Looking forward to next year’s QC season I was intrigued to read a review of a new translation of an essay from 1815 by Quatremère de Quincy.  The essay in question is titled Moral Considerations on the Place and Purpose of Works of Art.  In it de Quatremère de Quincy argues, among other things, against the placing of works of art in museums.  He argues that doing so, as later argued by David Carrier,[1] who coined the term ‘museum scepticism’, that doing so ‘strips them of essential facets of their meaning.’[2]  This process has been described as ‘decontextualisation’ and ‘museumization.’  It’s argued further that this process strips art of its purpose and signals ‘society has no further use for that work.’[3]

For Quatremère de Quincy, performance of music in concerts was analogous to the attending of galleries to see art.  It could be argued, as I would, that performing of music intended for informal or theatre settings in a modern concert-hall setting[4] is analogous to the museumization of works of art and strips them of essential facets of their meaning.  Use of modern instruments and performance practices serves to further strip the music of meaning.

At The Queen’s Closet, what we are aiming to do is perhaps achieve a process for music, the opposite of museumization, perhaps demuseumization, or recontextualization?  We don’t therefore aim just to play music in ways which we think makes sense for the music, using period instruments and with an eye to authenticity, but also in ways which we hope gives audiences an experience of the music closer to the context in which the music was first heard.  With Cloverton for example, we placed the music of Purcell into a narrative with contemporary meaning here and now, as the original dramatic operas and theatre music of Purcell was originally intended and experienced there and then.  This approach, we hope, gives music back some of the lost facets of its meaning.  Of course the context of 21st century Aotearoa New Zealand is not the same as 17th century London, and neither are audiences.  The process of recontextualization is not a simple matter, and involves the creative use of period performance practice and contemporary cultural connection.  This is one of our key aims however, and we continue to explore the juxtaposition of early music with contemporary New Zealand context, cultures and people.  At the very least we hope that by giving the music an appropriate and analogous context, it is more meaningful for our audiences, and inspires better the strong reactions achieved by all great art.

Next year’s season is all about exploring our relationship with our audience, and all of our relationships and experiences with the music.  Across our 2023 season we will continue to use 17th century music in combination with a range of contemporary arts, including 20th and 21st century music and dance.  As always, no matter the scale of our performances—which will include small, friendly gatherings; church music in ballrooms and dance music in churches; and interacting with throngs of Wellingtonians up and down Cuba Street—we aim to engage, entertain and move everyone who is musicking with us.  We think our society, Pōneke and wider Aotearoa New Zealand, still has plenty of use for this music!

Gordon Lehany, Artistic and Musical Director, The Queen’s Closet.


Carrier, David. Museum Skepticism : A History of the Display of Art in Public Galleries. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

Small, Christopher. Musicking : The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Hanover: Hanover : University Press of New England, 1998.

Xhignesse, Michel-Antoine. ‘Quatremère De Quincy’s Moral Considerations on the Place and Purpose of Works of Art: Introduction and Translation.’ The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 80, no. 4. (2022): 520-23. https://doi.org/10.1093/jaac/kpac044.https://doi.org/10.1093/jaac/kpac044. (accessed 24/12/2022).

[1] David Carrier. Museum skepticism : a history of the display of art in public galleries. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006.

[2] Michel-Antoine Xhignesse. ‘Quatremère de Quincy’s Moral Considerations on the Place and Purpose of Works of Art: Introduction and Translation.’ The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 80, no. 4. (2022): 520-23. 

[3] ibid

[4] For a fuller discussion of the modern music concert-hall and its culture see, Christopher Small. Musicking : The Meanings of Performing and Listening. Hanover: Hanover : University Press of New England, 1998.

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