traced, lending insight into a complex ideology that has drawn from both gentlemanly notions of honor, middle-class models of competition and communal participation, and ideas about national temperament. Running parallel to this history, the valorization of the amateur has also been a vehicle of aestheticism, given its emphasis on pursing particular forms of activity for their own sake — particularly those that aspire to forms of bodily fitness that conform to its Hellenic ideals. And there is of course a long tradition of cultural philanthropy premised upon the value of amateur craftsmanship for the purpose of self-cultivation.

The role of the amateur in modernism, however, has received less attention, despite what is often seen as the modernist championing of the aesthetics of autonomy (namely, itself a form of aestheticism), the modernist ambivalence towards consumerism, and the pervasiveness of the romantic notion of the heroic autodidact that still pervades narratives associated with canonical modernists. Although the elitist implications of the modernist aesthetic have recently been undermined, the supposedly inaccessible character of some modernist music still makes it difficult to reconcile the modernist aesthetic with the values of amateurism — values that might otherwise be a ready association for modernism, given its underlying ideology. This paper will investigate instances of explicit appeals to the ideology of amateurism in writings about music in Britain as they relate to musical modernism, and begin to chart the contours and tensions within these discussions.

Popularizing High Art

Friday, 11:00, Paper Session A

Chaired by Sarah Collins (Durham University)

Faking the Piano Concerto in 1940s Britain
Heather Wiebe (King’s College London)

∨ abstract

One of the most polarizing developments in 1940s’ British concert culture was the sudden popularity of Richard Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto, written for the 1941 film Dangerous Moonlight. Its success was closely connected with a broader expansion of audiences for orchestral music during the Second World War and with the newly frenetic activity of orchestras struggling to survive. For a number of critics, it was emblematic of the middlebrow, understood as the commercial underside of a democratized high culture. This talk explores these critical anxieties by way of the Warsaw Concerto’s association with Eileen Joyce, a pianist who bridged film and concert hall, and who represented a form of democratization that differed subtly from that of the more revered Myra Hess, while modeling colonial and class aspiration in ways that proved both appealing and threatening.

The Critical Response to Profitable Concerts: Arthur Fielder and the Boston Pops Orchestra, 1930 – 1950
Ayden Adler (DePauw University)

∨ abstract

During the 1930s and 40s, when Arthur Fiedler conducted Pops concerts, and Serge Koussevitzky conducted the winter subscription series, the Boston Symphony Orchestra grappled with cultural tensions that existed between elitist emphases on refinement and good taste, impulses towards the democratization of culture, and contemporary forces of consumerism. Reporting for the New York Times in 1945, William M. Blair declared that under Fiedler’s direction, “The ‘Pops’ meet the conflict between the ‘jazz hounds’ and the highbrows... . The stranger may be startled to come across the wine and beer list next to a résumé of Brahms’ ‘Academic Festival’ Overture in the program, but Bostonians feel he’ll enjoy both.”

Although some critics praised Fiedler’s Pops concerts for their artistic virtues, to the distaste of others, including Koussevitzky, these lighthearted performances in the august Symphony Hall appealed to large swaths of Boston’s population and made considerable money. Similarly, while many lauded Fiedler’s use of radio, recordings, and, later, television, as a tool to democratize classical music and to educate people intimidated by the orchestral repertory, others denounced his willingness to capitalize on consumerism and transform the Boston Pops into a brand name capable of generating significant profits for the BSO — and for himself.

My research, based upon extensive primary materials at the Boston Public Library, Boston University, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, suggests that while the BSO’s management and conductors may have originally conceived the idea of Pops concerts as a strategy to build a year-round orchestra of relatively stable personnel, by the mid-1930s the institution began promoting the Pops as a separate “brand” in order to deflect any perceived taint of commercialism, ethnic miscegenation, or popular culture from infringing on the artistic “purity” of the winter concerts. This paper explores how Fiedler negotiated the cultural space between “art” and “entertainment” and turned symphonic music into big business.

Cosmopolitanism, Symphony Orchestra, and the Musical Middlebrow in Inter-war Shanghai
Hon-Lun Yang (Hong Kong Baptist University)

∨ abstract

When “middlebrow” first appeared in Britain in the 1920s, the word was non-existent in cosmopolitan Shanghai, even though the semi-colonial city in China boasted the publication of at least seven foreign-language newspapers, including several English ones. Interestingly, the emergence of the “middlebrow” as the BBC claimed to have discovered in 1925 in Punch was not a unique English phenomenon. Shanghai also found a “middlebrow” public of international origins in the 1920s. Such a public, as described in contemporary newspaper articles, had a very limited interest in music of serious intent, and such a public was often drawn to concerts only because of the programming of famed soloists.

This paper examines the Shanghai middlebrow public’s interaction with the city’s orchestra, the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra, the first Western orchestra in China, a highbrow symbol, which unfortunately was supported by the rates of the middlebrow. Looking into the orchestra’s archival records, this paper traces the negotiation between the two over a span of more than two decades, when the institution was under the baton of the Italian maestro Mario Paci — from 1919 to 1942. It shows how the orchestra aspired to educate the middlebrow public on the one hand, but had to adapt to its tastes on the other. The orchestra’s annual summer concerts, I argue, were a case in point of the triumph of middlebrow culture — what Guillory described as “the ambivalent mediation of high culture within the field of the mass cultural” (“The Ordeal of Middlebrow Culture: Review of The Western Canon by Harold Bloom”, Transition, 67/1995: 82-92, 87). Such concerts illustrate the thin line between musical highbrow and middlebrow, even with regard to an institution such as the symphony orchestra and its repertoire.

Weimar Germany

Friday, 11:00, Paper Session B

Chaired by Peter Franklin (University of Oxford)

Kabarett in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck
Amanda Hsieh (University of Toronto)

∨ abstract

The tavern scene of Act II, scene 4 in Berg’s Wozzeck is remarkable in the way that it evokes the popular entertainment form of the Kabarett and resists the high modernist label that has been attached to this opera. Indeed, the arrangement of a small onstage band accompanying a sequence of “numbers” from Andres, the First Apprentice, and the Fool makes its musical-dramatic design follow the usual format of a Kabarett performance. The content of these numbers also centers on social criticism — a subject matter that the German Kabarett, different from its generally light-hearted French counterpart, emphasized (Jelavich, 1993). For instance, following the already more intimate sonic effect created by Andres on guitar, the First Apprentice in his “Melodram” laments about unnecessary power, greed, and suffering, echoing Wozzeck’s “Wir arme Leut”.

