Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Music and Employment

Over at Slipped Disc we get a brief glimpse of one of the realities of the music business:
The Danish National Symphony Orchestra has just closed applications for the Nikolai Malko Competition.
To its consternation, the number of candidates was more than twice the previous record – 563 of them, aged 18 to 35.
A flautist friend of mine told me that every time he applied for a job with an orchestra there were two hundred other flautists auditioning. We can discount Slipped Disc's usual sensationalist headline: "How many desperate conductors out there? 563" but at the same time recognize that the competition for jobs in the classical music field is ferocious. And, believe me, it is even worse for those who are not seeking a position in some musical institution like an orchestra or a conservatory, but seeking work as a soloist. On the one hand there are established artists like Grigory Sokolov who can likely play any hall he wants in Europe and do that season after season. On the other hand less well-known artists who are perhaps not quite as gifted as Sokolov struggle for every booking. I once called a concert series booker in Toronto every week for months trying to get a concert there with no result. Another time I sent a publicity package to every conductor in Canada (about seventy) and followed it up with a phone call to each one. With the same results.

For every possible opening there are hundreds of musicians competing for it. This is offset by network effects, of course. If you are a graduate of the Curtis Institute, it is much, much easier to find a position because you are already networked with Curtis graduates who are employed by every orchestra in North America. A lot of positions go to people who know people. This is not as unfair as it sounds as graduating from a famous school is a kind of filter for quality in itself. But the hard truth is that there are a lot of people who would like a career in music or the other arts, but are never going to quite achieve it. Even those who do achieve it may wrestle with depression and stress their whole lives as we learn from another Slipped Disc post:
Help Musicians UK has set up a task force to address high levels of mental illness in the music professions.
A new study identifies four contributory factors:
– Money worries – A career in music is often precarious and unpredictable. Many musicians have several different jobs as part of a portfolio career, and as a result get little time to take a break. It can be hard for musicians to admit to insecurities because of needing to compete with others and wanting to appear on top of things.  Musicians can also find it hard to access affordable professional help for mental health issues.
– Poor working conditions – Music makers can be reflective and highly self-critical, and exist in a working and personal environment of constant critical feedback. As many musicians are self-employed, their work can result in feelings of isolation when it comes to dealing with mental health problems.
– Relationship challenges – Family, friends and partners play an important role in supporting musicians, but these relationships can come under huge pressure and strain.
– Sexual abuse/bullying/discrimination – Musicians’ working environment can be anti-social and unsympathetic, with some people experiencing sexual abuse, harassment, bullying and coercion.
Musicians wrestle with higher levels of depression than people in other fields. This seems to clash with another host of studies trotted out to support arguments for more music education because music helps us be smarter and lead more fulfilling lives. I guess only if you don't pursue it professionally. Both of these posts, by the way, have a host of intriguing comments.

Now set this beside the recent attempts to apply identity politics to the hiring of musicians. "Diversity" and "Inclusion" demands that orchestras hire based on gender and race so that the demographics of the orchestra reflect that of the society. Imagine if you were one of that host of musicians trying to win the position and found out that, due to your identity, your chances were much less? Talk about depression!

Music is one of the most unforgiving disciplines there is. In earlier times I suspect this was not as keen because you could be a regional musician and not have to face as much competition. But once recording technology was invented you were compared, not to the tenor in the next town, but to Caruso. Violinists were compared to Heifetz and pianists to Horowitz. As the mass media became ever more pervasive the careers of the famous and well-established tended more and more to crush the careers of the middle-rank artists. I noticed this myself when a local summer music festival, a modest affair offering four or five concerts in an area with a population of around 300,000 people, hired a guitarist from New York instead of myself! I was wondering, "are things so tough in New York that he has to come here and take jobs from me?" I guess so.

