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The Dutch ethnomusicologist Jaap Kunst 1930 on the Indonesian island of Nias : a crowd regularly gathered around the phonograph ("speaking machine") while listening to sound recordings

The Musikethnologie or Ethnomusikologie , formerly Comparative Musikwissenschaft is within the Musikwissenschaft a neighboring discipline of historical musicology and at the same time a portion of the anthropology (formerly Ethnology). She investigates the tonal, cultural and social aspects of music and dance worldwide .

The English term ethnomusicology was introduced programmatically in 1950 by the Dutch ethnomusicologist Jaap Kunst (1891–1960) in order to shift the focus in what was previously known as comparative musicology : he asked for a comparative analysis of musical structures and styles a closer look at the respective cultural contexts in the study area.

Research approaches

Ethnic musicology deals with musical practice and the structures of music, interprets music as social interaction and as a globally circulating symbol of identity for social groups. In its approaches, the discipline differs from historical musicology, which focuses on the opus music of Western art music and the musical text hermeneutics of Western-European music theory . For historical musicology, the importance of music as an art form is the pre-requisite that limits the subject, while ethnomusicology researches the different ideas about music itself and makes the question of the meaning of music the topic. The American ethnomusicologist Jeff Todd Titon therefore defined ethnomusicology simply as the study of people who make music . Ethnic music shares numerous questions and methods with popular music research , music sociology and music psychology .

Until the 1950s, the ethnomusicological research area was mainly on non-European traditional music. Since then, ethnomusicology has been considered more comprehensively. The research area includes traditional music ( folk music ) and non-European art music; Furthermore, popular music including jazz , music from subcultures , regional music cultures and new, hybrid forms of music that have arisen from the interplay of musicians from different musical cultures promoted by migration and travel ( transculturality ). Today music-ethnological methods are also applied to Western art music.

In general, increasing cultural exchange and digital distribution possibilities for music have expanded the questions and methods of ethnomusicology, some of which are now influencing music education .

historical development

The American ethnomusicologist Frances Densmore made a phonographic recording with Blackfoot 's Mountain Chief in 1916 .

The collecting and analytical description of non-European music was at the beginning of music-ethnological research in German-speaking countries. Since most of the music practiced around the world was and is only passed on orally, ethnomusicologists had methodical difficulties with documenting music at the beginning of their research in the last third of the 19th century. In 1877 Thomas Alva Edison invented the phonograph . This enabled sound recordings to be made in order to analyze the structures of the music later.

At the beginning, non-European music was viewed against the normative background of Western music and, in connection with the worldview of socio-cultural evolution, classified at a certain level in terms of development. Within this framework, the Austrian Guido Adler set the goals for historical musicology from 1885, first in Prague , then in Vienna . During this time Hugo Riemann postulated in his music theory a scale and harmony based on natural law , which had to be universally valid, but which could not describe deviating non-European musical systems.

German-speaking area

The prerequisites for a music ethnology were created in Berlin by Carl Stumpf (1848–1936). His psychological institute, founded in 1893 at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität zu Berlin, enabled research and teaching for psychological issues in the field of non-European music. Extensive pitch measurements were made on musical instruments from what was then Siam . Stumpf commissioned his assistant, the ethnomusicologist Erich von Hornbostel (1877–1935) and the psychologist Otto Abraham (1872–1926) to build up a musicological collection that brought together audio documents and studies. In 1905 this documentation was given an organizational framework within the Psychological Institute with the underlying concept of comparative musicology as a Berlin phonogram archive . Primarily, what other researchers in the field had collected was evaluated here. Until 1914, this field research took place mainly in German colonies.

Von Hornbostel influenced a number of musicologists in Berlin between 1900 and the Nazi seizure of power. These include Curt Sachs (1881–1959), Robert Lachmann (1892–1939), Mieczyslaw Kolinski (1901–1981), Kurt Huber (1893–1943) and Abraham Zvi Idelsohn (1882–1938). Almost all of them were Jews and had left the country by 1933 at the latest. Richard Wallaschek (1860–1917) developed a theory on the psychological perception of music in London. In addition to European folk music, Erich Stockmann's main focus was the teaching of non-European music in general. Together with Oskár Elschek (* 1931) he developed a new classification of musical instruments from bottom to top. In Switzerland, Hans Oesch (1926–1992) shaped music ethnology.