Furthermore, in addition to the opera’s commercial success (despite its mixed critical reception), it tends towards the “middlebrow” not simply through the tavern scene’s instrumental arrangement but its vocal performance. The tavern scene is the first and only instance where all the roles assigned with the Sprechgesang voice are placed in the same place. Crucially, rather than “Schoenberg’s” innovation, this vocal style can be contextualized in a much more expansive vocal performance history that had traction in venues that included the homes, salons, theatres, and opera houses (Kravitt, 1996; Meyer-Kalkus, 2001; Knust, 2015). For these Sprechgesang characters who share Wozzeck’s low-ranking status, their vocal style — more than signaling a “broken” voice that results from their disturbed psychology — seems to indicate their solidarity, and which they express in a decidedly not highbrow but Kabarett-like space of a tavern. I thus argue that in Berg’s experimentation of the modern German opera, his Wozzeck enters a “middlebrow” realm through the way in which it engages with the popular or even the populist.

Weimar Kitsch: Franz Lehár’s Goethe Operetta
Micaela Baranello (Smith College)

∨ abstract

In 1928, Franz Lehár, the king of operetta, announced a new work, Friederike, to premiere in Berlin. His recent collaborator, tenor Richard Tauber, would play a young Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Public reaction ranged from disbelief to outright mockery. But a Goethe operetta was a logical continuation of Lehár’s publicly stated ambition to raise the status of operetta to a high art form, as he detailed in numerous press interviews and essays. Friederike’s eighteenth-century setting, use of Goethe poems as song texts, and Lehár’s vaguely Schubertian score positioned the operetta as Germanic artistry. It was, most importantly, defined negatively, against the dazzle associated with its commercial theatrical setting and the cultural Otherness of Lehár’s Slovakian ancestry. Former opera star Tauber lent the project additional credibility, his vocal refinement connoting a kind of artistic restraint usually anathema to operetta.

The result, a self-consciously modest tale of the young Goethe’s brief romance with Friederike Brion, is a quintessentially middlebrow work. It was also part of a marketing strategy that recalibrated the appeal of Lehár’s compositional style in a period of rapid change. In the late 1920s, operetta faced competition from film, jazz and the Schlager. Some of Lehár’s operetta colleagues, such as Paul Ábrahám, changed with the times; but Lehár argued that the style that he himself had pioneered decades earlier had assumed classic status. In their newly antiquated way, consciously juxtaposed with the jazz operetta and revue, Lehár and librettists Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Löhner proclaimed their aspiration to the pantheon of high culture. In Friederike, they created an easily digestible soufflé with a veneer of historical and artistic seriousness, a perfect vehicle to sell conservative popular culture to the middle class.

Walter Goehr’s Malpopita: Germany’s First Radio Opera
Katy Vaughan (Bournemouth University)

∨ abstract

On 29 April 1931, Erich Kleibe conducted Walter Goehr’s Malpopita, which was transmitted from Berlin. This opera was written purely for radio performance and to be consumed by listeners at home. The libretto, written by Seitz and Mendelssohn, unfolds after the protagonist, Adam Schickedanz, decides he has had enough of factory life and goes in search of the tropical island of Malpopita. The work’s leftist stance criticized modern capitalism and its insistence on ruining utopian ideals.

Goehr worked in the German broadcasting system until 1932, collaborating with figures such as Kurt Weill and Alfred Döblin. His knowledge of how to compose for the medium of radio is certainly apparent in his compositional style. His use of Sprechstimme and manipulation of the voices to create sound effects shows his awareness of the technology and his technical ability. The opera is a musical montage reflecting a broad range of broadcasted musical genres. It draws upon many compositional styles from historical and contemporary composers. There are allusions to folk songs, sea shanties, jazz, mechanical music, chorales and romanticism. Yet its modernist techniques adapt both to the technology and the middlebrow audience it served. Since the target audience of early German radio was the middlebrow, this radio opera had to fulfill certain criteria. It had to be able to engage with the middlebrow masses and fall in line with the German radio rhetoric: to educate the nation. This paper will examine this experimental piece, considering the audience, its musical construction for radio and Weimar musicological discourses on opera, radio and mass culture.

Cultural Geographies — The Middlebrow Beyond Britain and America

Friday, 13:30, Plenary

Chaired by Heather Wiebe (King’s College London)

∨ abstract

“Boundaries […] always presuppose a space that is found outside a certain fixed location, and that encloses that location; limits require nothing of the kind, but are mere negations.”

— Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics

In the conclusion to his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Kant distinguishes between limits and boundaries. The former are fixed and inward-looking: ends in themselves that preclude any dialogue with what might lie beyond them. The latter are provisional and more concerned with the process of inquiry: they point both outward and inward, speaking as much to what falls beyond their remit as to the objects that they demarcate. While Kant’s interest in the relation between reason and metaphysics does not concern us here, the distinction is useful for explaining the type of discussion we hope to foster — one that is not just oriented towards defining the middlebrow, but also towards what this process reveals about other forms of musical culture.

For the most part, scholarship on the middlebrow has limited itself to a specific geographical and historical context, namely Britain and America from the 1920s, when the term entered the vernacular, to the 1960s, when it is said to have declined. By moving beyond these limits, we want to consider the middlebrow’s boundaries in the Kantian sense. Each panel takes as its starting point a question about the middlebrow — when it came into existence (Origins and Pre-Histories), where it was located (Cultural Geographies), and the cultural forms it took (Middlebrow Musicology). Panelists will offer short case studies designed to open up discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of applying the term outside of its traditional contexts. This exercise will force us to think about how we define the middlebrow and its place within cultural modernity.

Politics of the Middlebrow

Friday, 15:30, Paper Session A

Chaired by Ceri Owen (University of Cambridge)

The Politics of Popularity: The Federal Theater Project and the Rise of Middlebrow
James O’Leary (Oberlin College)

∨ abstract

Recent scholars have described the “middlebrow” as broadening access to elite culture (Radway, Rubin, et al.). However, there was an equally pervasive, opposing dynamic that critics of the 1940s also labeled middlebrow: one that elevated the lowbrow by applying abstract formal language and techniques to it. I argue that in the United States the latter dynamic served to distance music and theater from a political aesthetic that had become popular during the late 1930s.

I begin by outlining the roots of the middlebrow, which lay in two groups of critics and artists who were active in New York between 1910 and 1935. First were the Young Americans, including Paul Rosenfeld and Van Wyck Brooks, who promoted socialism through an experimental style rooted in folk art (Grieve). Second were communist émigrés and their colleagues in the Composers Collective, including Hans Eisler and Earl Robinson, who mixed avant-garde techniques with popular music to oppose “bourgeois” culture (Crist, Oja). Both groups joined together in Roosevelt’s Federal Theatre Project. I demonstrate the salient features of their aesthetic, which Charles Seeger described as defamiliarizing Broadway idioms using vanguard technique, by analyzing the Project’s Living Newspapers, produced around the country between 1935 – 1938.

When Congress began attacking the Project’s shows as Communist propaganda in 1938, many critics and artists distanced themselves from both the organization and its style. One strategy was to apply the highbrow language of formal unity (“integration”) to emphatically popular music, purging it of any connotations of the Project’s politicized, mixed style (Atkinson, Downes, Hammerstein). Many on the far left denigrated this new style as “middlebrow”, which pretended to be intellectually challenging, yet only bolstered the status quo (Bentley, Agee, Macdonald). However, I argue that, by recognizing the reactionary origins of the middlebrow style, this seemingly popular, apolitical music reveals itself to be an active, partisan intervention into heated cultural debates of the early Cold War era.

