Critiquing the Canon: The Role of Criticism in Canon Formation

Hamer, Laura (2019). Critiquing the Canon: The Role of Criticism in Canon Formation. In: Dingle, Christopher ed. The Cambridge History of Music Criticism. The Cambridge History of Music. Cambridge University Press, pp. 231–248.



Music critics wield great power. Their writing influences public opinion and contributes to how audiences receive works. They focus attention upon specific works and musicians, thus justifying these as most worthy of public recognition and debate. They help works to achieve repeat performances, and thereby to establish their places within the performing canon. In the age of recorded sound, they influence sales and affect charts. Although some claim that with the recent rise of ubiquitous digital critical commentary (much of it amateur) professional critics have lost their traditional authority, online criticism continues to exercise considerable sway. In a very real way, critics have been – and continue to be – the gatekeepers of the canon. As Roy Shuker has observed, ‘popular music critics … function as significant gatekeepers and as arbiters of taste’.

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