Tag Archives: Musicologists

Richard Taruskin: Musicologist, music critic, and interpreter of early music

Growing up in a liberal Jewish family, Richard Taruskin was encouraged by both his parents to regularly engage in intellectual political debate and music making. His father Benjamin was a lawyer and amateur violinist and violist, while his mother Beatrice was a piano teacher and school librarian. Taruskin learned cello at the High School of Music & Art in Manhattan and studied musicology at Columbia University, where he graduated in 1976 with a dissertation on opera and drama in Russia during the 1860s. He spent a year as an exchange student at the Moscow Conservatory on a Fulbright scholarship in 1971, and soon thereafter began teaching at Columbia University.

While in New York, he led the Renaissance choir Capella Nova and was a member of the Aulos Ensemble, in which he played viola da gamba. Taruskin began teaching at the University of California, Berkeley in 1987 and retired there in 2014. He has been honored many times for his work, including becoming the first recipient of the Noah Greenberg Award of the American Musicological Society (1978), recipient of the Alfred Einstein Award of the American Musicological Society (1980), the Guggenheim Fellowship (1986), the Dent Medal of the Royal Musical Association (1987), and the first musicologist to receive the prestigious Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy (2017).

Read the full entry on Richard Taruskin in MGG Online.

Below is the the Kyoto Prize Commemorative Lecture given by Taruskin in 2017.

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Filed under Musicologists, Musicology

Celebrating 80 years of Dr. Allan W. Atlas, Professor Emeritus, The Graduate Center (CUNY)

Professor Allan W. Atlas’s CUNY ID Card

With a professional career spanning over four decades, Allan was a researcher, teacher, performer, academic officer, and mentor. Directly after receiving a Ph.D. in musicology from New York University in 1971 with the dissertation Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Cappella Giulia XIII.27 and the dissemination of the Franco-Netherlandish chanson in Italy, ca. 1460-ca. 1530, he began teaching at Brooklyn College, a post he continued to hold after joining the faculty of the CUNY Graduate Center in fall of 1974. He would go on to serve as the Executive Officer for The Graduate Center’s Ph.D.-D.M.A. programs in music for much of his time there. Additionally, in 1998 he founded the Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments within the Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation, which he led until 2014. In 1998, The Graduate Center bestowed on him the title Distinguished Professor of Music. From 1999, he also was editor of The free-reed journal: A publication by the Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments

These accomplishments and responsibilities hardly encapsulate Allan’s range of talents as a scholar and teacher. He was just as generous with his ideas on music, which have been published in many prestigious sources, as he was with his guidance. At The Graduate Center, his Introduction to Music course taught budding musicologists in the music program to gather, organize, and edit research; stay current with trends in the discipline; prepare a critical edition; become familiar with the canon of founding musicologists; and evaluate and analyze historic texts. The course challenged and inspired, and many of his students will still have his patented emails in comic sans etched in their memories.

His knowledge seemed boundless: from Italian Renaissance music, to Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, to the music of Ralph Vaughn Williams, to Requiem Masses in the last 1000 years or so, to the concertina (which he plays), to Robert Moses. And this merely scratches the surface. The bibliography below is a selection of some of Allan’s contributions to music research. However inchoate, it is hoped to inspire further research, archive just a small snippet of his production, and reveal aspects of trends in the discipline.

Allan remains an active scholar and orienting guide (dare we say an “atlas”?) in musicology, who has not yet finished sharing his valuable perspectives. Throughout all the changes in musicology over the years, he was always diligently aware of research trends, as well as the field’s limitations and possibilities. This was partially a result of his close relationship with RILM and its staff. Allan was consistently a strong advocate for RILM throughout his tenure at the Music Department of The Graduate Center, unceasingly arguing for RILM’s significance for global music research within the university administration. Whenever Allan would come to teach classes at The Graduate Center, he would stop by the shelf of publications that had just arrived at the RILM office to learn what was new in musicological research. These moments were opportunities for beneficial conversations about a variety of topics, and we always knew that Allan’s opinions were important. He could be relied upon to train his eagle editorial and musicological eye on RILM’s database when he was using it for his own scholarship, letting us know if he saw areas for improvement, correction, or enhancement.

