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How critical is music theory?

Christine Lucia

In this article I address the problem of locating ‘music theory’ within contemporary critical
theories in the social sciences and humanities. I show how two kinds of music theory can be
distinguished: music theory as an interpretative and ‘critical’ set of theories used mainly in
music analysis, and theory of music as an ‘uncritical’ set of practical tools for both composition and analysis. I trace the origins of such theories and the separation between the two,
and argue that theory of music as a prerequisite for practice comes from a notion of theory
inculcated by music pedagogy in the nineteenth century, entrenched through the external
examinations of London-based conservatoires. I show how the ethos of such examinations
became lodged in the musical consciousness of South Africans as one of many colonial
traces, but I argue that, unlike other aspects of colonialism, theory of music did not become
adapted in the process of colonization, but has remained something of an anomaly in music
teaching and practice. Especially, it has remained a different kind of ‘theory’ in critical discourse in the social sciences and humanities. Music theory in South Africa, too, has not undergone the kind of transforming process as other ‘critical’ theories have although it has far
more possibilities for critique, but has remained a somewhat limited tool for music analysis
in South African scholarship.
Keywords: Music theory, theory of music, music analysis, critical theory, interpretation, composition, conservatoire, university, music pedagogy, grade exam, Associated Board of the
Royal Schools of Music.

Introduction and definitions
Contemporary theory in the social sciences and humanities – ‘a vast body of ideas,
inherently unmasterable’, as Jonathan Culler puts it (1994, 13) – has at base the
notion that theory (from the Aristotelian notion theoria) is different from practice
Christine Lucia is Professor and Chair of Music at the University of the Witwatersrand, editor of SAMUS: Journal of
the Musicological Society of South Africa, and editor of The World of South African Music: A Reader (2005).

21 (1) 2007
DOI: 10.1080/02560040701398871


ISSN 0256-004/Online 1992-6049
pp. 166–189
© Unisa Press

How critical is music theory?

(praktike),1 and that the two operate in parallel spheres, relating to and supporting
each other but developing distinct modes of discourse and application. It offers critical
tools for the interpretation of empirical data and ideas, and in this essay I attempt to
show what ‘music theory’ offers, using the South African context to propose an idea
of what it is and how it operates in comparison to other social or cultural theory. I
relate ‘music theory’ to practice, and reveal some of the difficulties in maintaining
a distinction between the two. I argue that there are two different understandings of
what ‘music theory’ is, in current usage. The one, broadly speaking, is an activity
of analysis and commentary, often equated to ‘music analysis’. The other I define
as a more pedagogically driven body of hegemonic knowledge covering music’s
sounds, concepts and terminology, and I call it ‘theory of music’. The sense of
defining component parts inherent in the latter is used both in relation to the sphere
of composition (music as creative practice) and – and this is where confusion around
terminology enters – in the sphere of music analysis. In countries where a large
intellectual project around ‘music theory’ exists, such as the United Kingdom and the
United States the terms ‘music theory’ and ‘music analysis’ imply slightly different
things: in the UK they are almost synonymous, while in the US ‘music theory’
includes both music analysis and also what I am here calling ‘theory of music.’
I consider in this essay the historical development of these two kinds of theory as
I have articulated them, and show how each has developed norms and assumptions,
some of which, I suggest, are more ‘critical’ than others, and some more critical to a
certain way of seeing music than of it.2 My aim is also to show how critical theories
in the broad sense of a collection of theories in the social sciences and humanities
can critique theory in relation to music. The fundamental questions I ask are, how
actively critical to the interpretation of music and ideas, or how subject to critical
examination, is theory in the discipline of music; and what are its ideological origins
in relation to a South African context?

Music as a discipline, and two definitions
The discipline of music has several branches of practical and speculative study. The
largely practical ones are performance (music making), composition (music writing),
music education, music psychology, and music therapy. The speculative ones and the
disciplines they have traditionally related to are musicology (history and literary
criticism), ethnomusicology (anthropology and linguistics), popular music studies
(sociology and cultural criticism), and music aesthetics (philosophy).
I locate what I call ‘theory of music’ in the practical sphere, as something concerned
with music writing, with music as grammar, syntax, and vocabulary; in short, as precompositional activity or set of tools, as I explain in more detail below. But precisely
because it is seen as foundational, as something that Western musicians are trained
into whether they later pursue the more practical or speculative branch of music, as
something necessary to the act of being a musician in the Western sense, this kind of


as Nicholas Cook has argued (1999) can be ‘performed’. but it is important to mention the way it can be seen and problematised both as ‘text’ (a notated score) and as performance of that text.Christine Lucia theory of music (and I now drop the scare quotes) has acquired a huge belief in its necessity. and when the 11th century monk Guido D’Arezzo ascribed the term ‘music theorist’ to those who knew music philosophically and speculated about it as ‘musicus’ rather than those who learnt it and sang it as ‘cantors’ (ibid. and when I use the term music theory it is synonymous with the critical activity of music analysis. then. I suggest here. One could define critical theory as a fluid. But it too has a practical aspect. critical theory/theories. To clarify again then.e. The assumption of music as ‘work’. or psychological one. The pull towards philosophy was also once true of both theory of music and music theory in their early mediaeval history.3 ‘its principles [gradually] reconfigured so as to 168 . I consider what both are being compared to in this essay. as Thomas Christensen (2002) has shown. and the Church’s main concern was making practice in worship hegemonic. but that it also exists only ‘in theory’. since there are not only different ways of regarding theory in relation to music but also of regarding music itself: for the purposes of this essay. but something performed. is underpinned by a set of assumptions whose ideological basis. where it concerns the analysis and interpretation of music already composed rather than the activity of its creation. One can argue.. has also been deeply questioned (see for example Goehr 1992 and Strohm 2000). when I talk about theory of music I use it to mean a body of knowledge that is seen as a prerequisite for both practice and speculation. this was symptomatic of the beginning of a distinction between practical and critical theory. rewards some critical examination. before I trace the history of some of the differences between music theory and theory of music in order to examine their critical qualities. 5). The issue of where and how music exists is not the subject of this essay. or a set of ideas. a belief that. because the very ‘thing’ theory is applied to is not a body of literature or historical evidence. common to human and social science disciplines worldwide. culturally determined and historically contingent set of theories. Theory in music and other disciplines However. Analysis itself. Christensen’s emphasis). Theory of music then began to occupy centre stage. But they drifted apart. in practice. ‘Music theory’ I locate in the speculative sphere.. 3. political. I further suggest. as a universalised and autonomous concept. something performative and elusive: ‘music’. that music not only has theory (compositional tools or theory of music) and uses theory (analysis or music theory). Because the main sphere of Western composed music’s operation at that time was the Church. This in turn seems to contradict the notion that music exists when it is performed. i. It has a philosophical orientation and from the late nineteenth century onwards also a social. the prestige of music theory as philosophy declined during the Renaissance (ibid.

