Historical musicology

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The historical musicology or music history deals with the historical development of music , especially the life and works of major composers , the sequence and development of styles and genres , as well as the terms of their performance at certain times and places. In doing so, facts from the past should be uncovered and interpreted using sources. But contemporary music can also become the subject of historical musicology.


Modern musicology emerged largely in the Central European-German-speaking area in the late 19th century. The first chairs for musicology and history were established in Vienna, Berlin, Prague and Strasbourg in the second half of the 19th century. Initially, the history of music in the sense of a high cultural history was the subject of the subject. Occasionally, with reference to ancient Greece, it is claimed that musicology is about 3000 years old. Music was the subject of philosophical discussion with both Pythagoras and Plato and Aristotle . Another important ancient thinker was Aristoxenus , who dealt intensively with music and its theory. The music theory developed in antiquity was adopted by occidental scholars in the Middle Ages and continues to have an impact today in terms such as music , harmony , melody and rhythm . All of these terms have their roots in ancient Greek.

In the 19th century, the non-university music history, which had existed for a long time, was taken up. The pursuit of musicology or music research in the sense of historically-philologically oriented humanities does not coincide with the institutionalization at the university, but can be proven earlier in the 19th century. The division of the subject into a historical and a systematic part introduced by Guido Adler (1855–1941) still exists today. It was decisive for the historical direction of musicology until the second half of the 20th century. Adler's method of music history (1919) describes the outline of historical musicology: discussion of epochs , people, countries, cities, schools and artists. The main focus is on notation, the grouping of musical forms , systems (theorists, art practice) and instruments .

Subject and methods

Carl Dahlhaus (1928–1989)

The subject of historical musicology is the music in history. Your goal is to uncover past facts. Historical musicology wants to make sources available and interpret them. In order to arrive at objective and verifiable statements, historically working musicologists use humanities and philological methods such as source research , music notation , analysis and interpretation of musical texts. There are different types of sources that are examined: intentionally transmitted sources such as e. B. textbooks, unintentionally transmitted sources such as a composer's musical instrument, letters and pay slips, music sources ( autographs ) and sketches.

Historical musicology is carried out partly with an empirical- positivistic orientation (focus on document studies), partly also with a theoretical orientation (change of time, periodization, genre history, contextualization, history of ideas in music). In positivist historiography, music history is considered the sum of facts. In contrast, Andreas Haug and Andreas Dorschel have argued that even the so-called music-historical facts cannot be understood from within, but only against the background of unrealized historical potential. According to Haug and Dorschel, these can be understood in different ways depending on their appropriateness to the particular music-historical situation: as an unfulfilled intention, an unsolved problem, a suppressed attempt or as an unselected alternative within a decision-making process.

Until 1945 musicology was practically not concerned with contemporary music; on the contrary, the specialist representatives mainly specialized in individual older epochs. It was not until the 1960s that research into the music of the 20th century began. Rudolf Stephan (* 1925) was of great importance for the turn to new music in particular . Stephan sees the history of music as part of the general history of art and culture. Forerunners were Egon Wellesz with his Schönberg biography (1920) or Guido Adler, who a. a. had dealt with his contemporary Richard Wagner . Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht (1919–1999) made the musical works the subject of historical reception research; Carl Dahlhaus (1928–1989) wrote new foundations of historical musicology in terms of content and method.

Historical musicology outside Germany

In Austria , historical musicology is primarily concerned with the history of style and local music research. As in Germany, it is primarily a university discipline. Erich Schenk (1902–1974), Wilhelm Fischer (1886–1962), Othmar Wessely (1922–1998) and Rudolf Flotzinger (* 1939) were important to historical musicology in Austria .

Musicological research in Switzerland takes place primarily at German-speaking universities and is dedicated to European music from the Middle Ages to the 20th century as well as non-European music. The Schola Cantorum Basiliensis is particularly concerned with historical performance practice. The Paul Sacher Foundation archives the bequests of Anton Webern and Igor Stravinsky and supports studies on the music of the 20th century.

After 1945, university musicology in the Netherlands was particularly concerned with historical issues. Albert Smijers (1888–1957) and Karel Philippus Bernet Kempers (1897–1974) primarily examined Franco-Flemish music , including the works of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck and Josquin Desprez '. The main focus of research is on the edition of critical complete editions, medieval studies, historical performance practice and organology . Since the 1960s, historical musicology has opened up through modern analytical methods, structuralism and semiotics .

Musicology in the USA is a post-war university phenomenon. To date, there are hardly any non-university research institutions. American musicology has the sub-disciplines history , theory and ethnomusicology , with historical musicology being given the greatest importance. Dahlhaus writings, almost all of which were translated into English, led to a structural-historical approach from the 1980s onwards. Building on the work of Sophie Drinker , the gender dimension is now also included.

Notes / individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Rudolf Stephan: Musikwissenschaft , in: ders. (Ed.): The Fischer Lexikon Musik . Frankfurt am Main 1957, p. 236.
  2. Cf. Federico Celestini , Historical Musicology . In: Studying musicology , ed. by Kordula Knaus and Andrea Zedler. Utz Verlag, Munich 2012, pp. 113–121.
  3. Andreas Haug and Andreas Dorschel (eds.), From the price of progress. Profit and loss in music history (= studies on valuation research 49). Universal Edition, Vienna - London - New York, 2008.


  • Rainer Cadenbach et al .: Musicology . In: Music in the past and present , factual part, volume 6. Bärenreiter, Kassel et al. 1989, col. 1789-1834.
  • Michele Calella , Nikolaus Urbanek (ed.): Historical musicology. Basics and perspectives . Metzler, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-476-02462-6 .
  • Vincent Duckles et al .: Musicology . In: The New Grove. Dictionary of Music and Musicians . Second edition, ed. by Stanley Sadie, Volume 17. Macmillan, London and New York, pp. 488-533.
  • Carl Dahlhaus : Collected writings. Edited by Hermann Danuser in conjunction with Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen and Tobias Plebuch, eleven volumes. Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 2000-2007, ISBN 3-89007-235-6 .
  • Helmut Rösing; Peter Petersen: Orientation Musicology. What she can do, what she wants . Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 2000.
  • Rudolf Stephan : Musikwissenschaft , in: ders. (Ed.): The Fischer Lexikon Musik . Frankfurt am Main 1957, p. 236 ff.

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