Denise Petzold

Resisting Closure: A Museum Studies Approach to Performing the Canonic Heritage of Symphonic Music

Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University,

Supervisors: Prof. dr. Peter Peters and prof. dr. Karin Bijsterveld


I obtained both my bachelor’s degree (BA Arts & Culture) and my master’s degree (MSc Cultures of Arts, Science and Technology) from UM, and graduated cum laude in both programmes. After completing a research internship at Tate, London, during my studies, my master thesis focused on the conservation of performance art, specifically the role of documentation in shaping the ‘lives’ of performative artworks in museums. For this work, I was awarded the student prize for best master theses of 2016 by UM.
Prior to starting my PhD, I have worked as an assistant curator at the contemporary art museum Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst in Aachen, Germany, where I co-organised two large-scale exhibitions including their accompanying publications.


The repertoire that orchestras perform nowadays in concert halls all over the world is still largely dictated by what is commonly referred to as the canon of symphonic music. It comprises a broad range of musical works which are deemed crucial or iconic for the heritage of Western Art Music. At the same time, this canon is a social construct, the result of a variety of intertwined musical practices at work. It is through these practices that the canon has been conserved and thus became obdurate: The musical works it incorporates are deeply embedded in the practical procedures of today’s orchestras, concert halls and conservatories.

In my research, I examine what role material artefacts play in the formation of artistic heritage, how this heritage is negotiated in practice, and how it can be brought into the future
in meaningful ways from the eyes of the practitioners. Particularly, I want to understand how obduracy of the symphonic canon has been maintained in the last decades through investigating three different material musical artefacts in practice: the violoncello, programme notes, and streaming services. My interdisciplinary approach, in which I borrow concepts from Museum Studies, helps me to explore how the tension between “conserving” and “opening up” artistic heritage can be analysed on a theoretical as well as a practical level in a highly professional and tradition-loaded community of actors. Thus, it is through first understanding how obduracy works that I aim to develop strategies and contexts together with the practitioners through which the canon can be understood. This is relevant because many orchestras struggle with how to navigate, articulate and introduce the works of the symphonic canon in innovative ways, while at the same time accounting for their responsibility to conserve them.

My project is positioned in the “Maastricht Centre for the Innovation of Classical Music,” which is an interdisciplinary research collaboration between Maastricht University, Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, and The South Netherlands Philharmonic (philharmonie zuidnederland). For more information, please see


  • Spronck, V., & Petzold, D. (2017). For the Sake of Experiencing: Technological Mediation between Installation Artworks and Their Visitors. Kunstlicht, 38(4), 100-107.
  • Petzold, D. (2018). Documents of Contemporary Cuban Performance Art: Pasts, Presents, and Futures in Dialogue. In: Beitin, A. (Ed.). Art x Cuba. Contemporary Perspectives since 1989 (pp. 206-213). Aachen/Cologne: Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst/Wienand Verlag.

I also contributed to the following exhibition catalogues with short writings:

  • Boehle, E. & Ammer, M. (Eds.). (2018). Pattern and Decoration. Ornament as Promise. Aachen/Vienna: Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst/mumok – Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien/ Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Koenig.
  • Beitin, A. & Diederen, R. (Eds.). (2018). Lust der Täuschung. Von Antiker Kunst bis zur Virtual Reality. Aachen/Munich: Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst/Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung/Hirmer Verlag.