a body of knowledge necessarily acquired by music composers and performers in their training.. From the late 18th century it was concerned primarily with how musical sounds were made. physics. it also began to accommodate the need to pass on the increasingly complex body of musical knowledge it was becoming. Johann Forkel (1749-1818) consolidated the split between practical and speculative theory and the apparent subsuming of the former under the latter. Johann Georg Sulzer (1720-79)4 appropriated ‘music theory’ as a portmanteau term denoting part of the abstracted foundation of a mathematical science from which axioms were deduced as a ‘general process of reasoning by which the empirical and metaphysical components of a science were systematically itemized and coordinated’ (ibid.). rhetoric. and mathematical ratio in order to accommodate debate about the exigencies of instrument building. genre. The prescriptive quality underlying practical theory of music was able to gain enormous ground in nineteenth century 169 . grammar. 9). but what it allowed for. not only embracing practice but also increasingly subordinate to it.5 Thus music theory became theory of music almost by a sleight of hand.How critical is music theory? accommodate the domain of musica instrumentalis’ (ibid. and it also took on from this time a more prescriptive approach to how composers should make them – more theory of music than music theory. mathematics. I suggest.). which could not collectively be called ‘music theory’ because the latter’s use had now become co-opted and designated as a term describing the theory of practical music. as well as their application by composers in terms of phrasing. On the contrary. keys. philosophy.) as well as vocal music. it was practical pedagogy that was now a subset of theory (ibid. aesthetics. and rhetoric [and] critical analysis’ (ibid. As this kind of theory drew away from aesthetics closer to praxis. As Christensen observes Forkel’s program constitutes an extraordinary change in the meaning of music theory by radically expanding its domain in relation to practical pedagogy and criticism. from generation to generation. harmony. By the time of Beethoven the critical speculative ‘theory’ had not disappeared. criticism) where parts 3 and 4 covered the traditional functions of musica practica and poetics: ‘systems of scales. embracing new theories of tone combination: intervallic consonance and dissonance. in terms of my opening distinction. What Forkel’s project also did was affirm the umbrella use of the term ‘theory’. No longer was music theory a preliminary or metaphysical foundation to practice. was an expansion of the prescriptive notion of ‘theory of music’ as I am trying to distinguish it. The issues around what music is and what it means continued as a cluster of critical approaches variously called music criticism. and meter. by proposing ‘a systematic program of study called “Theorie der Musik”’. to become significantly foregrounded. or hermeneutics. and. partly as a result of this. drawing on notions derived from acoustics. but the Romantic historicising of composers and composition created the possibility for a prescription for practice. defining theory here as ‘a broad pedagogical discipline of musical study’ in five parts (physics.

been interpreted theoretically – and critically – as an expression of the social order at any given moment in history. As I shall argue later. Scriabin. the musical microcosm replicates the social macrocosm’ (1984. but also articulates. sociology. or it continued as a more speculative activity (music theory) concerned with analysing and understanding music’s work although also drawing on some of the tools used in theory-of-music in order to describe its workings. such critique of sound and structure is extrinsic rather than intrinsic. and considered ‘international’. Schoenberg. Mozart. theories that are not themselves endemic to. and there is a growing body of evidence to support the notion that music not only reflects or parallels social and individual praxis. Schubert. melodic phrasings. however. for example. it could not do its work without critical theories drawn from history. a compositional Western European language shared by all composers in the field of Western art music at that time (Haydn. I suggest. 5). as ‘orderly system of tested propositions’ that ‘provides repositories 170 . Music’s ‘essence’ (its material composition) has. in Adornian and post-Adornian writing. Once this shared tonal language broke down in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century into a number of much more disparate post-tonal languages (Debussy. cadences. Schumann. Chris Ballantine has argued that ‘in various ways and with varying degrees of critical awareness. music as a field of study. pursued a path that was analytical and empiricist. and ‘affords’ it (Born and Hesmondhalgh 2000. whereas theory of music as theory continued for the most part to mean either a set of principles underlying music composition applied in order to describe or prescribe its sounds. Chopin). by an aspect of colonialism. Theory as applied to music has difficulty in being applied in the same way or to the same extent as an interpretive tool. it has been. in terms of pedagogical practice. and DeNora 2000). or reliant on. or articulates critique of itself and its meanings (Chua 1995 & 1999). That said the case of Adorno present what seems to be a contradiction. or society). it could – theoretically – no longer be upheld as a ‘universalising’ system. linguistics. its application was local rather than universal: local to specific objects or situations. 5) has shown. Note the difference: critical theory was a set of ideas applied as analytical tools to specific empirical data in order to interpret it. Stravinsky. and as Craig Calhoun (1995. Ives) and further dissolved in the latter half of the twentieth century into a plethora of idiosyncratic and sometimes technology-driven styles. as theory in other disciplines. and also because of musical language’s strong attachment to a closed system of key relationships called tonality. to the present day. Calhoun (1995) characterised two uses of theory in the early part of the twentieth century: the first. such as scales. embodies. Beethoven. its role largely that of conceiving and applying abstract methods to the study of something concrete (for example literature. Early twentieth century critical theory. harmonic structures. meanwhile. In terms of the distinction I am making here.Christine Lucia Europe because of the rapid development of music conservatoires (to which I refer in more detail later). Bartók. the hegemony of its system entrenched in the South African context. however. or psychology.