Every musician feels the need to be a unique voice, a special expressive resource that cannot be swapped for another. This rather explains the wording of a lot of puff-pieces about musicians who always come off sounding like emotional basket-cases. But the reality is that the emotional and physical demands are so great that few can survive them. I have watched the career of guitarist Miloš Karadaglić in recent years as he seemed to have the possibility of building a solid career. Quoting from the Wikipedia article:
2012 was a breakthrough year on the concert stage for Miloš, with sold-out debut performances and tours in the UK, France, Netherlands, Switzerland, USA, Canada, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Australia. "Part of the reason Karadaglić has such a large following" commented The West Australian, "is his ability to straddle both hardcore classical and pop classical camps."
He even achieved the gold medal of recording achievement with a Deutsche Grammophon contract and released albums in 2012 and 2013. Alas, in October 2016 he announced that he was retiring from performance due to an injury to his hand. Lang Lang is also having to withdraw from performances due to a left hand injury and Hilary Hahn canceled a number of performances a couple of years ago for the same reason.

Well, I think I have belabored the point enough! Let's listen to some music. This is Miloš Karadaglić playing Asturias by Isaac Albéniz:

Monday, October 16, 2017

Naming Conventions

Haydn had it easy! He never had to worry about what to name a piece. Why? Because pieces were named according to their genre: Symphony no. 1 (or, in Haydn's case, Symphony no. 92!), Sonata for Piano op. 111, String Quartet in B flat, op. 130. It wasn't just Haydn that followed this scheme; it was the norm for instrumental music until at least the end of the 19th century. It started to break down with the advent of program music, i.e. music that had some kind of textural basis or inspiration. So we started to have pieces named "Symphonie fantastique" or orchestral music titled "Finlandia" or "Also Sprach Zarathustra." This reached some absurd lengths with Erik Satie who once named some piano pieces "Three Pieces in the Form of a Pear," which was a satire on the whole convention of naming pieces after their genre or form.

But composers nowadays are really in trouble. True, they can still follow the standard naming conventions and we do still get numbered symphonies and quartets. But if you want to be fashionable and maybe win a prize, then you have to come up with some nifty and fashionable name for your orchestral masterpiece. Here are some examples:
  • Short Ride in a Fast Machine (John Adams)
  • The Light, for orchestra (Philip Glass, but most of his music has genre or form titles)
  • Turangalîla-Symphonie (Olivier Messiaen)
  • L'Arbre des songes ("The Tree of Dreams," Henri Dutilleux, the French have a gift for poetic titles)
  • Le Marteau sans maître ("The Hammer without Master," Pierre Boulez)
There is almost a whole category of pieces making reference to the ocean:
  • The Oceanides (Jean Sibelius)
  • La Mer (Claude Debussy)
  • Become Ocean (John Luther Adams, it won a Grammy and a Pulitzer Prize)
Young composers seem to avoid numbered and genre titles entirely so they end up with a lot of odd names for instrumental pieces:

  • 2001–2002 Fits & Bursts
  • 2003 Out of the Loop
  • 2004 By All Means
  • 2004 So to Speak
  • 2006 It Remains to Be Seen
  • 2006 Wish You Were Here
  • 2007 From Here on Out
  • 2007 Seeing is Believing

All by Nico Muhly!

I'm wrestling with this problem myself right now. I'm writing a piece for violin and guitar and am likely to call it something like "Concert Piece for Violin and Guitar," but I just know someone is going to come up to me afterwards and say, "couldn't you think of a better title than that?" I dunno, the alternative might be "Glissandi in Contrary Motion" à la Philip Glass or "Octatonic Fantasy." And are those titles any better? Honestly, the idea that the title needs to reveal the Inner Truth of the music or its Hidden Meaning is such a passé notion, isn't it? The only real need for a name or title is so that you can keep track of which piece it is. Sonata op. 111 works perfectly well.

