Arne Herman – Musical canonisation as a performative process

As a volatile medium, music seems to resist any form of rigidity. To a certain degree, a new work of art is being made in every performance of a musical work. Hence, the specificity of music in an aesthetic discourse is its potential to be analysed as a cultural practice or a form of (often implicit) interaction between the musical work and its performance context. Following this methodological potential, one may ask if a more events-based approach to music might enrich the current discourse, which seems to focus mostly on either the work of art itself or the social context in which it was created. In other words, the dialogue between the musicologist’s focus and the ample view of the cultural philosopher promises new perspectives in this socio-aesthetic debate.

To examine music and its performativity, this research will focus on canonisation processes. More precisely, the evolution of classical orchestras will provide a useful tool in the study of the genesis of the musical canon and its manifest inclination to rigidification today. Therefore, the canon is considered as a regulative concept, for a musical canon is not only created by artistic practice, it also performs a normative function by regulating that same practice. This research analyses orchestral transformations in the socio-aesthetic realm by bringing the organizational level back into view. Indeed, our main hypothesis will be that transformation of the canon or adherence to the canon determines (or at least, influences) the very structure, organizational form and sustainability of a symphony orchestra. The opposite relation should be addressed as well: how do pragmatic transformations in the structure and organization of a symphony orchestra (e.g. the use of freelancers, less rehearsal time, programming in function of audience-attraction, cultural outreach, …) affect the content of the canon itself and, accordingly, the development of an aesthetic paradigm?

This dual approach will enable us, throughout the course of this research, to take a step back and reflect upon the way developments in cultural practice (including the organizational structure of a symphony orchestra and its repertoire) are the outcome of a larger historical context to which developments in both the aesthetic realm as in the social realm can be brought back. By means of empirical case-studies in the cities of Antwerp, Amsterdam, Berlin and London, we ultimately hope to design a transnational perspective on this matter. Indeed, the analysis of musical practices could thus become a resource for understanding the history of urban societies.

Arne Herman, PhD Researcher


Prof. Dr. Pascal Gielen
University of Antwerp
Faculty of Arts

Dr. Marlies De Munck
University of Antwerp
Faculty of Arts

Author: Walter Van Andel

Walter van Andel is a PhD researcher on entrepreneurship and creativity at the University of Antwerp, Belgium. His research focusses on business models, innovation, and entrepreneurial growth at small and medium-sized creative enterprises. In 2012 he authored the book “Creative Jumpers” in which business models for fast-growing companies in creative industries are examined. Before joining the University of Antwerp, Walter worked as a researcher for Antwerp Management School, Belgium and Western Illinois University, United States.