Calhoun continues. but it can also explain music’s causal relationships to society. or gender. far ‘higher’. is that they are all applied very broadly. 15). It was ‘was replaced by a less comfortable one: that the point of theoretical enquiry was to bring out methodological assumptions which otherwise would escape scrutiny’ (1995. provides orienting perspectives’. ‘observable’ and empirical in the sense Calhoun suggests. to any kind of text. I suggest. ‘the empiricalanalytical view of the role of [critical] theory changed’. Most disciplines have thus at the present time (2006) developed their own sets of critical-theoretical sets of interpretations and assumptions and histories – hence art-historical theory. These in turn are used to challenge critical thinking across disciplines (Culler 1994.6 In terms of Calhoun’s claim that it ‘provides methods for thinking up new explanations. Theory as causal explanation. characterise an increasing number of activities within the discipline of musicology as I indicated above (Goehr 1992 and Talbot 2000). for example). 6. or set of ideas. for example. Despite the work of music criticism and especially musicology in uncovering the social and political work music does – and perhaps because of it (for such criticism is offset by claims for music’s formal and autonomous status) – in the realm of music studies ‘theory’ 171 . race. Approaches to the explanation of musical works and analysis of the notion of ‘the musical work’ itself (rather than analysis of the work).How critical is music theory? and syntheses of empirical knowledge’. and in the latter twentieth century applied also in an interdisciplinary way. has more in common with the speculative activity of music theory as music analysis than with the creative activity of music composition. Moreover. from the mid-twentieth century. Calhoun suggests (after Robert Merton) is theory that not only questions underlying assumptions but also proposes ‘rhetorical orientations or perspectives … approaches to solving problems and developing explanations rather than the solutions and explanations themselves’ (ibid.. object. including assumptions of ideology. it can explain music’s internal relationships (tonal or melodic. The reach of this more recent kind of critical theory for Calhoun. sociological theory. theory of history. What such critical theories seem to have in common. The first seems to apply to theory of music as a system of tonal and metrical propositions. 16). the second. The third and most recent use of theory. my emphasis). as ‘logically integrated causal explanation [that] provides orienting perspectives’ (5). 13). creating what Jonathan Culler has called an ‘open-ended corpus of writings which have an impact on domains other than those to which they ostensibly belong’ (1994. despite such very different usages and underlying imperatives such as class. and the paradigms these involve (Lüdemann 1993). Regarding the second use: causes in music can (as I have just shown) be ascribed both to internal musical workings – sonatas sound this way because of their use of key centres – and external social workings – sonatas sound this way because they exemplify a class struggle. is far bolder than previous applications of theory. and also ‘tested’ through their use in composition.

as if analysis were a ‘self-evident activity’ requiring ‘neither justification nor explanation’ ibid).Christine Lucia hovers between notions of description and prescription. From within the uncomfortable space I have imperfectly sketched. composition and analysis. performers. Only 13% of music theses and dissertations produced in South Africa between 1900 and 1999. of course. 43). It concerns theory as a body of knowable facts. ‘[s]ubmissions to SAMUS during recent years [1980s and ’90s] show that at least some holders of postgraduate degrees regard descriptive stylistic or structural analysis as a taken-for-granted methodology that is an end in itself – not merely a means to the exploration of some other. but – except where its components are used in formal analysis – not a critique as such. The conflict extended far beyond music analysis. and some do not ‘suggest particular methods of analysis or say what features of the music will be analysed’. analysis was a ‘critical’ component in this conversation. In terms of lack of critique this ‘end-in-itself’ methodology to a large extent parallels literary New Criticism of the 1960s. Parker goes on. through a wide-ranging literature produced mainly in the United States and Europe where new approaches are formulated all the time. In 1998 172 . Music analysis as critique The contemporary branch of music called music analysis is articulated principally (though not exclusively) through studies of the Western historical art-music canon and the contemporary music repertoire. a set of tools for application in a range of practical music spheres. and a lore for passing on from generation to generation. even concern music analysis. I argue in this essay that the work of criticism in music theory per se (I am not speaking here of musicology in general) is especially strong in the area of music analysis. This activity. for instance. The domain of ‘theory of music’ on the other hand. has often exposed methodological or ideological assumptions. the latter providing both a sense of closure and a continuation. corresponding to what Calhoun describes as the most recent phase of critical theory. As music analysis and musicology journals have shown since the 1980s. In South Africa there is only one accredited music research journal (SAMUS: South African Journal of Musicology) and within its pages analysis has been largely descriptive. but I also argue that this has yet to be felt in the South African context. topic’ (2001. practice and speculation. instrument builders. music theory as analysis has been one of the sites of conflict in musicology debates: Kerman (1980) and Agawu (2004) in a sense frame one of the major debates. but insofar as it challenged claims of music’s autonomy as an aesthetic object and its claims to be analysed in and for itself rather than for its political or social meanings. As former Editor Beverly Parker notes. wider. is not this kind of domain of criticism. as a practical language for composers. we now have to consider the possibility for ‘music theory’ to be a critical discourse like that of literary theory or sociological theory. occupied through centuries of change around the constitution of music.

but it does not compete with the body of analysis offered in journals overseas. Hons or MMus degrees. 299-302. Some South African university music departments do teach set-theory. it exposes component parts. who under the guidance of lecturer Michael Blake began to explore reflexively the tools required to analyse one of the most iconic pieces of South African art music: White Man Sleeps. 291-97. is an approach that would give such analysis a more critical dimension. 286-88. Journal of Music Theory. Stephanus Muller. nor therefore can it be seen as ‘critically important’ in the way critical theories are seen in the social sciences and humanities. using them as an end in themselves – Parker’s ‘self-evident activity requiring neither justification nor explanation’ – that I question here. it deems them worthy of explanation and in so doing creates a canon. Popular Music. moreover. For another. then? For one thing. 311-19). In his introduction to parts of their work republished in 2005. Such analyses are expounded in journals that cut across the musicology / ethnomusicology / popular music studies /music education divides. for musical parameters to be used within a critical analysis (engagement with material. Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy. aspects of a critical musicology overseas and owing a great deal to a broader concept of critical theory is very limited. 258). Ethnomusicology. and ethnographic theory. with its wide range of approaches and contexts. themselves sometimes interrogated. to explain musical structure and meaning.How critical is music theory? what was an early attempt to question analytical norms in relation to South African composer Kevin Volans was taken by a group of students from Rhodes University. Blake writes that post-structural analysis was in 1998 South Africa ‘still largely shunned in favour of structural (motivic or harmonic) analysis’ (quoted in Lucia 2005. but it is lack of engagement with such parameters. What does formalist analysis do. psychology. or the epistemology and relevance of such parameters in the South African context. Within the rather restricted space allowed. The situation has begun to change: see for example South African music analysed for its cultural or political meaning by Carol Muller. bringing this kind of ‘music theory’ analysis very close to that envisaged by Forkel in the early 18th century. it validates works under consideration. Journal of the Royal Musical Association (and many more). Christine Lucia.7 It is important. even at tertiary level. Engagement with the merits of one approach to form or one set of parameters over another. with ‘the music itself’ is a major part of the work of analysis overseas). These approaches employ sociological or cultural theory. motivic. indeed often necessary. and Grant Olwage (reproduced in Lucia 2005. Perspectives of New Music. Western parameters such as harmony (triads and 4-part chords) and melody (pitch relations) are invariably privileged. 173 . or Schenkerian analysis at an advanced level in BMus. for example. and in this sense is as valuable as the purpose of such close reading will allow – as is the process of practical criticism in literature. but from Parker’s analysis it is clear that what is mostly not taught. and include Music Analysis. Music theory in this sense in South Africa is not ‘critical’.