This is Grigory Sokolov playing the Sonata, op. 111 by Beethoven in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in 1988:

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Music Criticism, part 1

I've been leaning heavily on Mr. Beardsley when it comes to aesthetics and criticism, but if I am going to do some sample exercises then I need to define my own turf. Part of music criticism, I feel, is the historical aspect. You might think that this is just because, as Frank Zappa said, all the good music was already written by dead white guys in wigs, but in fact all music, even pop music, takes place in an historical context. My early education as an undergraduate included a course in the philosophy of history and I have continued to do a bit of reading in that area. My Renaissance Music History professor was a bit surprised to learn that I not only knew, but had read R. G. Collingwood's The Idea of History. At one time I also tried to read all of Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History, though I didn't quite succeed.

I like the idea of what is sometimes called a "thick" description:
In the fields of anthropology, sociology, religious studies, human-centered design and organizational development, a thick description of a human behavior is one that explains not just the behavior, but its context as well, such that the behavior becomes meaningful to an outsider.
This comports well with Collingwood's idea that a historian should try and "get inside" historical figures and events, that is, try to see things from their perspective.

Just as a little experiment I would like to pick a favorite piece of mine and do some aesthetic criticism. The piece is a transcription, by Luys de Narváez for vihuela, of a four part secular chanson by Josquin des Prez titled "Mille Regretz." The original is in the Phrygian mode on E:

Click to enlarge
Most scholars attribute this to Josquin, but there are some who disagree. The practice of transcribing vocal music for fretted string instruments like the lute or vihuela was common in the 16th century as those instruments were just finding their way and the intabulation of vocal counterpoint was an important technical advance. Narváez' setting was known as the "Canción del Emperador" because it became a favorite piece of Philip II, We learn from Wikipedia:
The exact date or even year of Narváez's birth is unknown. He was born in Granada and the earliest surviving references to him indicate that as early as 1526 he was a member of the household of Francisco de los Cobos y Molina, a well-known and very successful patron of the arts who was the Secretary of State and commentator for the kingdom of Castile under Charles V. Narváez lived in Valladolid with his patron until the latter's death in 1547. It was during this period that the composer published Los seys libros del delphín (Valladolid, 1538), a large collection of music.
By 1548 Narváez was employed as musician of the royal chapel, where he also taught music to choristers. His colleagues there included the famous keyboard composer Antonio de Cabezón. Narváez and Cabezón were both employed as musicians for Felipe, Regent of Spain (later Philip II of Spain), and accompanied him on his many journeys. The last reference to Narváez is from one such journey: during the winter of 1549 he resided in the Low Countries.
Narváez was very highly regarded during his lifetime, particularly for his vihuela playing; he was reported to be able to improvise four parts over another four at sight. His son Andrés also became an accomplished vihuelist.
One of the things that Narváez is known for is the very first published sets of instrumental variations that appeared in his book Los seys libros del delphín. But what I want to focus on briefly is the social context. Narváez was a member of the household of the Secretary of State of Charles V and later of the court of Philip II. Spain was, at the time, the first global empire. Transferred to the contemporary world this would be like being a close advisor to John Kerry when he was Secretary of State in the Obama administration and then being a close advisor to Donald Trump. In other words, Narváez was at the very center of world power for much of his career. This says something about his abilities, but also about how patronage has changed over the centuries. Then, outstanding artists were patronized by the highest members of the political aristocracy. Nowadays, the most powerful figures in the arts and media donate enormous amounts of money to elected politicians. Just think how different that is.

Now let's look at the piece by Narváez. He was a composer and performer on the vihuela, the fretted instrument, related to the guitar, that served the role that the lute did in the rest of Europe.

16th century Vihuela

16th century Lute

The two instruments were tuned identically: GCFADG (though some vihuelas were at a different pitch and there was no standard pitch in the 16th century so all this is relative). Guitarists can approximate the tuning of both instruments by tuning the third string to F# and then placing a capo on the third fret.

