Teaching Music History: An Interview with William Kimmel
William Kimmel was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1908. He went to college in Naperville, Illinois, receiving his A.B. degree from North Central College. He received his M.M. and Ph.D degrees from the Eastman School of Music in 1935 and 1942 respectively. From 1935 to 1947 he taught music at Michigan State University and in 1948 joined the music faculty of Hunter College, now part of the City University of New York, from which he has recently retired.
Block: You like to define your terms as soon as possible, I know, so perhaps you could begin by stating what your understanding of music is?
KIMMEL: I suppose my root image or metaphor for understanding music is the dynamic field. As I see it, music-making sets energies in motion and gives them structure. The composer, by manipulating sonorities, creates patterns of tensions and resolutions, velocities and momentums, in temporal spans of setting forth and arriving, and thus evokes a musical being that assumes its place among other beings in the world. Because this description of music applies as well to everything else in the world, the listener may find music meaningful precisely because its structure and character resemble not only other musical works, but also the whole world of dynamic relationships that he encounters in every moment of his existence.
So the question I ask of music is two-fold. First, how does this composer understand dynamics and how does he exhibit that understanding? Second, what ordering principles does he believe govern and significantly order his world?
Block: For the answers do you examine not only the work but also the general sociological, historical and philosophical background?
KIMMEL: Yes. The composer lives in a climate of presupposition about natural and cultural dynamics. Bach, for example, like his predecessors and contemporaries, was a Pythagorean who believed among other things that the universe and the human soul are ordered by number relationships. In the later eighteenth century Mozart reflected in his works the shift to psychological and social dynamics, that is the dynamics of drama interrelationships of characters in an ordered society.
Block: Whereas in the Baroque opera characters respond to abstract principles rather than to each other?
KIMMEL: Yes, or at least in geometricized paradigms of life. Francis Ferguson, for example, defined the classic drama of the Baroque as the "demonstration of a theorem." A presupposition of the late Baroque, that first one turned experience into ideas, the clearest being mathematical and the next clearest being logical propositions and their relationships. Then the artist clothed these in aesthetic forms that appealed to the imagination and moved the beholder toward understanding and assent.
Block: How would you describe the fundamental dynamics of music in the later nineteenth century?
KIMMEL: For some Romanticists the fundamental dynamics operative in human affairs was subjective: feeling, sentiment, emotion. Novalis said, "Only a poet can understand nature, for the true laws of nature are through and through analogous to the laws of the heart." And Schumann said, "Reason errs, feeling never." The classic formulation was Goethe's: "Gefühl ist alles; Name ist Schall und Rauch." Consequently the musical beings such composers evoked through their patterns and gestures of dynamic comportment disclose the fundamental subjectivity of being as surely as the gestures of a weeping mother disclose the subjectivity of a human being.
Block: Can you characterize the dynamics of the twentieth century?
KIMMEL: I wouldn't presume to. But the same question must be asked of the contemporary composer and his works: "How do you understand the fundamental dynamics at work in the universe and in human affairs, dynamics whose ordering is crucial for our time, and next, what ordering principles do you invoke?"
Block: What are those ordering principles?
KIMMEL: Briefly, succession or procession, cyclic recurrence, progressive variation, alienation and return, dramatic or dialectical confrontation, conflict and reintegration, progressive saturation, random distribution, chance operations, and many more. All of these have implications that transcend merely formal meanings. The problem is not only to identify and explain structures but also to inquire why such structures are profoundly significant. In a work the composer says in effect: This is the way in which the dynamics of the world is, can be, or ought to be ordered. This musical being I have brought into existence, in the enactment of its "career" discloses what it means to be a being among other beings in the world, and what the conditions, limits and possibilities of being are.
Block: Before you discuss the application of these ideas to the teaching of music, would you talk about your own background and training? What experiences led you toward musicology when the discipline was at its very beginnings in this country? How did you get started in music? How young were you when you first began music study?
KIMMEL: Like other children of middle class families I began music lessons early, starting piano at age seven, shifting to the violin at 11, and after five years returning to the piano, which I continued to study intermittently for nine more years. I was fortunate in having teachers who included ear training and keyboard harmony in the lessons. The very first was Hope Baumgartner, who later became professor of theory at the Yale University School of Music. Consequently when I later studied harmony more formally I was simply systematizing and writing what my ears and hands already knew.