203. modal and jazz idioms of Modernity. stay in business. he prolonged a Romantic notion of musical autonomy and tonal integrity that was already in his own time dissipating amid experimentation by composers with the atonal. who can do less than anybody. The Schenkerian metaphysical universe was one of validation as critique. where the workings of ‘theory of 174 . so long as it helps them get to the top and stay there … [T]hese are the only ones still to have ideas. The idea that a certain kind of ‘music theory’ nurtures careers while it nurtures a certain heritage. 318). are largely absent in Schenker’s worldview. takes away the music’s power. concerned with ‘transcendental certainty and meaning’ as Susan McClary and others have shown (McClary 1985. The equally interesting lapses that make a musical work unique. originates in the 18th century. Analysis as canon-formation is in some measure the work of Austrian music theorist Heinrich Schenker. Brahms. then (1920s and ’30s). that the source of Schenker’s ‘errors’ was ‘that tacit but fundamental assumption of school historians that the “golden age” of music is past’ which led Schenker ‘into unbecoming vigorous polemics against modern artists’ (1983. everyone else can decline.8 In so doing. on the largest scale. yet the words written by these men. Hubert du Plessis. as I shall show later. and thus the possible inner workings of composers’ minds. works commonly analysed are those that are canonic. Stefans Grové. and partly for championing ‘old masters’ at the expense of new ones – even though Schenker himself was also a composer. Yet slippages are often the most decisive creative moments. ‘writing back’ in 1922 to some of the critique of his work by Schenker. 151). then! … The Fatherland extends to these false prophets an incomprehensible amount of credit … Fiasco follows fiasco. in the same old way. Beethoven. make texture and gesture meaningful. In early twentieth century Europe the analytical canon included Bach. Schenker made astonishing yet well supported claims about music’s psychological inner connections. to possess creative gifts.9 and it has itself been interrogated.Christine Lucia in turn. my emphasis). alongside works whose value they have contested (1975. This was the period. A year later in his essay ‘Those Who Complain About the Decline’ (1923) Schoenberg’s vitriol points to some of the ideological basis of some of this critique against new music by Schenker and others: [T]heir self-preservation instinct triumphs. but he did so at the expense of making all seem inevitable. who in the early twentieth century (while music’s languages were changing all around him) revealed organic unity in ‘masterworks’ of Western classical music. In late twentieth – and early 21st century South African writing it is mostly Arnold van Wyk. Schoenberg particularly suffered from this traditionalist view. partly for an essentialism that eradicates the idiosyncrasies of individual pieces. even – the only geniuses. when both music analytical studies and theory of music textbooks began to go seriously out of sync with contemporary compositional method and aesthetics. What is also implied in the quote is the way new music threatens and analysis counters that threat. Mozart.

themselves. The second tier in King’s toolbox is writing style and structure – in music this would be melody writing. 108). Moreover. Kofi Agawu. durations. rewriting. I suggest. The tools are not in themselves critical but are only theoretical components of a larger system of writing – composition or analysis. Stephen King uses it to remind us of what the tools of writing and language are and how they can be used. that I am collectively calling theory of music. If there is no repertoire of such imagined sounds for musicians to draw on. scales. King describes the three-level expanding toolbox his uncle used when he was a child (21-55). ‘Errors made during rehearsal or performance’. these tools. over many years. Far from it. writing drafts. groupings of notes. metres. as Freudian slips show the working of the unconscious. ready to grab and use. rests. Theory of music as toolbox Theory of music. various symbols and signs – a collection of rudiments (as they are often called) associated with Western staff notation and the history of art music. It is the boundedness of this box. is understood in South Africa (and probably elsewhere) as a set of sonic principles or a body of knowledge underlying musical material. as distinct from music theory-as-analysis. deepest level – only to be used by those who have mastered the first two – is the act of writing itself. insufficiently related to buildings. keys. chapters. on the top level of which is vocabulary and grammar – in music’s terms this would be pitches. harmonic and contrapuntal exercises. that limits the usefulness of the music tools within it. word by word. the box of tools will remain just that: a box. ‘and the ways in which they are immediately corrected constitute rich sites for the study of aesthetic norms. for music. cannot theorise in the sense of being aware or reflexive. The parallel with music composition here is obvious. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘nuts and bolts’ or ‘building blocks’ of music. analysis of form. He does not imply that learning how to use the tools makes you into a writer. At the lowest. King only comes to the toolbox after stressing the necessity of knowing literature. relates how this study of slippage can be very useful in studying African music. sentence by sentence. The latter is not something learned but something practised. notes. 2001) to promote understanding of creative writing in literature. a collection of objects. literary writing is often also called ‘composition’.How critical is music theory? musical structure’ suddenly show through. from having read it extensively. phrasing. [and] conventions of grammar and syntax’ (Agawu 2003. let alone contemporary or African ones. The top level is ideally absorbed very young so that by high school the tools are simply ‘there’ in an individual’s background. theory of music most fails at the critical level. and this is where. for example. he says. indeed at this level. paragraphs. In terms of Calhoun’s’ 175 . Working in the sphere of music as performance rather than music as score. Author Stephen King uses the metaphor of the toolbox (On Writing. Yet there is something equally obvious missing in this metaphor.

held ‘locally’ all over the world. They are centrally organised from London and a fee is charged to write exams.Christine Lucia three kinds of theory referred to earlier – ‘system of tested propositions’. self evident. but in themselves not inherently critical. from elementary to advanced level in eleven steps. Why do composers or analysts use them. composers. I suggest. taken by distance learning. It is an inert group of objects in much the same way as letters. Theorist and composer Johann Joseph Fux’s Steps to Parnassus (1725) is probably the earliest example. the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music. 6). But as my earlier historical sketch shows. analysts in South Africa often treat them as found objects.11 The University of South Africa. they are ‘there’. its lexicon of rules. yet this is not the case (for the most part) overseas. ‘integrated causal explanation’. I further suggest a source for embedding such a prescription in the (post)colonial consciousness: the ‘external’ grade examinations system of London conservatoires.10 These steps provide a worldwide curriculum. they can exist purely as ends in themselves. they have not always been universally there or always there in the same way. in the most obvious sense. Ian Bent has shown how this book. should now be called to account. since the eighteenth century. It thus fails. 5. The notion of ‘steps’ is not new. and performers in thrall since the 1890s. perhaps. to allow suitable parallels with what the work of critical theory does. or ‘approach to solving problems and developing explanations’ (1995. using a New and Sure Method. in the South African intellectual curriculum? I suggest that the sphere of pedagogy that has held sway (as we have seen) over the development of this notion of ‘theory of music’ as prescription for practice. subtitled Guide to Musical Composition by the Rules. self-explanatory. theory of music as toolbox is none of these. They have cultural origins applicable to a particular cultural history: the history of Western Europe. How did this situation come about and remain so hegemonic. then? Because. never before published in so Methodical and Arrangement. that it terms of the discourse of music in South Africa. through conservatoires such Trinity College. terminologies and concepts imbibed not for critique. I argue. words and sentences are useful: tools to those who know how to combine them in a language and literature imbibed from childhood. ‘theory’ usually signifies the uncritical – but not unimportant – toolbox. These grade exams are there so that music learners can be assessed for examination in the curriculum they cover: in short. As Beverly Parker shows. based in Pretoria. and the Guildhall College of Music and Drama. The curriculum these exams inculcate(d) have ensured. including South Africa. An ideology behind theory of music The ‘grade exams’ offer a path into Western academic music (as opposed to paths found in other cultural spaces). which have held South African music teachers. not necessarily for composition or analysis even. has indigenised them in South Africa since 1948. became a ‘tabula by-no-means rasa on which [generations of] theorists and pedagogues 176 .

