The Dent Medal, struck in memory of the distinguished scholar and musician Edward J. Dent (1876-1957), has been awarded by the Royal Musical Association annually since 1961 to recipients selected for their outstanding contribution to musicology. A list of candidates is drawn up by the Council of the Association and the Directorium of the International Musicological Society.
The Dent Medal for 2020 is awarded to Eric Drott.
Eric Drott graduated with a PhD in 2001 from Yale University and is currently Associate Professor of Music Theory at the University of Texas at Austin. He has produced an impressive body of scholarship that spans from post-war modernism to present-day streaming cultures and deftly traverses music theory, musicology, and music sociology. Uniting this work is a pervading concern with the socio-political frameworks in which music—understood in the broadest sense—is produced, used, and acquires meaning.
Drott’s initial work was in music theory—he wrote his doctoral thesis on the music of Ligeti—and he has established himself as an authoritative voice on experimentalism and the avant-garde. His article “The End(s) of Genre,” (Journal of Music Theory, 2013) has been particularly influential in this respect. Here Drott challenges the commonly-held perception that genre declined in importance with the onset of modernism, and draws on actor-network theory to produce a revised theory of genre that maps onto the contours of experimental music. Questions of genre also feature in Drott’s 2011 monograph, Music and the Elusive Revolution: Cultural Politics and Political Culture in France, 1968-1981 (University of California Press). An illuminating study of the place of music in the history and legacies of France’s 1968 revolution, this book develops a highly innovative framework for thinking about how musical genres and political cultures interact. Rather than examining any one type of music or music culture, Drott casts his net wide, with chapters on chanson, free jazz, avant-garde music, and French rock. This diverse span allows for a richly multifaceted history to emerge and, crucially, serves as the basis for the formulation of a broader theory of how genre mediates political expression.
Over the past decade, Drott has emerged as one of the most insightful and challenging thinkers on the subject of the political economies of music in contemporary society. He has written perceptively on the “gift economy” of music (Journal of Music Theory, 2010), has offered a piercing critique of Jacques Attali’s Noise (Critical Inquiry, 2015), has explored music’s roles in social movements including the Occupy Wall Street Protests (Contemporary Music Review, 2018; Twentieth-Century Music, 2019); and most recently has produced a comprehensive and thought-provoking suite of articles on the political, economic, and social implications of contemporary streaming cultures (Sound Studies, 2017; Journal of the Society for American Music, 2018; Twentieth-Century Music, 2018; and Cultural Politics, 2019).