Block: Where did you live?
KIMMEL: In Naperville, a college town which is a suburb of Chicago. My father was the president of the theological seminary associated with North Central College there, so I grew up in an academic environment. Indeed, I have hardly known any other. It was most convenient for me to attend college in my home town and since only music mattered to me, I elected a B.A. curriculum with a major in music. Discovering that I had a voice of sorts, I began the serious study of singing which continued through college and four years in Rochester at the Eastman School of Music's opera department.
Block: Was yours a musical family?
KIMMEL: Only in an elementary and unsophisticated sense. There was a lot of music-making at home, my sister playing the piano, my brother the trombone and I the violin—a unique chamber ensemble. My father loved to sing and his untrained Heldentenor caused me no end of embarrassment during congregational singing in church. All this was typical American Hausmusik. My record collection, however, which included Ein Heldenleben, the Firebird Suite and Gregorian chant, was totally alien to them. I recall an occasion when my father showed remarkable insight; after my mother chided me for listening to records instead of going to church my father said, "Let him be. There is obviously something very significant going on with him that is closed to us and more important than going to church." So the family tolerated but did not encourage my interest in music. I cannot attribute my musicality, musical interests or taste to family influence.
Block: Your father sounds like an understanding person, however.
KIMMEL: Yes. Although he was president of the seminary my father was primarily a practicing theologian, a man of enormous heart and unquenchable love for people, who was concerned with the art of preaching and the pastoral duties of managing and caring for the needs of a congregation. Indeed, he was a compelling preacher.
Block: Does this account for your interest in philosophy and theology?
KIMMEL: Not at all. When I was young I had little interest in either and besides, being a preacher's son in the roaring twenties was no fun. My mother was an opposite type, uncomfortable and restive in the role of minister's wife, introspective, reticent in her dealings with people and aristocratic in her approach to life. Not only did she have intellectual interests and well-developed aesthetic sensitivities but also in later years she wrote rather good poetry. Perhaps my later attempts to harmonize theology and aesthetics grew out of a need to reconcile those parental tensions.
Block: How did your brother and sister work out those tensions?
KIMMEL: My brother, who became a successful physician on the West Coast, had my father's gregarious disposition and the same love of people. His life was totally devoted to the well-being of his patients, whom he treated like his children. My sister became a successful elementary school teacher and principal, exhibiting the same love for her students and devotion to work.
Block: That is not too different from you.
KIMMEL: No, I am afraid it is. I am neither gregarious nor do I love my students in that manner. I respect them, however, and most of my energy is spent in preparation for the class room. My love is for Mozart and Bach and for almost all music and that is where I try to direct my student's love. When I was younger that love of music was expressed in music making. Indeed, being a musician in the 1920's meant making music. I played the violin and viola with local chamber groups, violin in the college and community orchestras, sang oratorios with local choral organizations, and took the train to Chicago to hear Stock and the Chicago Symphony, Ponselle and Gigli with the Chicago Opera Company. I heard Wagner's operas with Frieda Leider and a touring German opera company, and heard Cortot, Hoffman, Paderewski and others in recital. Chicago had a flourishing musical life, including operetta.
Block: When did you become interested in musicology?
KIMMEL: It began during my last years in Rochester when I had intimations that I was not to become America's foremost baritone. But it was set in motion by Charles Warren Fox, an exciting and enthusiastic young psychologist appointed to the Eastman faculty upon completion of his doctorate with Titchener at Cornell. While there he had attended Otto Kinkeldey's seminars in musicology. Almost immediately after his arrival at Eastman, Fox initiated musicology seminars held in the great Sibley Library in Rochester. Helen Hewitt, Leonard Ellinwood, Peter Hanson, Frank Campbell and others were the first to be enticed into musicology by Fox's enthusiasm.
Block: How did Fox teach?
KIMMEL: He conducted seminars in the traditional manner, assigning individual topics in a given area, generally problems in the fifteenth, sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. Sessions then consisted of the reading of student papers followed by a critical examination of what had or had not been done.
