Category Archives: Musicologists

Iconoclastic romanticism

Although the pedagogue and author Wilhelm Heinrich von Riehl (1823–97) was not formally trained in music, he wrote extensively about the social significance of music making, and he argued for an approach that treated music history as cultural history. He criticized music histories centered on great composers, and advocated a more inclusive cultural approach that appreciated the unsung heroes and everyday life of the past.

Riehl was even more critical of his own time, lamenting the costs of transforming Germany into a modern industrial society; while he called for a more encompassing definition of Germany’s musical heritage, he rejected all of the art music of the day, and particularly railed against the works of Wagner. Riehl, therefore, is an ambiguous figure: He championed the idea of music as culture, but he explicitly rejected a future for music as art.

This according to Sanna Pederson’s “An early crusader for music as culture: Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl”, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Literature, Musicologists, Romantic era

Was Kuhač there first?

In his 1882 unpublished essay Die Eigenthümlichkeiten der magyarischen Volksmusik, Franjo Ksaver Kuhač (1834–1911) used and explained the term musicology. Since the Vierteljahrsschrift für Musikwissenschaft appeared three years later with Guido Adler’s definition of the term, Kuhač assumed—and he died with this conviction—that he was the first to have coined it.

Kuhač was also an early visionary in comparative musicology, a stream that fed into the beginnings of ethnomusicology. As he saw it, the discipline’s task was to determine the laws of any given nation’s traditional music so these could be used as the basis for a national style in art music; his overarching goal was to create an awareness of Croatian national music and to establish its place in the context of Central European culture.

This according to “Franjo Ksaver Kuhač and the beginnings of music scholarship in Croatia” by Zdravko Blažeković, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Europe, Musicologists

The first historical musicologist?

In the second quarter of the sixteenth century Nuremberg was the epicenter of the so-called German Josquin Renaissance; the music of Josquin des Prez and his contemporaries formed the core of the repertoire taught in schools, sung by amateur choral societies, and included in the published anthologies that served those markets. As a music theorist and rector of one of the city’s principal schools, Sebald Heyden was confronted, perhaps for the first time in Western music history, with urgent problems regarding historical performance practice.

Although the music was only 40 to 50 years old, its mensuration and proportion signs were already obsolete and no longer understood. Heyden approached the task of recovering their  meanings from a historian’s perspective; by reading old treatises, studying old music in a local private collection, and analyzing his observations with abstract reasoning, he created a theory that enabled singers to produce what he believed to be authentic performances of music of the past. He read conflicting opinions on his topic, felt free to declare some authorities right and others wrong, and drew clear and consistent conclusions about problematic issues. His influence on later scholars was incalculable.

This according to “Sebald Heyden (1499–1561): The first historical musicologist?” by Ruth DeFord, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.

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Filed under Musicologists, Notation, Performance practice, Renaissance, Theory

Theory with attitude

Although the notion that the treatise was written by Nicolaus Faber has persisted for centuries, internal evidence points conclusively to the Bavarian historian and philologist Johannes Aventinus (Johann Turmair or Thurmayr, 1477–1534) as the author of Musicae rudimenta. One of the first music treatises to use German as well as Latin, it borrows heavily from other sources, usually with due citations.

The author’s unequivocal style is striking: for example, the table of contents lists Chapter 1 as “The origins of music, a subject about which the barbarians err disgracefully, not to say ignorantly”, while other entries include such observations as “I am embarrassed to report what empty, fatuous things some writers have to say on this topic” and “In this matter, the run-of-the-mill singers are like night owls in the sunlight—blind!”

Nor does he spare himself, noting of his second chapter that “Most of the things here are quoted from others and are not very important, being pedantic and technical.” His preface concludes: “Look me over and buy me, the price is so low. Believe me, you won’t regret it.”

This according to “Musicae rudimenta: Augsburg, 1556” by T. Herman Keahey in Paul A. Pisk: Essays in his honor (Austin: University of Texas, 1966); the book is covered in our recently published Liber Amicorum: Festschriften for music scholars and nonmusicians, 1840–1966.

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Filed under Curiosities, Humor, Musicologists, Renaissance, Theory

Conference reports

Conference reports illuminate intellectual history with a window on a particular moment. Since conference papers present the most current scholarship, a collection from a single conference provides a glimpse of the state of research on many topics at that time.

RILM recently published the papers from our first conference in Music’s intellectual history, and our retrospective coverage of conference reports, Speaking of Music: Music conferences, 1835–1966, was issued in 2004. The preface to the latter book provides an overview of this publication type.

The photo above is from the American Musicological Society‘s International Congress of Musicology in 1939. Standing: Harold Spivacke, Otto Kinkeldey, Otto Gombosi, Knud Jeppesen, Fernando Liuzzi, Gustave Reese. Seated: Edward J. Dent, Carleton Sprague Smith, Curt Sachs, Alfred Einstein, Dayton C. Miller.

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Filed under Musicologists, Publication types