While reading through packets from last year's Nationals, I found the following tossup on the Pope Marcellus Mass (I'm using this just as a good example, not in any way to try to specifically criticize this question):
An opera named for this work's composer claims that this work was inspired by angels and written in one night shortly after the death of its composer’s wife Lukrezia. That opera by Hans Pfitzner sees this work recovered by its composer’s pupil Silla and his son Ighino. Its composer structured the longer movements homophonically and deployed a slow contrapuntal technique. This work, which was first played at Cardinal Vitellozzi's home, included a dedication letter detailing its composer’s “novo modorum genere”, or “new stylistic approach." Its last section is scored for a countertenor and a treble rather than a tenor, and that section, the Agnus Dei, is in two parts rather than three. Its Kyrie and Sanctus were written to show that imitation didn’t have to obscure the content of the words and was presented to the Council of Trent. For 10 points, identify this work sometimes credited with saving polyphonic music, a mass dedicated to and named for a particular pope, which was composed by Giovanni Palestrina.
ANSWER: Pope Marcellus Mass [accept The Requiem Mass for Pope Marcellus or Missa Papae Marcelli]
I know almost nothing about the Pope Marcellus Mass, except who wrote it and the story about it saving polyphony at the Council of Trent, but I can buzz on this tossup fairly early, because I know from a book about classical music in the Third Reich that Pfitzner's most famous opera is Palestrina, and if we're asking for a single work of Palestrina, the Pope Marcellus Mass is what it's gonna be. This feels fraudulent to me, and yet it's clearly the kind of knowledge that the lead-in was designed to reward (and I don't think that this kind of lead-in is at all uncommon). When I've made similar arguments about other tossups like this, the response (for example, Jerry's, and I apologize if I'm badly paraphrasing what he said) was: buzzing early still requires some fairly deep engagement with classical music, and very few people will be able to buzz that early, therefore something like this is A. Not fraudulent (it required real knowledge of music) and B. A sensible choice of lead-in, pyramidally (presumably, not many people know it).
The philosophical question this raises for me: are tossups supposed to test knowledge of the answer line, or are they supposed to test knowledge of the general subject the tossup is about, using the answer line as a vehicle for this? In other words, is it kosher to have a lead-in like the one above that requires and rewards deep music knowledge of classical music, even if it is not actual knowledge of what the tossup purports to be about, and also rewards this before deep engagement with the piece?
The next question this raises for me, more as someone who will be writing questions, is which is the more important principle for constructing a pyramidal question: how many people in a field playing a question are expected to be able to buzz off each clue, or how deep/shallow knowledge of the subject is required to answer the clue? To ground this a little, if I am writing a music tossup and want to add a historical clue to make it less dry, but think that not many people will know that historical clue, am I obligated to make that clue a lead-in rather than a middle clue, even though this will allow people with purely anecdotal knowledge to beat out those who've had more serious engagement with the piece? (If this seems too vaguely hypothetical, I can provide examples of questions I felt have done this in a detrimental way). I suppose I'm also asking: doesn't making something a lead-in entail a value judgment that the knowledge required is not only rarer, but also worthy of being rewarded earlier than the knowledge required by subsequent clues?
I ask this second question also because a lot of music questions seem to have as lead-ins anecdotes about shenanigans that happened at premieres or performances, but which have nothing to do with the engagement with the piece in any academic sense (and yes, I am aware that there are performance fiascos like Leonore or Rachmaninov's First Symphony that are of genuine historical importance, too, but I'm not talking about those), to the point where I think that reading that book of classical music anecdotes in middle school has actually given me more early buzzes than my academic study of music, a fact that I find disconcerting.