Organising the musical canon: US symphony performances in the 19th and 20th centuries

Today, a look at one of the more interesting papers in the sociology of music of the last decade: Timothy Dowd, Kathleen Liddle, Kim Lupo and Anne Borden’s “Organizing the musical canon: the repertoires of major U.S. symphony orchestras, 1842 to 1969,” published in a special issue on music sociology in Poetics in 2002 (volume 30, issue 1-2).  

This impressive work of scholarship analyses 86,000 musical performances by 27 major US symphony orcehstras over more than a century. There’s a lot of fascinating discussion in this paper that draws on the work of Paul DiMaggio – but in terms of the data, the take-home message for me is that “the canon” is both more diverse and more stable than you might expect. Take the following data points, from Table 2 of this paper:

Top five composers accounting for the most performances in a given time period:


Mendelssohn (14.4); Beethoven (12.1); Weber (10.6); Mozart (8.6); Spohr (6.6). Combined percentage: 52%


Beethoven (15.0); Wagner (8.1); Liszt (7.4); Mendelssohn (7.1); Schumann (5.1). Combined percentage: 43%


Wagner (10.2); Beethoven (7.3); Brahms (4.9); Mozart (4.1); Strauss, R. (4.0). Combined percentage: 30%


Beethoven (8.8); Mozart (7.2); Brahms (5.5); Wagner (4.2); Tchaikovsky (3.4). Combined percentage: 29.1%


What does this tell us? What do you think?


Organizing the musical canon:
the repertoires of major U.S. symphony
orchestras, 1842 to 196  

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s