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Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

www.elsevier.com/locate/poetic

Cultural education and the canon


A comparative analysis of the content of secondary
school exams for music and art in England, France,
Germany, and the Netherlands, 19902004
Ton Bevers *
Department for the Study of Arts and Culture, Erasmus University Rotterdam, P.O. Box 1935,
NL-3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Available online 2 November 2005

Abstract
Discussions about the cultural canon in the educational system relate to the debates on globalisation, the
multicultural society, and the maintenance and protection of countries own national culture and language.
In addition to cultural differences in the history of nations, it is assumed that two formal sociological
characteristicsa countrys size and centrality in terms of core-periphery relationsalso contribute to a
better understanding of the relation between culture, canon, and nationality: Large countries behave
differently from small countries in the provision of education in art and music, in particular with respect to
the cultural canon. The question papers on art and music of the secondary school exams in England, France,
Germany, and the Netherlands were analysed over a period of 15 years (19902004). The presence of a
cultural canon can be interpreted as the extent to which in the exam papers emphasis is put on the countrys
own culture or the culture of others, on the past or on the present, on high or popular culture.
Content analysis of the papers showed that Germany, France, and England give the most attention to their
own culture, to the culture of the past, and to high culture. Germany and France do this to a greater extent
than England. The Netherlands deviates in all three respects. Unlike large countries with a strong cultural
past and a dominant position in transnational cultural relations, a small country is inclined to watch and to
follow the cultural centers in the world, and to emphasize and to join what is new instead of nourishing its
own cultural past. National cultural values and repertoires, the cultural canon included, may be fruitfully
understood as demonstrations of a core-periphery structure governing the transnational cultural exchange.
# 2005 Published by Elsevier B.V.

* Tel.: +31 10 408 2445; fax: +31 10 408 9135.


E-mail address: bevers@fhk.eur.nl.
0304-422X/$ see front matter # 2005 Published by Elsevier B.V.
doi:10.1016/j.poetic.2005.09.008

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1. Introduction
Since the nineteen eighties, the study of social and cultural phenomena from a global
perspective has developed rapidly with influential contributions by Wallerstein (1980, 1991),
Robertson (1992), and Castells (1996). Globalisation refers not only to the increasing
interdependencies of human beings on a global scale, but also to the growing awareness among
the population that the world has become a global society. Especially the cultural implications of
globalisation attract the attention of sociologists and anthropologists (Featherstone, 1990; Crane,
2002). One subject of debate is whether economic globalisation will lead towards cultural
homogenisation (Ritzer, 1993) or rather towards cultural differentiation and more complexity
(Hannerz, 1992). Another important field of study, labelled as cultural diversity and
multiculturalism, deals with the effects of mobility and migration on local, regional, and
national cultures. Furthermore, the centreperiphery model of thinking has been fruitfully
applied on a global scale to the sociology of languages (de Swaan, 2001), translations (Heilbron,
1999; Heilbron and Sapiro, 2002), literature (Casanova, 1999), and sports (Bottenburg, 2001).
Although the classification of cultural goods, more specifically the canon, has long been a central
theme of the sociology of art and culture, the research in this field until now was strongly oriented
towards the national level (Bourdieu, 1979; Dowd et al., 2002; Hirsch, 1988) without any focus
on a broader context of transnational hierarchies. In contrast to this empirical sociological
tradition, the rise of Cultural Studies two decennia ago generated also a vast literature on the
classification of cultural goods, but one that was more globally oriented, philosophically inspired,
and politically engaged, as appears from its special attention towards the great divide between the
cultures of the West and the Rest (Lewis, 2002; Sad, 1993). In the period of these culture wars,
the cultural canon of the dominant western tradition in schools, universities, media, and other
cultural institutions came seriously under attack (Wallis, 1999; Bryson, 2005).
We combined the empirical approach of examining the classification of cultural goods with a
transnational perspective: What happened with the cultural canon in the educational systemin
particular in the subjects of music and art at secondary schoolsin a period in which national
cultures in many fields were confronted with the blurring and crossing of boundaries?
Music and art were chosen because far less attention has been given in studies of cultural
identity and the national canon to these subjects than to literature and history, which are more
explicitly focused on national topics (Phillips, 1998). The primary aims of education in music
and art are not linked to teaching the national cultural heritage; all the more reason to choose
these subjects and to find out what the content of this education is in terms of national orientation
in an era of increased globalisation.
Art and music, like drama and dance, are different to literature and history in yet another way.
The cultural subjects have a lower status in the school curriculum: fewer hours are spent on
cultural education and for most students art and music are not examination subjects. Only a very
small number of students take an exam in one or more of the cultural subjects, as the figures for
the four countries involved in the researchGermany, France, England, and the Netherlands
show: the percentage of secondary school candidates who did a final exam in music in the period
19902004 fluctuates between 1% and 3% and between 3% and 7% for the subject art. Many
schools do not even offer music or art as an examination subject. On the other hand, we also know
that in each of the four countries many schools want to create a distinct profile for themselves by
accentuating the cultural educational activities. The position of art and music as subjects of the
educational program depends further on the type of school. It still is more likely for a gymnasium
than for a school that gives technical and vocational training to 12- to 16-year-olds to provide

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more opportunities to choose from subjects on arts and culture. It is not necessary to go more
deeply into these educational characteristics, for the sociology of culture rather than the
sociology of education was the main point of reference of this study. Neither the educational
system nor any other school characteristic, it is our guess, can sufficiently explain what the state
of the art is of the canon of musical and artistic reproduction at secondary schools in the four
different European countries. The sociology of transnational cultural relations provides an
alternative way to answer this question.
2. The canon adrift
In the aftermath of the social and cultural revolts of the nineteen sixties, advocates and
opponents of the cultural canon have argued for more than 30 years about the content of
education in language, history, and culture. The term canon relates to historical facts and
cultural products in words, images, and sounds, selected by experts, that together constitute a
framework of what is called a common culture or the culture legitime, as Bourdieu (1979) calls
it. Canons are social constructions made by critics and special institutions that operate as
gatekeepers. Although canons are tenacious, they do change over time, mostly in slow motion. A
canon functions as a standard in education and other fields, and determines what it is necessary to
teach, to learn, and to know. A cultural canon is also used as a political instrument in the
construction of a national cultural identity (Corse, 1997). Discussions about the canon blaze up
regularly in periods of educational reform, from elementary schools to universities. For instance,
in the United Kingdom, the proposals for a national curriculum for the subjects art and music
were vehemently opposed by those who found the reform plans too conservative and too strongly
a defence of the canonical tradition. The debates continued for years until the decision was taken
by the UK Education Reform Act of 1988 to introduce the national curriculum.
Another recent attack on the canonized culture took place about 15 years ago at the
departments of language and literature at the American universities. This was known as the
culture wars, a protest against the dominant western bias in theory and research on history,
culture, and society (Bryson, 2005). The latest demonstration of a periodical revival of the
discussion about the canon demonstrates the current reflection in Europe on the role of
educational institutions in maintaining and reinforcing the national cultural identity in times of
social, cultural, and political change under the influence of the process of European unification
and a growing population of migrants within and from outside the European community. Besides
the many debates in the mass media we could consider the national campaigns of the Ministries
of Education and Culture for cultural education at school such as Le plan a` cinq ans 20002005
in France, Creative Partnership 20032008 in Great Britain and Culture and School 2001
2008 in the Netherlands.
For an increasing part of the population, the world has become the new perspective from
which people experience and look at their daily lives and those of others. This broadening of
peoples horizons is attributed to the growth of contacts between people of different cultures and
to the enormous increase in the number of products and ideas from all parts of the world.
Globalisation causes existing certainties, durable institutions, and reliable classifications and
hierarchies to be less taken for granted. According to this line of reasoning, the canon of the
cultural subjects in educationliterature, music, art, and historyshould have become
subjected to greater pressure. Some regard this as an advantage and a step in the right direction
(Gorak, 2001; Levine, 1996; Pitts, 1998; Shepherd and Vulliamy, 1994); others consider it a loss
and wish to stop further decline of the canonized cultural heritage (Bloom, 1994; Michaud, 1997;

