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The Historiography of Minimal Music and the Challenge of Andriessen to Narratives of American Exceptionalism (1)

Pace, I. ORCID: 0000-0002-0047-9379 (2019). The Historiography of Minimal Music and the Challenge of Andriessen to Narratives of American Exceptionalism (1). In: Dodd, R. (Ed.), Writing to Louis Andriessen: Commentaries on life in music. (pp. 83-101). Eindhoven, the Netherlands: Lecturis.


Assumptions of over-arching unity amongst composers and compositions solely on the basis of common nationality/region are extremely problematic in the modern era, with great facility of travel and communications. Arguments can be made on the bases of shared cultural experiences, including language and education, but these need to be tested rather than simply assumed. Yet there is an extensive tradition in particular of histories of music from the United States which assume such music constitutes a body of work separable from other concurrent music, or at least will benefit from such isolation, because of its supposed unique properties. Such nationalistic assumptions feed into the historiography and aesthetic examination of minimal music, which is in theory a stylistic/generic categorisation. This is far from being the only area of modern music for which this is the case – certainly the common dichotomy between ‘avant-garde’ and ‘experimental’ music has long been mapped onto a ‘European’ vs. ‘American’ divide. The historian Richard Evans has argued cogently that history is a ‘myth-busting’ rather than ‘myth-making’ discipline1 and with this in mind I seek here to cast a sceptical eye upon some existing musico-historical mythologies. I will outline some of the dominant themes and underlying assumptions of much recent writing on minimal music, argue how these reflect restrictive nationalistic and exceptionalistic ideologies, consider how the music of Andriessen (focusing on the works up to around 1980)2 is incorporated into these but also confounds them, and suggest how his music can help to nuance some alternative historical and aesthetic models.

Publication Type: Book Section
Subjects: E History America > E151 United States (General)
M Music and Books on Music > M Music
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Performing Arts > Music
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