“A Slightly Pink Interpretation of History”: Ralph Vaughan Williams, E. M. Forster, and the Politics of the Pageant
Eric Saylor (Drake University)

∨ abstract

As a genre, the pageant — a series of dramatic scenes, often performed on an enormous scale, that combined elements of narration, spoken dialogue, pantomime, dance, and music — plays to middlebrow aesthetic values of accessibility and edification. The former quality is evinced by the strong emphasis on amateur participation (often numbering in the hundreds), and the latter by the political and/or allegorical messages that usually lay at the heart of the scenes presented to the massive audiences viewing and participating in the spectacle.

In 1934 and 1938, Ralph Vaughan Williams served as music director for two pageants, The Pageant of Abinger and England’s Pleasant Land, featuring scenarios written by E. M. Forster. Written to support the Abinger Church Preservation Fund and the Dorking and Leith Hill District Preservation Society, both works helped residents of rural Surrey participate in making art that reflected the history and values of their communities, while also endorsing environmental policies aimed at preserving the countryside.

While Forster and Vaughan Williams may have been acting out of a sense of noblesse oblige, the middlebrow aims of these pageants reflect a truly grassroots ethos of community engagement with politics and the arts, enabling amateurs to create their own art in conjunction with two of the leading lights in English musical and literary culture — who just happened to be their neighbors. Such efforts demonstrate that the pastoral landscape of rural England was not just a picturesque subject for artists, but a political one. Considering pastoralism in this left-leaning context not only challenges longstanding assumptions about its inherent conservatism, but also shows that its use in the service of progressive social and civic goals found sympathy among rural and suburban audiences and participants alike.

The “Man in the Street” and the Operatic Middlebrow in 1920s Britain
Alexandra Wilson (Oxford Brookes University)

∨ abstract

During the 1920s, a decade when steps were taken to implement a stricter codification of “high” and “low” culture, many attempts were made to categorize not only particular types of music but also particular types of listener. The archetype of the “man in the street” became simultaneously a much-derided and much-mythologized figure, and was posited as the opposite number of the also widely discussed “highbrow”. This paper will examine who the fabled “man in the street” really was and why he and his interests were of such concern to music commentators of the era. Specifically, it will consider his relationship with opera — both as experienced in live performance and via broadcasts, recordings and other forms of dissemination.

The musical tastes of the “man in the street” were eclectic — effectively middlebrow, even if the term was not always used explicitly — and included opera in small doses alongside an array of different genres. Opera itself was, however, difficult to pin down on the highbrow-lowbrow spectrum and cannot be discussed as a single homogeneous entity. The “man in the street” tended to favor particular types of opera and not usually the “right” types, according to the most aloof critics of the day. The extent to which contemporary commentators believed that such tastes ought to be improved will also be scrutinized. While some were disdainful of the “man in the street’s” tastes, others applauded him for his no-nonsense attitude and lack of pretension. Certain sectors of the music establishment took an earnest, benevolent attitude towards him, considering him to be a “project” ripe for cultivation, while others regarded such efforts as either pointless or patronizing. This paper forms part of a book-length study of opera’s place in the 1920s “battle of the brows”, and has resonances for discussions about accessibility and taste that continue to rumble on in the present day.

Religion and Spirituality

Friday, 15:30, Paper Session B

Chaired by Jeanice Brooks (University of Southampton)

On Sanctification of Secular Musics: A Middlebrow Mode of Listening?
Judah Matras (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel)

∨ abstract

Music scholars of varying persuasions have noted that musical performance has been “sacralized” or has taken on ritual characteristics. Some have noted that music, non-liturgical and non-“sacred” in origin or expressed intent, has frequently acquired characteristics of non-theistic religion. Such connections are cited variously by Adorno, Attali, Chanan, Horowitz, Leppert, Levine, Locke, McCormick, Mellers, Small, Taruskin, and Weber. But actual studies are few: How is this enacted? What are the means of sanctifying secular music? What are its origins? How do patrons, performers, listeners respond?

In this paper I show examples among post-Baroque composers who have i) introduced sanctifying idioms — “aura of sanctity” — into their musics; and ii) rendered their audiences “believers” of sorts. Using case-study procedures (Becker, 2014), I show a) their respective origins and identities; b) quasi-sacred facets of their musics; and c) features of their patrons, audiences, and reception. Sociologists such as DeNora, DiMaggio, Bourdieu, and Martin have typically viewed “sacralization” and “ritualization” in terms of social stratification and status attainment, a view commonly adopted by music historians as well. In his Oxford History of Western Music, Richard Taruskin repeatedly stresses the elite locus of Western art music as of “high art” generally, but describes also bourgeoisie (but cf. Lynes, 1949) patronage and takeover of instruction, concert life and public performance.

I consider the hypothesis that the “sacralization” of musical events and “sanctification” of secular music are factors in a “middlebrow mode of listening”: as cast by Guthrie (2016), “one that negotiates a balance between emotional and intellectual forms of musical engagement” (Chowrimootoo, 2011, pp. 214-6). I also develop the hypothesis that the sanctification of secular music is an example of artistic “seeking of the sacred” in the sense of French sociologist Émile Durkheim and students, and recently elaborated by cultural sociologists Sherwood, Alexander and Riley. I inquire, also, if “sanctification” is central to “alternative religion” examples analyzed by Eyerman and Jamison in their Music and Social Movements. The process illustrates the more general need for “sacred” motifs, expressions, hints in artistic, political, and intellectual works famously postulated by Durkheim and elaborated variously by Dworkin, Jones, Kearney, Riley, and others.

The Middlebrow in France: Poulenc and the Renouveau Catholique
Sara McClure (University of Missouri-Kansas City)

∨ abstract

During the first half of the twentieth century in France, the notion of what constituted highbrow art music changed dramatically: from music of Les Six — which Richard Taruskin characterizes as “apathetic frivolity” — to complex attempts to rid music of emotion (Boulez, Schaeffer) or to express the mysteries of Catholicism (Messiaen). As Jane Fulcher argues, however, Francis Poulenc”s music, like other French composers” works from the inter-war period, is better understood via exploration of ideologies rather than evolution (or, as some claim, a regression) of stylistic development. Similarly, Barbara Kelly points out that the humor often identified in Poulenc’s music has been used against him, as a way of marking its unimportance; but instead, these characteristics can be interpreted in other ways, even as resistance to a variety of establishments.