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Scruton, 1998; Doorman, 2004). Because of the national focus and the assumed national
relevance of the canon, discussions about it remain mostly confined to the national media and a
national audience. That this happens everywhere gives these discussions more than national
relevance. Globalisation nourishes reflection on the role and significance of the canon in relation
to the national cultural identity.
Comparative empirical research should answer the question if and to what extent the cultural
canons in different countries have come under pressure in their most important institution of
cultural reproduction, national education. We expected that, because of globalisation, the cultural
canon nowadays would have a less pronounced presence in the curricula of schools in West
European countries. This, however, does not imply that the form, content, and pace of a declining
classical canon are the same for all countries. What happens to the cultural canons of different
nations in times of change depends highly on the social, economic, and cultural history of each
country. The court tradition of France and its central role in the intellectual and literary life of
Europe; Germanys musical past and Herders role of auctor intellectualis of the German
Romantic tradition, which propagated nationalism as a cultural and political matter; Englands
contribution to the reputation of 20th-century popular culture and music: all these different
national flagships and standard bearers have shaped and polished the cultural repertoires of these
countries and have found their place in the national cultural canon. They have played their role in
the canon construction and they will play their role in the canon de-construction, too. There is a
direct link between the socio-economic and cultural history of each of the four countries and the
content of the national cultural canon in the educational system, as the results of the research
project will show below. In addition to this line of reasoning, we decided also to use a formal
sociological perspective (Simmel, 1908) in this comparative study. Formal sociological
characteristics, as Georg Simmel demonstrated in his magnum opus Soziologie, tell us much
about the forms and dynamics of social interactions at micro and macro levels. A countrys size
and centrality in the core-periphery structure are two of these formal sociological elements. On
the basis of formal sociological arguments on the functions of these two characteristics, we
expected that a small country would be more inclined to de-canonize its educational program
than larger countries, for two reasons. First, a small country is in many ways, including culturally,
strongly dependent on other countries, and, secondly, the cultural heritage of a small country
seldom has an exemplary role for other countries, which means that small countries lack
centrality. Take, for instance, the Netherlands: Available products of popular music are for 90%
made abroad, while Dutch pop music is hardly an export article. Hollywood productions are
responsible for 95% of the annual box-office receipts of Dutch cinemas, while Dutch movies that
turn out to be box-office successes are seldom screened outside the country. Dutch visual art is
always visible at Biennales, but hardly visible in the Biennale reviews of foreign art critics
(Heilbron et al., 1995). Twenty-five percent of all published books in the Netherlands in 1990
consisted of translations, against 10% in France, 12% in Germany, and less than 5% in the UK
and the US (Heilbron, 1999). It is easier for countries with a weak presentation of their own
cultural past to change the cultural canon in the educational system than for nations that have
traditionally emphasized and fostered their national cultural heritage. The cultural flow is based
on a core-periphery structure, which means an asymmetrical cultural exchange. Small countries
can at least compensate for their position and the consequences of an uneven flow of cultural
exchange by being proud of their cosmopolitan open-mindedness. This cosmopolitan mentality,
however, is not part of a national character, but the consequence of a sociological configuration.
Larger countries that once had or still have a dominant position in their region or even in the
world are more conscious of their cultural role and reputation. Therefore, such countries adhere

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more to their national cultural canon, although these countries also undergo the influences of
globalisation. As net exporters in the field of culture, however, they are less inclined to absorb art
and culture of the periphery in the curricula of their educational systems. Three large European
countries and one small country were chosen to explore further these sociological expectations:
England, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.
International relations between states on a global scale and global networks of educational
organisations have resulted in strongly similar agendas worldwide. Comparative research on
educational systems in many countries has abundantly shown in what issues the national agendas
have converged: the organisation and financing of education, the mechanisms of admission and
selection, the effects of education on social stratification, the development of (national) curricula,
the timetable, the qualifications, the exams, the pedagogical models, teaching methods and
materials (Meyer et al., 1992). Far less comparative research has focused on the content of what is
taught and learned at school. The content of this and changes in it are precisely what the canon is
about. Of course, some important knowledge about the content of subjects is already available
from international comparisons of the curricula, and we know that isomorphism of many aspects
of the educational system worldwide has consequences for the content of the subjects too
(McEneaney and Meyer, 2000). There are good reasons for assuming that the form and content of
educational programs all over the world incline to homogeneity. It might be said that a world
curriculum system has come into being with the following central subjects in primary and
secondary education: languages, mathematics, sciences, history, art, gymnastics, and religion/
social science. Exams are part of this, and there is a tendency here too towards worldwide
standardization (Bray and Steward, 1998; Cummings, 2003; Eckstein and Noah, 1993; Kamens
and Cha, 1992; Keeves, 1994; Watson, 2001).
Even more than the international comparative sociological research on education, the national
trade journals for teachers in cultural subjects provide a useful source of information on what
substantial discussions were on the national agenda of a country during a given period. This
research project started therefore with a pilot study, involving a content analysis of five volumes
(19962000) of the main trade journals for music teachers in the four countries. The aim was to
explore the national orientation of these journals in an era of increased globalisation (see
Appendix A) and, secondly, to find out the main issues these professionals were concerned about.
Browsing through these volumes we found the following three items that featured on the agenda
with varying attention and intensity in each of the countries during these years: (1) How much
attention should be given to own national culture versus the culture of others in cultural
education? The culture of others refers not to the more or less shared culture of neighbouring
countries but culture of non-western origin. (2) How much attention should be given to culture
from the past versus that of the present? (3) How much attention should be given to classical
culture versus popular culture?
These three items are useful as operational elements of what we mean when we refer to the
term canon. The answers of these three core questions help us to get a better understanding of
how and to what extent and which canon manifests itself in the subjects music and art at schools.
There are many canons, at different levels, ranging from local, regional, and national to the
international and even the global level. There are also canons from different periods, for instance,
the canon of ancient music versus the canon of contemporary music, and, of course, in different
fields of cultural production like classical music or popular music. Canons also relate to different
contexts: The undergraduate university canon of 20th-century visual arts is probably not the same
as the secondary school canon of modern visual arts. Canonization and de-canonization are
formal sociological processes, but the content of canons is affected by their purpose and context.

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In order to be able to discover a canon in each of the three dimensions, it was necessary to
determine which composers and visual artists from which historical periods and genres are
represented in the curricula of art and music of secondary schools in each of the four countries.
The results will show us the extent to which emphasis is put on a countrys own culture or the
culture of others, on the past or on the present, on high or popular culture. In addition to these
research questions on the canon of music and visual arts in the school curriculum another element
of the canon will be discussed, the hierarchy of reputations. How much attention is given to which
composers and artists in each of the four countries? The answer to this question will show us the
national rankings. A comparison of these ranking lists makes it possible to create a new one: A
European hierarchy of canonized composers and artists, at least in the exams of secondary
schools in the four countries involved in this research.
The main purpose of this study was to get a better understanding of the differences in form and
content of the cultural canons of art and music education in schools in three large countries with a
central position and one small country with a peripheral position in the European Union. The
main research questions were the following: In what way and to what extent is emphasis put on a
countrys own culture or the culture of others, on the past or on the present, on high or popular
culture? How much attention is given to which composers and artists in each of the four
countries? In other words, what is the national top-10 of canonized composers and artists in the
different countries? And do these four national ranking lists tell us more about the existence of a
European canon? The results of this explorative research were interpreted in the context of the
national historical and cultural differences between the countries involved and with reference to
the formal sociological theory of centre-periphery relations.
The structure of the article is as follows: In Section 3, attention is given to methodological
issues: the exams used for data collection, the database, and the chosen variables. In Section 4, the
results of the national comparisons made on the basis of the three main questions are shown and
discussed. In Section 4.1.1, the attention given to a countrys own culture versus the culture of
others is presented. Section 4.1.2 shows the attention given to the cultural past and present, while
Section 4.1.3 considers the attention given to high versus popular culture. In Section 4.2, the
canonical hierarchy of composers and artists in each of the four countries (the national top-10) is
presented, followed by the makings of a European canonical hierarchy of composers and artists
(the European top-10) in Section 4.3.
3. Methodology
3.1. The exams as source of research
There are different ways to investigate if and to what extent the content of the subjects of
music and art are oriented towards the national cultural highlights of a prestigious past. One way
of doing this is to look at the official documents in which the primary objectives and the subject
matter are fully described and determined. No matter how important and necessary these
documents are as frameworks for defining the content of the education, these sources are
insufficiently detailed to answer to our three research questions. Textbooks offer substantially
more information about the content of education in music and art. The problem with textbooks,
however, is that many different titles are in circulation and no one knows exactly if and how
teachers actually use this teaching material. A third method of investigation is to look at the
content of the question papers of the examinations for art and music. These papers contain
specific information about composers, artists, works, periods, and origin. Furthermore, the

