I am a writer, editor and translator (see also my translation page on this website). As an English editor, I have done wholesale editorial revisions and re-writing for Phd dissertations which were originally written in English by German-speaking scholars.
To date, the bulk of my writing energies have been directed toward my book Two Centuries in One (click on link for an updated copy of the pdf). On a side note, a discussion of how the book was extensively plagiarized and presented at an international academic conference can be found here. A lengthy debate at talkclassical.com can be found here. There is also a discussion at unsungcomposers.com. Throughout 2016, half a dozen threads at slippedisc.com (which has well over a million site visits per month) have also contained the link to Two Centuries in One.
Having Herb prepare the programs notes added so much to our recitals at the Fort Whyte nature reserve in Winnipeg. I enjoyed his approach to presenting historic works and how he understood the underlying "All Things Natural" concept of our concert programming. His translations of the Schubert lieder were very helpful......the audience loved them.
(Kurt Tittlemier, Winnipeg-based guitarist and concert organizer)
I also produce program notes for various concerts. You can read some examples by clicking on the links below:
Program Notes for Brahms' Violin Concerto in D major
Program Notes for a concert of Schubert's instrumental music based on lieder
Program Notes for a concert of Schubert's music for piano, four hands
Program Notes for a string quartet concert of works by Glazunov, Haydn and Mendelssohn
Program Notes for Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major
Program Notes for Dvorak's Symphony No 8 in G major
Program Notes for an all-Beethoven cello recital
Program Notes for a chamber music concert given at the Fort Whyte Nature Reserve
Two Centuries in One:
and the Twentieth Century
Some recent comments and testimonials:
Herbert Pauls' doctoral thesis, "Two Centuries in One: Musical Romanticism and the Twentieth Century", proposes a long overdue re-evaluation of the history of twentieth century music. As Dr. Pauls demonstrates, the history of twentieth century music has been too often presented as a valiant battle between shining, progressive new music and turgid, unimaginative conservatives.
There are many problems with this view. The first and most important one is that it has systematically refused to take seriously the music of important composers like Rachmaninoff, Sibelius, and Shostakovich, whose music has always been popular with the public. Much more popular, in fact, than the "avant-garde" of Schoenberg, Xenakis, Boulez et al. This despite the fact that the latter has now had more than a half century to find its place in the standard repertoire, and has still not succeeded.
At a deeper level, there are also serious artistic questions about music composed in large part according to complicated systems which have nothing to do with how people actually perceive and hear the music they love. Musical craft, when properly taught, is nothing more than familiarity with all the resources which can intensify music's expressive force. While random experimentation may occasionally uncover useful new resources, novelty in itself is no guarantee of significant communication. The discoveries of the great originals in music history, like Beethoven and Debussy, are only important because they added to the expressive language of these composers. Novelty in itself has no intrinsic value; what counts is the (much rarer) kind of artistic novelty which captivates the listener in a sustained way.
Similarly, conservatism in itself is neither bad nor good; what matters is what exactly is being conserved. What composers like Rachmaninoff and many others offer is a distinctly personal voice, coupled with first rate craftsmanship. And that is a much deeper kind of originality than just aiming for unfamiliar sounds.
It is high time for the academic narrative of twentieth century music to be substantially revised, and that is exactly what Dr. Pauls proposes, in his elegant work. It should be published!
(Dr. Alan Belkin, full professor of theory/composition, Université de Montréal. Canadian Music Centre page)
Reading the excellent research result 'Two Centuries in One' by Canadian musicologist Herbert Pauls is quite an eye-opener, showing the immense effort which has gone into building an extensive myth of 20C music by academia, so much so that music students everywhere in the Western world were fed ideology masked as historiography.
(John Borstlap, The Netherlands. Composer and author of "The Classical Revolution: Thoughts on New Music in the 21st Century." Scarecrow Press, 2013. Second edition, Dover, 2017).
“Two Centuries in One” succinctly and clearly puts into words a major issue many composers struggle with in our time: Where do we stand in relation to the past and to the future? Dr. Pauls approaches the topic in a logical and even-handed manner which clearly shines a light on a potential path for the creative artist struggling between the need to express in a personal fashion and abstract academically-imposed requirements to innovate and reject the past.
This book, well-written and detailed, has become my number one recommendation to both composition students as well as fellow composers.
(Michel R. Edward, composer, Crabtree, Quebec. Canadian Music Centre page)
Reading Herbert Pauls' doctoral dissertation "Two Centuries in One: Musical Romanticism and the Twentieth Century". An insightful and engrossing read! A well-researched account on the role historicism had in the separation between music of the performing world and music of the academic world (apparently a 20th Century phenomenon). Highly recommended to all you musicologists, theorists, and composers.
(Dr. Vincent Ho, adjunct professor of theory/composition, University of Calgary; composer in residence from 2007-2014, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra).