Poulenc said that he tried “to get across the atmosphere of peasant devotion that had struck me so forcibly” at Rocamadour in his first sacred work, Litanies à la Vierge noire (1936), in which he blended straightforward text-setting with often dissonant harmonies for women’s voices and organ. Poulenc continued to compose sacred music over the next twenty-five years; according to Christopher Moore, he used this genre as a way to remain relevant in an increasingly complicated highbrow musical culture. Later works like Stabat Mater (1950) and Gloria (1960) in particular demonstrate Poulenc’s blend of traditionally high religious texts with his neoclassical style with “low” popular music influences. This paper uses Poulenc’s sacred works to explore the interaction between religion, specifically the renouveau catholique movement, and music and the resulting development of his middlebrow aesthetic. I contend that because amateurs perform choral music more often than professionals, it is a natural conduit for discussing middlebrow aesthetics. Indeed, the Gloria was first sung by Chorus pro Musica, an amateur chorus associated with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. While the educational aspect of middlebrow has been emphasized, Poulenc steers a middle ground in a different way, and the results are worthy of exploration.

Music, the Middlebrow, and the Second Vatican Council
Joanna Bullivant (University of Oxford / King’s College London)

∨ abstract

Catholic liturgical music after the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965) is both the subject of a living, frequently divisive debate within Catholic culture and overlooked as an object of serious musicological enquiry. Catholic music for worship of the last 50 years not only sits uneasily with an Adornian metanarrative of musical modernity as the abandonment of theological certainties, but is aesthetically controversial, witnessing a wholesale shift towards popular, secular styles of music and full audience participation in the Mass. How to approach a body of music ranging from the adaption of the 1960s folk revival to the Mass texts by Ray Repp, to the setting of the Gloria to the theme tune from Eastenders, and whether such a task is worth embarking upon, are questions yet to be tackled by musicology.

This paper proposes that a productive starting-point lies in the idea of the middlebrow. The term is frequently invoked in debates over conservative and progressive impulses in music since Vatican II, often as a derogatory term for those in the latter category, yet its meaning in those contexts has not been fully interrogated. Moreover, recent writers on American religious culture have drawn attention to the importance of middlebrow culture in shaping a post-war national spirituality characterized by interfaith openness, social and cultural outreach, and the wholehearted embrace of the techniques of mass culture as a means to popularize and modernize Christianity (Hedstrom 2015; Douthat 2012). By exploring these two strands, this paper will suggest that the concept of the middlebrow presents new insights into debates over contemporary Catholic liturgical music, not only by contextualizing them within postwar social and cultural transformations, but in defining more precisely the mix of tradition and mass culture that has made this music so provocative.

Setting Music to Words

Friday, 17:30, Keynote

Chaired by Kate Guthrie

Setting Music to Words: Middlebrow Culture, Classical Performance, and the Universe of Print in Mid-twentieth-century America
Joan Rubin (University of Rochester)

Luxe Pop

Saturday, 09:00, Paper Session A

Chaired by Christina Baade (McMaster University)

Phil Ford (Indiana University Bloomington)

∨ abstract

Dwight Macdonald is typical among midcentury culture critics for framing the middlebrow as merely a degenerate copy of high culture. This paper, by contrast, considers middlebrow mood music a unique cultural form emerging from postwar consumer capitalism and marked by its listeners’ relationship to time. Mood listening is not the analytical hearing advocated in highbrow journals like Jazz Review but is rather one of dynamic stasis: the listener cultivates an appreciation of particular moments, points of dynamic interest projected out to broad spans of static and undifferentiated time. Such a temporal relationship is homologous to the leisured bachelor’s ideal relationship to the space of the lounge.

Postwar suburbia opened up new private spaces for leisure that allowed their inhabitants to imagine new and exotic subjectivities to match: Playboy magazine’s notion of the bachelor pad, for instance, imagines a private realm that tames and masters the modern world outside. The ideal dweller of the bachelor pad is the connoisseur in an age of electronic media, a record collector whose stockpiled experience turns the world into a Wunderkammer such as those that fascinated Walter Benjamin.

This way of encountering the world is complemented by a particular mode of listening, a temporal ideal whereby our ears inhabit the music in the same way our bodies inhabit our homes. Music becomes a series of interior textures that our ears grope their way through from moment to moment within a perceptual pocket that lasts about as long as it takes to show off its special features to our date. The ideal listening state is one of commanding repose: we are to imagine that we are like Nero at a banquet, delicacies piling up at our feet. This state, and the peculiar kind of music listening that inhabits it, is what we might call loungin’.

Phil Spector and the “Fabulous“ Ronettes: Early 1960s “Teenage Symphonies“ and the American Lower Middlebrow
John Howland (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

∨ abstract

This paper explores how mid-1950s’ lush, adult-pop production ideals reentered the early 1960s’ teen music market. 1950s’ rock ’n’ roll and R&B typically involved pared-down, “roots” instrumentation in contrast to the “luxe” orchestral aesthetics of mainstream, adult pop. However, beginning in the early 1960s, a conspicuous “teenage symphony” trend spread across the pop charts. Producer Phil Spector, the “tycoon of teen”, was at the forefront of this trend. By reworking melodramatic middlebrow pop production markers of class, sophistication, and urbanity for a new generation, this music sought to impart a broad commercial marketability on the supposedly rebellious, streetwise character of youthful rock ’n’ roll and R&B.

Spector’s “teenage symphony” recordings extended the territory of postwar, lower-middlebrow “sophisticated” entertainment, but his production practice also built upon the creative legacies of certain 1950s producers, and shifted pop production towards what Albin Zak describes as a new ideal that referenced a universe of other recorded music. What emerges in these recordings is a further democratization of traditional musical taste markers, and aspects of this music point towards what Louis Menand calls a later 1960s’ “culture of sophisticated entertainment that was neither avant-garde nor mass, that was popular but had a bit of a brow”. Here Menand points to the Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles, among other examples, where “the old [high-low] hierarchical schemes didn’t work very well” because they “ignored the distinction between art and commerce”. Such shifting brow discourse is central to this paper’s study of the 1963 Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, which represents the first full flowering of Spector’s “Wall of Sound” ideal. By examining the production process, artist marketing and image, and performance presentations of the “fabulous” Ronettes, this paper provides insights into the residual middlebrow ideals of this early 1960s’ “teenage symphony” sound, its image constructions, and its presentation modes.

Marvin Gaye at the Copa
Andrew Flory (Carleton College)

∨ abstract

Marvin Gaye was a multifaceted performer and recording artist, who is often remembered as a soul singer. This paper will discuss several June 1966 performances by Gaye that broaden our understanding of his musical interests and relationship with commercial music markets. At the time, Gaye was known best for singles like “Take This Heart of mine”, which he had recently performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. Singles like this were closely associated with Motown Records, a black-owned company known best for creating records that were popular among different demographic markets. Motown’s releases often “crossed between” the segregated pop and R&B wings of the music business in the United States, while simultaneously reaching audiences in several dozen countries all over the world. I will focus instead on another series of performances that month, in which Gaye opened at the well-known Copacabana nightclub. This weeklong run at the most elite supper club in the United States is evidence of Gaye’s concurrent interest in middle-of-the road (MOR) pop, a configuration that worked out of an older wing of the music business that produced song stylists like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Gaye’s interest in MOR reflects a strain of American black middlebrow during the 1960s, a social and economic movement that aligned closely with the much-theorized black middle class. Gaye’s mid-1966 performances at the Copa help to exemplify this in a number of ways. Their musical content, Gaye’s vocality and style of performance, and elements of sound, space, architecture, fashion and overall presentation greatly informed these performances, complicating our understanding of Gaye’s relationship with the pop, R&B, and MOR segments of the American music business.