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content of these papers is the result of a conscious choice made by experts and indicates preeminently what every student should know and be able to.
If and to what extent the examinations refer to canonical items is easy to determine by listing
the content of every single question. An additional advantage of this method is that all students
are presented with the same questions. Finally, this source offers the opportunity to find out
something more about the hidden pedagogy of the cultural education. The compilers of the
papers aim primarily at testing students knowledge and skills, and do this by presenting or
asking for examples from a wide range of composers and artists and their works, but no rule
prescribes that the compilers must select a particular person or piece of art. It is possible that
experts, by making choices, put unintentional accents, for instance, on national examples. If a
pattern were to become visible from an analysis of these choices made over a period of years, the
conclusion might be that a hidden pedagogy exists.
For these reasons the content of the questions papers of the examinations on art and music was
used as the main source for this research project.
3.2. Data collection
The data used for this research came from the annual central written exams of May/June over
the years 19902004 for the subjects art and music at secondary schools in Germany
(Gymnasium), France (Lycee/Baccalaureat), England (GCE-A(S) levels), and the Netherlands
(vmbo/mavo; havo/vwo). In France and the Netherlands, national commissions annually compile
the central exams. In Germany, 6 of the 16 federal states have central exams: Bayern, Thuringen
(from 1995 for music and from 1998 for visual arts), Sachsen (from 1994), Saarland (from 1993
for visual arts), Baden-Wurttemberg, and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (from 1995 for music and
from 1997 for visual arts). The central exams of the six federal states mentioned here were
included in the research. In England (excluding Wales and Northern Ireland), three examining
bodies are responsible for the production, distribution, and assessment of the national exams:
Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) in Manchester, Oxford Cambridge and RSA
Examinations (OCR) in Cambridge, and Educational Excellence/London Examinations
(EDEXCEL) in London. Schools are free to choose for every subject the exams and
accompanying teaching materials of one of these three organisations. Data were collected from
the exams of each of the three examining bodies. The AQA question papers of 1991 for music and
of 2001 for art, the EDEXCEL exams of 1998 and 2000 for art are missing, and the OCR question
papers of 1991 and 2001 for art were missing. Because of the large dataset of the English exams
due to the system of three examination boards, the lack of a few papers had no serious
consequences for the analysis of the research material or for the results.
The secondary school systems in the four countries have different types of school with
different exams. Within a type of school, the subjects of music and art may be further subdivided
into different options with separate exams. Consider the subject Art and Design in England,
which counts more than 20 different courses and an equal number of exams. Differences in exams
depend also on the distinction between compulsory and optional subjects. A further complicating
factor has to do with major changes of the design and the content of the exams that occurred
during the period 19902004. This was the case in England and the Netherlands. All these
differences and complications were taken into account in the final selection of the papers in order
to make the comparability of the basic data as high as possible. The selected exams were of the
same level, with the exception of one of the Dutch exams, and comparable with A-levels in the
UK, meant for students preparing for higher education. The Dutch exams also included papers of

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lower secondary general or professional education (vmbo; vbo-mavo), but we did not find
significant differences here on the relevant variables compared to the exams at A-level, the higher
general and pre-university education (havo; vwo). The papers of the written exams that dealt with
reflection, analysis, interpretation, and knowledge of the history of music and art were selected.
In some exams, such questions were related to other assignments such as making a piece of art or
composing and listening tests. Each times the name of a composer/artist or an identifiable work
was mentioned this information was inserted in the database. The content of oral parts of exams,
based on lists of set works, was also included in the database. This was only the case in the French
exams on music.
3.3. Variables
The following information was copied or retrieved from the content of each question in a
particular paper and put in a database with the following list of variables:
-

Name of composer/visual artist


Nationality of composer/artist, work, or style
Period
Title of work
Subject (music or art)
Discipline (classical; jazz; entertainment; pop; world music; painting; sculpture; architecture;
design; photography; etcetera)
- Year of exam
- Country of exam
- Type/level of exam
For every composer/artist that was mentioned in the same question a particular item was
created. We disregarded questions in the papers that did not contain any information about a
composer/artist or his or her work nor made any reference to a geographical origin. If only the
name of a work or a style and the place of origin, but not the name of a composer/artist was
mentioned in a question, for instance, only German Song, French Opera, or Arts and Craft
Movement, an item was made in which the value not applicable was used instead of the name
of composer/artist, and information about the other variables was put in. Occasionally, the
composers name was not mentioned in the listening part of the exam or in questions in which
only an excerpt of a particular composition was presented. If in that case another indication like a
title or an opus number was available, the name of the composer was tracked.
The data collection resulted in a dataset of 7082 items. Appendix B presents an overview of
the different types of exams from which the data were collected.
4. Results
4.1. The three research questions
4.1.1. Attention given to countrys own culture versus the culture of others
The first question to be answered was the following: How much attention is given to own
national culture versus the culture of others in the art and music examinations? The assumption
was that the amounts of attention given to a countrys own culture is an indicator of the strength of

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Table 1
Percentage of items devoted to own national art and music in the papers on art and music for secondary schools in four
European countries from 1990 to 2004
Germany

National music
National art
National music and art

England

France

The Netherlands

Percentage

Percentage

Percentage

Percentage

37.3
39.2
38.4

150
186
336

20.5
29.2
26.3

316
939
1255

20.6
43.2
35.0

28
104
132

9.3
32.5
26.5

25
253
278

the national cultural canon. It was also assumed that large countries with a dominant cultural
position would emphasize their culture more than smaller ones with a weaker position in the
cultural field.
The main finding shown in Table 1 is the predominant attention given by the four countries to
their own national cultures. As the percentages in the last row of Table 1 show, in each of the four
countries, one quarter to one-third of all items was devoted to the national culture.
All percentages of items referring to the culture of any other country in the world were
substantially lower. There were two exceptions to this general outcome. France and the
Netherlands paid more attention to music from other countries. In the French exams, music from
Austria (Viennese Classicism) accounted for 30.9% of all items on music against 20.6% devoted
to French music. The percentage of items on the Dutch musical heritage in the exams of the
Netherlands was remarkably low, although perhaps not so remarkable considering the total or
nearly total lack of references to Dutch music in the exams of the other three countries, as Table 3
shows. Dutch composers, Sweelinck and his contemporaries excluded, apparently contributed
little to the musical heritage in the view of the examining bodies.
Germany gave almost twice as much attention to its own music as England and France.
Considering the dominant contribution of Germany to the European music culture, this result is
not surprising. For the same reason, it is unremarkable that France showed the highest percentage
of items devoted to its own visual art. However, because Germany also gave priority to its own
visual art, it was concluded that Germany is the most nationally oriented country.
In general, the results shown in Table 1 give support to the assumption that a kind of a hidden
pedagogy exists, because in none of the four countries is the amount of attention to be given to the
national culture prescribed. Questions about a countrys own culture, though, may not always be
interpreted as hidden pedagogical signals. Focus on a region or country is sometimes the
conscious choice of the examining body. For instance, in the English exams (OCR) on music,
parts of the paper are focused on Music in England 15751630 or Music in France 18901930
or Nationalism in early 20th century music 18901950. In the German federal state Sachsen,
attention for the Saxon musical tradition is emphatically mentioned in the curriculum. But the
general rule in the four countries is that exam candidates demonstrate knowledge and
understanding of art or music from early modern times to the present in selected areas of study,
making connections across time and/or western or non-western cultures and using relevant
vocabularies of art or music. A further elaboration of the subject matter (with set works for music
in France, England, and Germany (Bayern) is presented in the annual specifications of the
curriculum (England: Specifications GCE; Germany: Lehrplane-Richtlinien; France: Programmes Enseignements artistiques. Collection Lycee, classe terminale; The Netherlands:
leerplannen). These specifications are available on the websites of the ministries of education of
the four countries. An additional point of reference taken into account in each of the four