The first good modern edition of the piece was published in a brief anthology titled Hispanae Citharae Ars Viva ("The Living Art of the Spanish Guitar") transcribed and edited by Maestro Emilio Pujol in 1956. I purchased it in Spain in 1974 when I was studying with José Tomás. He had me do several pieces from the book as an exercise in the separation of voices. Here is the first page of the score:

If you compare the original with the transcription for vihuela you will be a bit perplexed as they don't look anything the same. The note values in the guitar transcription reflect those in the original tablature, but in the modern transcription of the vocal work are reduced by half: a breve (double whole note) becomes a whole and so on. Another change is that the four voices of the original become three voices on the vihuela. Also, if you compare the two versions you will see that one measure in the vocal piece becomes two in the vihuela. But that is far from all! Nearly everything is varied on the vihuela. Take the second measure in the vocal score: it becomes the third and fourth in the vihuela score. The bass line is the same (F to D in the voice becoming C to A in the vihuela) given the transposition from E Phrygian to B Prygian. But all the eighth notes are added ornaments. This is partly because the vihuela cannot sustain notes the way the voice can and also because these kinds of free ornaments were very popular in Spain at the time. Tomás de Santa María, a composer and theorist, published an extensive book on ornamentation in 1565 titled Arte de tañer fantasía. From then on the vihuela version is so different from the vocal one that it might better be described as a free fantasia on the Josquin original. This is not surprising as Narváez is a pretty significant composer: he was the first to publish a set of variations on a theme.

Now let's listen to the two pieces. First the Josquin original with the score:

Now the version for vihuela with the original tablature (the lowest string is at the top):

I think that covers the first two stages of criticism: description and interpretation? The third is evaluation. I think it is safe to say that this is one of the best vihuela pieces in the repertoire. It is based on a very famous piece by Josquin and the transcription is famous in its own right. It is popular with performers and audiences and was certainly a hit with Philip II. I think the reason is that it is a very expressive piece with the underlying melancholy of the Phrygian mode, successfully exploited in both versions, and with the delicate filigree of the vihuela ornamentation. As this is meant to be a very basic exercise in music criticism I won't go any further!

So there you go...

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Criticism and Biographies

Reading the Wall Street Journal this morning I learned an interesting tidbit: the originator of our fixation on the biographies of artists seems to have been Giorgio Vasari, author of the famous 16th century Lives of the Artists. The reviewer notes:
These and many other stories—of the exploits and adventures, eccentricities and foibles, of the most prominent and successful artists of the Renaissance—feature in Giorgio Vasari’s “Lives of the Artists,” which gave us the Renaissance as we know it today. Art historians continue to learn much from Vasari’s “Lives,” a page turner that blends history, description, criticism and biography. The artists Vasari championed, such as Leonardo da Vinci, remain our cultural heroes. Those he neglected, Mantegna and Francesco di Giorgio among them, never recovered the reputation they once enjoyed.
Despite being first published in 1550, with a second edition following in 1568, Vasari and his book have over the past few decades received renewed academic attention as part of a broad scholarly turn toward the study of primary texts.
The problem here, as readers of my aesthetics series will know, is that the "primary text" is not the exploits and foibles of the private lives of the artists at all, but rather the artworks! As Wimsatt and Beardsley pointed out many years ago in their paper "The Intentional Fallacy" not only do the personal events in artists lives have an ambiguous relationship with the art, but even the intentions of the artist are irrelevant to the artwork and how we evaluate it!

But still, nearly every single book published on art and artists puts the life of the artist at the center. It used to be more the case that the format was "life and works" with the two separated to some extent. But the last two monographs I read, on Prokofiev and Sibelius, dispersed discussion of the works within the biography with the implication that the biography was the cause and the work was the effect. This is the great hidden assumption of most musical biographies. They reach their nadir with books like the one on Mozart by Maynard Solomon that relates the music to supposed deep psychological problems in Mozart's psyche. One of the real delights of Taruskin's book on Stravinsky is that you can read all (of volume one at least) without having the slightest inkling that he once had an affair with Coco Chanel!

