Editorial by Professor Anthony Pople
in Music Analysis 18/1 (March 1999)

Anton Bruckner, a composer principally of symphonies, at the height of his powers in the 1880s and early ’90s and in thrall to the late works of Wagner: his works surely have the credentials to have made them a central focus of music analysis over the past twenty or thirty years. But this clearly has not been the case, and at the present juncture it is instead their comparative neglect that seems more to require elucidation. The present issue of Music Analysis hopes in some measure to make good the neglect, but does it also suggest reasons why Bruckner has apparently been so peripheral to this growing discipline? The title and opening pages of Derrick Puffett’s article give perhaps the strongest clue: that Bruckner's ‘way’ of doing things was sufficiently distinctive as to require detailed comment by way of introduction or ‘preamble’, as Puffett so laconically puts it. And when a few pages later he acknowledges that Edward Laufer’s Schenkerian analysis of the same music is ‘heroic ... worthy of huge admiration’, but at the same time questions its underlying validity as an analytical enterprise, we see that – for Puffett, at any rate – one consequence of Bruckner’s ‘way’ is that despite its high-Germanic credentials the music itself resists the imperative towards canonisation that comes from this most canonising of analytical means.

Readers of this journal will [...] recall [Puffett’s] article on Tippett’s Second String Quartet, in which similar resistance is addressed — better, faced up to — with such honest empiricism. And in writing not-so-casually in the previous paragraph of ‘the music itself’ my intention was indeed to acknowledge the very centrality of empiricism in Puffett’s whole approach to analysis, by which I mean to say that his ability to theorise what he found thereby was utterly, and as a matter of principle – I write as a former pupil – something that was to be applied at the point of engagement with the musical material. (Imagine, if you will, a music-analytical flying doctor, applying his knowledge and skills to whatever he finds, and at the place where he finds it, as opposed to an office-hours surgeon waiting safely in his operating theatre to apply specialised techniques to one pre-anaesthetised patient after another.) For Puffett the analyst, it seems that ‘the music itself’ was a locus of doing, a field of mental action. Much as it was for Schenker, by all accounts, but obviously in a different way.

Bruckner’s way, analysed in Puffett’s way, can be understood to some extent as an individualistic trope both on the Austro-German symphonic tradition and on recognisably Wagnerian musical materials – not only on the general routines of Wagnerian harmony but also specific themes and motives. [...] It seems to me —; and I think Puffett’s final discussion points clearly in this direction d that Bruckner is playing a deep game here, involving self-abasement as a means of self-preservation in the face of awesome musical forces: ‘Look at me, at how insignificant I am — but it’s me all the same!’ What is perhaps most important in the present context is that Puffett reaches towards this conclusion about Bruckner through his engagement with the musical specifics. It is something that emerges in the coda of his article rather as clarity seems often to emerge in the coda of a Bruckner movement; and, just as in Bruckner, it is essential to follow Puffett along the lengthy path that gets him there – indeed, one might say, it is the only way.

Not the only possible way, however. It is entirely feasible to derive such far-reaching conclusions from a more general reflection, and thereafter to present them in tandem with discussion of musical details, as if it had been from the consideration of those details that the conclusions had emerged. One might say this is the technique not so much of the flying doctor as of the traveling quack whose claim is that his product will cure whatever ailments he runs into. Such caricature is familiar as a demonisation of the insensitive application of theory – and as such has frequently been used to devalue theory itself by association. But one ought, I think, to draw attention to the fact that this procedure is in fact rather less observable today in the theory-and-analysis community – which is not, however, exactly the same as the community of those who do analysis – than it has become in the construction of obsessively self-referential narrative tropes out of scraps of musico-textual interpretation relating to small moments, writ large across the canvas of whole pieces. All said and done, for the time being it is perhaps better to assess the air-worthiness of such scraps of interpretation in full-scale flight than not to give vent to them at all. The typical mode of exposition is inevitably constrained by the conventions of scholarly presentation. But there must surely be hope that music analysis can, without being hide-bound or closing down its broad range of possible interdisciplinarities, find ways in future to avoid major lurches of meta-theoretical affiliation of the kind that seem to have led more than once in the past twenty-five years or so to brief episodes of crassness. This sure-footedness was something that Derrick Puffett achieved by sheer strength of character and intellect, and through a Brucknerian determination to be true to what he found in himself through music.