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countries is the European culture since the Council of Europe in 1988 resolved that European
examples should be used in education on the western cultural heritage. The Council resolution
invites the Community and Member States to include the European dimension explicitly in
their school curricula in all appropriate disciplines, for example literature, languages, history,
geography, social sciences, economics and the arts (Resolution 88/c 17702, 24 May 1988).
When a particular culture has produced something that is typical of that culture, we expected
questions on it at least or even exclusively in the exams of that particular region or country.
Examples are questions about the composer Hans Eisler that only occurred in the exams of the
former DDR provinces or about the wood-carver Riemenschneider, who was mentioned
exclusively in Baden-Wurttemberg, his native region. An example in the English exams is the
posing of questions about the popular vernacular hymn which is a style developed within the
Anglican Church as an alternative to the Roman Catholic tradition of the polyphony and which is
abundantly present in the late Romantic music of Elgar, Holst, and Vaughan Williams (Scruton,
2001, pp. 104 and 108), composers who were only named in the English papers. Also, when a
Dutch artist or work of art was cited in exams in the Netherlands a typical piece of Dutch culture
was sometimes conveyed, for instance, the question about Jurriaan Andriessens composition
Variations on In Holland staat een huis or Cow and violin by the composer Jan Bus. No
examples of national orientation were found in the other countries that were so overt and direct as
in the English exams; for example, Which two British buildings are the most significant in the
late twentieth century? (1999 OCR. Art and Design); What aspects of the work of Hogarth and
Gainsborough could be considered to be typically British? (OCR 2000. Art and Design); How
insular were English composers of this period? (18901939) (1993 AQA); Write an essay on
two contemporary British composers who will be as famous over hundred years as Mendelssohn
and Brahms are nowadays. (1998 A-level AQA). Asked to mount an exhibition of Classic
British Product Design, which five products would you select, and why? (1994 AS-level AQA).
Germany, England, and France represent three dominant cultures in the Western tradition of
art and music. In contrast to these countries, the Netherlands takes a semi-peripheral position in
European culture. Part of the question about the central role of the national culture in the
examinations of the four countries was the additional question of how much attention is given to
each others culture.
Table 2 presents the amount of reciprocity of attention among the four countries as found in
the content of the papers on art and music. Some of the results are not surprising, for instance, the
general recognition of the French contribution to the visual arts and of Germanys role as a
leading nation in the field of music; neither are the very low levels of attention paid by Germany,
France, and England to the Dutch world of art and music. These findings confirm the sociological
theory of asymmetrical relations of cultural exchange between centre and periphery. In the
opinion of examination boards in France and Germany, England has not carried much weight in
the world of music and art. Compare, for instance, the asymmetry between the English emphasis
on English music (20.5%) with the German (5.2%) and French (2.9%) devotion to English music.
In the Netherlands, the percentage of items devoted to English music was substantially higher,
but only with regard to pop music. The appreciation of the French visual arts in the other
countries remains far behind the French appreciation of French art. Strong nations, obviously,
overestimate their own national culture as seen through the eyes of the others. At the same time
they are aware of the changing conditions that have undermined their position and reputation as
in the case of France was demonstrated in a national report of the French government on the
waning international role of the French visual arts in the world since the nineteen eighties
(Quemin, 2001).

398

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

Table 2
Percentage of items devoted to own and each others national art and music in the papers on art and music for secondary
schools in four European countries from 1990 to 2004 (percentages in bold are references to own national art and music)
References to nationality

Germany
Music

Germany
England
France
The Netherlands
Austria
Italy
Spain
Russia
USA
Others
Total N items

37.3
5.2
5.0

27.4
6.2

4.5
2.5
11.9
402

England
Art
39.2
4.6
17.7
5.5
0.6
6.8
4.0
1.1
8.9
11.6
474

Music
18.3
20.3
8.8
1.0
18.7
10.9
0.3
6.3
7.5
7.9
1560

France
Art
7.1
29.2
15.6
3.8
0.7
16.9
3.4
0.7
7.1
15.5
3220

Music
13.2
2.9
20.6

30.9
5.9
1.5
2.9
5.1
17.0
136

The Netherlands
Art
8.7
3.7
43.2
3.3
1.7
4.6
7.1
0.4
19.9
7.5
241

Music
11.5
15.6
8.9
9.3
15.2
4.1
0.4
4.4
17.0
13.6
270

Art
8.0
6.8
15.4
32.5
1.9
10.8
2.8
1.5
9.5
9.8
779

Cramers V = .195 (music); Cramers V = .314 (art).

The German contribution to the great tradition of western music is recognized in England,
France, and the Netherlands, yet their appreciation of the Austrian composers is higher still. Only
Germany put its own composers before the Austrians. In three of the six German federal states,
not a single question about music from the USA was included, and in two of the remaining three
federal states no more than one or two items were devoted to American music throughout the
whole period of 15 years. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is an exception with 12% of its items
devoted to American music, as opposed to 1.5% dedicated to Russian music. This former East
German federal state also gave twice as much attention to music from England as the other five
federal states.
France and England showed a preference for their own musical traditions by devoting many
more items to these than to German music. Germany and Austria together accounted for as much
as 64.7% of all items on music in the German exams, 44.1% in France, and 26.7% (the lowest
percentage) in the Netherlands.
With regard to the national dimension in the exams on art, it was clear from the French
examinations that, from the French point of view, there are only two centers of art in the world:
the French and the American art worlds. Germany gave relatively more attention to its own art
than might be expected considering its contribution to the history of art in a broader perspective.
In any case, England, France, and the Netherlands devoted a considerably smaller number of
items to German art than did Germany itself. Of the four countries, Germany had the most
nationally oriented exams on music and art.
The relatively high percentages of items devoted to Italian art in the English and Dutch exams
refer to the art and artists of the Renaissance.
Traditionally, art styles and geographic origin were always strongly connected, especially in
the era of nationalism and the birth of the nation-state. This led to the assumption that a countrys
emphasis on its own culture would be stronger with respect to art from the past than to
contemporary art that is global and at the same time highly individualistic and characterized by a
lack of style. The opposite assumption, however, makes sense too. The absence of an obviously
national or international style could explain the stronger emphasis in the exams on a countrys
own artists. The increased uncertainty of taste and the plurality of styles in contemporary art have

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

399

slowed down the canonization. In such situations, it is easier for national examining bodies to fall
back on the countrys own art that is not so different and is, therefore, as good as art from
anywhere else. A possible additional explanation is that, as a consequence of a strong national
tradition of subsidizing the arts after 1950, the local, regional, and national visibility and
reputation of professional art and artists have increased enormously, making a focus on own art in
the papers more reasonable. If it is true that the national cultural policy affects the content of the
exams in this way, this might be interpreted as a sign of a hidden pedagogy.
One could raise the question whether the attention given to countries own culture changed in the
years between 1990 and 2004. Analysis of the data did not give a clear answer to that question. A
trend is not convincingly visible throughout the period of the last 15 years. This confirms the notion
of stability attributed to the educational system in general and to examinations in particular. The
content of the curricula becomes slowly but surely institutionalized, and the same holds for the
process of change. Differences in the content of the exams between the countries are mainly due to
the changing history and position of each country, in particular in the network of transnational
relations. As Table 2 shows, these differences between countries with respect to the papers on art
and music are more visible than differences that take place over time within the national educational
institutions, as shown in the table in Appendix C.
A third aspect of the research question was the role of non-Western items in the national
exams. Western culture includes art and music from European countries, the United States,
Canada, and Australia. Apart from some general questions about differences between Western
and non-Western art and music or the influences of non-Western cultures on Western culture
remarkably, always this one-way approachvery few items were found in the papers which
referred to a particular artist or work of art from non-Western areas, as Table 3 shows.
Only 4.3% of the total number of items specifically referred to non-Western art and music. The
relatively high number of items on non-Western culture found in the English examinations
concerned for 75% items on archaeological and ancient art (and architecture), which is
structurally a substantial part of the annual papers on Art and Design of two of the three
examining bodies (EDEXCEL and AQA).
From these findings it may be concluded, on the one hand, that those who are concerned about
the declining position of Western culture in the national examinations are too pessimistic and, on the
other, that the protagonists and propagandists of cultural relativism up until now have been less
influential in reforming the content of the exams than might generally be thought. A second
conclusion is that throughout the period 19902004, in which the debates on multiculturalism in the
four countries were intensified and expanded, the content of the papers remained much the same.
4.1.2. The past and the present in the question papers
My second question concerned the balance between the past and the present in the papers.
Table 4 shows that, with respect to music, the period 17001850that is, the canon of Western
Table 3
Percentage of items devoted to Western and non-Western art and music in the papers on art and music for secondary
schools in four European countries from 1990 to 2004
References to nationality
The West
The rest
Total N items

Germany
99.4
0.6
876

England

France

94.2
5.7

98.9
1.1

4780

377

The Netherlands
98.2
1.8
1049

400

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

Table 4
Percentage of items on art and music related to historical periods in the papers on art and music for secondary schools in
four European countries from 1990 to 2004 (the highest percentages are in bold)
Reference to period