Block: Did he give much guidance?
KIMMEL: In general, no, except in terms of "Not this way," or "That won't work," or "Consult this source."
Block: So you were thrown on your own and had to develop your own approaches?
KIMMEL: Yes. In essence he would say, "Here is what you want to do and there is one of the best libraries in the country in which to do it. When you have done something, show it to me." When you brought it, he was a most rigorous and demanding critic, but at the same time helpful and sympathetic.
Block: This was in the 1930's, very soon after the Kinkeldey chair of musicology was established at Cornell, the first of its kind in the United States. What was it like to be a musicologist then?
KIMMEL: I think we were aware of a need for a more systematic and critical approach to music history than we had known, and of the possible future demand for musicologists in colleges and universities. But that demand did not yet exist. Therefore, if we wanted a career in music we had to teach applied music or theory, or both. The Eastman School required the continued study of performance and theory throughout its undergraduate and graduate programs, under the assumption that the best preparation for a professor of music was a general one: mastery of performance, theory, composition, and music history.
Block: How did that work out for you?
KIMMEL: Rather well. My first appointment upon the completion of my master's degree was to the music department at Michigan State University, where I was charged with the establishment of an up-to-date theory curriculum and where I taught harmony, counterpoint, ear training, and keyboard harmony in a department that was just beginning to take itself seriously. This was not my first love but it was a good offer in a good institution.
Block: Your first love was?
KIMMEL: Making music, and second, reflecting on it critically and historically. So I immediately formed a small choir of about 30 singers for the performance of Renaissance and Baroque choral music.
Block: Where had you learned choral conducting?
KIMMEL: In Rochester, where most of the important influences on my musical development came from its superlative conductors, Hermann Genhardt the choral conductor and Emmanuel Balaban the opera conductor and vocal coach. In addition this was the period when the Rochester Philharmonic had no permanent conductor and was using a succession of guest conductors such as Reiner, Rodzinski, Leinsdorf, Molinari, and others. I attended rehearsals on Thursday and Friday mornings and concerts on Friday evenings. There is no better way of studying music and learning conducting skills than closely watching a conductor at work molding sonorities and energies and communicating to his players in precise terms the weight, shape and character of individual gestures in a musical work. As an apprentice I watched those masters and learned that conducting is an architect's art and the conductor's training is in the precise structuring of musical energies.
Block: In addition to the Renaissance and Baroque choir did you do other conducting at Michigan State?
KIMMEL: When the conductor there retired, I took over the regular chorus and for 12 years conducting was my first interest.
Block: Just at Michigan State?
KIMMEL: No, also in the city of Lansing where I was director of music in its principal Episcopal church, where I also inherited a community chorus for the performance of oratorios. Then came the war and soon all the men had left the campus. Although this crippled all the choral organizations, I continued until I left Michigan in 1947.
Block: When you came to Hunter it was a women's college and you couldn't have a mixed chorus there, either.
KIMMEL: No, and there is something extremely limited about a woman's chorus, in spite of Brahms. In addition, Hunter had its choral director and as a result I stopped conducting. But there were deeper reasons for my shift of career. I had to decide whether to continue as a choral conductor or to devote myself to musicology.
Block: You also taught music history at Michigan State?
KIMMEL: Yes, and continued musicological studies during the summers, two of them with Kinkeldey at Harvard, completing the doctorate in Rochester during my first sabbatical leave.
Block: So you were doing almost everything at Michigan State?
KIMMEL: Not all at the same time. Arthur Farwell had been the historian and when he retired I seized the opportunity to bring in someone else to take over the theory department, while I revised the history curriculum and established a graduate program in music. As a young instructor I soon learned that positions are rarely tailored to fit the specialization, taste, interest or enthusiasm of an applicant. At first you accommodate yourself to a position that is available, only gradually and hopefully persuading the department to accommodate itself to your special competencies and enthusiasms.
Block: Was there a model for you in the way you teach and in your approach to music history?
KIMMEL: Not consciously, although I have observed a number of great teachers and lecturers and something of them all unconsciously leaves its mark: how to illuminate a subject, enlighten an audience, or intrude into the life of students. One's method and style should grow out of a grasp of the subject and a sense of what is crucial and what is peripheral, of what works and what does not. History, criticism, and teaching are arts and the best products of each reflect the special substance and geistig orientation of their maker, even when he presumes to conceal it.