In more official capacities, Allan served as RILM’s Area Editor for publications on Renaissance music during the 1980s and early 1990s and was a member of both the RILM Commission Mixte (1997-2000) and the Board of Directors (2000-16).

Thank you, and happy birthday, Allan. Here’s to many more.

– Introduction by Michael Lupo, Assistant Editor/Marketing & Media, RILM and Zdravko Blažeković, Executive Editor, RILM. Compiled by Lupo


  • Atlas, Allan W. “La provenienza del manoscritto Berlin 78.C.28: Firenze o Napoli?”, Rivista italiana di musicologia: Organo della Società Italiana di Musicologia 13/1 (1978) 10–29. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1978-320]

Abstract: Considers the question of the provenance of the chansonnier Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett, MS 78.C.28. Takes issue with Reidemeister’s claim that, on the grounds that it contains the arms of two Florentine families and a miniature which can be associated with a Florentine workshop, the manuscript originated in Florence (see RILM 1975-607). Argues instead that it was compiled at Naples—this on the grounds of its “internal” relationship with other Neapolitan sources—and was only later removed to Florence. Evidence for such a transfer and break in the compilation of the source is supported by certain of its physical features.

  • _____. “Mimì’s death: Mourning in Puccini and Leoncavallo”, The journal of musicology: A quarterly review of music history, criticism, analysis, and performance practice 14/1 (winter 1996) 52–79. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1996-190]

Abstract: Seeks to answer the following question: Why do people cry at the end of Puccini’s La bohème but not at the end of Leoncavallo’s? Puccini spends the entire opera leading up to the moment where tears can be shed, while Leoncavallo miscalculates—musically and dramatically (he fashioned his own libretto)—at virtually every turn. The issues of voice/person/agent, psychic/aesthetic distance, and pacing/timing just before the final curtain are also discussed.

  • _____. “Multivalence, ambiguity and non-ambiguity: Puccini and the polemicists”, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 118/1 (1993) 74–93, [1] [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text, 1993-10663]

Abstract: Takes issue with recent articles that polemically link the idea of multivalency in opera with ambiguity and disjunction, privilege the latter over unity and coherence, and write off large-scale tonal relationships as meaningful vehicles of overall coherence. A more open-minded approach is called for; polemics simply substitute one brand of dogmatic orthodoxy for another. Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and La fanciulla del West are analyzed to show that a multivalent approach will uncover instances of both ambiguity and nonambiguity and that the two ideas can coexist. There is in fact a continuum of approaches, each of which has its own contribution to make.

  • _____. Music at the Aragonese court of Naples (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1985-1259]

Abstract: When Alfonso V of Aragon defeated René I of Anjou in 1442 and thereby established the kingdom of Naples as part of that of Aragon, he revived Neapolitan cultural life and made his court one of the leading centers of humanism. A survey of the historical-cultural background precedes discussions of the royal chapel and its musicians, the chapel composers and other musical worthies, secular music, sources, and repertoire. Musicians mentioned include Pietro Oriola, Joan Cornago, Johannes Vincenet, Johannes Tinctoris, Bernard Ycart, Franchino Gaffori, Serafino Dall’Aquila, Fiorenzo De’ Fasoli, Josquin Des Prez, and Alexander Agricola. An edition of musical works representative of the repertoire concludes the volume.