Germany
Music

>1500
15001700
17001850
18501950
19502004
Total N items

7.5
4.5
46.8
28.6
12.7
402

England
Art
21.9
5.1
3.8
45.4
23.8
474

Music
6.6
11.9
35.9
32.1
13.5
1560

France
Art
31.8
8.9
11.9
32.9
14.5
3220

Music
2.9
3.7
55.2
24.3
16.9
136

The Netherlands
Art
2.1
1.2
2.9
44.0
49.8
241

Music
4.8
4.1
25.9
20.4
44.8
270

Art
8.6
5.1
6.7
35.0
44.5
779

music with Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann as leading composers
held a dominant position in the papers in Germany, England, and France, but a much weaker and
no longer dominant position in the Netherlands. The high percentage (44.8%) of items devoted to
music composed after 1950 in the Dutch exams concerns pop music. With respect to art, the
highest percentages of items (for Germany and England) were concentrated in the period 1850
1950, when France was the centre of European art, and in the period 19502004 for France and
the Netherlands, two countries with a strong cultural policy of supporting contemporary visual
artists.
The cultural past was given the least attention in the Dutch exams compared to the exams of
the other countries. This observation fits with the results of a European research on education in
history, which found that interest in history is the lowest among young people in the Netherlands
(Onderwijsraad, 2005, p. 23). The question is whether this observation is typically Dutch or more
a characteristic of small countries.
The spread of the items over historical periods depends, among other things, on the agreements
made about the material for the exam. These agreements proved to be the same in the four countries,
and imply that the modern time, the 19th and 20th centuries, should be accentuated and that earlier
periods of history should mainly be used in the exams as an instrument to explain later
developments and not as objects of knowledge in their own right. In the music exams, the three large
countries put emphasis on the period of the Viennese Classics, 17501850. In the exams on visual
arts, the period 18501950 was given most attention in Germany and England, whereas the French
exams emphasized the period after 1950. In the Netherlands, the highest percentages of items both
for music and art were found in the period after 1950.
Canonization takes time. Therefore, the more attention is given to the cultural past in the
exams, the stronger the evidence that a cultural canon exists. The conclusion is that the music and
art exams are more canonized in the three large countries than in the Netherlands.
Two of the three research questions on the content of the exams on music and art have now
been answered. Tables 2 and 4 have shown that countries with a dominant cultural position
Germany, France, and Englandpaid significantly more attention to their own culture and
cultural past than a small country with a culturally marginal position. It is interesting to look more
in detail to what happens with the results of Table 2 (attention given to countrys own culture and
culture of others) when the same analysis has been made for each of the historical periods
mentioned in Table 4. The results of this analysis are presented in Appendix D. The comparison
of the marginal association of Table 2 with the partial associations for each of the historical
periods leads for instance to the following conclusion. The inclination of each of the four

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

401

examining bodies to give more attention to their own musical tradition is veiled by the high
attention given to the Austrian composers of the period 17001850.
4.1.3. High versus popular culture in the question papers
My third question was connected with the discussion about the role of popular culture in the
curriculum and the exams on music and art in secondary schools. Below, only an answer for the
subject music is reported. What is the proportion of attention given in the papers to classical
versus popular music?
Considering the enormous expansion of music in the second half of the 20th century,
especially in the field of entertainment, jazz, popular music, and world music, it is reasonable to
expect to find a reflection of this development in the exams throughout the period 19902004.
The analysis of items on music after 1950 showed (see Table 5) that in Germany and France,
the lions share of all items devoted to music after 1950 was reserved for classical music, from
time immemorial the canonized music. The process of de-canonization of classical music was
less visible in the exams in these countries than in England and the Netherlands. Items on popular
music in the German exams turned up only in the papers of the former East German federal state
of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the most Anglo-Saxon-oriented state of Germany. England and
the USA are the cradles of many popular music varieties that were proliferated worldwide during
the 20th century. In the transnational exchange of cultural products, the Netherlands was found to
be the most receptive of the four countries of Anglo-Saxon popular music. In the Dutch exams,
the highest proportion of items on music after 1950 proved to be dedicated to popular music. This
country is probably the first in Europe that has implemented such significant changes in the
content of the national exams on music. Although the canon of classical music is still present in
the Dutch exams, the balance has been changed in favor of popular music. Is this an isolated
phenomenon or are the Dutch exams the heralds of a creeping process of de-canonization of
classical music that is already taking place in many countries in and outside Europe? The latter
assumption is more plausible. First, in many countries, including France, Germany, and England,
the canon is controversial, not only because of its present content, but also because of the idea of
having a canon as such. Second, popular music has long been accepted as part of the music
curriculum in many countries worldwide. Third, in the exams in France, Germany, and England,
while the number of items devoted to popular music is modest, some questions on the subject are,
nevertheless, posed. Therefore, the conclusion is justified that the process of de-canonization of
classical music will continue at a varying pace within and between countries. In other words, the
cultural classification systems, and the canons as an example of these, will become more
democratic, more market-oriented, and more differentiated (Janssen, 1999).
Table 5
Percentage of items on music after 1950 devoted to different music styles in the papers on music for secondary schools in
four European countries from 1990 to 2004 (the highest percentages for each country are in bold)
Reference to styles

Germany

Classical
Jazz
Entertainment
Pop
World music

66.7

7.8
25.5

Total N items

51

England
46.4
4.3
19.0
13.3
14.7
211

France
82.6
4.3
4.3

8.7
23

The Netherlands
14.0
3.3
26.4
47.9
8.3
121

402

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

Content analysis of the exams on art and music has shown that the three dominant cultures in
EuropeGermany, France, and Englandare much more strongly devoted to their own culture,
to the culture of the past, and to high culture than a small country like the Netherlands. It was not
our aim, however, that the research analysis and the interpretation of the results have a one-sided
focus on the formal sociological difference between large and small countries. It is possible that
cultural contexts and formal sociological factors strengthen each others role in explaining the
different contents of the exams of the countries involved. For instance, the German exams
showed the highest attention for the canonized culture of the past. This finding corresponds with
the reputation of Germany as a nation that historically put emphasis on national Bildung and
Kultur (Herder) instead of on political and state affairs, from which the bourgeois were excluded
for such a long time in the process of state formation (Elias, 1992). In the French and German
exams very little attention is given to music and art from England and the USA. This outcome
reflects the GermanFrench connection in fostering and supporting the European cultural and
intellectual tradition against the popular and commercial products of the Anglo-American world.
Since World War II, the Netherlands has been one of the most loyal members in the Transatlantic
Alliance and more oriented towards the Anglo-American culture (popular music, film, language,
and literature) than towards the French or German cultural world. Nearly 80% of items in the
Dutch exams on music after 1950 were devoted to Anglo-American genres (jazz, entertainment,
pop music).
Other convergences and divergences in the exams of the four countries should be further
compared and explained by the socio-economic climate, the diversity of cultural repertoires
(Lamont, 1992) and the historical and actual role played by the state and the market in these
societies. It is, however, beyond the aim of this article to elaborate more on these issues.
4.2. A canonical hierarchy of composers and artists
In addition to the above analysis that was concentrated on the inclusiveness/exclusiveness of
the exams with respect to nationality, period and genre of music and art, we now want to know
more about the persons involved in the question papers. This is another element of the canon, the
rank positions of composers and artists in the exams. Who are chosen and how frequently? The
answer to these questions will show us the national rankings, the top-10 lists.
4.2.1. Rank positions of composers and artists in the national exams
How to create a top-10? This is a methodological question that can be answered in different
ways. For his book Human Accomplishment. The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences,
800 B.C. to 1950, published in 2004, Charles Murray selected 166 standard works and
encyclopedias and listed the frequencies of the persons mentioned in these sources. A person was
selected if his name showed up in at least half of the referred works. An index was then
constructed with a range between 0 and 100. Murrays world top-three composers proved to be
Beethoven, Bach, and Mozart and the top-three-ranking visual artists were Michelangelo,
Picasso, and Raphael. Unfortunately, however, Murray did not compare his final world-ranking
list with the rankings of the worlds most excellent persons ever, based on the national geographic
origin of the referred works. Does it matter for the hierarchy of top rankings if an encyclopedia on
music is an Italian edition or if a standard work on the history of art is edited and published in
France? Our assumption was that it does matter.
Top-10 lists of composers and artists mentioned in the exams were constructed for each of the
four countries in this study. The ranking positions were based on the percentages of items devoted

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

403

Table 6
Rank positions in the 19902004 secondary school exams in four countries of composers with at least 2% of the total
number of exam items devoted to their work
Germany
Bach
Beethoven
Mozart
Schubert
Schumann
Brahms
Haydn
Debussy
Mendelssohn
Wagner
Strawinsky

Total N items

Percentage
9.8
7.1
6.6
6.1
4.0
3.4
2.6
2.6
2.4
2.1
2.1

378

England
Bach
Haydn
Beethoven
Mozart
Handel
Schubert
Strawinsky
Brahms
Schumann
Debussy

Percentage
6.7
4.5
4.3
3.8
2.9
2.8
2.5
2.3
2.1
2.0

1454

France
Mozart
Haydn
Schubert
Schumann
Chopin
Beethoven
Bach
Ravel
Debussy
Handel
Brahms
Cage
Berlioz
Berio
Ligeti