Middlebrow Canons

Saturday, 09:00, Paper Session B

Chaired by Philip Rupprecht (Duke University)

Copland’s Canons
Christopher Chowrimootoo (University of Notre Dame)

∨ abstract

In this paper, I examine the relationship between Copland’s activities as an educator, composer and critic, not only to give a fuller picture of this iconic figure but also challenge traditional fault-lines between high, middle and low. A figure whose scholarship and biographies bear the marks of all three divisions, Copland provides an ideal lens through which to rethink them. While commentators recognize that his pedagogy and criticism fell squarely within the bounds of middlebrow culture, his compositions have been assigned to a separate domain: sorted reductively into “modernist” and “populist” works, as if to embody the Schoenbergian dictum that “the middle road is the only one that does not need to Rome”.

Focusing on Copland’s activities in the 1920s, my paper uncovers this middle road in musical composition, mediation and reception of the period. Drawing evidence from his music appreciation lectures, I theorize a pedagogy of “stylistic listening”. If modernism was said to resist mass culture’s “atomistic” mode, it was apparently more susceptible to this middlebrow counterpart. After detailing how Copland’s lectures incorporated the latest music into a stylistic canon, I propose hearing his compositions similarly: as neither modernist nor populist, but as a middlebrow compendium — even pedagogical checklist — of disparate “styles”. While scholars have cast the middlebrow as modernism’s antagonist, my paper tells an altogether different tale: by “reducing” modernism to a style, middlebrow culture helped to canonize it alongside a variety of older styles.

By examining Copland’s music in this context, I offer an alternative to the “two Coplands” thesis, while confounding cultural fault-lines more broadly. More importantly, I gesture towards what we might call a middlebrow methodology, poised — like the elusive category itself — between music’s social and aesthetic dimensions. This means challenging scholarly distinctions between the putatively “passive” act of cultural mediation, and the “creative” act of composition. For Copland’s middlebrow music functioned as both composition and pedagogy, and I will suggest something similar of interwar music appreciation: far from “merely” transmitting high culture to a broader audience, it helped to shape new musical styles while composing music history in the process.

Organic Design, the Best New Books and Contemporary Music: Bloomingdale’s Brings Schoenberg and Bartók to New York
Derek Katz (University of California, Santa Barbara)

∨ abstract

New York’s New Friends of Music, founded in 1936, operated at an uneasy intersection of highbrow culture, Progressive politics and middlebrow marketing. Founded by Ira Hirschmann, a Bloomingdale’s vice-president with a background in advertising, the New Friends presented cycles of canonical chamber works with no intermissions, applause between movements, or encores. This reverential presentation of Central European masterworks was intended, however, to serve a Progressive social agenda as well as to forward cultural Bildung. The New Friends offered special ticket prices to students, held open rehearsals at the newly-opened High School of Music and Art, and formed a chamber orchestra that boasted of hiring young American musicians and of placing women in solo wind chairs.

The tensions between these aims were foregrounded during the 1940 – 1941 season, when the New Friends presented their subscribers with works by Schoenberg, Bartók, Krenek, Sessions, Artur Schnabel and Mark Brunswick. Hirschmann publicly justified this sudden emphasis on contemporary music as a gesture of support for artistic freedom, but he also had commercial reasons for thinking that modernist art could be nurtured in the realm of middlebrow culture.

This season coincided with an “organic design” competition initiated by Hirschmann, and co-sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art and Bloomingdale’s, which sold products made from the winning designs. These included light chairs made from molded veneer from Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames, the forerunner of the plywood Eames chair. Another influence was the Book of the Month Club, founded by Harry Scherman, a close friend and future business partner of Hirschmann’s, as well as a charter subscriber to the New Friends. Like the New Friends, the Book of the Month Club provided affordable culture on a subscription basis, with the content selected by the service, rather than by the customer. However, the Book of Month Club sold current literature, sending out “the best new books”, as selected by a panel of expert judges.

Schoenberg and Bartók were exactly the composers chosen by Russell Lynes in 1949 as defining the musical tastes of the American highbrow, and the New Friends had no mechanism for curating new works and implicitly asserting their status as future classics, as the Book of the Month Club did for Hemingway, or of commodifying modernist design for middlebrow consumers, as Bloomingdale’s did for Eames. The New Friends immediately retreated to what Virgil Thomson witheringly described as “conservatism for the box office’s sake”. Hirschmann eventually did collaborate with the Book of Month Club, which sponsored radio broadcasts of New Friends Concerts starting in the 1943 – 1944 season. All the music broadcast that year was by Beethoven.

Mellers and the Middlebrow
Peter Franklin (University of Oxford)

∨ abstract

“[The young composer] accepts the fact that he is living in a world in which brows are segregated into high, middle and low (or Third, Home and Light); and that only the low is likely to make much money. […] Our young composer will probably recognize early on that he writes for a minority audience; that in the differentiation of brows his is unequivocally high.”

— Mellers, Music in the Making (1951), 7.

In his first, albeit subsequently disowned, book Music and Society (1946), Wilfrid Mellers subscribed to a commonly satirical view of “the great middlebrow public” in Britain as undiscriminating in its enthusiasm for nineteenth-century orchestral repertoire, but suspicious of “the contemporary composer” (Britten and Tippett were the outstanding British examples in his mind just after the Second World War). During his early career as an extra-mural teacher in the Midlands, Mellers had acted as a mediator between high musical and literary culture and a wider public (as an associate of F.R.Leavis and contributor to Scrutiny). In the light of this, his subsequent positioning as a charismatically middlebrow musical popularizer by academic musicologists, scornful of his fashionably “creativity”-orientated music department at the new University of York in the early 1960s (its character apparently confirmed by his “musicological” embrace of The Beatles), is revealing of the uses to which the term “middlebrow” was put in post-war Britain. No less so was his own continuing effort to bypass socio-cultural givens about musical taste in his continuing attempt to fathom what might count as great about so-called “great music”. Some of his writing in Man and His Music (1962) and elsewhere proves instructive, even as he attempted to transcend “the differentiation of brows”, in demonstrating the complex interdependence of constructions of “high-” and “low-brow” taste upon critical strategies often limited to discussion of the “middlebrow”.


