Sunday, December 15, 2019

So Long, and Thanks for all the Shostakovitch

Hello! To many of you, welcome back! This is not the message for which you'd probably been waiting—I didn't finish the book, and I'm not resuming the blog. Instead, I'm dying.

(To those finding this blog for the first time—Hello! You're just as welcome to be here, and there are plenty of entries that aren't about my inevitable, imminent death, if you're not into that when you're trying to research Beethoven's deafness.)

We'd known early on that this could only be a short-term blog given how deadly cancer is when it hits Stage IV, especially in the brain. I kept going so long as I still had ideas—and I still do!—but the lesions in my brain have made it difficult to find the right words when writing, and the periods of lucidity between chemo cycles have gotten shorter and more painful. When it got to the point that I wasn't feeling any sense of recovery between chemo sessions, I declared my treatment over and asked to be given palliative care only. I'm living in hospice, responding to old friends, being visited by people I haven't seen in years, consuming more chocolate and coffee than I can handle (I'm working on that, for comfort's sake). My husband is taking leave from work and our son is off of school (which he would have been otherwise at this time of year), so ideally I'll get to die with them by my side.

Monday, August 26, 2019

From Blog to Book: After the Proposal

Status Update and Writing Process

Hello, everyone! It’s been months since I’ve posted on this blog, though I’ve been active on social media—admittedly more with my personal accounts than with the blog’s Twitter and Facebook—to announce excellent news about the book: One month ago, I signed a contract with Clemson University Press for them to publish my book based on this blog. The book is another step toward becoming real!

Of course, there are still plenty of steps between here and the published book. For example, we haven’t completely settled on the title. The contract refers to the book as Riotous Rites and Other Lies about Classical Music—for now. I also have about twenty-five chapters of content to write, as well as a conclusion.

A flame-point Siamese cat (Whisper) snuggles up to Linda (bald woman in purple shirt). He's also settled onto a warm, closed laptop computer.
I’ve also had unavoidable delays: chemo side effects, my son being home all day during summer break, etc
Whisper (the cat) has been an outstanding writing assistant, aside from behaving like I'm his assistant

My Writing Process: Last week I worked on the introduction and the first chapter, writing and revising the intro to the point I felt secure enough to show it to friends for feedback. Now that I have their suggestions, I’m revising the intro again before I send it to my managing editor for her comments.

I’ve found I work best when I receive feedback early in my writing process because it helps me adjust my tone before drafting the rest of the book. I'll continue asking for comments and suggestions as I go, this time focusing on scholars who are experts (or have at least shown an interest) in the topic at hand. Once I complete writing the whole book, chapter by chapter, I’ll return to the introduction and revise it according to what the book really does instead of what I thought I wanted it to do.

For this early round of feedback, I purposely asked more non-music scholar friends than fellow musicologists because I consider Riotous Rites a trade book as well as a scholarly one. I don’t know whether you, reader, consider yourself a music scholar or not; in any case, I’m grateful you've come to my blog and read this far into my rambling personal post. Thank you.

I invite all of you to buy the book—or request it from a library—in spring/summer 2021.

Too Long, Didn’t Read: I signed a contract with a Clemson University Press for a book based on this blog. Writing has gone well so far, so I am aiming for a deadline that would put it on the shelves mid-2021.

Like what you’ve read?

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

“How’s that book coming along?”

Hello, everyone! It’s been five months since I last updated this blog, and I hope I haven’t lost too many of you during this hiatus. As I announced in the previous post, I’m taking a break from blogging so that I can work on a book based on this blog!

When I announced that back in January, I had no idea how many obstacles lay ahead: debilitating, unexplained leg pain; a few days’ stay in the hospital; further radiation treatments; and all the energy-sapping stress that comes from chronic medical issues. On top of all that (or because of it), I had a nasty bout of procrastination.

However, around late March I found a new determination to make this book happen. I began to use a day planner to set concrete goals and schedule time for writing every day. That’s when the book started to take shape.

A bald woman sitting in front of an open laptop, looking at the screen in concentration.
Me, hard at work, writing at the local coffee shop.
Thanks for all those Ko-fis!
As it stands right now, part of it will be a discussion of the larger clichés of classical music, such as  all composers being dead, white, men, and this style being associated with the upper class, elitism, and snobbery. Then I devote a section to bad science applied to music—or science applied to music badly. Finally, I get to the classic debunking of specific myths, sorted by composer.

If you’ve been reading this blog, most of these topics will be familiar, but reading the book will be a new experience. Though I’m planning to revisit many of my most relevant posts, I am improving them: updating them with recent research, incorporating feedback from the comments (You readers know your stuff!), and expanding the discussions so the chapters reflect some unifying themes of the book.