Percentage
9.7
7.5
7.5
7.5
5.2
4.5
3.0
3.0
2.2
2.2
2.2
2.2
2.2
2.2
2.2
134

The Netherlands
Mozart
Bach
Haydn
Schubert
Beethoven

Percentage
6.8
4.1
3.0
2.3
2.3

266

to a composer/artist in the central exams of a country throughout the period 19902004. A


composer/artist was selected if at least 2% of the total number of items was devoted to his music
or art. An additional criterion for Germany was that a composer/artist must appear in the exams of
at least three out of the six federals states and, for England that a composer/artist must appear in at
least two out of the three exams of the examining bodies.
The composers in the top-10s of the exams of the four countries were found to be mainly the
same as shown in Table 6. These are the Austrian and German composers of the 18th century and
the early 19th century: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, and Schubert.
A remarkable finding was that the 2% criterion was achieved very quickly in the four
countries. In England, no more than 10 (3.9%) out of 252 composers mentioned in the papers met
the 2% criterion; in Germany, 11 (10.6%) out of 103; in France, 15 (26.3%) out of 57; and in the
Netherlands, only 5 (2.9%) out of 172 composers qualified for a top-ranking position. It is clear
that a large group of composers, including very famous ones, appeared only a few times in the last
15 years in the papers on music. The findings were much the same in the four countries. Fig. 1
shows a landscape with few peaks, no plateaus, and vast lowland. France and Germany show the
highest peaks, suggesting greater dedication to the canonical works in the music exams than
England and the Netherlands. The same figure is presented for the visual arts (see Fig. 2).
The treasury of the cultural past and present is an inexhaustible source out of which the
examining bodies can make their choices year after year. We found that, in dealing with this
abundance of cultural supply, those who choose the content of the exams in the four countries
converge in making selections at the top and diverge in choosing items from the rest. This
explains the lack of a strong middle level between top and bottom of the rank positions or, in other
words, the results support the theory of winner gets all.
Some further results are presented that deal with the transnational relations between the four
countries involved. Nine out of the 11 composers with the highest rankings in the German exams
were Austrian or German, with the German composer Bach in the first position. The two
remaining composers, Strawinsky and Debussy, came from Russia and France, although it is well

404

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

Fig. 1. Rank positions of composers based on number of items (%) devoted to their works in the 19902004 papers on
music for secondary schools in four European countries.

known that Strawinskys reputation was established in Paris. The presence of only these two
20th-century composers in the German top-10 is revealing. The top-ranking positions of
composers in the English exams did not deviate much from the hierarchy in Germany. The high
position of Handel in the English music exams is not surprising. The English regard his
Halleluja from the oratorio The Messiah as their second national anthem, if the philosopher and
musicologist Roger Scruton is to be believed (Scruton, 2001, p. 224). Strawinsky and Debussy
were also the highest-ranked composers of the 20th century in England. In the French exams, the
same Austrian and German composers as in Germany and England occupied the highest
positions, but with Ravel, Debussy, and Berlioz also three national composers were represented
in the top-10 in France, although Chopin might be added to the French composers because of his
enormous success during his stay in Paris. With Cage, Berio, and Ligeti in addition to Ravel and

Fig. 2. Rank positions of artists based on number of items (%) devoted to their works in the 19902004 papers on art for
secondary schools in four European countries.

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

405

Debussy, the number of modern composers at the top of the French rankings was the highest of
the four countries. In the Dutch exams, only five composers satisfied the 2% criterion. Mozart,
Bach, Haydn, Schubert, and Beethoven occupied the top positions. There was no middle level in
the rankings.
We also considered the national composers with the highest scores in the national exams. For
Germany, these were the same composers as presented in Table 6. From the total of 270 English
composers referred to in the English exams, the most frequently occurring names in rank order
were Handel, Purcell, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Byrd, Walton, Morley, Dowland, Elgar,
Tippett, and Weelkens. Of these, Vaughan Williams, Elgar, and Walton appeared exclusively in
the English exams. The most frequently occurring English composers in the exams of the other
countries were Handel and Purcell. The French composers in the French exams with the highest
rankings were Ravel, Debussy, Berlioz, Faure, and Bizet. Composers given exclusive attention in
the French exams were Dutilleux, Roussel, Jannequin, Passereau, Grisey, Risset, and Aperghis.
It was not possible to make a list of favorite Dutch composers in the Dutch exams, simply
because of insufficient numbers. All Dutch composers represented in exam questions were
mentioned only once in the exams in the 15-year period, with the exception of Louis Andriessen,
a famous Dutch composer of our time, who was mentioned twice. Dutch composersa total of
threeshowed up only in the English exams; Sweelinck, with 12 items, was the best known.
The composers recognized abroad but not in their own countries were, for Germany,
Stockhausen, Carl Maria von Weber, Buxtehude, and Pachelbel; for France, Saint-Saens, Franck,
Satie, and M.C. Schonberg, the composer of musicals; for England, mainly pop musicians,
mentioned exclusively in the Dutch exams; and, for the Netherlands, Sweelinck.
4.3. The making of a European canonical hierarchy of composers and artists
4.3.1. Music
The list of the most frequently occurring composers in the music exams when all items of the
four countries are added together, taking into account the national hierarchy as presented in
Table 7, might be called the European top-10. A maximum of 12 points was given to the
composer with the highest percentage of items in the national hierarchy and 11 to the number
two, and so on for each of the four countries. In this way, adding the points attributed to the highranked composers on the national lists created a new ranking list.
This resulted in the following European top-10:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.

Bach/Mozart
Beethoven
Haydn
Schubert
Schumann
Brahms/Handel
Strawinsky
Mendelssohn/Debussy
Bartok
Ravel

A measure of how much attention was given to this group of highly ranked composers in each
of the four countries showed that more than one-third of all items in the German and French

406

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

Table 7
Top-10 of composers with the most items in the secondary school music exams in four countries in the period 19902004
(in percentages of the total number of items about composers)
Germany
Bach
Mozart
Beethoven
Haydn
Schubert
Schumann
Subtotal
Handel
Strawinsky
Brahms
Debussy
Bartok
Total percentage
Total N items

England

France

The Netherlands

9.8
6.6
7.1
2.6
6.1
4.0

6.7
3.8
4.3
4.5
2.8
2.1

3.0
9.7
4.5
7.5
7.5
7.5

4.1
6.8
2.3
3.0
2.3
0.4

36.2

24.2

39.7

18.9

1.6
2.1
3.4
2.6
1.9

2.9
2.5
2.3
2.0
1.9

2.2
1.5
2.2
2.2

1.5
1.1
0.8
0.4
1.1

47.8

35.8

47.8

23.8

378

1454

134

266

exams was dedicated to Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, and Schumann (see Table 7).
Such a concentration of only six composers who determine such a substantial part of the content of
the papers justifies the conclusion that a canon still functions in the music education of these
countries, more strongly than in England and the Netherlands. When we added to these results the
percentages of the 7th to the 11th positions, we found that a small number of composers accounted
for nearly half of all items in the German and French exams, for more than one-third in England, and
for nearly one quarter in the Netherlands. These results show that the AustrianGerman musical
tradition is still strongly represented in the top-ranking positions of the exams, not only in each of
the four countries separately, but also in the top-10 of the exams of the four countries taken together.
We, therefore, conclude that the national canons of the four countries add up to a European canon as
far as the top-10 composers in each of the four countries are concerned.
Four composers of the first half of the 20th century succeeded in getting a position in the
European top-10: Strawinsky, Debussy, Ravel, and Bartok. The dominant role of Germany and
Austria was lost in this period. Not England nor the USA, but France seems to have taken over
this position from Germany and Austria with Debussy, Ravel, and the Paris-based Strawinsky.
4.3.2. Art
With respect to the exams on the visual arts, we were also interested in finding out if the data
could tell us more about the presence of a national and European canon. Because of the much
higher number of artists involved in the papers on this subject and the much wider spread of
artists, the 2% criterion was not an appropriate instrument. Another criterion was used: Artists
should be mentioned in the papers of at least three of the four countries. Additionally, artists
should be mentioned in at least five items in England, three items in Germany, and two items in
France and the Netherlands. This procedure led to the following results. The top-10 of visual
artists mentioned in the German exams was as follows: Durer, Picasso, Gropius, Moore, Matisse,
Le Corbusier, and Rodin; in the French exams, Picasso, Le Corbusier, Matisse, Segal, De
Kooning, Schwitters, Lichtenstein, Giacommetti, Warhol, and Leger; in the English exams,

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

407

Michelangelo, Le Corbusier, Frank Loyd Wright, Picasso, Mackintosh, Rodin, Van Gogh,
Bernini, Gainsborough, and Gaudi; in the Dutch exams, Picasso, Bernini, Rodin, Boccioni,
Michelangelo, Ingres, and Matisse.
It is remarkable that only 6 out of the 36 artists mentioned above belong to a period before 1900.
The complete top-10 of the French exams proved to be artists of the 20th century. These results are
in sharp contrast with the findings in the music exams. Another point of difference is that the
consensus on the top-ranking positions of composers and visual artists was much weaker in the field
of the visual arts. Furthermore, the top-10 of the visual artists in each of the countries accounted for a
much lower percentage of the total number of items in the exams than did the top-10 of the
composers: 22.5 against 47.8% in Germany, 10.9 against 35.8% in England, 27.7 against 47.8% in
France, and 9.0 against 23.8% in the Netherlands. These lower percentages of representation in
items of the top visual artists could be interpreted as a signal of a weaker canon in the exams on
visual arts, one that is weaker in England and the Netherlands than in Germany and France.
The European canon of visual artists in the exams, deduced from the national hierarchies in
the same way as was done for the composers, was found to be as follows:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.