  • _____., ed. Music in the Classic period: Essays in honor of Barry S. Brook (New York: Pendragon Press, 1985). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1985-664]
  • _____. “On the reception of Vaughan Williams’s symphonies in New York, 1920/1–2014/15”, The Royal Musical Association research chronicle 47/1 (2016) 24–86. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2016-37340]

Abstract: Considers the reception of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s nine symphonies (and a few non-symphonic works) in New York City (and, occasionally, its suburban environs), from the American premiere of on December 30th, 1920 to a performance of symphony no. 6 on December 10th, 2014. The reception rolls out across five distinct periods: (1) 1920/1–1922/3: the New York premieres of A London symphony, A sea symphony, and A pastoral symphony (in that order), all to greetings that were lukewarm at best; (2) 1923/4–1934/5: Vaughan Williams’s reputation grew meteorically, and A London symphony became something of a staple; during this period Olin Downes of The New York times became Vaughan Williams’s most ardent champion among New York’s music critics; (3) 1935/6–1944/5: symphonies 4 and 5 made their New York debuts, and a rift opened between the pro-Vaughan Williams and the negative criticism of the New York herald tribune, one that would follow Vaughan Williams to the grave and beyond; (4) 1945/6–1958/9: premieres of symphonies 6, 8 and 9, as Vaughan Williams’s reputation in New York reached its honors- and awards-filled zenith; and (5) the long period from 1959/60 to the present day, which can be described as 20 years of decline (1960s–1970s), another 20 in which his reputation reached rock bottom (1980s–1990s) and, since the beginning of the new millennium, something of a reassessment, one that is seemingly unencumbered by the ideologically driven criticism of the past. Finally, Appendix I provides a chronological inventory of all New York Philharmonic programs (along with those of the New York Symphony prior to the two orchestras’ merger in 1928) that include any music (not just the symphonies) by Vaughan Williams. Appendix II then reorganizes the information of the chronological list according to work, conductor, venue, and premieres.

  • _____. “Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The house of life: Four levels of cyclic coherence”, Acta musicologica 85/2 (2013) 199–225. [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2013-12048]

Abstract: Explores aspects such as motive, recitative, tonality, and proportion, which develop the coherence of the song cycle by Vaughan Williams setting the poetry of Rossetti.

  • _____. Renaissance music: Music in Western Europe (1400-1600). Norton introduction to music history (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1998-4334]

Abstract: Renaissance music, a textbook for today’s classroom, focuses first and foremost on the music, then on the social, political, and economic forces that combined to produce it. Readers are immediately drawn into the subject through Professor Atlas’s vivid, energetic writing. Atlas addresses the student directly, in language that is clear and understandable even when it treats complex topics such as isorhythm and hexachords. Renaissance Music is sensibly organized, avoiding the great composer approach. Most chapters are devoted to musical genres; others center on specific geographical areas or on categories such as patronage, music theory, and music printing. Like all the books in Norton’s introduction to music history series, this text includes bibliographies and incorporates the latest scholarship in the field. A Spanish translation is cited as RILM 2002-20881; a French translation is cited as RILM 2011-18309.

  • _____. The Wheatstone English concertina in Victorian England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1996-3066]

Abstract: A comprehensive survey of the career of the so-called English concertina from its invention by the English physicist Charles Wheatstone, Jr. in the late 1820s to its use in the early 20th c. by Ives and Grainger. Attention is given to its changing social status (from upper-crust to working-class), art-music repertoire (concertos, sonatas, and character pieces by George Alexander Macfarren, Bernhard Molique, Julius Benedict, John Barnett), virtuoso performers and their works (Giulio Regondi and Richard M. Blagrove), and critical reception. Two chapters explain the concertina’s technical capabilities and certain problems of concertina-specific performance practice. An appendix contains five works for concertina by Joseph Warren, George Alexander Macfarren, Giulio Regondi, Richard M. Blagrove, and John Charles Ward.

