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From Craft to Profession: The Case of the Conservatory

Colloquium Musicology
Michiel Schuijer, Conservatorium van Amsterdam

Thursday 15 December, 15:30-17:00
Nieuwe Doelenstraat 16, room 3.01

The word ‘conservatory’ – or ‘conservatoire’ in BE – denotes an institution that offers (mostly) professional education in various musical disciplines. This type of institution – which originally operated under sacred authority, and served charitable causes – was newly defined within the culture of the Bourgeoisie, where it had to supply the demands of a rapidly growing secular musical life. With musical excellence being needed in ever-larger quantities, it aimed to establish general qualifications for musicians and imposed certified standards on teaching practices and examining procedures. Its model was the Conservatoire national de musique et de d├ęclamation founded 1795 in Paris.

In this paper, I propose to view the conservatory from the perspective of the rise of professionalism in civil society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a process that has led to fundamental changes in the structure and status of occupations. This process has been studied extensively, not only in general but also with reference to specific occupations and/or specific countries. Music, too, has been the subject of such research, which naturally involved the role of conservatories.

However, the factors that have shaped conservatory curricula over time need more systematic and extensive exploration. From the very beginning, conservatory policies have been fraught with multiple tensions. These seem to have resulted from incongruities between the traditional foundations and practices of music education, the evolving general standards of professional education, and the volatile expectations in the market place. The paper will pinpoint these tensions and show how different conservatories have dealt with them.

Michiel Schuijer is head of research and study leader of the Department of Composition, Conducting and Music Theory at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam. He studied music theory at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague and musicology at Utrecht University. In 1999 he co-founded the Society for Music Theory, and from 2007 through 2011 he was editor-in-chief of the Dutch Journal of Music Theory.

Schuijer focuses his own research at the juncture of music theory and historical musicology. His book Analyzing Atonal Music: Pitch-Class Set Theory and Its Contexts was published in 2008 by University of Rochester Press. Now he is working on a project that addresses the European conservatoire as a social and cultural phenomenon.