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Publication details for Dr Sarah Collins

Collins, Sarah (2014). ‘Never out of Date and Never Modern’ Aesthetic Democracy, Radical Music Criticism, and ‘The Sackbut’. Music and Letters 95(3): 404-428.

Author(s) from Durham


Despite historical attempts to construe the practices of musicology in terms of music criticism, there is still a marked reticence to include essays in music criticism in the history of the discipline, or to treat critical thought on music with the same seriousness and contemporary relevance with which, for example, literary studies treats historical literary criticism. Far from being mere ephemera, early twentieth-century discussions about the proper function of the music critic in evaluating modern music became a means by which writers explored and debated some of the most significant concerns of the day. Central to these discussions were questions about how to drive a middle way between tradition and innovation, and the possibility of genius and its relationship with processes of history and culture. By exploring the notion of ‘aesthetic democracy’ and drawing from contemporary aesthetic/anti-aesthetic debates in the humanities, this article provides a template for the exploration of the interaction between historical ideas about music criticism and these broader questions of historiography and aestheticism. It does so by examining the work of a collection of radical music critics published in the formative issues of the English music journal The Sackbut during 1920–1. The aim is to highlight ways in which the current ‘aesthetic turn’ and its attendant claims regarding autonomy, self-determination, history, and ideology were prefigured by inter-war discussions about the reform of music criticism in Britain.