If the writer of a biography of an artist is honest, then he will have to admit that all the events in the life he recounts not only do not explain or cause the art, they are largely irrelevant to the art. Sure it gives you that nice fuzzy feeling of knowing something to know that Bach had thirteen surviving children, but to know that is to know nothing about Bach's music. And you can know a great deal about the music without knowing a single thing about Bach's life. But still, we are fascinated by artist's lives. Oddly, some people are more fascinated with the lives than the art itself.

But trust me, if you want to know something about the artwork the only way is to examine the artwork. What the composer wore when he wrote it, or what brand of champagne he preferred or how much his publisher sent him in royalties will tell you nothing about the art itself. Speaking of champagne, let's listen to Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 6, which is often described as like a drink of cool, pure water (even though an awful lot of champagne was consumed during the compositional process). This is Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Swedish Radio Orchestra:

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

Here is a song contest where the participants are birds:
Such contests are widespread in Southeast Asia. My colleague, accordionist Mike Adcock, chanced upon one this year in a market in Cianjur, West Java. A dozen cages were suspended high up, while below men with clipboards assessed the singing. In central Jakarta contests can attract hundreds of entrants, passionate bird trainers arriving along with their white-rumped shamas, green bulbuls or hill blue flycatchers. On one level it’s a (largely male) social occasion, on another there’s a lot of prize money at stake. A ten minute video from Phuket in Thailand shows the competitors desperately encouraging their birds from the sidelines, bending the rules by gesturing, whistling or blowing kisses. A bird with potential may be worth as much as a Toyota Fortuner. In fact a belief that it’s unlucky to put a price on a bird means they are more likely to be bartered for goods such as cars. The judges, some of whom are women, are assessing melody, rhythm and volume. One contest in Phuket demands that birds sing eight specific pitches within a defined time period.
* * * 

The Wall Street Journal has a piece on the darkness of Beethoven's Appassionata:
In 1804, following works born of the idealism of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment such as his “Eroica” Symphony, Beethoven created the greatest musical explosion for solo piano of its time: the Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, known as the “Appassionata.” It is a work of a very different temper.
Composed soon after Beethoven first faced the catastrophic prospect of incurable deafness, the work has fascinated and confounded performers and listeners ever since. Full of tragic power, the sonata is arguably Beethoven’s darkest and most aggressive work. It has been compared to Dante’s “Inferno” and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”
* * *

A few years ago Tom Service did a terrific year-long series of articles on 20th century composers, followed by another one on symphonies. We haven't heard a lot from him lately, but he has a piece on "earworms" in The Guardian:
 La, la, la, la, la, la-la laaaa ... Can’t get it out of your head? 90% of us get earworms – those fragments of tunes that get stuck on a loop in your brain and which are impossible to dislodge for hours, days – and in some pathological cases, months and years. The German word for them, “Ohrwürmer”, translates literally as “earworms”, which rather brilliantly conveys the idea of a piece of music as an insectoid invader burrowing its way through your ears until it infects your brain and echoes round and round, beyond your control. That’s why they’re also known as brain worms, or simply sticky music. Just to name a few that have haunted me over the last few weeks, I can’t get the theme tune to Black Beauty nor the opening of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances nor the cues for Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure for the Nintendo DS out of my head, to say nothing of the jingle for British Airways – actually by French composer Léo Delibes. Nor the Hovis advert with the bicycle and the cobbled street and the tune from Dvorák’s New World Symphony: round and round they go like a wheel within a wheel. And now The Windmills of Your Mind is stuck in my cranium …
He offers some suggestions to rid your mind of an earworm, but I have a better one, I think. Just hum quietly to yourself the subject of a Bach fugue. My favorite for this purpose is the Fugue from the Violin Sonata No. 1 in G minor. It is tuneful enough to be easily remembered, but not a good earworm so after a while it simply fades away and voila, no more earworm!