An example of the modernised post-War format of these kinds of books. it does not rely on model compositions [but on abstractions]. groupings. as well as for harmony teaching. The tradition of Western art music on which such a notion of theory rests and from which it derives. indeed.How critical is music theory? have written’ (2002. ‘First. triads. African choral music is. These solutions included the writing of notes against a cantus firmus in an outmoded a capella (unaccompanied) church vocal style. these are the four cadences. Third. terms. Second. 556). and similar to. is William Cole’s (1953) series of books produced for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. and only very slightly with speculative. becoming the ground plan for ‘species counterpoint’ as it is called and as it is still taught today. in South Africa. is also very unevenly known. composed by musicians largely untutored in the higher steps of theory of music. whose theoretical premises are partly based on traditional modes (scales) and chords (see Mngoma 1981) or indigenous notions of ‘melody’ and ‘harmony’ (see Mthethwa 1988). and hence. tailor-made to steps of examination. back cover). presenting a body of knowable facts in various ways and testing that knowledge through exercises. but by not using models or examples from actual compositions Fux can present idealised solutions to problems irrelevant to contemporary composition of 1725. more generally for the teaching of theory of music (ibid.13 Such texts are almost all from north America and Britain (there are few indigenous examples) and for decades they have found their way to South Africa. this is four-part harmony. and this is the gap between Western theory and theories derived from other musical practices of indigenous South African musicians including (and primarily) African choral composers. successfully breaking abstract rules inherited from the late eighteenth century. Yet they compose prolifically.12 The hegemony of theory of music’s influence in South Africa relies on the power of the (colonial) system behind it and on that system’s wide dissemination through hundreds of textbooks and workbooks. The gap between old theory and new music present in Fux’s model has irrevocably widened (as mentioned earlier). it is occupied largely with practical music. designed for easy mastery by beginners. but the questions are rhetorical. the most pervasive early examples emanating from the English publisher Novello whose Music Primers and Educational Series had 56 titles by 1878 (see Pauer 1878. time signatures. intervals. The steps in Fux’s model speed up progress towards a certain concept of musical maturity. this is voice-leading and chord spacing. of which in many cases they are not even aware. it is based on the elementary reading pedagogy of the day’ (ibid. 557). key signatures. bibles and catechisms). this is how counterpoint works – to questions that are raised as ‘what to know’. His progressive steps carefully laid down rules about part-writing and the treatment of consonance and dissonance.. The latter are overwhelmingly important (as important as. signs. One particular gap exposes the ideology of Western theory of music. 554). This series ‘answers’ – information about clefs. Bent identifies three principles on which the book it based.. Cole’s books are subtitled ‘questions and exercises’ (1953).14 That such a system has remained critically unchallenged within an 177 .

within what I have been calling ‘music theory’. on the other hand. It fails to keep pace with living traditions of composition. moreover. but Martin Scherzinger (2001) and Agawu (2003) have contested 178 . Aspects of it can be used productively within music analysis. and Leppert & McClary 1987). especially in Africa. composition. thus cannot be ‘critical’ in the dialogic sense meant by Calhoun. This curriculum uses the same complex set of signs and symbols called staff notation that compositions do (just as authors use the same alphabet and words that literary critics do). and are thus capable of asking fundamental questions about the role of theory itself (see for example Ballantine 1984. although they can be large and far ranging. it remains not so much a body of knowledge as a set of rules. It functions mainly in relation to music history. is that in post-apartheid South Africa the ideological basis of theory of music in the school and university curriculum remains unquestioned. not even an inherently unmasterable one (as Culler called contemporary theory in the social sciences and humanities). What is more surprising. key signatures. but it employs them differently – inculcating ‘correct’ choices of syntax all along the line. it does not any more rely on understanding of any one culture’s language. such as Christianity and the English language. More advanced theory of music as it developed from the practices of performers and composers during the eighteenth century. despite the fact that its origins lie in a certain period of Western art music history. or awareness of the larger musical language of past and contemporary South Africa. It is seen as universal (far more so. There has been a perception that a ‘Western’ mode of analysis is problematic in ethnomusicology. I suggest. but theory of music is not a body of ideas. far from it: it is eminently masterable. as the history of the grade exams has shown. Such theory of music is not a sub-discipline of musicology.Christine Lucia educational culture imposed by decades of colonialism and apartheid is perhaps not surprising (although other hegemonic systems. indeed. than the English language or Christianity). McClary 1991. without developing critical awareness of where such choices come from. and horizontal movement (counterpoint) is what is taught in universities. Critical discourses in music theory. performance. If the methodological and ideological assumptions underlying it are not taught at the same time. intervals. and other fragmented abstractions of music (the ‘toolbox’) is the prevailing model for music education in South Africa – along with. especially as concerned with vertical structure (harmony). times signatures. and eminently suited to processes of colonisation. Indeed. moreover. and supporting. ask questions through precise examples. and evidence of the success of the system.15 The curriculum of scales. have). or indeed analysis. but a body of knowledge usable within any of music’s sub-disciplines. it can only be used critically. For this reason it is also eminently transportable through textbooks and external examinations. among composers not necessarily familiar with all its rules yet familiar with their own cultural sonic norms. performance practice. when Outcomes Based Education has challenged most other spheres of educational philosophy. engage with limited issues of structure and meaning.

