Conference Review: Rethinking Musical Transcription and Arrangement

“Rethinking Musical Transcription and Arrangement” brought together approximately 40 scholars, researchers, and students from the U.K., Europe, and United States for a one-day conference at the University of Cambridge on 19th May, 2018. In addition to the support from the RMA, the conference received grants from the Music & Letters Trust and the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Cambridge. We were delighted to receive an enthusiastic response to our call for papers, allowing us to welcome papers from senior academics while also ensuring abundant opportunity for postgraduate students to present their work.

The day was organised into three sessions of three papers each, a keynote address, and a concluding roundtable of invited speakers. In the first session, “Historical and Material Cultures”, speakers explored the roles that arrangements have played in the musical cultures of 18th- and 19th-century Europe, through the prisms of the musical press (Elena Pons), performance histories (Mark Everist), and publishing houses and copyright law (Giovanna Carugno). The second session, “Acts of Transcription”, focused on various social dimensions, including papers on the ethics of jazz transcription and analysis (Alexander Hallenbeck), relationships between queer identity and ontologies of transcription (George Haggett), and current techniques of orchestration within the film music industry (Sarah Lutz). The final paper session, “Reimaginings since 1960”, featured case studies of the transcriptive practices of Stravinsky and Sciarrino (Dominika Micał), and Berio (Thomas Peattie), as well as a presentation by composer Mark Dyer on his own style of ‘reductive transcription’.

In his keynote address, Jonathan Kregor, author of Liszt as Transcriber (CUP, 2010), consolidated several of the theoretical issues raised during the conference through a discussion of the band Evanescence and their 2017 album, Synthesis. The day ended with a roundtable session, ‘Thinking through arrangement’, in which four panelists (Helen Abbott, William Drummond, Daniel Leech-Wilkinson, Laura Tunbridge) brought theoretical perspectives to a transcription or arrangement of their choice.

The conference was organised by members of the ‘TAROT’ (Transcription, arrangement, reworking, orchestration, translation) study group, who hope to build upon the success of this conference in the future. Further details about the study group can be found at www.tarotmusicology.wordpress.com.

– Peter Asimov and Frankie Perry

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