Joseph Straus claims at the outset of Broken Beauty: Musical Modernism and the Representation of Disability that, "To put it simply, disability enables artistic modernism." Placing disability at the center, rather than the peripheries, of a major artistic movement is admittedly an ambitious undertaking, but Straus's recent work reinforces Tobin Siebers' assertion that "the modern in art manifests itself as disability" (140). Straus asks, "Can we say that the modern in music manifests itself as disability? Can we say that modernist music has a fundamental interest in representing the disabled human body? Can we say that modernist music claims disability?" (3). His book argues that the answer to each of these questions is unequivocally yes.

There are few scholars with both the disability and musical credentials to set the agenda for this conversation. Straus, a distinguished professor in the Graduate Center at CUNY, has written a seminal textbook in post-tonal theory and has an established career as a music theorist. Simultaneously, he has been active in exploring disability, editing two (arguably the only two) major collections of essays on the subject of disability in music: The Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies (2016) and Sounding Off: Theorizing Disability in Music (2006). He has also published one monograph prior to Broken Beauty exploring intersections of disability and music, Extraordinary Measures: Disability in Music (2011). The latter is an approachable and incisive exploration of how disability affects perceptions of art music composers, listeners, and performers. Broken Beauty picks up where Extraordinary Measures leaves off, putting the texts of musical composition and narratives about music theory itself under the magnifying glass.

Straus divides his argument into seven sections: representing disability, narrating disability, Stravinsky's aesthetics of disability, madness, idiocy, autism, therapeutic music theory, and the tyranny of the normal. Early chapters cover ground familiar to readers of disability theory, such as models of disability (religious, medical, sociocultural) and artistic and literary representations of disability. Straus connects musical modernism to these models by "invoking the familiar metaphorical conflation of a work of music with a human body, both in its morphology and its behavior" (16). The remainder of the book contends that in musical modernism, the musical "body" is either disabled by or understood to represent five specific conditions: deformation/disfigurement, paralysis/mobility impairment, madness, idiocy, and autism.

Straus suggests that the reason why modern music is a particularly rich area to explore disability is that it is "music that leads people to ask for justification and explanation" (7). It is a music to audiences (and many theorists) that does not seem right, seemingly begging for explanation and necessitating rehabilitation or, perhaps, banishment. Straus's aim is to demonstrate to readers how modernist music is literally shaped by those ideas of disability; disability is at the center, not the edges, of modern music. He intends to explain how "the modern in music manifests itself as disability, that modernist music has a fundamental interest in representing the disabled human body, and that modernist music claims disability" (38). Each chapter does exactly that and further suggests why this embrace of disability by modernist composers ought to be, and is, "a cause for celebratory delight" (38).

While the structure of his chapters varies depending upon the amount of context required, Straus's work here follows a rough pattern: describing a significant disability concept or concepts, (such as disability narratives, evolution of the idea of idiocy, and autism as culture), followed by connecting that concept to an artistic impulse or behavior traceable in modern music, and concluding with a detailed explication of how that connection can be experienced and explored in particular musical pieces. Note that Straus locates disability being centered and explored in the musical compositions themselves—not in the bodies or experiences of the people who wrote and performed those pieces. Biographies and compositional intentions, Straus implies in a move characteristic of his discipline, are of less interest theoretically than the music itself.

Even as he provides careful verbal explanations about why a particular piece or musical moment represents a connection to disability, Straus, significantly, is not content to let his own written words do all of the lifting. Oxford hosts a website with every musical example he mentions in the book to be heard, either with or without voiced-over explication. The experience of hearing the music in performance, rather than looking at the musical score and written description on the page, is not to be missed. These clips add further texture and color to Straus's already vivid prose and give his arguments a clarity that words alone cannot.

Words, as it happens, tended to be my biggest obstacle to fully appreciating the sophisticated arguments in this book. Straus himself warns readers in the preface, "Music is both blessed and cursed with a technical language that permits us to describe musical objects and relationships with wonderful precision but that can be an impermeable barrier to comprehension for the uninitiated" (x). As a reader who has for the past decade been attempting to comprehend music scholarship without an academic background in music, I do not consider myself "uninitiated," but my assumptions about seemingly transparent vocabulary (such as narrative, sentence, neighboring, and passing, which have specific technical meanings in music that are not shared by broader academic discourse) led me to some fanciful and misguided readings of Straus's argument. I only learned of my confusion after describing what I'd read to my partner, who holds a doctorate in music. He was able to provide clear explanations and examples of theoretical concepts that Straus tends to barely gloss in this particular book.

In addition to fluency in the language of music theory, Straus expects readers to have a handle on the methodology of music theory itself. Readers accustomed to thinking about theoretical practices as intertwined with philosophical lenses, abstractions, and cultural critiques may struggle initially with the heuristics of a music theorist like Straus. In music, theory is not at all an abstract conceptual enterprise but a physical, mathematical, and relational one. In other words, music theory is concerned primarily with the mechanics of music: how the actual physical parts of a sound composition are designed to fit and move together. These are classifications, hierarchies, measurements, and specific expectations for all of these parts that determine how music does and doesn't work. Straus may point out here that I, in describing how his field does its work, fall back almost instinctively on ableist language and metaphor, in other words, a normalizing discourse (158-159). He'd also say that this isn't an accident; his criticisms of the "therapeutics" performed by traditional music theory on "deviant" bodies of musical work in the final chapter are biting, and his proposals for a disablist discourse for music theory are compelling (156-164).

