Letters: Musical Constructions of Nationalism

Letters: Musical Constructions of Nationalism

Dear Editor,

In a downright tour-de-force, Mr Patrick Zuk has turned a lengthy book review into a vicious attack on the views of Harry White on the development of music in the history of ideas in Ireland (JMI, March-April 2002, pp. 25-30). In doing this, he is not afraid to lose his subject and turn to a completely different book, namely Harry White’s The Keeper’s Recital (Cork, 1998). Now if this approach may be legitimate to underline his point, the way he does so is certainly not. If everyone is entitled to one’s own opinion, why is Harry White not? Why is he forced to tolerate attacks like Mr Zuk’s ‘call[ing] into question the validity of much of his enterprise’ (p. 26) – expressly going beyond the book in question? ‘White’s work on Irish music lacks the persuasiveness and authority that derive from the accumulation of meticulously researched detail …’ (p. 27) I read with astonishment. How dare you, I cried in far-away Bonn, criticise an internationally acclaimed musicologist of careless research and lacking authority?

Surely your reviewer has overstretched the limits here, not only with regard to the form of a review, but also in good manners. One doesn’t need to agree with Harry White’s views. I am sure Mr White would not have expected that. Has any reader ever fully agreed with a book interpreting history? I myself studied The Keeper’s Recital closely, my copy is full of pencil marks, and besides exclamation marks there are many question marks as well. Books like these are contributions to a dialogue. For me, Harry White’s work on Irish music has always been an eye-opener, as a sympathetic outsider to Irish music it made me understand many of the clichées and problems surrounding it. Do argue against it, but argue, don’t polemicise.


Dr Axel Klein
Bonn, Germany

Published on 1 July 2002

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