  • _____., ed. Victorian music for the English concertina. Recent researches in the music of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2009). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2009-47579]

Abstract: Developed by the physicist Charles Wheatstone around 1830, the English concertina was ‎extremely popular in art-music circles of Victorian England until late in the 19th ‎century. This edition includes 15 works that present a cross section of the ‎instrument’s concert and salon repertories, and includes music by the “mainstream” ‎composers George Alexander Macfarren, Julius Benedict, and Bernhard Molique, as well ‎as original compositions by such concertina virtuosos as Giulio Regondi and Richard ‎Blagrove. There are also pieces by two little-known women composers and arrangers, ‎Hannah Rampton Binfield and Rosina King (the instrument was particularly popular with ‎women), and an arrangement by George Case of a well-known hymn tune, which shows ‎how the baritone concertina was used in small parish churches. Finally, there are two ‎works for concertina ensembles, a duo for treble and baritone concertina by Blagrove and ‎a transcription by Regondi for concertina quartet of the final movement of Mozart’s ‎‎Prague symphony.‎

  • Pergolesi, Giovanni Battista. Salve Regina, ed. by Allan W. Atlas. Giovanni Battista Pergolesi: Complete works/Opere complete 15 (Stuyvesant: Pendragon Press; Milano: Ricordi, 1994). [RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 1994-15656]


Filed under Analysis, Dramatic arts, Musicologists, Musicology, Opera, Opera, Renaissance, Romantic era, Source studies, Uncategorized

Barry & Claire Brook’s excellent incipit adventure

The practice of using music incipits for identifying compositions occupies an important place among the many musicological research tools that Barry S. Brook conceived. “The thematic index derives its superiority over non-thematic lists because it can not only arrange a body of music in a systematic order,” he wrote, “but it provides, at the same time, positive identification in a minimum of space and symbols. It does so by the use of the incipit, or musical citation of the opening notes. For most music, an incipit of no more than a dozen pitches is required. When rhythmic values accompany the pitches, the incipit’s uniqueness quotient is astonishingly high” (Notes, 29/3, 1973).

He promoted this idea through the publication of facsimile editions of The Breitkopf thematic calagoue (1967) and The Ringmacher catalogue (1773; 1987); he organized the index to his edition The symphony, 1720–1840 (1986) in the form of a thematic catalogue; and he published the definitive catalogue of thematic catalogues (1973; 2nd ed. 1997). In 1970 he made a proposal for his Plaine and Easie Code, a computer-readable coding system for music incipits in modern or mensural notation, and when RISM initiated the cataloguing of manuscripts in the A/II series he was a strong advocate for the inclusion of the incipit in the bibliographic description of each work.

Brook’s enthusiasm for incipits was sparked when he was writing his dissertation in Paris. His daily correspondence of 1958/59 with his wife Claire—whom he married only a few months before the trip to France—was full of notated incipits for works that he mentioned in his work, La symphonie française dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle, and she patiently copied them and organized them in the thematic finder to be included with the final dissertation. His system of organizing incipits was a response to the index of eighteenth-century compositions that Jan LaRue was working on at the time, and the Dictionary of musical themes by Sam Morgenstern and Harold Barlow, both of which he found unsatisfactory.

In February of 1959 he told Claire in a letter about his thoughts for organizing the index:

“I think it will be number of #’s + ♭’s, with minor in with the majors since in some instances it is not immediately apparent from incipit if it is in minor; then subdivided into 2/4, 3/44/4, 3+6/8; then in alphabetical order note by note. If you run into LaRue you might ask him to explain his system—or even better ask him how he would do it if he were to start all over again….Then there is that crazy suggestion of Chailley, which he put very strongly, to transpose all themes into C and list them by letters alphabetically. — Take a look at appendix of Morgenstern-Barlow Dictionary of musical themes that we have and you’ll see what he wants. This looks like another big job for you. 

e.g. EFGGGGGGGGABGBA = Gossec #1
        GCCDGDDEGEEF = Gossec #2
        CDCGCDE♭F = Gossec #3” (15 February 1959).

A week later Barry returned to the topic and again asked Claire to have a talk with LaRue about how his finding system works, and whether or not he counted grace notes in alphabetizing. As LaRue was at the time still collecting incipits for his thematic identifier, he warned Claire not to reveal all that he was doing: “A little birdie keeps tweeting me about what Chailley said about keeping everything (i.e. finds) under wraps until after the thèse” (21 February 1959).

