The Taruskin Challenge was run from 2009 to 2012 by Mark Samples and Zachary Wallmark, postgraduate students of musicology at the University of Oregon and UCLA, respectively. The blog is well-organized: its purpose is clarified in the blog subtitle, and its sidebars contain the completion date of the Taruskin Challenge; a search bar; and links to recent posts, archives, and contributor information. The easily accessible main pages include a list of ‘musicology must-reads’ with short book reviews, and an eight-paragraph explanation of the challenge. This explanation is well-written, its personal tone maintaining the interest of the reader. The blog is relatively easy to search. Typing in the title of a known blog post brings up the post immediately, while searching a composer’s name brings up relevant posts.
The Taruskin Challenge’s posts contain unrelated advertisements. In this, the blog resembles other music blogs such as Slipped Disc and Largehearted Boy, but differs from Musical Assumptions, Renewable Music, and Musically Miscellaneous Mayhem. The Taruskin Challenge also contains links to the Amazon web page where Taruskin’s book is advertised.
Zachary Wallmark’s post ‘Haydn, Exoticism, and the Sublime’ first sparked my curiosity—leading me to wonder how ‘hellish’ Haydn’s Symphony No. 100 really is—and then enriched my knowledge of the said symphony. After commenting on the ‘martial quality’ created by the rhythm of the first movement, Wallmark describes the second movement, mentioning some changes in key and orchestration, and giving a time frame for these changes. More importantly, he shows his readers Haydn’s intended interpretation of the music. Listening to a recording would not have given me as clear or complete a concept of the ‘story’ behind the music, and would not necessarily have shown me that Haydn intended to portray a Turkish army.
Wallmark gives the work musical context by referring to the ‘novelty’ of cymbals, triangles, and timpani at that time. He also provides historical context, mentioning ‘late eighteenth-century anxieties about invaders from the south.’
Wallmark does not assume that his readers are musicologists or tertiary-level music students—but he does assume that they will understand terms such as ‘C major’ and tutti. In my opinion, this is an appropriate level of musical knowledge to expect from readers of a musicology blog.
I found Wallmark’s use of hyperlinks and embedded files rather ineffective. Both video files were unavailable, while the hyperlinks redirected the reader to the blog post itself (instead of to the mentioned Taruskin article, for instance).
Wallmark’s post raises the idea that Haydn’s depiction of battle seems ‘cute’ to us, because (like his contemporaries) Haydn safely distances his audience from the true horrors of war. I found the post thought-provoking, and was eager to discuss it with others.
—‘Haydn Symphony 100 “military” – 2nd movement.” YouTube video. 5.39. Posted by ‘PJinBston,’ November 2, 2010. http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=haydn+symphony+100+2nd+movement&view=detail&mid=AB31116BC7AECFD0EC4EAB31116BC7AECFD0EC4E&FORM=VIRE.
—Largehearted Boy (blog). Accessed May 10, 2017. http://www.largeheartedboy.com/about.htm.
—Musical Assumptions (blog). Fine, Elaine. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://musicalassumptions.blogspot.com.au/.
—Musically Miscellaneous Mayhem (blog). Marchand, Rebecca. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://miscellaneousmayhem.blogspot.com.au/.
—Renewable Music (blog). Wolf, Daniel. 2004-2013. Accessed May 10, 2017, http://renewablemusic.blogspot.com.au/.
—Slipped Disc (blog). Lebrecht, Norman (founder). 2017. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://slippedisc.com/.
—Taruskin, Richard. ‘Review: Resisting the Ninth: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 by Beethoven; Yvonne Kenny; Sarah Walker; Patrick Power; Petteri Salomaa; The Schütz Choir of London; The London Classical Players; Roger Norrington.’ Nineteenth-Century Music 12, No. 3 (Spring, 1989); 241-256. doi: 10.2307/746505. Accessed May 10, 2017. http://www.jstor.org.virtual.anu.edu.au/stable/746505.
—The Taruskin Challenge (blog). Samples, Mark, and Zachary Wallmark. Completed February 12, 2012. Accessed May 10, 2017. https://taruskinchallenge.wordpress.com/.
—Wallmark, Zachary. ‘Haydn, Exoticism, and the Sublime.’ The Taruskin Challenge (blog). May 3, 2010. Accessed May 10, 2017. https://taruskinchallenge.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/haydn-exoticism-and-the-sublime/.
Photograph by Lauren Giddy.