"An important new ebook on 20th C Romanticism...an exhilarating read."
(Alan Howe, site administrator of unsungcomposers.com)
Early reception of the book:
I am very happy to report that the full-length version of the book has already been perused and even read in its entirety by a good number of people in the musical community, in Canada, the US, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Romania, Spain, Australia, and elsewhere. A number of composers from various parts of the world have indicated their deep appreciation in personal emails. A noted American historian has also emailed a note of appreciation recently, and has urged me to persevere with my general outlook on 20th Century music and continue researching and writing. On a more negative note, the book has also been extensively plagiarized (see my description here) by the Romanian scholar and pianist Dr. Andreea Bratu (Ovidius University, Constanta) and presented at an international musicological conference at Herzen University in St. Petersburg - a somewhat more dubious compliment. A further discussion of the plagiarism problem can be found at the Unsung Composers forum.
In late 2014, record producer William Lloyd (managing director of Albany Records, Great Britain) circulated the book among the members of the George Lloyd Society, which works to bring attention to the music of the romantic symphonist George Lloyd, who died in 1998. William Lloyd also brought the book to the attention of Rob Barnett, the classical editor of MusicWeb International. MusicWeb is the largest and oldest (founded in 1995) classical review site on the internet. Barnett, a strong advocate for 20th Century tonal romantic composers, then contacted me for permission to have the book hosted on the website. MusicWeb has a regular daily, weekly, and monthly following of several hundred thousand unique readers. With an accumulated archive of around 40 000 CD reviews, it is the most cited internet source of its kind. For the month of February 2015, MusicWeb listed Two Centuries in One on its front page, and the book is now hosted in the "February, 2015" section of their “Articles” archive. Also in February, 2015, Alan Howe discovered it at Musicweb and introduced it to the web forum Unsung Composers, a site that is frequented by an impressive international base of dedicated classical music connoisseurs, for which I am very grateful.
"A 500-page edifice of academic sophistry"
At the end of April, 2016, Two Centuries in One was the subject of a rather intense internet debate. The original poster entitled the discussion An Interesting and Useful Treatise on Twentieth Century Music. The discussion took place at Talkclassical.com, a website that boasts over 2000 regular participants and ranks as the busiest classical music discussion forum currently on the internet.
The debate over Two Centuries in One raged on almost non-stop day and night for over 100 hours, or approximately four full days, during which time well over 400 comments were posted, many of them of substantial length. Some had to be redacted or deleted by moderators. There was a good deal of hostility from the High Modernist sector in regard to the book's basic premise. One particularly unhappy participant served notice that he was not a fan of "500-page edifices of academic sophistry built on flimsy foundations". Another person made the comment, "maybe Pauls is too dumb to know he's a liar".
However, the basic premise of Two Centuries in One was very well defended by a group of people who had read it thoroughly and had found it to be of value. The original poster (who by his own admission had spent several weeks thoroughly reading Two Centuries in One before starting the Talkclassical.com discussion thread) attempted time and again to steer the discussion on course, generally to no avail.
At one point the original poster made the following response to a particularly antagonistic participant (the one who called me a "liar") after finding out (at post 224) that he had not read the text:
"I would counsel you to read Pauls' thesis, if only to provide yourself with the wherewithal to better (and more convincingly) gnaw at the vitals of his argument. Know thine Enemy. You have already determined that he is a liar; perhaps worse horrors lie within, and you can tell us about them."
Later, the original poster made yet another similar plea:
"My counsel to those who wish to comment in an informed way about Pauls' thesis, which was to read it, is directed to all and sundry. This way, too, the discussion need not be hijacked/sidetracked/frogmarched as so often happens, into a perceived attack/defense of poor Schönberg. There is a tiny bit more to Pauls' treatise than endless discussion of Herr Schönberg, yet the old reflexes seem to kick in every time. He is probably sick of it."
In summary, there were many appreciative comments from the original poster and several others defending various aspects of my work, along with good constructive criticism. Thanks to the latter, I was prompted to finally incorporate a few corrections (one bibliographical error as well as a few typos), a number of which had been nagging at me over the last several months. Unfortunately, the most hostile commentators eventually succeeded in derailing the discussion thread, and it was shut down by a site moderator. Within a day or two, one of the worst offenders (as it happens, it was none other than the person had who called me a liar) had permanently been banned from Talk Classical. During the course of the discussion, the thread had received over 7200 views. Between May and August 2016, that total had risen to over 9100 views despite the fact that no more comments were allowed to be posted. By January of 2017, the thread's views stood at almost 11000. Update as of late May, 2017: Almost 13000 views. November 2017 tally: 15000.