Further German-speaking representatives of ethnomusicology


The early researchers from the Netherlands focused on the music of the Dutch colonies . Descriptions of courtly gamelan in Java were provided in the 19th century by Pieter Johannes Veth (1814–1895) in his four-volume work Java, geographical, ethnological, historical (1875–1884) and Isaak Groneman (1832–1912), who was the doctor of the Sultan of Yogyakarta ( De gamelan te Jogjakarta, 1890). Jaap Kunst (1891–1960) was inspired by Erich von Hornbostel to collect non-European music. Art's theoretical work and field recordings made him the leading connoisseur of Indonesian music. After Kunst's death in 1960, Ernst Heins (who reissued Music in Java in 1973) and Wim van Zanten continued his work in Indonesia.


The French-speaking Belgian musician and curator of the musical instrument collection at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels , Victor-Charles Mahillon (1841-1924), developed a classification system for his museum work in 1880, which formed the basis for the Hornbostel-Sachs system introduced in 1914 . Another pioneer of French ethnomusicology was Julien Tiersot (1857–1936) through his historical studies and his interest in non-European music. Rodolphe d'Erlanger (1872–1932) was an early expert on Arabic music who translated numerous musicological texts from Arabic into French. Today's French ethnomusicology goes back to André Schaeffner (1895–1980), who established the subject in 1928 at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris. In contrast to many German colleagues, he undertook extensive field research of his own, which led him to the French colonies in West Africa. Among the French-speaking ethnomusicologists active in the second half of the 20th century are Bernard Lortat-Jacob (* 1941), who headed the ethnomusicological department at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris, founded by Schaeffner. The French-Israeli ethnomusicologist Simha Arom (* 1930) is best known for his research on the music of the pygmies in the Central African Republic . In particular, the polyphonic chants he described in the 1960s with the single-tone flute hindewhu had a great influence on some modern composers. Amnon Shiloah (1928–2014), who was educated in France, was a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and particularly researched Jewish and Arabic music. The Swiss Hugo Zemp (* 1937) taught at the University of Paris-Nanterre and was interested in the music of Africa and Oceania and also in Swiss yodel songs, about which he made several films. Jean During (* 1947) has specialized in Central Asian and Iranian music .

Eastern Europe

While the Western European musicologists initially referred mainly to non-European music, in Hungary and Romania it was composers such as Béla Bartók , Zoltán Kodály and Constantin Brăiloiu who began after 1900 to collect and systematically record their own national folk music. In doing so, they created the basis of a general ethnomusicology. The traditional music recorded on wax cylinders in the villages partly influenced her compositional work and is preserved in archives for posterity.

Great Britain

The English psychologist Charles Samuel Myers (1873–1946) took part in the 1898 Cambridge ethnological expedition to Torres Street and to Sarawak , from where he was the first to bring music recordings. Charles Russell Day's work on South Indian music, The Music and Musical Instruments of Southern India and the Deccan , first appeared in 1891, Arthur Fox Strangways described North Indian music in The Music of Hindostan in 1914. The Irish music historian Henry George Farmer (1882-1965) focused on Arabic music history and described its influence on European music.

Arthur M. Jones (1889–1980), who worked as a missionary in Zambia and was a lecturer in African music at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London from 1952 to 1966, was one of the founders of African ethnomusicology in Great Britain . The English ethnomusicologist of German descent Klaus Wachsmann (1907–1984) is considered a pioneer of African music research. From 1937 to 1957 he lived as a Protestant missionary in Uganda , where he also conducted field research and built an extensive collection of African musical instruments. 1963–1968 he was a professor at the University of California .

Percival R. Kirby (1887–1970) is considered a pioneer of music research in South Africa . Most of his studies, in which he focused on traditional African music and tried to rule out Western influences, date from the 1930s. Hugh Tracey (1903–1977) put together an extensive collection of sound recordings from sub-Saharan Africa, which were published on over 200 long-playing records . John Blacking (1928–1990) first came to South Africa in 1953 as an assistant to Tracey. He soon grasped the short-term stay with an ethnic group for the purpose of making sound recordings as a limiting factor. Therefore, he separated from Tracey and carried out anthropological research with the Venda from 1956 to 1958 , from whose music and ritual practice he brought with him extensive records. In 1969 Blacking returned to the UK and took a chair at Queen's University of Belfast .