Saturday, 11:00, Paper Session A

Chaired by Laura Tunbridge (University of Oxford)

Tin Pan Opera Recording
Karen Henson (University of Miami)

∨ abstract

Scholars including Richard Leppert, David Suisman, and Timothy Taylor have all made a connection between the early recording industry and the emergence of a distinctively middlebrow musical culture. Suisman has even claimed that Victor’s Red Seal series, which was first launched in the United States in the 1900s, was “quintessentially middlebrow”, and as such anticipated the conventionally agreed start of middlebrow culture by twenty years. Although they do not explore the subject in depth, Suisman and others emphasize the fact that Victor and other companies invested heavily in opera, and in so doing transformed an elite musical art into mass aural form.

In this paper, I will argue that the concept of the middlebrow is in several ways useful for understanding (early) opera recording. Drawing on sources relating to Victor and to the London-based Gramophone Company, I will first consider how early opera recordings were made, a process that involved an encounter between an internationally renowned singer and a “recorder” whose main previous experience was of popular repertories. As such, it opened up a new “middle” in opera’s famous mix of collaborators and creative interactions: between high and low, European and Anglo-American, La Scala or the Paris Opéra or the Met and Tin Pan Alley. Referring to best-selling discs by Geraldine Farrar, Enrico Caruso, and others, I will then argue that the recordings themselves opened up a new “middle”, one in which opera was not only transformed into song, but song in which both the vocal expression and the overall expressive trajectory were simplified and standardized. I will conclude by raising some general questions — including whether, produced by an industry that would continue to be dominated by popular song and by the US, opera recording would continue to have something of the middlebrow about it.

Middlebrow Technologies
Arman Schwartz (University of Birmingham)

∨ abstract

This talk considers two nearly contemporaneous musical experiments, both of which involved nightingales, human musicians, and the latest sound technology. If Beatrice Harrison’s broadcasts from her Surrey mansion in the spring of 1924 were greeted with something approaching mass hysteria, Ottorino Respighi’s Pini di Roma (premiered in December 1924) largely baffled Italian — and, soon after, British — audiences. What can the divergent public reactions to Harrison and Respighi’s seemingly analogous projects tell us about the status of technology, animality, and indexical materiality within bourgeois musical aesthetics during the year when the word “middlebrow“ first entered circulation? What more populist forms of bird fancying were suppressed and reconfigured in the process?

Menotti Outmoded: Middlebrow Opera on the Stage and Screen in the 1950s
Danielle Ward-Griffin (Christopher Newport University)

∨ abstract

Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera, Maria Golovín (1958), if remembered at all, is most often considered a flop, the “sad finale” to the composer’s otherwise distinguished career (Kirk). Scholars have suggested that Golovín lacked the winning formula of Menotti’s earlier hits that mixed Broadway and opera (Gruen, Hixon). I, however, argue that it was precisely by continuing his earlier crossover aesthetic that he doomed Golovín in the highly polarized climate of the late 1950s, a time that was increasingly hostile to such hybrid forms.

This paper positions Golovín in the changing operatic landscape of Europe and America. I show how Menotti struck a rearguard pose that sought to elevate “middlebrow” musical sensibilities while using Dr. Zuckertanz, a Beckmesser-like character, to critique reviewers’ obsessions with the various registers of high and lowbrow art. When the show premiered at the Brussels World Fair, European critics derided Menotti’s blend of melodramatic theatre and Puccinian melody, either praising his theatrical flair and damning the music as old-fashioned, or vice versa. Subsequently, on Broadway, the composer’s old trick of popularizing the opera as a drama backfired and his music was criticized for its resemblance to a film score. In both cases, the reviewers complained that the opera belonged to neither music nor theatre, highbrow nor lowbrow, modern nor traditional.

When it appeared on television in 1959, however, this mixture proved to be much more successful. While Menotti’s failure to adapt to new operatic norms may have sunk Golovín as a stage work, the opera’s combination of “outdated” elements, including its melodramatic plot and cinematic score, lent itself to the small screen. With its frank emotionalism and direct appeal to the audience, the opera tapped into the kind of psychological immediacy demanded by the prevailing naturalist aesthetic on television. Using Golovín as a case study, I argue that television came to be the final resting place for the dramatic and musical vocabulary of American middlebrow opera.

Aspiration and the Middle Class

Saturday, 11:00, Paper Session B

Chaired by Andrew Flory (Carleton College)

Whistful Thinking: Middleness in Samuel Barber’s A Hand of Bridge
Jacques Dupuis (Brandeis University)

∨ abstract

Samuel Barber’s short operetta, A Hand of Bridge (1959, libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti), is rare within its composer’s oeuvre for its use of vernacular musical styles, including folk and popular song, commercially referential music, and, most prominently, jazz. Though he is often described by critics and scholars in terms suggesting an almost arch-conservative composer, with A Hand of Bridge, Barber broke from the neo-Romantic style with which he is most often identified. In the operetta, Barber trod a middle ground between the popular music styles he never explored seriously as a composer and the elevated style of his two major operatic ventures (the 1958 Pulitzer winning Vanessa, and Antony and Cleopatra, which opened the new Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center in 1966).

This paper examines the middleness of A Hand of Bridge in its depiction of two consciously average American married couples playing bridge, a card game that reached its peak American popularity at the midpoint of the twentieth century. The primary arias of the four characters (each an internal monologue expressing what is outwardly suppressed) are the loci of the work’s commentary on two interrelated issues in midcentury middle class America: consumerism and ambition for cultural ascendency. No aria is more explicit in this respect than David’s aspirational, bacchant “outline” aria, a veritable Who’s Who of historical aristocratic figures and artifacts. Constructing a historicist fantasy of wealth and excess, the aria capitalizes on an audience’s thrill in recognizing its references, and in so doing grants access to the work of an elite composer. Beginning with the piece’s status as exceptional within the composer’s overall output, this paper considers reception history and pertinent details of the piece to argue that Barber’s treatment of his own era and his utilization of popular music styles coalesce here as social criticism.

Excavating Bond Music: Dichotomies of the Middlebrow
Kevin Salfen (University of the Incarnate Word)

∨ abstract

The James Bond film franchise, beginning with Dr. No (1962), is often credited with establishing the sound of “spy music”, a style that infused the orchestral sound of golden age Hollywood with the edginess of jazz and rock. This style achieved extraordinary success from the beginning, becoming the requisite sound for numerous Bond films and inspiring imitation in other movies and TV series on an international scale, from the American Mission: Impossible (1966—1973) to the Japanese animé Lupin III (first series, 1971—1972). In this paper, I explore the Bond music of the 1960s as a site of intersections — a middle ground for the middlebrow — between generic extremes, with implications for the films’ production and for their potential audience.