By this time a number of conservatories were offering diplomas. and enhancing African music’s visibility. Meanwhile Sir Frederick Gore Ouseley. How has theory of music maintained its ideological grip then. especially as a body of ‘works’. and Musical History. The (London) Sacred Philharmonic Society had been formed in 1832 to promote choral practice. cited in Rainbow. 227). a ‘pattern generally adopted’ by other universities (ibid. 232-33). and for some their conserve-atism was innate. introducing exams in ‘Harmony and Counterpoint. also under royal patronage.). There was another quite different parallel development. Liszt dubbed the Paris Conservatoire ‘reactionary’ (Rainbow 1989. Agawu puts forward compelling claims (173-97) for the ‘purely musical’ analysis of African music on the grounds of correcting the inequality of perception between African and Western musics.How critical is music theory? this. leant heavily on the privilege and power accorded it by royal patronage.. 170). both institutions normalised a view of music and music training that privileged the socially privileged. and was soon ‘transformed into a symbol of religious dissent as a [huge] 179 . but nonetheless refused to merge with the National Training School when the chance came in 1878. arguing for the interrelatedness of ‘formalist’ and ‘cultural’ analysis and showing how the contextsensitive analysis of ethnomusicology has its own ‘formalist tendencies’ (11). In his analysis of the Zimbabwean mbira tune ‘Nyamaropa’ Scherzinger shows the critical applicability of some of the tools to African music. The Royal Academy of Music. 239). in South Africa? In tracing its origins I return to the colonial centre and examine the genesis of the grade exams... ibid. however. free-market economy in late Victorian Britain.). 160). and the high culture of Western classical music. The Royal Academy (RAM) barely survived the establishment of this and other rival schools. and Wagner declared in 1865 that the Leipzig Konservatorium was ‘nothing more than “a musical Temperance Society”’ (Wagner. Professor of Music at Oxford. in 1882 (Rainbow 1989. Fugue. had instituted major curriculum reform in 1855 that set the tone for the next 150 years. Whatever the case. He also suggests that the rivalry between RAM and RCM was part of their failure to achieve a common musical diploma (ibid. so the latter became the new Royal College of Music (RCM). Theory of music and the conservatoires Two of the most famous conservatoires in the world are in London. The Royal College of Music began life in 1873 as the National Training School for Music (Rainbow and Kemp 2000. 234). but it was surely also attributable to the climate of a capitalist. Similar conservatoires sprang up all over Europe at this time. in addition to the submission of written composition of prescribed nature’ (ibid. Canon. Formal Analysis. 241). which led to ‘an almost pointless race to collect their sometimes valueless awards’ as Bernarr Rainbow puts it (ibid. founded in 1822 (Rainbow 1989.

Parry and others delivered a memorandum to the Education department deploring the widespread use of tonic solfa and choral music in schools (2002. rather than staff notation. The scene was set in late Victorian London for an ideological war between the non-conformist working-class choral solfa-ists and the Establishment middle-class conservatory. led to the formation of a small ‘joint subcommittee’ of the two institutions. Director of the Royal College of Music in 1888 ([Associated Board n. for example. The war came to a head in a bizarre ‘notation march’ down Whitehall in 1897. 35). 606).d. The non-conformist solfa-ists certainly had numbers on their side. By 1890. Principal of the Royal Academy of Music. as Grant Olwage has shown. 8). and on 18th July a ‘draft agreement’ was reached to conduct joint Local Examinations in Music ‘throughout the United Kingdom’ ([Associated Board] Agreement. concerned with the perpetuation of high standards of taste in British musical life. a move further consolidated by the founding of the (London) Tonic Sol-fa College as early as 1869. pro-Establishment. Alexander Mackenzie. perhaps not surprisingly. which issued external certificates ahead of the other London-based conservatoires – and soon included South African candidates. 24 October 1889). ‘more than 39. and especially. 180 . colonised by Germans. primers on singing and other modes of performance. The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music Shortly before this. A conversation between Dr. Alexander Mackenzie. 28-31). but also. where. and Arthur Sullivan. George Grove. This choral music used a resurrected form of medieval tonic solfa notation. to which rudiments and theory of music were crucial. This was not so much an anti-German as an anti-working class move.].or university-trained musicians. and Sir George Grove. which met on the 17th of June 1889. the Royal Academy and Royal College had decided. black and white.Christine Lucia coalition of nonconformist choirs’ (Ehrlich et al 2000.000 copies of the Tonic Sol-fa edition of Handel’s Messiah had been sold’ (Rainbow 2000. John Stainer. textbooks on what were called rudiments and theory of music. 139). including not only sheet music. Rivalry between the publishing houses of Curwen and Novello ensured that thousands of items were disseminated throughout Britain and its colonies. to bury their differences and work together on a new project that would ensure not only their own raison d’être but also the future of an instrumental (rather than vocal) high art tradition in staff notation. In 1835 the British Committee of Council on Education recommended tonic solfa notation and class singing as a method of instruction for state schools (Rainbow 1986. anxious to eradicate the notion that Britain was ‘Das Land ohne Musik’ (a land without music). Hubert Parry. in its sway. histories of music. Most of these were composers and all of them proponents of Britain’s expanding role in European classical music. including ‘eminent Victorians’ and Oxbridge men such as Charles Stanford.

but they quickly outgrew their rivals. intervals. and decided to begin examinations in schools as well as local centres from 1891 (ibid. in March. The two levels – Junior and Senior – were therefore soon expanded downwards to cater for low standard of theory of music knowledge (the failures). which at present is too often of a kind but little calculated to further the development of sound musical culture (ibid. the Associated Board effectively became a school as well as communitybased music examining body driven by an ideology of a ‘higher’ kind of music (i. in forty-six ‘local centres’ throughout the UK (mostly municipal buildings such as city halls).. Western art music). The Associated Board a coloniser of South African theory of music Thus. Harmony. ‘of the 904 Candidates who presented themselves [for the Preparatory Exam]. time signatures. It recognised that an enormous demand had been created that then 181 . An even stiffer Preparatory Examination followed. offered at two levels. An integral part of the move to control standards throughout the country was the prescription that no candidates could take the joint Board’s exams until they had passed a Preliminary Examination a month prior to this. 4-5). 10). as the Associated Board’s first annual Report of 189091 shows. Their annual Report makes the agenda clear.How critical is music theory? The first examinations of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music in 1890 were not the first of their kind (similar external exams had been held by Trinity College of Music since 1876 (see Paxinos 1984. 3). The first practical exams – in piano. the Report says. note values. This qualifying exam tested knowledge of scales. of the Associated Board’s ‘grade exams’. but also to exercise a beneficial influence on the elementary teaching of the Arts. 431 were successful and 473 failed. until within a very few years they had stretched across eight Grades: the origin. and violin – were held in March and April 1890. in Rudiments of Music. and guardian of that music’s performance standards and critical norms. and triads – theory of music. and then all levels expanded in both directions in both theory of music and practical music. then.e. The high a priori standard of theory of music demanded here was a major obstacle for many candidates. 5). alongside the practical exams. organ. grouping of notes. Analysis and Form’.. and this comprised ‘Counterpoint. The Board intended not only to encourage younger and less advanced students to persevere towards the attainment of a higher knowledge of Music by affording them the opportunity of testing by means of an Examination the degree of proficiency at which they have arrived. Although most people managed the rudiments paper. Junior and Senior. Another result of the shockingly high percentage of failures in theory of music was that the Board perceived this as a lapse in school music education. the percentage of passes in the Junior Grade being 54 as against nearly 45 in the Senior’ Associated Board 1890-91.

piano. such as the volunteer system by 182 . Grahamstown.17 After requests from several other colonial outposts in the late 1890s that finally turned a conversation between two Victorian gentleman into an imperial enterprise. and it would be very disheartening for these countries to see the statistics’ (Rob Pitkethly. however. Their hegemonic power draws on other aspects. n.).19 Exam entry fees. 400 fail.16 The Board entered into an agreement with the University. absence of earnings. not only to countries of the former Commonwealth but also the far East and the United States. perhaps. As Associate Board CEO Richard Morris told me in a meeting in March 2002. In 1891 – in what was only the second year of running Associated Board external exams – a Memorandum from music teachers in the Western Cape was presented to the University of the Cape of Good Hope (UCGH). especially as they affect black candidates. England. and the first Associated Board of the Royals Schools of Music exams in theory. Graaff Reinet. harmony. as I was told by an AB employee. opened in1920 ([Associated Board. The Associated Board exams have provided a model based on unquestioned assumptions about the ideology of certain kinds of music and musical knowledge. ‘there might be some countries where out of 500 entries. personal communication 21/03/02). the Board’s 6 000 entries a year from South Africa ‘doesn’t cover our [administration] costs: it’s a charitable activity’ (personal communication 12/03/02). And indeed augmentation was soon to be far greater. violin. They stopped making figures public some years ago because.d. and Kimberley in 1894. South African entries to Board exams are fairly small. and organ were held in Cape Town. Its position now is that of the largest and most influential external examining body in the world and its whole history an example of the progression from mercantile through monopoly to transnational capitalism second to none. reflected in the telegraphic address it had from 1889 to 1898: ‘Augmentation’ – a play on the word associated with a rhythmic prolongation in counterpoint but also one of the facets of an expansionist policy. for Local Examinations in Music in the British Empire … 18 The expansion of the Associated Board’s exams continued throughout the twentieth century. They constitute a fraction of the Board’s income.. 2). I have not yet been able to establish the economics of pass and fail rates. because the Associated Board does not keep racial breakdowns of candidates and they are wary of giving statistics because this ‘might be beneficial to their competitors’ (ibid.Christine Lucia had to be satisfied (ibid. than Mackenzie and Grove ever imagined. The Associated Board is run as a Charity while the very profitable Music Publishing Department. In the financial year February 1997 to January 1998 the Charity accrued an annual surplus of almost £3 million. are high when translated into South African Rands and measured against the very low average earnings of candidates – or in the case of most schoolchildren or university students. although low in terms of British currency. 15) is run as a business. 216). singing.]. the Board changed its name in 1902 to The Associated Board of the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music of London. compared to entries for Unisa grade exams. requesting the University to establish the Board’s examinations in South Africa (Le Roux 1982.

The grade exam system has become so successful that its approach has become a yardstick for measuring university entrance requirements in music. 8-9). that has little affinity with the axioms of Western harmony and counterpoint. A gender analysis reveals another kind of power discourse. Even the examiners sent out from the UK to assess candidates all over the world. that while English has become an effective medium for the expression of an indigenous literature. a continuing manifestation of the ‘signs and practices. 6). I would argue. of what the Comaroffs have shown as the colonisation of consciousness in South Africa. because its syntax does not conform to expectations. arising out of a desire to promulgate the values of Western culture – through in this case the vehicle of theory of music – in an alien world. placing them in a very unequal power relations with the metropolitan centre of control. in much the same way that the imposition of Christian precepts and the English language were negotiations as much as impositions. which was their payment and probably regarded as sufficient reward. receive fairly low fees. the conditioning effect of the attitude towards musical mastery that some aspects of theory of music impose has done some disservice to a reading of the long indigenous choral tradition. however. the same couldn’t necessarily be said of theory of music and indigenous composition. Conclusion The case of the Associated Board and similar external examining bodies in South Africa is an extreme example. and later post-colonial state’ (Comaroff and Comaroff 1989. 267. It was from the first a collaboration. and still unpaid. The first Local Representatives who ram exams in the 1890s had their names ‘approved by HRH the President’ (the Prince of Wales) ([First Annual] Report. and thus complicating the colonising process. the axioms and aesthetics. rather than an imposition. 268). The Board itself was entirely male from 1890 until well into the twentieth century.. Lists of candidates’ names given until the Second World War show the overwhelming number was female (2000 in 1891 versus 29 male). Only in 1914 did the number of women suddenly increase. the majority of examiners and local representatives however (representing the power of a centralised form of control) were male. There is a strong tradition of choral music as I have pointed out. These and other statistics obviously repay much more critical attention. I suggest. along with the knowledge that they were doing what the Board called ‘important national work’ (ibid. their services are seen as a subvention from the full-time teaching posts they mostly occupy (see the complaint about this in Long 1980. just as English is a yardstick. Indeed. however.20 But increasingly. 2). of an alien culture’ as it once operated in the ‘colonial. presumably because of conscription in the First World War. music students – whose consciousness 183 . which is not yet recognised as serious composition either by the academy or by the music education establishment. Local Representatives are still the mainstay of the organisation. and also of orally transmitted music.How critical is music theory? which exams are administered world-wide.

Thus. to deconstruct the ideology behind it and reassign the uses of its component parts. The process of deconstructing its system-bound modes of musical thinking thus holds many possibilities. What are the constraints on our thinking to remove before we can affect further critique of theory of music? First. Third. in turn. Casting off some components of theory of music and retaining. employing its hegemonic norms uncritically is not only problematic but increasingly anachronistic. perhaps. Second. Many have not already absorbed certain assumptions of value or systems of control through theory of music. would be a brave and extraordinary move. 184 . after 300 years. advantaged. (McClary 1985. the de-mystifying process of ‘making a piece’ ‘removed from the rigid institutions of specialised musical training’. On the down side. dismantling an even older system in which apprentices are perpetually initiated into the ‘basics’.Christine Lucia universities are also trying to colonise – don’t come to study music at university with this conditioning. is not a matter of its intellectual importance so much as its ideological necessity. To debate it. its epistemology has emerged from a very different space from that of critique (from an eighteenth century practice of composition rather than late nineteenth and early twentieth century practices of social science and philosophy). For it is nothing less than abandoning. because the corpus of rudiments. we cannot do without some of its useful components. however. in Jacques Attali’s liberating words. Harmonic thinking. Not the least of the benefits of this. we cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. and its basic premise – an assumption of value in the rules of Western music composition of 200 years ago – is no longer relevant. How critical music theory as theory-of-music is. the traditional carrier of Western classical music conventions. are that composition might become. is a strong element in much of South Africa’s traditional and popular music. It is abandoning the Romantic paradigm (also revealed by the Comaroffs) of student recipients waiting for ‘the word’. as is rhythmic polyphony. for example. and abandoning a body of knowledge comfortably residing in ready-to-wear textbooks. or nuts and bolts. because of the so-called disadvantaged schooling they have received. the mastery of hierarchies and rules no longer determine successful performance or composition. harmony. to explore the truly critical role (music) theory could play in South Africa. and counterpoint has been in existence longer than critical theory it seems epistemologically a priori and therefore foundational. so that masters higher up the hierarchy can continually control them as they move up until they become masters themselves. In addition. 156). maybe adapting others is threatening. some of us (myself included) might be out of a job. It would however mean that last major outpost of the nineteenth century conservatoire system inherent in university music departments in South Africa would also be dismantled. in this case. then.

other forms of popular music – which abounds in conventions celebrated in the rules of theory of music. there are also scholars who have revealed conceptual systems in southern Africa’s ‘indigenous’ musics: see for example Olivier 1997. Christensen’s Introduction has 1720-79 (9). often pays service to the globalising effect of the ABRSM’s work ‘in a range of overseas countries from Europe to Africa to Asia’ (Chief Executive Richard Morris in Libretto 2006: 3. hearing students and colleagues present papers at conferences. 4 The Cambridge History of Music Theory gives several dates. serving on various national music education forums. To make it apply more widely would defeat most of the purpose of the essay. and New Zealand. important to point out that tools from theory of music can quite successfully be used (and have) to interpret meanings in popular music. paradoxically remains an untapped source for the mastery of such rules. gospel. who regarded theory as a higher form of practice. hip-hop. 10 The steps are Grade 1 to Grade 8. the point of practice ‘is change in some object. and. 2).How critical is music theory? Notes 1 According to Aristotle. 9 He expressed his ideas most fully in his treatise Der freie Satz [Free Composition] of 1935.). Simon frith. kwaito. Canada. whereas the end of theoria is knowledge of the object itself’ (Christensen 2002.. and John Shepherd. 5 Christensen does not give the original German term but the title of Sulzer’s whole intellectual project was Allgemeine Theorie der schönen Künste (1771-4) (ibid. and engaging my colleagues in various institutions in debate over the role of ‘music theory’ in the curriculum. but I am nevertheless aware that this may be seen as a limitation. It is. the United States. 3 It is ‘theory of music’ as I have defined it above. Libretto. 3). 6 And how such analysis explains causes in terms of an idealistic or materialistic paradigm is of as great an interest to musicians as it is to scholars in other disciplines – in the South African context see for example Lüdemann 1993. although Christensen continues to call it ‘music theory’. and in the book’s Index 1720-90 (991). 2 The definition of ‘music’ I use for this essay is one necessarily bounded to Western art music. in another chapter 1771-79 (872). with a ‘pre-Grade 1’ level (Preparatory) leading to Grade 1 and a ‘post-Grade 8’ level (Advanced Certificate) providing a stepping stone to Licentiate Diplomas in Teaching or Performing (the latter are on a par with university BMus final year). & 1996. See inter alia the work of Richard Middleton. making a ‘fundamental epistemological distinction drawn between the two as principles of action … theoria is the discipline of final causes (that of why a thing is made) and praktike that of formal causes (that into which a thing is made)’ (ibid. 8 Das Meisterwerk in der Musik (1925-30). 7 My knowledge of the South African situation comes from ‘insider’ experience: from teaching at four South African universities over thirty years. On the other hand. 2). acting as external examiner for others. in a later chapter they are 1720-89 (668). 11 The Associated Board of the Royal School of Music’s mouthpiece. 185 . 1991. however. one can add. 12 The repertoire most people in South Africa listen to regularly – hymns. Australia. and studying the development of syllabuses and curricula countrywide. and Dargie 1982.

and in 1948 Unisa established its own Grade exam system. Nzewi and Agawu. The Music Publishing Department had separated from the Examinations Department in 1920 (see below). thus making the Board a profit (after printing costs and his £450 © fee) of £8 060 (ibid.10.63 by the Board’s Chairman. theory of music was throughout the 20th century seen as preparation for musical confirmation.d. England.D. this ‘catechism’ presents the information in question-and-answer form with ‘Examination Questions supplied throughout [which] are designed as tests of comprehension to be answered by the pupils (without reference to the Catechism)’ (Cuthbert [ had made the Board £32 324 by 1968 (ibid.’ [Music Publishing Department]). agenda item).] 19 The figure given was the latest I could find while conducting research into the ABRSM in 2002 and were found on the website of the Charity Commission of England and Wales (www.. The Musical Arts in Africa (Herbst.]. in light of the constant musical traffic between Britain and its southern African colony. Stanley Marchant. The ABRSM sold 124 000 copies of Cole’s Questions and Exercises between 1953 and 1963 (handwritten note of 22. for Local Examinations in Music in the British Empire: Patron: His Majesty The King. but I assume they would be much higher. 1994. 170). 15 Not only is it unquestioned but also the ‘critical outcomes’ of music in the higher school curricula have themselves recently become linked to the outcomes of grade theory examinations of the Royal Schools of Music and in ten years. since the AB exam system was always intimately linked with school education. called Centre Reports 1902 to 1906. and issues of the London-based The Music Times in the same period). 14 Behind these books lies an area of research that it is beyond the scope of this article to explore: the political economy of the grade exams.G: Thirteenth [to Seventeenth] Annual Report of the Board to the General Meeting at St. 18 Associated Board. there was a split between the Associated Board and the University of South Africa which was administering their exams (Unisa grew out of UCGH). James’s Palace. His Rudiments and Theory of Music published in 1958. Preface).d. AB Archive. London: [AB] 14 Hanover Square. [5 paper booklets bound into one volume.R. 16 An unsurprising from its inception in the 1890s (see the early Minute Books in the AB archive. The Prince of Wales. Rather in the same way that the Christian Catechism was ‘to be learned of every person before he be brought to be confirmed by the Bishop’ (Book of Common Prayer [n. K. orange file ‘M.d. I have not ascertained figures for the profit of the Publications Department over the same period. 20 A widely influential textbook for music education in South African schools. to partner the exercise books.. 1902-1906. Perhaps this in turn is to be expected. 18/03/02).Christine Lucia 13 An example from the 1920s or ’30s [n.H. eds. President: H. 2003) does not include indigenous 186 .P. 17 These initial exams were not ‘Unisa exams’. The Associated Board of the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music of London. although several decade later and under the impact of various ideological imperatives not least of which was the rise of Afrikaaner nationalism. as Unisa would have it – see Musicus 22(2). Divided into thirty-eight lessons.] that reveals a possible relationship between religious and musical evangelism is Minnie Cuthbert’s First Steps in Theory: A Catechism of the Elements of Music for the use of Junior Pupils.

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