A collegial colloquy?

My reply to Sarah Fuller’s 2011 attack on my 2006 article about medieval music theory and gender has just been published.

The journal of the US-based Society for Music Theory, Music Theory Spectrum, have just published a piece by Sarah Fuller, whose sole raison d’être is to rubbish my 2006 article on medieval music theory and gender, which appeared in the same journal (and won a major international award in 2007). My response to Fuller follows her rebuttal directly in the same issue.

My original 2006 article was exceptionally difficult to get published–a plethora of negative readers reports questioned the very validity of gender theory’s relevance to medieval music theory as well as fundamentally misreading (either wilfully or stupidly–it was hard to decide which) what the article was claiming. Readers who knew nothing about medieval music theory castigated the article for being old hat; readers who knew nothing about gender studies blustered that all my conclusions about gender were fabrications of my own imagination and not present in the medieval texts. For the former, I was years behind the intellectual curve; for the latter I was leading a vanguard in a direction that they had decided would be pursued over their dead bodies. The article finally ended up being published in two separate parts: the first, on sirens, appeared in Music and Letters; the second, on gendering the semitone, appeared in Music Theory Spectrum. Once published, both won international prizes: the former won the Pauline Alderman prize 2007; the one that Fuller’s current piece criticizes won the Society for Music Theory’s Outstanding Publication Award 2007.

It would be unfair to attempt a summary of Fuller’s argument here: I would urge any interested readers to read in chronological order Leach 2006, Fuller 2011, and then Leach 2011 (accessible link for non-subscribers below) and judge for themselves.

When the editor of MTS invited my participation in the colloquy I was resigned to the idea rather than thrilled by it, since it led me to meditate somewhat dolefully on the nature of scholarly spats and musicology as a discipline, as well as on the current position of both medieval music studies and music theory within musicology. Studies of medieval music theory impinge on two areas castigated at its inception by the New Musicology of the 80s and 90s: formalist music analysis and the editing of early music. It’s therefore unsurprising neither that it took until 2006 for anyone to read medieval music theory for gender, nor that this has proved controversial. As someone fascinated both by the Middle Ages and by music theory and analysis I am, however, dismayed by the thought that the response my original 2006 article has elicited from Fuller will no doubt confirm the double dodo status of the study of medieval music theory in the minds of many. I only hope it’s true, as the saying goes, that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Click on the image to access the full text

Published as Elizabeth Eva Leach, “Reading and Theorizing Medieval Music Theory: Interpretation and Its Contexts” Music Theory Spectrum 33/1 (2011): 90-98. © 2011 by The Society for Music Theory Inc.

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks for this post, Dr. Leach! Just in time to be of very good use for my coursepaper on gender aspects in Roman de Fauvel which is due next monday.

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