United States

John Comfort Fillmore (1843–1898) was a student of Hugo Riemann and, in his successor, ran a historical musicology based on European musical culture. After studying piano music and harmony, he specialized in Indian music . In 1894, after field research in India, A Study of Indian Music appeared.

Frances Densmore (1867–1957) began in 1907 with systematic sound recordings with North American Indians , whose music she tried to record using European notation. From the beginning of her field research, she tried to present the music of the individual tribes in their cultural and religious context and thus to convey a complex picture of the respective tribal culture.

George Herzog (1901–1984) tried to provide a theoretical basis for the activities of the early music researchers, which were exclusively aimed at creating a collection . In the 1920s he studied with von Hornbostel in Berlin and then at Columbia University with Franz Boas and Ruth Benedict , who as anthropologists had a formative influence on music ethnology at the beginning of the 20th century. Under their influence, Herzog learned to understand music within the respective cultural context. Sound analyzes were linked to questions of everyday use and the social function of music.

From 1932 to 1935, Herzog held a chair at Yale University . It was at this time that his theories, based on ethnological studies and comparative studies of folk music and non-written languages, were most effective. The title of the short text Music in the Thinking of the American Indian ("Music in the Thinking of the North American Indians") from 1938 already bears the attempt to understand music from within the culture. His declarations on the non- universality of musical language have become general consensus.

Based on the Berlin comparative musicology, the Culture Area Theory was created, which from the 1950s onwards, as a cultural comparative ethnological research approach , formed the framework for the entire specialist training. Similar ideas were also represented in the United States by Curt Sachs, who taught at New York University from 1937, and there after 1950 by the Hornbostel student Mieczyslaw Kolinski.

Philip V. Bohlman has taught at the University of Chicago since 1987 ; one of his main focuses is Jewish music, both traditional song tradition and modern music. From 2005 to 2007 he was President of the international Society for Ethnomusicology.

Africa - culture as a dynamic system

African musical styles and traditions are no longer described as static and without history. By comparing the sound recordings made at different times, stylistic developments can be understood. The division into traditional and popular music is problematic. “Traditional” is music that is embedded in a cultural and mostly ritual context in a specific region and serves to identify and delimit an ethnic group. This music is also "popular" in that it attracts a larger audience. Now, musical styles are generally referred to as popular which, in their performance practice and understanding, serve entertainment, are widespread and are thus similar to western pop music. At the same time, traditional music, once only practiced locally, was spread over a larger area through migration, in particular through labor migration.

From the middle of the 20th century, African ethnomusicologists trained in the western research tradition introduced a new way of looking at African music, which led to a dialogue between Africans and European / US-American ethnomusicologists on the previous one-sided view of the continent from outside . Africans who subject their living environment to a scientific examination resemble in that they include themselves, outside researchers who bring their expectations and work circumstances up in the participatory observation .

Since the 1960s, cultural dialogue has not only taken place on an abstract scientific level, but also becomes concrete in the personal relationship between researchers who come from different cultures. Joseph H. Kwabena Nketia (* 1921) from Ghana is a composer and is considered the leading African musicologist. Nketia's The Music of Africa from 1974 became a standard work. In 1963 he received a professorship at the University of Ghana in Accra . In the same year he was invited to the University of California (UCLA) for a semester , in return Mantle Hood , the founder of the local music and ethnology department, came to Accra for a visiting professorship.