A few comments on what the book contains:
As the full title suggests,Two Centuries in One is about the continuation of traditional tonal and conventionally romantic-sounding idioms in twentieth-century composition. My ultimate goal in this undertaking has been to show why latter-day romantic traditionalists were indeed worthy participants in the musical culture of the Modern Era, which for many historians and advanced composers effectively displaced a dying Romantic Era.
To that end, I have outlined a series of arguments that defend the legitimacy of the 20th Century's more melodic and tonal musical idioms – elements which 20th Century composers of a traditional romantic inclination never completely renounced despite many decades of resistance from others who felt that more advanced, or "modern", idioms were the true ticket to the future.
One of my fundamental premises is that there was in fact a very large strand of 20th-Century composers who consciously and intentionally retained clear tonality and romantic idioms to a fair, and sometimes great, extent. Many managed to flourish despite the rise of dissonant modernism, which was most powerfully symbolized by Arnold Schoenberg's invention of atonality around 1910. Perhaps the biggest philosophical problem for traditional tonal and romantic music composed in the Modern Era was that Schoenberg's famous "emancipation of the dissonance" had claimed not only musical and historical primacy but also, in a certain sense, a kind of scientific superiority as well. Many advanced thinkers sincerely believed that, on many levels, musical evolution favoured the so-called "dissonant" revolution and therefore felt that its musical products occupied the intellectual high ground. The vast majority of music history textbooks and overviews written in the second half of the 20th Century are deeply indebted to this general viewpoint.
How should Twentieth-Century music history be written?
In general, Two Centuries in One is intended as a contribution to historiography, a pursuit that explores not only the specific historical events themselves, but also how and why we choose a particular philosophical basis when we write about specific historical events and situations. Despite the somewhat forbidding label, historiography does have a very practical side, and can be especially fruitful and interesting in cases such as the long and bitter musical battle between ongoing musical romanticism and rising modernism.
This was a battle which carried on throughout the 20th Century and still leaves residues of all kinds in the musical attitudes and assumptions of performing musicians and concert audiences today. Historiography is important because, among other things, it guides our selection process when we teach 20th-Century history to music students. It was, after all, modernist historiography that told generations of music students and music lovers how, and why, the musical products of the dissonant revolution were supposed to be more historically important than contemporary tonal romantic idioms.
The paradox of "outdated" composers who never lost their audience.
Two Centuries in One attempts to come to grips with a genuine historiographical paradox – a paradox that is surely known to every music student who has ever studied 19th and 20th Century music history. The paradox is this: For most music historians who were active after the early 20th Century, the modern “dissonant” revolution dating from around 1910 essentially superseded and consigned to the past a very large number of tonal and romantic sounding contemporary composers who were still active.
Ironically, in practical terms this meant that many of the most-performed composers of the early Modern Era - Puccini, Rachmaninoff, Sibelius, Elgar, and Strauss - were now seen as severely backward-looking and regressive despite their continued currency with audiences and performers during their own time. To multiply the problem, many of these apparently backward composers retained and even expanded their popularity over the next 100 years. In simple terms, they endured. According to traditional modernist historiography, this was emphatically not supposed to happen to music written according to a regressive philosophy of history.
Meanwhile, the most radical composers lived in the hope that their progressiveness would one day be vindicated by wide-spread general audience acceptance of the kind that was accorded to Beethoven and Brahms. But that too did not happen in most cases. Rather, it was often the "backward" composers who ended up being given pride of place in daily programming. And now we are well into the 21st Century. This of course creates enormous practical problems for the traditional modernist historiography which has been taught to music students and imposed upon audiences over the last several decades.
What musical styles are allowed to define the Modern Era? A practical problem
For many reasons, the struggle between the 20th Century's “advanced” and “regressive” composers has remained problematic in the general world of classical music. Certainly, it has always had deep implications for how music instructors have taught music history, both at the secondary and university levels. Practical problems emerge out of this: For example, when dealing with the Modern Period in music, to what extent is it prudent to focus valuable course time on more esoteric early and mid-20th Century styles at the expense of the era's more frequently-performed music, which often happens to sound quite romantic and tonal? Does such a teaching strategy adequately prepare music students for the kind of music they are most likely to encounter in their practical daily lives as performers, teachers, concert attenders, and record buyers?
To give what has become a particularly infamous example, Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) and Schoenberg (1874-1951) were almost exact contemporaries. However, one was almost completely shut out of typical historical surveys of the Modern Era while the other dominated. For many historians, Schoenberg was quite simply the greatest composer of the 20th Century. But in retrospect, was this a convincing strategy for giving an accurate portrayal of the era in which both composers wrote their music, particularly in light of the fact that Rachmaninoff, a highly versatile musical genius on the level of Liszt and Bernstein, still numbers among the half-dozen most performed 20th-Century composers?
Can romantic composers living in the Modern Era be considered modern?