As Barry studied scores in Parisian libraries, he found more works that needed to be included in the finding aid for his thèse, and more incipits were included in his trans-Atlantic letters to Claire. Almost every letter he sent her in the late winter and spring of 1959 included a few handwritten incipits, a new consideration about their ordering, or a question about this or that detail.

A page of incipits sent to Claire on 14 March.

Replies from Claire included “just finished cutting a complete set of corrected insipids [sic], wrapped, stored, and next set ready to go” (19 April 1959), and “I refused to allow myself to sit down and write to you until the thematic index was cut and packed for mailing. A sort of external discipline—childish but effective. Just finished tying the string and lettering in the beloved name of my husband, and here I am” (27 March 1959). It seems that Claire worked on his dissertation in New York as hard as Barry did in Paris! It is impressive to see how they worked together on the intricate project of organizing the musical index of incipits, without having instant messaging, a possibility of online conversations in real time, and any other benefit of communications that we take for granted today.

At one point he was frustrated with difficulties in sorting incipits, and described to Claire his idea about an incipit box. Claire was confused by his eccentric idea and asked him to describe his concept better. In his second attempt he drew the design of the box along with his explanation of the concept: “Incipits are arranged in order in the box like file cards in a filing box or fiches in a fichier. Only the box is very flat—just high enough for the incipits to stand up in” (24 March 1959). As the deadline for submitting the dissertation was approaching fast, there was no time for constructing the box.

Brook’s drawing of the incipit box.

On 29 June the thesis—which included some 60 pages of incipits in addition to some 800 items that converted incipits to alphanumeric strings—was “delivered to [Jacques] Chailley at 5:30 in the afternoon”. This might have been one of the earliest dissertations that included such an extensive catalogue of incipits. A week after it was delivered, Claire landed in Paris for their belated honeymoon.

Above, one of Barry and Claire Brook’s wedding photographs from June 1958.


Filed under From the archives, Musicologists, Musicology

Music theory with attitude

Although the notion that Musicae rudimenta 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 its author. 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).

Above, an illustration from the treatise.

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Filed under Curiosities, Humor, Musicologists, Renaissance, Theory

Charles Seeger and folkness

The folk revival movement is the result of the common folkness of the folk and the supposedly non-folk surfacing in cities. In the meantime the folk has been doing what it has always done: appropriating all of the non-folkness it could.

Perhaps non-folkness is that which tries not to be folkness, while folkness is that which has not discovered more non-folkness than it could assimilate. The two categories may not be mutually exclusive; they may be two aspects of the same entity.

This according to “The folkness of the non-folk vs. the non-folkness of the folk” by Charles Seeger, an essay included in Folklore and society: Essays in honor of Benj. A. Botkin (Hatboro: Folklore Associates, 1966, pp. 1–9).

Above, Charles plays the harmonium for a family musicale in 1921, with his son Pete on his lap. Below, Pete’s half-sister Peggy Seeger performs The foolish frog, a traditional song with a story that Charles made up to entertain his children.


Filed under Curiosities, Ethnomusicology, Humor, World music

Rediscovering sonoristics

When he coined the term sonorystyka in the 1950s, Józef Michał Chomiński (1906–94) considered sonoristics a new branch of study centered on the sound technique of a composition. Discernible as early as certain works by Debussy, sonoristics involves a whole new layer of a musical work that emphasizes its actual sound, transcending older approaches in which structural elements were considered independently of their sonorous realization.

Among his expositions of his sonoristic theories, Chomiński showed how the first six measures of Webern’s Die Sonne (op. 14, no. 1) present no traces of melody or harmony in the traditional sense; rather, they embody a full transformation of both concepts into a sonic universe regulated by timbre, rhythm, and register contrasts.

This according to “Rediscovering sonoristics: A groundbreaking theory from the margins of musicology” by Zbigniew Granat, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history. Below, a performance of Webern’s op. 14; Chomiński’s example begins the set.

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Filed under 20th- and 21st-century music, Theory