* * *

Bill Murray and some friends just did a very unusual concert, sort of a classical/pop melange, but it was a hit with audiences at the Chicago Symphony Center and now goes to Carnegie Hall. The review was great, but, as usual at Slipped Disc, the comments were mixed:
Each time we thought we saw the most poignant moment of the evening, Murray and colleagues Jan Vogler, Mira Wang, and Vanessa Perez added another layer of intimacy and depth to the performance, astoundingly elevating and giving new life to some of the most cliched musical works. Perez shone new pearls in her pianissimo phrases of “I Dream Of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair,” and she and cellist Vogler somehow made “Moon River,” formerly concerto for elevator and disgruntled riders, into something newly profound.
Murray shot us right through the heart when he took violinist Wang’s hand and danced a soulful tango with her onstage to the accompaniment of tango master Astor Piazolla. In the middle of Wang’s virtuoso reading of Heifetz’s showy version of “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” Murray shocked us all by singing the Gershwin lyrics better than anyone since Satchmo. Murray’s singing was the best gift of the evening, in a rousing version of “When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God” that made soulful melancholy an art form.
* * *

 Here is a fascinating article about music in ancient China:
The difference between sound (sheng) and tone (yin) is the presence of patterning. The cawing of birds and the whistling of wind, or the sobbing at a funeral, may be considered sounds, but a dirge sung at the funeral belongs to tones. Music is both nature (based in feelings) and culture (with patterning). Even more important, music is closely associated with words—that is, song lyrics. It’s also associated with governance. An old legend about ancient kings articulates this unique belief in the political—not just aesthetic or philosophical—importance of music. According to the story, the kings would send their officers to the villages, collect the songs of the common folk, and bring them back to the court, believing the songs to be signs and symptoms that can tell the king about the mood of his people. If it is happy, the king can rejoice with them; if it is distressed and resentful, the king must either reform his government or face certain ruin.
Benjamin Britten set six poems from the Chinese collection mentioned in the article for voice and guitar.

* * *

Not a very extensive miscellanea today! Let's end with a performance of the Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor by Beethoven. This is Vladimir Horowitz in 1959:

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Top 100 Music Education Blogs

As a long time music educator myself, I was pleased to make the list of Top 100 Music Education Blogs as you can see at the top of the right-hand column. The blog is at #43 on the list, which includes a lot of blogs that you might be familiar with like Slipped Disc, Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise, Anne Midgette's column at the Washington Post, Musicology Now and so on. This was a surprise to me, but not an unwelcome one. Several years ago the blog was put on the list of music reference blogs by Cambridge University, but I just discovered that by accident. One hopes that this award will lead to a bit more traffic!

Let's celebrate with a Haydn symphony. This is one of his more exuberant ones, the Symphony No. 48 in C major, "Maria Theresa." The Academy of Ancient Music is conducted by Christopher Hogwood.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A Practical Exercise in Criticism

Way back in 2013, frustrated with the inadequate record reviews that seem to be the norm these days, I put up the kind of review I thought should be done: A Sample Record Review. That is just the first of four posts in which I compare three different recordings of the finale to the Op. 131, C# minor quartet by Beethoven. In 2015 I did another review in which I compared three different recordings on harpsichord of the Bach Goldberg Variations, none by Glenn Gould. Much as I think these were both valid exercises and generally superior to the reviews that typically appear in the mass media, I was largely going on instinct, meaning I didn't think much about my methodology. I think my instincts, honed by fifty years as a musician, are pretty good, but one of the things I have learned from Beardsley is that it is worth thinking about your methodology.