There is no universal point of view. The most generalized truths are the most banal. History is always the past as someone sees it and the art work is always the work as someone hears it. The only reason for discourse is to inquire, "How does this look from where you stand?" Every good work of art tells us this and only this and every good historian tells us this and only this. The responsibility of both historian and critic is to supply valid and compelling reasons why, for the moment, I should stand in his shoes. But both should be conscious of the often unexamined metaphysical assumptions that are inevitably at work behind the scene, shaping the very selection and treatment of materials. But I do not think that there is anything special about what I have been doing; rather I believe that it is what every other historian is doing.
Block: Yet your interests in addition to music include theology and philosophy and have influenced your teaching, I am sure. Where did these interests come from, if not from your family? You published three books in the sixties, one on aesthetics, one on theology and one on philosophy.1 How did these come about?
KIMMEL: The books consisted of translations of contemporary French and German essays with critical introductions. My coming to New York coincided with critical years in my career. A partial cause was a growing parochialism in American musicology, its separation from the humanities and from cultural history in general, its attempts to become "scientific," and the tendency to reduce style analysis to form criticism. While I wanted to move in another direction, I felt unprepared to do so.
Block: What direction was that?
KIMMEL: Toward a broader foundation for the interpretation of music and for criteria and principles that more firmly integrate the musical experience with life experience. At the time I became acquainted with a bright young theologian, William Clebsch (now professor of religious studies and humanities at Stanford University), who had come to Michigan State as chaplain for Episcopal students. Through conversations with him I not only discovered the enormous excitement of theology as an academic discipline but also was introduced to the field of existentialist philosophy and literature which was only then, with the influx of scholars from Germany, creating a stir in American intellectual life. As a result I left Michigan State for New York, to study under Paul Tillich and Richard Kroner at Union Theological Seminary.
Block: What was Kroner's field?
KIMMEL: The history of philosophy. He was then at work on a theory of culture, as were both Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, which he later published as Culture and Faith.2 At the same time I attended Suzanne Langer's seminars in aesthetics at Columbia and journeyed once a week to New Haven for Theodore M. Greene's seminar in aesthetics and criticism. For a year and a half I pursued nothing but philosophy, discovering Heidegger and Jaspers, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty, Maritain, Buber, Berdyaev and others. The intellectual life "on the hill" in upper west-side Manhattan was in enormous ferment and these were very heady years for me, radically altering my approach to music.
Block: Was this before you came to Hunter College?
KIMMEL: Yes, in the late forties.
Block: Did the theological part of your studies eventually enter into your teaching of music history?
KIMMEL: Not explicitly, except where theology was a major cultural determinant and more specifically in connection with liturgical music and the development of music during the Reformation. Obviously the church works of Bach cannot be studied independently of their theological implications. However, I think it was Jacques Barzun who said that at the root of every historian's interpretation is his conception of God. One's "ultimate concern" invariably qualifies the character of one's preliminary concerns.
Block: And so you applied these ideas when you began teaching at Hunter?
KIMMEL: Yes. Shortly after my appointment there as music historian the dean of graduate studies asked me to prepare an interdisciplinary two-semester seminar in collaboration with Professor John Stoessinger.
Block: What was his field?
KIMMEL: Political science, but he also had other broad interests. Students of the seminar were to be drawn from all disciplines, as were the seminar topics. During the year and a half when we prepared this seminar I was also preoccupied with problems of general cultural history, while at the same time I taught courses in music history. The seminar's success can be judged by the fact that we offered it for two successive years.
Block: How was the course organized?
KIMMEL: The seminar was an attempt to counter the assumption that only the specialist can make decisions about the central problems in our society, as well as to overcome the alienation among graduate students of various disciplines resulting from their separate technical jargons. Our aim was to translate those jargons into the language of general discourse and to speak intelligently and responsibly about the implications of various historical and contemporary problems. The 24 topics ranged from Socrates' Apologia in Athens to contemporary French theater, from Joan of Arc to Hitler and Korean brain-washing. Some were in literature, some in psychology, some were philosophical and others political. John and I shared the topics between us on the basis of our specific interests and relative competencies.