Picasso
Le Corbusier
Matisse
Michelangelo
Rodin
Van Gogh
Kirchner
Cezanne/Rembrandt
Giacometti
Brancusi/Mondrian

The representation of the Netherlands, with three artists in the European top-10, is remarkable
at first sight. How is it possible that a small country with a relatively modest position in the global
cultural exchange is more visible in the top-10 than artists from culturally dominant countries
like Germany and England? One of the conditions for establishing a reputation is recognition by
significant others. Van Gogh and Mondriaan owed their international reputations more to their
decision to leave the Netherlands than to their Dutch origin. This aspect of transnational cultural
exchangethe emigration of composers and artistsis a relatively new and promising field of
research, called the geography of art (Burke, 2000; Dacosta Kaufmann, 2004).
Germany and France are better represented in both canons than are England and the
Netherlands. England is invisible in the canon of the visual arts and Dutch composers are absent
in the canon of music. These results agree with the earlier mentioned findings about the position
of English and Dutch art and music in the exams of the four countries involved.
A striking difference between the two canons was found to be the focus on the past. While the
musical canon relies heavily on the musical heritage of the 18th century and the early 19th
century, the canon of the visual arts is almost completely focused on 20th-century art.
5. Conclusion
The main research question addressed in this explorative study was the following: What
happened with the cultural canon in the educational systemin particular in the subjects of

408

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

music and art at secondary schoolbetween 1990 and 2004 in Germany, France, England, and
the Netherlands? This question relates to the debates on globalisation, the multicultural society,
and the maintenance and protection of countries own national culture and language.
The content of the canon in education in art and music was measured using answers to the
following questions: (1) How much attention is given to own national culture versus the culture of
others? (2) How much attention is given to art and music from the past versus that of the present?
(3) How much attention is given to classical art and music versus popular art and music?
Inspection and analysis of the content of the central exams on art and music in the four countries
made it possible to answer these questions.
Content analysis of the papers showed that Germany, France, and England give the most
attention to their own culture, to the culture of the past, and to high culture. Germany and France
do this to a greater extent than England. The Netherlands deviates in nearly all three respects. The
content of the exams here is devoted more to the culture of others, more to contemporary art and
music, and more to popular culture. Although a canon is also visible in the Dutch exams on music
and art, it is significantly less visible than in Germany, France, and England. There is a declining
reliance on canonical works in the Netherlands.
In addition to factors such as the history of nation building, the diversity of the population, the
geographic position, and the availability of natural and other resources, cultural differences
between the four countries play a major role in the making and maintaining of a national cultural
canon. For instance, the great contribution of Germany to the western musical tradition and its
emphasis on Bildung, the dominant position of France in the history of the visual arts and its
central position in the Republic of Letters, the origin of pop music in England, the presence (or
absence in the Netherlands) of a court culture, the cultural policy of the State and the
infrastructure of cultural organisations and institutions in the art world.
Throughout the article these and other cultural differences were mentioned in relation to the
specific content of the cultural canon in the four countries. The cultural canon, like other cultural
phenomena, requires a multicausal explanation (Lamont, 1992).
Two formal sociological characteristics were also chosena countrys size and centrality in
terms of core-periphery relationsin order to contribute to a better understanding of the relation
between culture, canon, and nationality. The selection of three large countriesGermany,
France, and Englandand one small countrythe Netherlandsin the research project made it
possible to determine whether differences in the content of the cultural reproduction in education
could be explained by a formal sociological perspective on transnational cultural exchange. In
this perspective, it was assumed that small countries with a peripheral position in the
transnational exchange behave differently from large countries in the provision of education in
art and music, in particular with respect to the cultural canon. Unlike large countries with a strong
cultural past and a dominant position in transnational cultural relations, a small country is
inclined to watch and to follow the cultural centers in the world, and to emphasize and to join
what is new instead of nourishing its own cultural past. Because of their position in the
transnational cultural world, small countries are more flexible, adaptable, and globally oriented.
The hidden pedagogy of a small country lies in its inclination to look at others and to put its own
culture into perspective. The findings of the analysis of the papers also show the other side of the
coin. Large countries are less interested in the cultures of small countries and are unintentionally
inclined to foster their own cultures in the provision of education in art and music. These results
also support the notion of a hidden pedagogy. To get a better understanding of the asymmetrical
relations between large and small countries in the field of culture, more small countries should be
involved in future research.

Table A.1
Number of articles devoted to music form different countries in the world in the volumes 19962000 of three German, one British, French, and Dutch journal for music teachers
at secondary school
Articles devoted to music from

Germany

Germany
England
France
The Netherlands
Other West. Europe
Eastern Europe
USA/Canada
Latin America
Africa
Asia
Australia
Mixed rock/pop
Mixed world music
Total number

Musik
un der Schule

46
20
3

32

Musik und
Unterricht

France

The Netherlands

British Journal of
Music Education

LEducation
Musicale

Music &
Education

3
8

56
6
2

5
7
11
8
2
2

5
5
10
1
1
1

6
4
18
5
4
2

2
1
3
1
10
2
2

11
6

131

54

32

4
3

80
4
13
13
1

2
4
3
10
4
2
4
1

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

Musik und
Bildung

England

1
103

32

143

38

409

410

Table B.1
List of the selected exams in art and music in four countries, 19902004a
Subject

Paper

Number of
sessions/questions a

Germany
Baden-Wurttemberg
Bayern
Saarland
Thuringen
Sachsen
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

Art
Art
Art
Art
Art
Art

Abiturprufung Leistungskurs Bildende Kunst


Abiturprufung Leistungskurs Kunsterziehung
Abiturprufung Bildende Kunst
Abiturprufung Leistungsfach Kunsterziehung
Abiturprufung Leistungskursfach Kunsterziehung
Abitur Leistungskurs Kunst und Gestaltung

3/17
4/17
3/8
3/10
2/2
4/11

154
60
62
37
120
41

Subtotal

474

4/6
4/45
3/9
3/22
2/16
4/8

39
101
59
78
58
67

Subtotal

402

Baden-Wurttemberg
Bayern
Saarland
Thuringen
Sachsen
Mecklenburg-Vorpommern

Music
Music
Music
Music
Music
Music

Leistungskurs Musik
Abiturprufung Leistungskurs Musik
Abiturprufung Musik
Abiturprufung Leistungsfach Musik
Abiturprufung Leistungskursfach Musik
Abitur Leistungskurs Musik

Number
of items a

France a
Art
Art

Bacc.general Serie L: Arts plastiques Culture artistique


Bacc.general Serie L: Arts plastiques Pratique artistique

2/3
2/2

Music
Music

Bacc.general Serie L: Musique, option obligatoire


Bacc.general et technologique: Musique, option facultative toutes series

2/8
3/3

Subtotal

Subtotal
England
OCR a

241

136

Art
Art
Art
Art

GCE/AS level Art Paper Critical and Contextual Studies


GCE/AS level Art Paper Controlled Assignment Section D Art in Context
GCE/A-level Art Paper Critical and Contextual Studies Component 1
GCE/A-level Art Paper Critical and Contextual Studies Component 2