The representatives of a black African music ethnology include its pioneer from Sierra Leone , George Ballanta (1893–1961), who studied Negro Spirituals . The Ghanaian composer and musicologist Ephraim Amu (1899–1995) returned to Ghana in 1941 after studying music in London , where he saw his task as the guardian of a traditional African culture. In the 1960s he taught at the music department established by Nketia at the University of Accra . In his compositions, which became a link between tradition and modernity, he combined western harmonies with African rhythms. Since he recognized the Western notation as unsuitable for describing this rhythm, he laid down the basis for a suitable notation in a theoretical investigation. Thomas Ekundayo Phillips (1884–1969) from Nigeria remained connected to his roots in African church music. He was an organist, composer, teacher and scientist at the same time. He wrote the first academic treatise on African music written by a local ( Yoruba Music. African Music Society, Johannesburg 1953). In the biographies of all African musicologists - who were musicians and composers at the same time - including that of Seth Dzifanu Cudjoe (1910–1984), a trained doctor in the environment of the Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah , a turn to African roots is evident after having one Had studied in western countries for a long time. Their participation in the pan-African movement was an expression of an anti-colonial political attitude. Theoretical recording of the music took place at the same time as a change in performance practice: the music, which had a special cultural context, came to a stage from a group of spectators who were also participants in the musical event in front of an uninvolved audience. This liberation and dissemination of music based on the Western model was often linked to its - and the composer's - new political role within the African national movement.

Akin Euba , born in Lagos in 1935, belongs to the next generation , whose work as a composer and music ethnologist is naturally shaped by a cross-cultural understanding. His compositions of new music strive for a synthesis with his own Yoruba music tradition; The musician, who trained in London and Los Angeles, examined the Yoruba drum language in his later music-ethnological dissertation, i.e. the sound recordings that can be translated into poetry and their cultural context.

Born in the Congo , Kazadi wa Mukuna studied at UCLA in California from 1961, where he received his doctorate in 1978. Since 1989 he has been professor of ethnomusicology at Kent State University . In addition to researching the music of his home country, he mainly deals with the influence of African music in Brazil .

New concepts

The research approach referred to by the English term entrainment - translated here as " Einwingen " - understands music, especially rhythm, as a biologically shaped phenomenon. This results in a biomusicology that investigates the evolutionary aspects of human music making. People try to adjust themselves to their environment with repetitive body movements. The rhythm in the music is examined from a comparative perspective, whereby the collective music-making presents itself as an entrainment process: the participants subconsciously adjust their rhythm to one another and remain true to this rhythm even after sudden interruptions. One of the first ethnomusicologists to point this out was Alan Lomax in the 1982 article The Cross-cultural Variation of Rhythmic Style . The rhythm provides the framework for identifying with the group. From this it can be concluded that music is not created solely as a creative art by individuals, but in the community as music in everyday life. The consideration presupposes a corresponding concept of culture.

A comparative study of musical structures, the grammar of the musical language, with the help of data processing and computer analysis, is intended to distinguish, among other things, the proportions of the established rules and the improvised portions of the respective musical style. Computer-aided analysis methods do not form an independent research approach, but are also used experimentally in various countries.

Making music as a basis

The American Alan Parkhurst Merriam (1923–1980) understood in his work The Anthropology of Music from 1964 music once as part of cultural behavior ("music in culture") and independently as sound production. In contrast, for Mantle Hood (1918–2005), who studied art with Jaap and wrote several works on Indonesian music, ethnomusicology was an inseparable part of culture and simply studying all music at every opportunity. For Hood, the starting point of occupation in music ethnology was the practical learning of the music to be examined. Under the term “bi-musicality”, he called for learning at least a second musical culture in order to be socially integrated and to be able to understand the music in the culture from within. While this approach was controversial when it was first published in the 1960s, it is now widely accepted. The participant observation because includes learning the respective musical instruments expressly. For example, for the ethnologist and musicologist Gerhard Kubik in Africa and for John Baily in Afghanistan, a student of John Blacking, this is the necessary prerequisite for theoretical research. Both also appear as musicians.

It is undisputed that music should be studied as culture. For some ethnomusicologists, however, the concept of a bi-musicality harbors the risk that the differences are emphasized before the similarities and thus indirectly confirms the old separation into the “own” and the “foreign”. Accepting the differences could hinder the search for a fundamental relationship between the musical cultures. John Blacking already demanded that a single method of music analysis should be sought that would be suitable for all music. The idea of ​​a world music theory is considered by the ethnomusicologist (focus on Indonesia), composer and musician Michael Tenzer (* 1957) to be unrealistic, but in his own compositions for European chamber music and for Gamelan the universal aspect of music comes to the fore.