Block: How were the individual sessions organized?
KIMMEL: In a three-stage sequence. During the first forty minutes either John or I gave a formal exposition, establishing a conceptual framework and then analyzing and interpreting the events or works in relation to the problem of freedom. Then the other would give a twenty-minute counterexposition, a critique of the first which modified it or challenged it. Because John and I are diametrically opposed intellectual types, we were demonstrating again that all interpretations are from the interpreter's perspective, stemming from the kinds of questions he asks of an event or work, the set of values he entertains, and his modes of analysis, supported of course by evidence and sound reasoning.
Block: How did the sessions end?
KIMMEL: The questions raised in the second exposition set in motion a dialectical process involving students as well, who had come prepared by a variety of source readings. The second hour generally was one of lively exchange.
Block: What happened after the three years of integrated teaching?
KIMMEL: After that I returned primarily to music history, developed an M.A. program in music, and recruited other historians for Hunter College. Later, following the establishment of the Ph.D. program in music at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, doctoral seminars in musical aesthetics have been my central preoccupation during these last years.
Block: Your last seminar was a kind of thanatology of music, I understand.
KIMMEL: Yes, "Appearances of Death in the Structures of Western Music."
Block: What led you to such a topic?
KIMMEL: Partially boredom with the monotonous recurring cycle of courses called "Music of the Renaissance," "Music of the Baroque," "The Symphonies of Beethoven," or "The Music Dramas of Wagner," etc. Instead, a new angle generates new categories of analysis that revitalize our understanding of periods and works. For example, I have sometimes thought of calling one seminar "The Faces of Love in Mozart's Operas." This would require research into the philosophy of love as one of the ontological powers at work in the world and more specifically into the crucial problem of Eros and eroticism in the eighteenth century. Mozart, more than any other composer, explored the range of possibilities and ambiguities of love.
Block: But why did you choose the problem of death for this recent seminar?
KIMMEL: For many reasons, both superficial and profound. Death is in the air, studies of thanatology in literature, philosophy, psychology and other disciplines are proliferating in university courses as well as in books. It is a symptom of the end of a cultural era. Besides, what better topic could one choose for the final seminar of one's career?
Block: How did you organize the course?
KIMMEL: My starting point is again a question: If the musical work is "nothing but" the setting in motion and continual structuring of dynamic energies in phases of incipience, continuation, expansion, partial consolidations and completions, renewals and ultimate consummations or terminations, how can death make its appearance in the course of the work? My answer is first that the above definition is also a fairly accurate definition of me and of all temporal beings. If contemporary psychology is reliable I am little more than a center of structuring activity, continually engaged in structuring the forces I encounter in the dynamic field in which I exist, forces that at the same time are forming and shaping me. If I know how death influences this structuring in my own world, then I can also recognize it in musical beings I encounter.
Block: One obvious place for death to "appear" is at the end of a work.
KIMMEL: Obvious, but not very helpful. It is not death as a terminal event that is crucial but the knowledge of one's having to die that calls the whole of one's being into question. One does not possess one's being; rather it is what must be accomplished through perpetual structuring that constitutes our being. However, our structuring takes place in the presence of the "structures of destruction": that which impedes or threatens progressive structuring and integration, that which tends to disrupt or dissolve achieved order, that which distorts, diverts or thwarts forward movement or renewal. In all of these death, the ultimate threat to human beings, may appear as the ever-present antagonist. On the positive side, however, were it not for the consciousness of death there would be neither civilization nor culture and were it not for the forces of destruction there would be no musical structures. Now that's a dreadfully compressed theory of death and we used up three or four weeks in its development and elaboration.
Block: Did you get to the music in the second stage?