6/24
/5
6/6
6/12

1274

EDEXCEL a

Art
Art

GCE/AS-level Art and Design Paper Externally Set Assignment


GCE/A-level Art and Design Paper Externally Set Assignment

7/36
6/29

1646

AQA a

Art
Art

GCE/AS-level Art and Design Paper Extended Essay


GCE/A-level Art and Design Paper (Unendorsed) Controlled Test

3/45
8/8
Subtotal

OCR

Music

GCE/AS-level Music Paper Introduction to Historical Study

3/51

300
3220

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

Country

Music

GCE/A-level Music Paper Historical and Analytical Studies

3/26

194

EDEXCEL

Music
Music

GCE/AS level Music Paper Musical Understanding


GCE/A-level Music Paper Musical Understanding

9/36
18/45

834

AQA

Music
Music

GCE/AS-level Music Paper Understanding Music


GCE/A-level Music Paper History and Appreciation

3/8
3/7
Subtotal

532
1560

The Netherlands
Art
Art
Art
Art

Examen
Examen
Examen
Examen

VWOa Tekenen, handenarbeid, textiele werkvormen


HAVOa Tekenen, handenarbeid, textiele werkvormen
VMBOa-GL en TL Beeldende vakken
VBO-MAVOa C en D Tekenen, handenarbeid, textiele werkvormen

/38
/39
/41
/42

336

Subtotal

779

Music
Music
Music
Music

Examen
Examen
Examen
Examen

VWO Muziek
HAVO Muziek
VMBO-GL en TL Muziek
VBO-MAVO-D Muziek

/50
/51
/50
/47

Total

144
126
270
7082

a
Explanation of the table:France: Because the French May/June exams contain no more than two questions with a few subquestions, the total number of items for France was relatively low. Therefore,
the September resits were also included, as were the May/June exams of the French overseas territories. The art and music curricula and the exams of secondary education in these areas do not differ in
any way from those in France. The questions, however, were not exactly the same as those posed in the French exams.
The examining bodies:
OCR = Oxford Cambridge and RSA Examinations
AQA = Assessment and Qualifications Alliance
EDEXCEL = Educational Excellence (London Examinations)
Type of school/exam:
GCE = General Certificate of Education
AS = Advanced Subsidiary
A = Advanced level
VWO = pre-university education (college-prep.)
HAVO = higher general secondary education
VMBO = lower secondary professional education
VBO/MAVO = lower general secondary education
Number of sessions/questions: Some papers were classified into sessions. The number of sessions and the total number of questions were recorded as follows: 3/17 (3 sessions/17 questions). A
candidate is usually not obliged to answer all questions. The number of compulsory and optional questions can vary by paper, type of school, and country. Between 1990 and 2004, the number
of sessions/questions varied, too. The data in the above table are based on the numbers of questions in the 2004 papers.
Number of items: Each item represents the name of a composer/artist or work of which at least the nationality could be established.

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

Subtotal

443

411

412

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

Appendix A
The following journals (volumes 19962000) were used as research matter for the content
analysis focussed on the national orientation of the trade journals for music teachers: the German
journals Musik und Bildung, Musik in der Schule, Musik und Unterricht, the British British
Journal of Music Education, the French journal L Education musicale and the Dutch journal
Music and Education (Muziek en Onderwijs) Table A.1.

Appendix B
Table B.1

Appendix C
Table C.1
Table C.1
Percentage of items devoted to own national art and music in the papers on art and music for secondary schools in four
European countries by year of examination
Year of examination

Germany
Music

1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
Total N items

4.0
4.0
5.3
4.0
3.3
8.7
7.3
8.0
5.3
8.7
12.0
6.0
6.7
8.7
8.0
150

Appendix D
Table D.1 and Table D.2

England
Art
2.7
3.2
3.2
2.2
11.3
8.1
7.5
9.7
8.6
9.7
8.6
8.6
4.8
5.9
5.9
186

Music
10.4
10.1
9.8
6.3
4.7
6.0
6.3
6.6
4.7
4.4
7.0
5.1
7.6
6.0
4.7
316

France
Art
5.8
3.7
9.2
8.2
8.1
8.9
10.2
8.7
2.7
7.2
2.7
4.3
8.1
6.7
5.5
939

Music
3.6
10.7
10.7

3.6
7.1
7.1
3.6

10.7
7.1
10.7
14.3
7.1
3.6
28

The Netherlands
Art
7.7
1.9
10.6
12.5
11.5
3.8
13.5
10.6
6.7
5.8
1.0
1.0
2.9
6.7
3.8
104

Music

4.0
4.0

12.0
4.0
4.0
4.0
4.0
4.0
20.0
12.0
20.0
8.0
25

Art
6.7
10.7
3.2
9.5
6.3
7.5
4.7
6.7
7.1
6.3
7.5
5.9
7.5
4.7
5.5
253

Table D.1
Count, expected count and percentages devoted to own, each others and others national art and music in the papers on art and music for secondary schools in four European
countries from 1990 to 2004
References to nationality

Germany

England

Music

Art

Music

France
Art

Music

The Netherlands
Art

Music

Art

Count
Expected count

149
82
37.1%

187
50
39.5%

285
318.2
18.3%

228
339.5
7.1%

18
27.7
13.2%

21
25.4
8.7%

31
55.1
11.5%

61
82.1
7.8%

England

Count
Expected count

21
65
5.2%

22
102.5
4.6%

316
252.3
20.3%

935
696.1
29.0%

4
22
2.9%

9
52.1
3.7%

42
43.7
15.6%

53
168.4
6.8%

France

Count
Expected count

20
35.5
5.0%

83
81.1
17.5%

138
137.7
8.8%

501
551.2
15.6%

28
12
20.6%

104
41.3
43.2%

23
23.8
8.5%

119
133.4
15.3%

The Netherlands

Count
Expected count

0
6.8
0%

26
40.9
5.5%

15
26.4
1.0%

123
278
3.8%

8
20.8
3.3%

25
4.6
9.3%

250
67.3
32.1%

Others a

Count
Expected count

212
212.6
52.7%

156
199.5
32.9%

806
825.5
51.7%

1433
1355.2
44.5%

99
101.4
41.1%

149
142.9
55.2%

402 (100%)

474 (100%)

241 (100%)

270 (100%)

Total N items

1560 (100%)

3220 (100%)

0
2.3
0%
86
72
63.2%
136 (100%)

296
327.9
38%

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

Germany

779 (100%)

Including Austria with the following relatively high percentages of references to Austrian music (of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert) in the German (24.8%),
English (17.9%), French (33.6%), and Dutch (14.3%) question papers.

413

Cramers V: references to nationality  four countries (music) = .195


Cramers V: references to nationality  four countries (art) = .314
Cross-tabulations of references to nationality  four countries for each historical period as presented in Table 6 resulted into the following partial Cramers V associations:
Music: partial Cramers V
Art: partial Cramers V
>1500
.359
>1500
.287
15001700
.262
15001700
.242
17001850
.113
17001850
.279
18501950
.194
18501950
.236
19502004
.312
19502004
.516

414
Table D.2
Count, expected count and percentages devoted to own and each others national art and music in the papers on art and music for secondary schools in four European countries
from 1990 to 2004
References to nationality

Germany

England

Music

Art

Music

France
Art

Music

The Netherlands
Art

Music

Count
Expected count

149
82.3
78.4%

187
57.9
58.8%

285
326.6
37.8%

228
325.3
12.8%

18
21.7
36%

21
25.9
14.8%

31
52.4
25.6%

England

Count
Expected count

21
65.3
11.1%

22
118.7
6.9%

316
259
41.9%

935
667
52.3%

4
17.2
8%

9
53
6.3%

42
41.6
34.7%

France

Count
Expected count

20
35.6
10.5%

83
94
26.1%

138
141.3
18.3%

28
9.4
56%

104
42
73.2%

The Netherlands

Count
Expected count

0
6.8
.0%

26
47.4
8.2%

15
27
2%

Total N items

190 (100%)

318 (100%)

754 (100%)

501
528.2
28%
123
266.4
6.9%
1787 (100%)

0
1.8
.0%
50 (100%)

8
21.2
5.6%
142 (100%)

23
22.7
19%
25
4.3
20.7%
121 (100%)

61
87.9
12.6%
53
180.3
11%
119
142.8
24.6%
250
72
51.8%
483 (100%)

Cramers V: references to nationality  four countries (music) = .288


Cramers V: references to nationality  four countries (art) = .394.
Cross-tabulations of references to nationality  four countries for each historical period as presented in Table 6 resulted into the following partial Cramers V associations:
Music: Partial Cramers V
Art: Partial Cramers V
>1500
.550
>1500
.382
15001700
.321
15001700
.345
17001850
.161
17001850
.383
18501950
.272
18501950
.277
19502004
.478
19502004
.682

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

Germany

Art

T. Bevers / Poetics 33 (2005) 388416

415

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Ton Bevers is professor of Sociology at the Department for the Study of the Arts and Culture at the Erasmus University
Rotterdam. His publications are in the field of cultural theory, sociology of culture, art, and cultural policy.