Another concept that readers would do well to grasp is the kind of music Straus studies, describes, and uses as examples in his book. Straus, like most music theorists, primarily studies art music, what readers steeped in the Western tradition often consider "classical" and sounding akin to Beethoven or Mozart. Music that sounds like this (along with the music we're apt to sing and hear on the radio) is called tonal music. In fact, it's more likely than not that when any of us think of "music," in our mind's ear we are experiencing tonal music. This is not the kind of music that Straus is concerned with in this book, except to use it as a norm. Straus suggests that, like all norms, tonal music has evolved to be imaginative projections of an arbitrary set of ideals. Ultimately, this is the ideal that gets in the way of audiences, musicians, and theorists alike embracing and appreciating the aesthetics and experience of modern music.

The parameters of what makes music "modern" are permeable, although it is typically traced to emerging around the turn of the 20th century and gaining momentum post-World War I; like many forms of artistic expression, musical modernism responds to the horrors and disruption of mechanized warfare, personal alienation, technological innovation, and fracturing of seemingly secure cultural structures and systems. Musically, and broadly and simply speaking, rather than relying on a regular and predictable (and therefore "pleasing") configurations of sounded tones, modern music conflates consonance (the pleasing harmonies and movement toward resolution of most art music) and dissonance (jarring and non-harmonious combinations of sounds, often denying the listener a sense of resolution). In other words, modern music, like disability, might be understood by its deviation from deeply rooted and socially enforced norms. Typifying musical modernism are works by Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, Charles Ives, Bela Bartók, Anton Webern, and Alban Berg, many of which are explored throughout the text.

While all of Straus's arguments are powerful, two chapters stand out in their communication of carefully wrought interdisciplinary ideas, demonstrating the realized and engaging potential of Straus's unique position between the worlds of disability and music theory. Chapter 3, "Stravinsky's Aesthetics of Disability," takes readers on a deep dive into the work of a single composer, Igor Stravinsky. Straus notes that Stravinsky's music is "centrally concerned with representing the disabled body" (70), and in this chapter he demonstrates how Stravinsky features in his compositions disabilities such as madness, stuttering, and idiocy, ultimately claiming and affirming disability both programmatically and structurally. The chapter's musical examples and disability concepts are layered carefully, immersing the reader in the rich variety of forms disability can take in Stravinsky's work. I, for one, will never encounter The Rite of Spring the same way again.

Chapter 6, "Autism," is similarly captivating. Straus's longtime interest in the connections between autism and music is on full display here, and his language and explanations are particularly lucid. Straus points out that both autism and modern music have been described—and stigmatized—in almost identical ways: as uncommunicative, or atypically communicating, demonstrating unusual and unproductive desire for ritual and repetition, as cold and unfeeling, as impenetrably inwardly focused, and hypotrophied in some respects and atrophied in others (127). The chapter goes on to pull apart those parallel assumptions through the evolving and sometimes contemporaneous interest in and understanding of autism and modern music. The mental diagnoses of modern music composers, significantly, does not figure into this chapter at all.

I confess that modern music has always made me want to squirm. I didn't really question that reaction, since I rarely heard modernist music played live and never talked to another human who seemed to love it. It wasn't until I read these lines Straus almost offhandedly adds at the end of Chapter 1, that I understood why. "For conventional audiences," Straus notes, "[modernist] music may appear disabled. For the composers and their supporters, it is the audience that is disabled. And it is precisely the music that disables them, renders them unable to listen with comprehension and enjoyment. Modernist music both represents disability and disables conventional listeners" (38). Straus manages in this book to push back against composers and theorists who situate modern music as a "cure" for a diseased society, audiences reacting to feeling disabled by pushing modern music to the periphery of the art music performance, and—not inconsequentially—his own field of music theory, some of which seems engaged in an ongoing effort to "rehabilitate" and "cure" the disability at the heart of much of this music (164-184). While Straus refrains from condemning these approaches to modern music outright, he does ask readers to imagine a disablist rather than normalizing music theory, a theory that "embraces rather than dismisses features that are difficult to assimilate; it subverts, destabilizes, disrupts, and ultimately does away with norms and thus with the distinction between normal and abnormal" (163). Even as a listener and a casual reader in music scholarship, this is an exciting prospect to me. Had I first encountered modern music through these lenses, I can't help but think my response would be different. Reading this book has made me a thoughtful listener to the presence of disability in modern music, a presence I didn't even recognize before for what it is.

Despite Straus's thorough arguments and preponderance of examples illustrating musical modernism's embrace of and ambivalence toward disability, this book feels like the beginning of a subfield of disability research rather than its culmination. Straus is delivering here only a taste of the rich possibilities afforded by studying intersections of musical composition and disability. There are a few other scholars working in this area, such as William Cheng (2016, 2019), Blake Howe (2010, 2017), and Jennifer Iverson (2006, 2015), but it is still an emerging field. Straus's concluding words in this volume are a call to action for music theorists, musicologists, disability scholars, and all of those who work in those interspaces: "Disablist theory crips music: it introduces the disabled body into the discussion, and revels in the commotion and discombobulation that inevitably result" (184).

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