Also, since no one would want to buy something they could get on the internet for free, the book will include exclusive content. One of the reasons for my break from blogging is that I need that fresh, original content for the book!

But the book is still in the future. In my burst of disciplined writing, I’ve drafted all the components of my proposal. Right now, they’re being looked at by trusted colleagues who’ve kindly offered to give me feedback. My contact and I are hoping to send the proposal to the publisher by the end of the month, and then…we’ll see!

The feedback I’ve gotten has been very positive, but then, so far it’s coming from my friends. Nevertheless, I’m very excited to be working on this book, and I hope you enjoy it once it eventually exists!

Like what you’ve read?

Friday, January 18, 2019

Announcement: Why the Blog is not Updating Right Now

Hello, everyone!

Happy new year! I’m sorry that it’s taken me more than midway through January to wish you a happy 2019, but I suspect you’ll forgive me when you learn the reasons for my lack of posts in the past few months. In addition to holidays and travel (which aren’t unique to me, I know) and family responsibilities (also not unique to me, though some of you know the complications I face), and medical issues (I had brain radiation again in October 2018, and I’m in the process of trying a new chemotherapy regimen, which can be unpredictable), I have some exciting news:

I’m working on a proposal for a book based on this blog.

Portrait of Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds. It's also used as the "WTF am I reading?!" meme.
You'll be as fascinated by what you read as
Samuel Johnson in this portrait by Joshua Reynolds!
I’m still in the earliest stages, but so far, I’ve received a lot of positive and enthusiastic responses to this idea, so I’m optimistic that some press will want to publish it. My plan for now is that the book will be similar in tone and aim of the blog—debunking myths, challenging clichés, explaining why certain narratives persist even when they’re false, etc. Much of the book will be essays take directly from the blog, with some revisions and, I hope, improvements. However, it would be foolish to expect people to pay for content that they can already get online for free, so I’m going to come up with additional, new material. As a result, some content I would normally put up on the blog I’m now saving to be exclusive to the book.

So, I’m taking a hiatus from the blog. I don’t know how long this break will last, and I can’t announce an expected publication date for the book—it’s too early for me to know, as it hasn’t been accepted or even proposed yet! I will still be active on Twitter, mostly on my personal account (@lindahyphen), but also on the blog account (@MusHistCliches) when something relevant happens. I’ll also keep posting relevant updates on the blog's Facebook page.

In the meantime, I invite you to go back through the archives, and I’m asking you a favor: If you’re willing, can you please let me know any classical music mysteries that you’ve been wondering about but that I haven’t addressed through the blog yet? I already have some ideas for the new essays (including a question that took musicology by storm thirty years ago!), but I’d love to know what questions have been burning in your mind. You can email me at I prefer email to social media for this purpose, as it lets me archive and retrieve correspondence easier.

Thank you so much for sticking around enough to find this announcement, and I hope the potential book will be worth your patience!

Too Long, Didn’t Read: The blog is on hiatus because I’m working on turning it into a book. If you have questions or stories I haven’t addressed yet, please email them to me at

Friday, October 26, 2018

Did Stravinsky say the Vivaldi wrote “the same concerto, 500 times”? And if so, is it true?

Among classical music fans, there’s an old joke that Antonio Vivaldi didn’t actually compose 500 concertos, he just wrote the same concerto 500 times. The quip is established enough that a 1986 book—Bach, Beethoven, and the Boys by David W. Barber—riffed on it: “People who find [Vivaldi’s] music too repetitious are inclined to say that he wrote the same concerto 450 times. This is hardly fair: he wrote two concertos, 225 each.”

Portrait of Antonio Vivaldi
Antonio Vivaldi: A one-hit wonder, five hundred times?
“People say” is good enough for a book of classical music humor, but for this blog, I wanted to trace the joke to its origin and discuss why it caught on—and why it persists.

A Google search for the phrase shows attributions mainly to two different twentieth-century composers: Igor Stravinsky and Luigi Dallapiccola. Overall, people seem more willing to cite Stravinsky as the source, probably because his name is more recognizable. Even someone as informed as pianist/musicologist Charles Rosen attributed the quote to him when asked which composer he found most overrated:
“I'm tired of [Vivaldi]. Stravinsky once said that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto 500 times. I disagree. Instead, I think he began 500 concertos and never achieved anything in them. So he kept trying over and over again without ever quite succeeding.” 
—Charles Rosen to The New York Times, 1987
Yet Stravinsky’s fame also provides the means to discount him as the source of the quote. Stravinsky was a self-mythologizer, intent on shaping his own legend through press releases and publications, which makes it easy to find why so many people think he said this.