Penn State College of Arts and Architecture
Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

Interdisciplinary Lecture Series


Come hear fascinating lectures by Penn State faculty and invited guest presenters.

Each lecture, free and open to the public, lasts about seventy-five minutes.

1Project Events

Representing the Extraordinary Body: Stravinsky's Aesthetics of Disability

Joseph N. Straus, distinguished professor of music theory at City University of New York Graduate Center

2:30 p.m. Tuesday, January 28
Palmer Museum of Art’s Palmer Lipcon Auditorium

Art historian Tobin Siebers has recently argued that modern visual art is centrally concerned with representing and finding new sorts of beauty in the fractured, disfigured, disabled human body. Can we say, paraphrasing Siebers, that the modern in music manifests itself as disability? Focusing on the Stravinskyian strand of musical modernism and taking the second of his Three Pieces for String Quartet as a case study, we note that the music can be understood as representing disability in its shape and appearance (fragmented, fractured, and asymmetrical); in its movements (impaired in mobility and prone to limping and stuttering); and in its implicit mental capacity and affect (simple-minded and prone to manic mood changes and depressive, obsessive fixity). Stravinsky’s own description of this music as his effort to represent musically the appearance and “the jerky, spastic movements” of a famous music hall performer known as Little Tich, whose small stature was perceived by contemporary observers as a grotesque deformation, suggests that the music might be understood not only to represent disability generically and metaphorically, but also to represent a particular disabled body.

A photo of Joseph N. Straus.    Joseph N. Straus Biography

Memory as Song, Song as Memory

Jürgen Thym, professor emeritus of musicology at the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music

4 p.m. Friday, February 7
Palmer Museum of Art’s Palmer Lipcon Auditorium

“The melody haunts my reverie.” Roy Lichtenstein’s unforgettable 1965 pop-art painting “Reverie” (Museum of Modern Art, New York City) shows a blonde with pouting lips and longing eyes singing into a microphone a line from the song “Stardust.” The function of song embodying and encapsulating memory, which the artist seems to critique here as a cliché, has been part and parcel of artistic representations in literature and music for hundreds of years. Its earliest manifestations arguably are songs in the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Jewish and Christian scriptures), where particularly poignant moments in the historical narrative are captured by a more poetic, song-like rhetorical style. The evocation of memory through music and song reached its zenith in the nineteenth century in the lieder of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Wolf. Aided by lyric poetry and using musical means such as thematic recall, variation, paraphrase, heterophony, and counterpoint, the composers gave expression to the emotions — some soothing and healing, others conflicting and jarring — that memory inflicts on those who remember.

A photo of Jürgen Thym in a pink shirt.    Jürgen Thym Biography

Difference and Enlightenment in Haydn's Instrumental Music

Melanie Lowe, associate professor of musicology at Vanderbilt University

2:30 p.m. Thursday, March 20
Palmer Museum of Art’s Palmer Lipcon Auditorium

Enlightenment moral discourse is hardly celebrated in critical work on difference, despite its global dissemination and revolutionary appropriation in the eighteenth century and after. Given the sustained interrogation of the Enlightenment and our readiness to list its many sins, it seems reasonable to cringe at the thought of further critical engagement with its ideals, wondering perhaps whether any such effort risks trading in discredited clichés or beating the proverbial dead horse. Within the arena of Haydn scholarship, critiques of the Enlightenment project, if engaged at all, are often quickly brushed aside in favor of optimistic—emancipatory, even—interpretations of Haydn’s music. This lecture offers an alternative. Rather than searching in the composer’s works for unequivocal assertions of tolerance and egalitarianism or, conversely, symbolic representations of false-universals, Haydn will be situated, in a Habermasian vein, within the multiple publics and stratified discourses of the late-eighteenth-century public sphere. Critical analyses of two works, the Oxford Symphony (1789) and the Gypsy Trio (1795), suggest a more nuanced and politically calculating Haydn: a composer whose music tacitly endorses the hegemony of existing social structures and institutions while nodding subtly toward their dissolution.

A photo of Melanie Lowe.    Melanie Lowe Biography

Are Beethoven's Late Quartets "Autobiographical"?

Mark Ferraguto, assistant professor of musicology at Penn State

2:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 8
Palmer Museum of Art’s Palmer Lipcon Auditorium

The finale of Beethoven’s last string quartet, Op. 135, has a famously nebulous title—“The Difficult Question: Must it be? It must be!” Interpretations of this title, and its musical realization, have ranged from the mundane to the metaphysical, illustrating critics’ fascination with unearthing hidden meanings in Beethoven’s late quartets. And yet, such inquiries seem to miss the larger significance of these obliquely autobiographical references. Drawing on the concept of “romantic sociability” as defined in literary studies, this talk suggests that the highly personal or confessional mode of expression associated with Romantic painters, poets, novelists, and composers—and with late Beethoven, in particular—belies strong expectations of audience engagement and sympathy. In the late quartets, Beethoven relies on textual cues and unorthodox musical means to merge and even collapse private and public discourse; in so doing, he gestures toward popular literary genres, such as the epistolary and sentimental novel.

A photo of Mark Ferraguto sitting at an organ.   Mark Ferraguto Biography

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