See also


  • Philip V. Bohlman : World Music. A very short introduction. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002, ISBN 0-19-285429-1
  • Steven Feld: Sound and Sentiment. Birds, Weeping, Poetics, and Song in Kaluli Expression. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia 1982, ISBN 0-8122-1299-1 (Dissertation 1979 Indiana University).
  • Dieter Christensen, Artur Simon: Ethnic Music. In: Ludwig Finscher (Hrsg.): The music in past and present . Sachteil 6, 1997, columns 1259–1291.
  • Mantle Hood: The Ethnomusicologist. Kent State University Press, Kent 1982, ISBN 0-87338-280-3 (with 3 records).
  • Jaap Art : Ethnomusicology. A Study of It's Nature, Its Problems, Methods and Representative Personalities to Which is Added a Bibliography. 3. Edition. Nijhoff, Den Haag 1974 (first edition 1950: Musicologia. A Study of the Nature of Ethnomusicology, Its Problems, Methods, and Representative Personalities ).
  • Alan P. Merriam: The Anthropology of Music. (1964) 4th edition. Northwestern University Press, Evanston 2000, ISBN 0-8101-0607-8
  • Bruno Nettl : The Study of Ethnomusicology. Twenty-nine issues and concepts. (1983) 2nd edition. University of Illinois Press, Urbana 2005, ISBN 978-0-252-03033-8
  • Carole Pegg, Helen Myers, Philip V. Bohlman, Martin Stokes: Ethnomusicology. In: Stanley Sadie (Ed.): The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians . Macmillan, London 2001
  • Jennifer C. Post: Ethnomusicology. A Research and Information Guide (= Routledge Music Bibliographies ). (2003) Routledge Chapman & Hall, New York 2011, ISBN 978-0-415-87977-4
  • Anthony Seeger: Why Suyá Sing? A Musical Anthropology of an Amazonian People. (1987) University Press, Urbana 2004, ISBN 0-252-07202-2
  • Henry Stobart (Ed.): The New (Ethno) Musicologies (= Europea. Volume 8). Scarecrow, Lanham 2008, ISBN 978-0-8108-6101-5
  • Jeff T. Titon (Ed.): Worlds of Music. An Introduction to Music of the World's Peoples. (1996) SCL, Belmont 2009, ISBN 978-0-534-59539-5
  • John Lawrence Witzleben: Whose Ethnomusicology? Western Ethnomusicology and the Study of Asian Music. In: Ethnomusicology. Volume 41, Issue 2, 1997, ISSN  0014-1836 , pp. 220-242
  • Deborah Wong: Ethnomusicology and Difference. In: Ethnomusicology. Volume 50, Issue 2, 2006, ISSN  0014-1836 , pp. 259-279

Web links

Commons : ethnomusicology  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Wim van Zanten: Ethnomusicology in the Netherlands since 1960. In: Oideion. The performing arts world-wide , No. 1, November 1997
  2. Bruno Nettl: Nettl's Elephant. On the History of Ethnomusicology. University of Illinois Press, Champaign 2010, pp. 24f
  3. Suzel Ana Reily, Lev Weinstock (Ed.): John Blacking. ( Memento of March 26, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) University of Belfast, March 1998 (English).
  4. Bruno Nettl, Philip Vilas Bohlman (Eds.): Comparative Musicology and Anthropology of Music. Essays on the History of Ethnomusicology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1991, ISBN 0-226-57408-3 , pp. 270-272 (English).
  5. Kofi Agawu: Nketia's "The Music of Africa" and the Foundations of African Musicology. Paper for the symposium in Accra, September 2003 (English; PDF file; 175 kB ).
  6. Biography: Ephraim Amu. ( Memento of March 21, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) In: Undated, accessed September 8, 2014.
  7. Godwin Sadoh: Nigerian Art Music Composers: Thomas Ekundayo Phillips. In: Ntama - Journal of African Music and Popular Culture. January 10, 2007
  8. ^ Nick Nesbitt: African Music, Ideology, and Utopia. In: Research in African Literatures. Volume 32, No. 2, 2001, pp. 175-186
  9. ^ The Hugh A. Glauser School of Music: Kazadi wa Mukuna, Ethnomusicology. ( