Watch my video presentation: “Intermediary Between Two Worlds: The Role of Eric Simon in Benny Goodman’s Commissioning of Classical Music”
The 86th Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society took place on 7/8 and 14/15 November 2020. What should have been an in person meeting of hundreds of scholars from all around the world was tranfered into the virtual space due to the pandemic. However, the good thing is that now I’m able to make the above posted video of my presentation available to you!
Such as mine, all papers were prerecorded and could be watched by the conference participants before, during, and also after the event; the online Q&A sessions were live. My paper was part of a beautiful session, “Collaborative Processes,” chaired by Will Robin.
Just as the speakers connected from three continents, the discussed topics as well spanned a wide range, from exclusive composer/performer collaborations in twenty-first century classical music, over Janet Jackson’s album “Control,” to musical composition as an intellectual practice on the Swahili coast. I can highly recommend to check out the fascinating work of my wonderful co-panelists Nathinee Chucherdwatanasak (University of Michigan), Jason Hanley (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), and Andrew Eisenberg (NYU Abu Dabi).
Although the calculation of discussing four papers in 50 minutes was a little tight, I got some great questions from the audience. The first concerned the fact that in all three cases I discuss in my paper (Goodman’s projects with Bartók, Milhaud, and Hindemith), Goodman was granted a three year reserve period during which no one else was allowed to perform the compositions which he had commissioned. Indeed, such exclusive performance rights for a commissioner cannot only be observed with all the pieces written for Goodman on commisison, but this is also a more widespread phenomenon. It appears as if the average period for that lies between one and three years. Pianist Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961), however, secured himself an even lifelong exclusive performance right.
Another interesting question concerned Goodman’s lessons with Simon and if there would be any evidence of how Simon might have guided Goodman as a player. Unfortunately, we do not know the details of what Simon and Goodman exactely did during their meetings which were squeezed in between Goodman’s numerous other occupations. They probably studied the standard repertoire, which Goodman would perform on the US tour he was preparing and which would present both, swing and classical music. Also, they very likely might have worked on new pieces written for Goodman, such as Bartók’s Contrasts, which Goodman would perform in a concert in Boston in 1941, or maybe the concerto by Milhaud, which was completed in the same year (although Goodman never performed it on stage or recorded it). We can learn from Goodman’s collaboration with Szigeti on Contrasts that he was eager to closely study the score and to understand the compositional structure and how the diverse instruments, musical themes ec. were related. So, Simon and Goodman might also have had an analytical perspective on the pieces. As for the question concerning a potential stylistic influence on Goodman, a very close listen to Goodman’s available classical recordings from before and while Simon was coaching him, could provide some idea (investigating this is still on my to do list, though). When Goodman later turned to the British clarinetist Reginald Kell for further lessons, we indeed are able to note a difference in his style of playing, originating primarily in the (questionable) adaption of a double lip embouchure from Kell.
I got some great inspiration from this conference, not only from my specific session but from a variety of research topics which were presented. This builds a stimulating base to rework my paper into an article which will hopefully will be ready for publication soon. If you have any further questions or comments on the paper, don’t hesitate to share them below!