What kind of historiography has the authority to define the parameters that make 20th-Century music modern? What kind of composers are allowed to represent their own time? Many scholars in recent years have been taking those questions to heart in a new way. That is why one of the most important projects for today's music historians is the redefining of early 20th Century composers such as Strauss, Elgar, Rachmaninoff, and Sibelius as "modern" or even "modernist" instead of "late-romantic".
Along the same lines, Daniel Albright has recently broached the possibility of a new definition of musical modernism that, as he puts it, embraces both Schoenberg and Pfitzner. This is a particularly astonishing suggestion because Pfitzner, who maintained an unapologetic late-romantic and tonal style right up until his death in 1949, had long been infamous in modernist-oriented historiography mainly for his vigorous pamphlet war against futurism and the atonal revolution.
Contemporary pop idioms: Trapped in an outdated harmonic language?
Taking a slightly different angle, various leading commentators have viewed modern pop music idioms as a regressive outgrowth of late 19th-century common-practice musical language. The old, outdated harmonic language was simply dressed up a little to somehow appear more modern, as Webern scholar Julian Johnson put it. But how reasonable is that? Could current popular trends of the last 100 years really have been so backward when they had such broad public circulation in their own era? Or was there a fundamental misunderstanding among advanced thinkers of what modernity in music really meant?
It remains to be seen how far music historians and theorists in the 21st Century will be willing to go in viewing common practice tonality as a fully-fledged and legitimate component of 20th-Century musical expression. Will the recent embracing of popular idioms in musicology, together with the continued dominance of the best tonal romantics in the concert hall, be enough to convince scholars to finally recognize that clear tonality is indeed a central defining characteristic of 20th-Century music? Or will we remain at least partly beholden to the old historiographical tradition that viewed common practice tonality merely as an outdated relic of 19th-Century Romanticism, to be used mainly by the more regressive musicians after the dissonant revolution triumphed?
Extensive connoisseur support for "backward" 20th Century music
And finally, what are are the historical implications of a large group of classical music connoisseurs, who, in tandem with the owners of the largest independent record labels (Naxos/Marco Polo, Hyperion, BIS, Chandos, cpo, Albany), have been intent on reviving 100s of minor, forgotten early 20th-Century tonalists who were written off en masse as being among the most regressive and backward-looking in their time?
How can it be that the most backward composers are of so much interest to the most experienced classical music lovers - a group of people comprised of highly educated, intelligent, and thinking individuals who possess substantial historical knowledge in addition to a highly developed musical taste and discernment? Why has a highly experienced and specialist audience driven the large independent labels mostly in the direction of regressive composers rather than putting their dollars primarily behind the kind of modern composers who represented the most "progressive" elements of the 20th Century?
Two Centuries in One - An ongoing project
Although Two Centuries in One was written as a doctoral dissertation, it deals with questions that have practical implications for a very broad range of people representing many facets of the general classical music world. As I have learned over the years, such questions speak directly to the musical concerns of a large number of composers, performers, historians, and theorists, as well as educated music lovers and music teachers at the more regional levels. Ultimately, that was the intention of the dissertation, and to that end its general writing style and use of language make every attempt to be clear and accessible. Where possible, I seek to minimize unnecessary use of academic jargon for its own sake.
Many of the questions directly challenge the intellectual high ground that was once commanded by some very provocative ideas that were once so central to traditional 20th-Century historiography. These questions are intended to help us refocus our traditional way of viewing the Modern Era. They can help train our attention on the importance of certain elements in 20th-Century music which were once overlooked by historians but have turned out to be far more significant than was originally assumed. Happily, scholars are now seriously confronting, one way or another, many of the issues I have tackled. Two Centuries in One can be therefore be seen as a contribution to a much larger general effort to revise 20th-Century historiography, taking it far beyond the parameters set by the dissonant revolution which so powerfully shaped the standard 20th-Century music history textbooks and overviews, especially those written after about 1950.
Understandably, the problem of continued romanticism in the music of the modern era brings up a whole range of issues. Certainly, the topic is far too large for one book. As it stands, it reaches almost 500 pages, even after much good material had been left out of the discussions that did make it into the book. In order to illustrate more fully the sheer depth of tonal romanticism in the 20th Century, I would also have liked to include brief case studies of many post-1900 romantic tonalists, together with further description of the warmly welcoming present-day reception of each composer by record record companies and record critics. But where would one stop, with so many potential examples? There would be enough interesting material to fill several books.
Also, many other additional chapters had to be completely set aside. For example, there was a discussion of the short popular tonal form in the early modern era, which saw the composition of large swaths of salon-like piano pieces by Sibelius, Petterson-Berger, Reger, Scott, Ireland, etc., as well as arrangements and original works by Kreisler, Heifetz, Segovia and others. I also began constructing a timeline (100 pages so far, and still very much in progress) of the late-20th-Century Romantic Revival. A few fragments of the time line found their way into chapter two, and perhaps the time line as a whole could become another short volume.