Popular Music Studies in Italian Universities
—an ongoing saga—

1 October, 2015

Go to | 2014 petition materials | 10 of 3 million Italian university scandals |


In May 2014 Goffredo Plastino and I sent a petition, signed by over 100 scholars, to the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research (with copies circulated to the Italian press). In the petition we expressed grave concern about the state of popular music studies in Italy. Receiving no response to the petition and its accompanying letter (not even from the press), we sent the same documents again in October 2014, this time with 440 signatures and with a request for an acknowledgement of receipt. Receiving once again no response, we sent the petition to the same authorities (and representatives of the press) on 14 June 2015, this third time signed by 573 colleagues from 47 different countries and with insistence that receipt be acknowledged. It's now October 2015 and we have yet to hear anything from the Ministry (or the press).

While the serious concerns expressed by those 573 of us, including several internationally recognised scholars, do not seem to be judged important enough to merit even a formal acknowledgement by the Ministry, the petition and documents produced by way of background to the issues it raised, as well as events necessitating the petition in the first place, have had some interesting and disturbing effects, four of which can be summarised as follows.

[1] Franco Fabbri has, due to the machinations of certain forces in institutionalised Italian musicology, received official notice that his employment at the University of Turin will be terminated as from 1 January 2016 (decreto rettorale 3058, 150911). He will no longer be allowed to teach there, despite the high standard and popularity of his courses. It is also unclear whether he will be officially permitted to continue providing supervision for his research students, even though there is no other popular music scholar in Italy competent to do so.

[2] The same forces in institutionalised Italian musicology as those behind the removal of Fabbri from his job in Turin have unilaterally taken over GATM (Gruppo Analise e Teori Musicale), an organisation created by five different Italian music societies, including IASPM (Italia). When the IASPM representative on the GATM board recently resigned and when Fabbri was elected by the local IASPM executive to replace him, board members opposed to Fabbri and popular music studies in general refused to accept the decision, thereby contravening the organisation's own statutes and rules of procedure. "It doesn't matter", one member of the board is reported to have said: "we don't want Fabbri anyhow".

[3] The opposition of these same forces to popular music studies is also evidenced by news leaking out about a number of the GATM review (RATM: Rivista di analisi e teoria musicale) to be devoted to the topic "Do we need 'popular music'"? Although Fabbri, Middleton, Shepherd, Wicke, myself and several others have frequently over the last 3½ decades examined the inadequacy but inevitability of the term "popular" in different ways and in considerable detail, none of us have been consulted about the topic, let alone been invited to contribute to the review's special number. It's worth noting that this same clique of Italian musicologists refer to popular music as “la cosidetta (=so-called) ‘popular music’”.

[4] On 13 August 2015, one representative of the Italian musicological rearguard, Professor Giuseppina La Face (left), published an extraordinary text about techno in Quotidiano Nazionale. There she complains about the “relentless 4/4 beat”, the “pounding bass”, “deafening volume”, its “unmistakably hypnotic effect with reduced consciousness as a consequence”, its power to “suck the individual down into a sonic whirlpool of exhaustion”, etc. She recommends listening in the right way to the right sort of music as cure for this disease:

“If pupils learn musical listening not just as an instinctive reaction but as a conscious intellectual operation applied to articulate and complex languages —classical music, jazz, contemporary art music—, they will be protected against the violent, primordial spell of techno.”

As Fabbri points out, this kind of outraged discourse resembles that of those who decried the alleged inferiority and evils of the waltz, the tango, of jazz and of rock music. It is also, regrettably, indicative of the moral, educational, intellectual and ideological depths to which the reactionary forces of institutionalised Italian musicology seem to have descended.