KIMMEL: The students were involved with music as they selected and formulated their topics; by that time we had begun to examine musical works in which death is the explicit matter, in order to discover how composers have structured music in such a way as to embody these death elements. The questions we asked of these works were, "How does the presence of the subject of death affect the sensual, the spatial and the temporal elements of a composition?" Each element was considered in three steps: first abstractly to determine the structure and dimensions of sensation or space or time, next psychologically in terms of how we experience these elements in a concrete manner and how death enters and haunts our sensory experiences, our spaces (geographical, sociological, ideological, psychological and affective spaces), or our experience of time. This is in order to demonstrate why certain modifications of our sensory, spatial, or temporal experiences appear as threats, deprivations or disruptions of our being. The third major step in the investigation was an analysis of the characteristics of the musical medium, of musical space and time, the last including both rhythm and the creation of durations from the flux of time.
At the conclusion of each stage we tried to build a "vocabulary" of sensuous qualities or melodic, rhythmic and harmonic configurations which as a result of our analysis ought to invoke the presence of death in a musical context. We then compared these with configurations which in fact composers have repeatedly used as death's musical embodiment.
Block: And what correlation did you find?
KIMMEL: So high a correlation that we were led to conclude that they were not merely conventions but were deeply rooted in the structure of western music, as well as in the way we understand music.
Block: Can you cite some examples?
KIMMEL: Yes. There is a cluster of configurations that I call the "Phrygian inflection" found in the Phrygian tetrachord and mode, the latter the mirror inversion of the major mode. These include not only the well-known lament basses of the Baroque but all melodic descents that terminate in a half step. In the major and minor modes this half step is dramatized by the harmonic use, in the upper tetrachord of the scale, of the augmented sixth chord, in the lower tetrachord by the Neapolitan sixth. In the minor mode the lower tetrachord of the scale is transformed into a Phrygian tetrachord by the use of the Neapolitan sixth. And of course there is the Phrygian cadence itself, most dramatically exploited in Wagner's "Fate" motive.
The critical lowered sixth and second degrees of the scale function not only on the local level but also in the shaping of key relationships of larger structural units. A notable example occurs in the last section of Schubert's Erlkönig, where the penultimate line of verse is in the key of the flatted supertonic and is followed by the final climax in the tonic. Of course there are many more examples and as a matter of fact I recently completed a lengthy paper elaborating these and other configurations and their almost universal appearances in death-oriented contexts.3
Block: Because this was a doctoral seminar there was considerable emphasis on theoretical and philosophical considerations. How does your approach to undergraduate students and courses differ from that of graduate seminars?
KIMMEL: First of all undergraduates today have, by and large, an appalling lack of familiarity with the basic repertoire of western music. Massive amounts of listening should be encouraged, or better still, assigned. But the only way to insure this is to require students to keep a listening diary in which they record from day to day some observations about the works they hear. For a music student, hearing a work without learning something from it is a waste of time. Neither nature nor works of art disclose their secrets except in response to questions. Active listening is a questioning listening and one function of the teacher is to teach the art of significant questioning.
I think undergraduate courses in the history or literature of music should be conceived as courses in the humanities, available also to qualified non-music majors. One should not here be training future musicologists except in so far as the humanistic approach ought to be at the heart of every historian's work. I tend to start every course from the widest frame of reference, often with an initial lecture on the nature of music and the musical experience, on the nature and value of historical studies. From this students become aware of my perspective, the presuppositions that govern my approach and later will better understand the emphases I make.
Block: How do you then continue, for example, in a course on the Classical period?
KIMMEL: I go through the period a number of times from beginning to end, journeying in and out, then coming back to earlier points. I begin with what I call "persons, places and institutions," moving geographically from one to the other of the major centers of significant musical activity. I include places Mozart visited, people he encountered, as well as the character of institutions and musical life in those cities.
Block: By institutions do you mean not just musical institutions but social and political as well?
KIMMEL: Yes, the academies, the universities, the great houses such as the Esterházy, that were social and political as well as musical institutions. In order to develop a feeling for the style of the period it is here that I introduce pertinent anecdotes from the lives of composers and significant events in musical and public life such as the War of the Buffoons and the Gluck-Piccinni controversy, not to overlook the French Revolution and the crowning of Napoleon as emperor.
In the second pass through the period I present a series of slides, pictures of those cities, their great houses, the architectural ambience through which Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven moved, the landscaping of gardens, the size of theaters and certainly the interiors of houses, theaters, chapels and churches. We also look at changing styles in painting from Baroque to nineteenth-century Romanticism. Not only do images carry more information and make greater impact than mere descriptions and concepts but also I can refer to this fund of common visual experiences during the examination of musical styles and events. Equally important, the students are now at home in the period, they have had a grand tour of Europe and have become acquainted with its most important personalities.