The creation of the Bond sound was already underway when John Barry made his (uncredited) arrangement of Monty Norman’s “James Bond Theme” for Dr. No; one important and seldom mentioned precedent is Edwin Astley’s music for the first series of Danger Man (1960—1962). It is therefore a collaborative musical creation of the 1960s for which I provide a new “excavation” in this paper, one that moved beyond traditional film underscoring to take from television and newsreel scores, emphasizing the expanding postwar exchange between TV and cinema in terms of production and reception. Bond music employed such dichotomies — TV and cinema, orchestral and popular, Europe and America, concert hall and living room — to establish a style of the in-between. This style reflects Ian Fleming’s (and actor Sean Connery’s) Bond, who possesses the unflappable sophistication and the inexhaustible adaptability of the ideal Cold War secret agent. Bond music also asserts the power of capitalism, as the prevailing economic theory of the middlebrow victors of the Second World War, to possess all available musical styles; simultaneously it encodes a modernist ambivalence, shorn of traditional cultural belonging and comprised of modes that are self-consciously contradictory.

Trump, Pavarotti, and the Aspirational Politics of Midcult
Alison Maggart (University of Southern California)

∨ abstract

If the outcome of the 2016 American presidential race can teach us anything, it is that personality and rhetoric play a significant role in a candidate’s success or failure. Indeed, the cultural discourses that last year’s candidates engaged seem to have had a larger impact on the election’s results than their policies or debate performances did. In recent years, scholars have theorized how music, broadcast at rallies or released as candidates’ “iPod playlists” in the media, performs important cultural work in political campaigns. Politicians’ carefully curated musical preferences, although promoted as “authentic” evidence of a candidate’s social and cultural identity, have thus been increasingly recognized for what they are: political constructions. A campaign’s musical choices not only animate emotional support for the candidate, they also promulgate the politician’s approved self-image and participate in campaign messaging.

This paper examines Donald Trump’s campaign’s unusual employment of classical music — Pavarotti’s recording of “Nessun Dorma” — on the campaign trail. The track received much press attention, not only because Nicoletta Mantovani Pavarotti requested that Trump stop using the recording, but also because the aria’s history of fascist appropriation seemed to justify liberals’ fear that Trump engages the same discursive tactics of mid-twentieth-century dictators. The aria’s culminating words — “I will win” — have also not been overlooked.

What has not been discussed, however, is the social currency the song appears to have had for Trump supporters. At first glance, the use of opera — long considered a genre of an elitist highbrow — seems incongruous with Trump’s message of middle-class empowerment. However, I read its adoption by Trump’s campaign as an ingenious political maneuver. As a rallying song, divorced from its original context, the aria becomes a token of midcult — in the words of Dwight Macdonald, a “parody of high culture”. More than connote luxury and lavish display, resonant with Trump’s self-styled persona, the aria extends the message to the American middle class that they, too, can “win” the economic, social, and cultural prestige associated with high culture. Pavarotti’s aria thus taps into middlebrow aspiration, and in light of the success of Trump’s campaign demonstrates the power of midcult appropriation.

In this paper, I trace how Pavarotti’s rendition of “Nessun Dorma” came to signify Trump’s politics. I outline Trump’s opinions on opera (he claimed to “enjoy the highlights of opera” but not the act of “sitting through an opera”), examine media reactions to Trump’s campaign music, detail how Trump supporters perceived the aria at political rallies, and examine the strategic social and classist underpinnings of music in Trump’s campaign. Finally, I propose that Macdonald’s theory of midcult, often dismissed today as needlessly inflammatory and elitist, offers a prescient model by which we can understand Trump’s political music choices.


Saturday, 13:30, Paper Session A

Chaired by Arman Schwartz (University of Birmingham)

They Shoot Homosexuals, Don’t They? The Middlebrow Modernism of Henze and Visconti’s Maratona
Kyle Kaplan (Northwestern University)

∨ abstract

When he left his native Germany for Italy in 1953, Hans Werner Henze marked his separation from Darmstadt both physically and symbolically as he re-evaluated his commitment to serialism. Throughout the decade, Henze found confidants and mentors in older gay artists like Benjamin Britten, Frederick Ashton, and Luchino Visconti. Henze and Visconti’s intimate friendship led to a collaboration when Visconti solicited a score for a ballet based on Horace McCoy’s 1936 novel They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? The ballet, titled Maratona, relocated McCoy’s bleak account of U.S. Depression-era dance marathons to the equally blighted post-war Italian suburbs. Premiered at the 1957 Berliner Festwochen, the ballet was met with contention as critics were unimpressed by Henze’s use of popular dance styles within his modernist palette and deemed the depiction of working-class strife to be contrived and artificial.

This paper demonstrates that Henze’s exploration of popular genres was not only a rejection of high modernist dogmatism, but also offers proof of his allegiance to a network of established gay artists that worked within a middlebrow modernism. I argue that Henze’s friendship with Visconti led Henze to address the brutality of post-war life within a specifically accessible idiom, compositionally referencing both neorealist and melodramatic conventions. Drawing on archival research, I trace how Henze’s network of friends nurtured his exploration of a less aggressively avant-garde style and led him to emulate their own accessible aesthetic. At the same time, entering this network exposed Henze to the critiques of inauthenticity directed toward popular gay artists that marked the intersection of Cold War homophobia and taste politics. Following recent reconsiderations of the middlebrow’s relationship to modernism and homosexuality, I revisit the critiques of the ballet’s artificiality to note Henze’s experimentation across class expectations and his commitment to his personal bond with Visconti.

“Our Opera is Settled for Broadway”: Britten and Auden’s Paul Bunyan and the Middlebrow
Hilary Seraph Donaldson (University of Toronto)

∨ abstract

Paul Bunyan is W. H. Auden’s parable of the American frontier, set to an eclectic musical palette by Benjamin Britten. Originally envisioned for Broadway, the choral operetta was quickly abandoned after its spring 1941 premiere at Columbia University was met with unfavorable reviews. In many ways, the collaborators’ commentary on modern American culture negotiates the “great divide” between modernist art and popular appeal. Christopher Chowrimootoo has argued that middlebrow entertainments can be useful in examining the dynamics of mid-century modernism in that they are “intimately bound up” with its “aesthetic prejudices, tensions, and anxieties”. As I will argue, Britten’s and Auden’s gesture toward the middlebrow idiom of 1940s’ Broadway is in fact most revealing of their own aesthetic allegiances as English artists in wartime America.

Paul Kildea has asked whether Paul Bunyan is an “American backwoodsman legend”, a “medieval morality play”, or an enactment of “Vico’s cycle of ages: the divine, the heroic and the human”. Its closing scene, which ranges in style from folk ballad to syncopated Broadway-style recitative to quasi-Anglican chant, embodies this poetic and stylistic heterophony. While the piece resonates with the broad aims of contemporary Broadway’s social conscience, Auden could not resist a strong element of meta-narrative modernist parable across the libretto. Bunyan’s uneasy negotiation between these idioms throws it into relief against more frank ballad entertainments, such as the 1939 patriotic Ballad for Uncle Sam, a product of the New Deal program to democratize Americans’ consumption of live theatre. By comparing portions of the Ballad with the closing scene of Paul Bunyan, I will argue that Auden and Britten sought to interpret the social aspirations of America using language that falls between high art and mass culture, and that this unsuccessful experiment in middlebrow entertainment galvanized them each toward new ways of expressing modernist ideas to a wide audience.