So to that end, I want to do what I am calling a "practical exercise in criticism" in which I will do some criticism and talk about what I am doing and why. Like most artists just the word "criticism" tends to leave a bad taste in my mouth. I think that is because most artists have suffered unfair and biased criticism in their lives and tend to prefer that they just be praised for what they do! But while that is probably better than nasty, unfair criticism, it is still far short of what good criticism can do. What is good criticism? I think that my recent posts on aesthetics give us a hint and especially the last one: Aesthetics: Categories and Criticism. I am going to continue those posts, based on Beardsley's book on aesthetics, but alongside them, I want to launch another series in which I will undertake some practical criticism. The idea is to resurrect the idea of good criticism which seems to have nearly died.

One example of just how poorly criticism is practiced these days is this one from NewMusicBox:
I spent this summer immersed in the music of Roomful of Teeth, a “vocal band” consisting of eight singers with a commitment to exploring the expressive potential of the human voice. I was doing research in order to better understand how and why composers were using what—at that point—I was describing as “polystylism.” I spent my time labeling non-Western classical elements in the group’s pieces, gathering information on the composers’ backgrounds and “non-classical” experience (like Wally Gunn’s time spent in a punk band), interviewing the composers about their opinions relating to this topic, and eventually observing the group’s rehearsals at MASS MoCA during their intensive annual summer residency. Some time into my research, I grew uncertain about the basis of my research question; as I continued to wonder what the varied stylistic elements in each composer’s pieces meant, I also began to question whether they really had to mean anything at all. What if the composers just wanted to write this way, without any interest in “polystylism” or what their use of different styles means? Maybe this music, and the music these composers are writing outside of Roomful of Teeth, has nothing to do with stylistic elements at all.
The writer Hannah Schiller, a young scholar, is "a senior in the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University. Her research interests center around the current musical moment; she is particularly drawn to post-genre concepts and music emerging from classically trained musicians that is difficult to categorize." I have linked to this essay before. I think that her approach illustrates the huge gaps in the curriculum left by the excising of traditional aesthetics, as well as their replacement with psychological concepts and a kind of inchoate post-modern cultural theory.

Notice how musical specifics are carefully avoided, but instead we are always looking at the performers' commitment, the composers' background and experience, the meaning of stylistic elements and so on. Later on this is made more explicit:
Post-genre thinking seeks to move away from objective judgment of music towards a subjective reality, where the emphasis is no longer on whether a certain piece fits/does not fit a pre-conceptualized genre “bin.” Instead, the emphasis is on the individual intent of the composer. The individual is quite important to post-genre thinking. This framework focuses on viewing individual pieces separately from what other composers are creating as well as from preexisting expectations, allowing composers to write whatever it is they want to write.
The writer seems unaware of both the tools and limits of criticism so gets lost in a welter of psychological flotsam and jetsam. Beardsley showed in a very famous paper on "The Intentional Fallacy" the problem with that approach:
Beardsley is probably best known for his very first article in aesthetics. In “The Intentional Fallacy,” a paper co-written with William K. Wimsatt and published in 1946 (and widely re-printed, e.g., in Joseph Margolis, ed., Philosophy Looks at the Arts, 3rd edition, 1987), he argued against the neo-Romantic view that a work of art means what the artist says it means, or what he intends it to mean.
An artist's intentions are utterly irrelevant to the descriptive, interpretive, and evaluative properties of his work.
Which, if you think for a moment, makes perfect sense. Every time I sit down to write a piece, my intention is to write One of the Great Works of Western Music. Sadly, it never turns out to be the case. Only in an environment saturated with psychological explanations and bereft of aesthetics would we think otherwise.

Of course we view individual pieces separately and we avoid preexisting expectations and allow composers to write whatever they want. The assumption that the contrary is advocated by someone is just a Straw Man.

I hope this gives an idea of the kind of failed approach that seems to be common these days. What I want to do is outline an alternative by creating a criticism of a piece of music that follows what I consider to be a valid and reasonable approach. Now I have to figure out what would be a good piece to pick as an example! I think something contemporary would be the best. Any suggestions?