Block: How far into the semester are you by then?
KIMMEL: The end of the second or the beginning of the third week. Then I begin to study the music, making a third pass through the period with the transformation and development of opera from Baroque opera seria to Fidelio. I believe that most of the important changes in style had their sources in the theater. In conjunction with this students read the essays in opera criticism in Strunk's Source Readings in Music History and theories of drama and music drama are discussed.
Now I am ready for another sweep through the period, this time to introduce the sonata idea, the center of gravity of the Classical style. I move from the Baroque binary scheme through its expansion into the Italian sonata of the mid-eighteenth century, to the emergence of the German sonata form, making use of Domenico Scarlatti, Sammartini, Christian and Emanuel Bach, Stamitz and others, the so-called pre-Classicists, as well as early Haydn and Mozart. At the same time I discuss the characteristics of galant, rococo and Sturm und Drang styles, calling attention to those features that later Haydn and Mozart would regard as deficiencies to be surmounted in the mature Classical style, while, at the same time, integrating many of their features into the later style. It is here that I introduce numerous quotations from contemporaneous essays in aesthetics which reflect those styles and shifting points of view throughout the century.
Block: Is there much time for analysis?
KIMMEL: Most of the time from here on is spent in analysis.
Block: Students often have a tendency to go through a work with a fine-toothed comb, noting each harmonic progression, modulation and cadence and as a result get buried in a welter of detail. How do you handle that kind of problem?
KIMMEL: The scope and depth of analysis varies with the work and with what I am trying to bring to light. Thus I can spend two full class hours on the first movement of the Sinfonia eroica while with other problems I can examine three or four short movements in an hour—minuets and rondos for example.
In examining the sonata idea, I select a typical movement of Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven and if there is time, Schubert. I am interested primarily in thematic construction, the articulation of design or form and types of developmental procedures, calling special attention to critical points in the working out of the form: the weakening of the tonic center, the consolidation of the dominant area, the dual function of the closing section and the beginning of the development, the preparation for the recapitulation and its reconstruction.
By now, I believe the students have all that is preliminarily necessary for approaching the Viennese Classical style, and the last third of the semester or hopefully a little more, is devoted to the instrumental works of Haydn, Mozart and middle-period Beethoven, primarily chamber music, symphonies and concertos.
Block: What about Masses, oratorios and other church works of the Classical period?
KIMMEL: That is where I have made a critical decision. One cannot cover everything and I do not think that the development of the Classical style was worked out in its church music. The eighteenth century is not like Katmandu, a place to visit once in a lifetime. Music students will, I hope, return again and again to the eighteenth century and what they will discover in its church music is what they already understand and can recognize for themselves.
From this organization of the course students come away with their knowledge organized in a number of closely integrated "bundles," which are themselves systematically related to each other. And furthermore the chronological, developmental factor has not been obscured.
Block: I want to thank you for the fascinating and provocative insights you have offered in this interview. To conclude can you suggest a book that can offer help to young instructors on how to teach?
KIMMEL: There is an excellent essay on the art of teaching music in college, written by my colleague L. Michael Griffel, who is now in my former position of coordinator of graduate studies in music at Hunter College.4
1William Kimmel, William Klubach, and Jean Wilde, editors, Truth and Symbol from "Von der Wahrheit" by Karl Jaspers (New York, 1959); Jeoffrey Clive and William Kimmel, Dimensions of Faith: Contemporary Prophetic Protestant Theology (New York, 1960); and William Kimmel and Jean Wilde, The Search for Being: Essays from Kierkegaard to Sartre on the Problems of Existence (New York, 1962).
2Richard Kroner, Culture and Faith (Chicago, 1951).
3"The Phrygian Inflection and the Appearances of Death in Music" will appear in the Fall 1980 issue of SYMPOSIUM.
4"Teaching Music," Scholars Who Teach: The Art of College Teaching, edited by Steven M. Cohen (Chicago, 1978), pp. 193-218.