Between Popular and Serious: Malcolm Arnold, the Press, and the Symphonic Middlebrow, 1957—1961
Philip Rupprecht (Duke University)

∨ abstract

In a 1958 Guide to Modern Music on Records, Malcolm Arnold is listed — with Peter Fricker, Iain Hamilton, Robert Simpson, and Anthony Milner — as among thirty-somethings with “the biggest achievement”. Hugh Ottaway observes Arnold’s “gaiety and sense of fun … his flair for orchestral display … his unaffected brio”, and the “intriguing blend of lyricism, pathetic emotion and sheer uproariousness” of his Second Symphony of 1953. “Undoubtedly the most ‘significant’ thing about Arnold”, Ottaway adds, “is his freedom from a sense of obligation to become a ‘significant’ composer”. Following this relatively upbeat assessment, however, Arnold was to experience increasingly negative or overtly hostile critical reviews from the London press, despite the rapturous response of audiences to his music. Skeptical of the symphony as a viable national genre and increasingly attentive to a younger British avant-garde, the critics mostly ignored the elegiac side of Arnold’s scores, or were distracted by their boldness of gesture. This paper examines the shift in Arnold’s fortunes attending the premieres of his Third, Fourth, and Fifth Symphonies between 1957 and 1961, with particular attention to the canons of taste exposed within a chorus of published comment.

Contemporary Middlebrow

Saturday, 13:30, Paper Session B

Chaired by Danielle Ward-Griffin (Christopher Newport University)

“Urgent and Urban and Often Infected With Jazz”: Mark-Anthony Turnage Samples Beyoncé
Alexi Vellianitis (University of Oxford)

∨ abstract

British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage’s orchestral work Hammered Out was premiered at the BBC Proms on 26 August 2010. At the time of the performance, Turnage had kept secret the fact that the work contained extended quotations from Beyoncé’s 2008 song “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”, a progressive gesture that seemed to reach out to younger members of the audience more familiar with popular music. But Turnage had also set the Beyoncé sections in the brass in order to evoke a big-band sound, which led older critics to hear Hammered Out as a throwback to a jazz-influenced modernist vernacular for which Turnage had been known since his career began in the 1980s. In marrying a recent pop song with the ambivalently middlebrow nature of jazz (Levine 1988), Turnage attempted to put a contemporary spin on an old set of racial and social divides.

Looking at journalism, reviews, and popular criticism of the work, this paper responds to the project rationale by reading Hammered Out in two distinct but related ways. First is the issue of copyright and material appropriation. Since Turnage had not obtained permission to use the track, he eventually had to pay 50% of the royalties to Beyoncé. This “theft” of the track played into an image cultivated by many journalists of Turnage as an “Essex boy”, a socially aspiring but “criminally tasteless” new-money working class stereotype associated with Thatcherite conservatism, and derided by the middle class. Second is the issue of musical style. Multiple journalist saw jazz as “infecting” Turnage’s concert work, implicitly viewing it as a low-art racial and social Other. Others saw jazz as a technically sophisticated high-art musical style, and I show that the musical language of the work displays its new-music credentials by expanding upon the chromaticisms already present in Beyoncé’s track. While I do not conclude that the work breaks new ground, Hammered Out nevertheless reflects a rich and conflicting picture of contemporary British class anxieties.

A College Man Like Me: Indie Rock and the Middlebrow
Ariana Phillips-Hutton (University of Cambridge)

∨ abstract

This paper questions whether indie rock has become the quintessential middlebrow musical genre in the last decades of the twentieth century and first decade of the twenty-first. From its origins in various underground music scenes and despite the vigor with which some tastemakers have defended it, indie rock has moved from fringe movement to become a powerful force within popular music. Along the way, it has inspired vigorous debate over the relationship of the mainstream and the niche in music. In recent assessments of the genre, commentators have suggested that indie rock has lost its driving creative force and with it, claims to artistic excellence. Although few of these commentators use the term “middlebrow” to describe indie music’s current state, other similar social categorizations, such as the equally derogatory “hipster” and “basic”, are an established part of the narrative surrounding indie music. Furthermore, its audience, which is frequently presumed to be white, male, suburban, and middle-class, is taken to represent the middlebrow audience.

In this paper, I use the indie rock band The National as an example of how ostensibly middlebrow musicians are continuing to push in new directions from within indie music. By combining traditional components of indie rock, including male vocals and a guitar- and drums-heavy sonic profile, with lyrics that deftly weave together tropes of being “betwixt and between” (middle aged, middle class, Mid(dle)west), their work simultaneously acknowledges their place in the middlebrow and yet refuses to be defined by it. In terms of their musical aesthetic and the cultural values they espouse, they demand a re-assessment of how the middlebrow can be interpreted in contemporary popular music.

Bad Art
Aoife Monks (Queen Mary, University of London)

∨ abstract

This paper considers the systems of value that undergird the selection and scrutiny of artworks in theatre and performance scholarship, and argues theatre scholarship is often practiced as a form of modernism in its attachment to formalist estrangement as a mode of critique and as a source of solace. I will ask why it is that “bad art” is so much easier to co-opt into scholarship when it’s safely in the past and I will also think about the feelings provoked by scholarship and the ways in which artists, artworks and objects function as decoys for the complicated affects and transactions that comprise academic research. I will do all of this by asking: how do we solve the problem of Michael Flatley?

Middlebrow Musicology

Saturday, 15:00, Plenary

Chaired by John Howland (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

∨ abstract

“Boundaries […] always presuppose a space that is found outside a certain fixed location, and that encloses that location; limits require nothing of the kind, but are mere negations.”

— Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics

In the conclusion to his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Kant distinguishes between limits and boundaries. The former are fixed and inward-looking: ends in themselves that preclude any dialogue with what might lie beyond them. The latter are provisional and more concerned with the process of inquiry: they point both outward and inward, speaking as much to what falls beyond their remit as to the objects that they demarcate. While Kant’s interest in the relation between reason and metaphysics does not concern us here, the distinction is useful for explaining the type of discussion we hope to foster — one that is not just oriented towards defining the middlebrow, but also towards what this process reveals about other forms of musical culture.

For the most part, scholarship on the middlebrow has limited itself to a specific geographical and historical context, namely Britain and America from the 1920s, when the term entered the vernacular, to the 1960s, when it is said to have declined. By moving beyond these limits, we want to consider the middlebrow’s boundaries in the Kantian sense. Each panel takes as its starting point a question about the middlebrow — when it came into existence (Origins and Pre-Histories), where it was located (Cultural Geographies), and the cultural forms it took (Middlebrow Musicology). Panelists will offer short case studies designed to open up discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of applying the term outside of its traditional contexts. This exercise will force us to think about how we define the middlebrow and its place within cultural modernity.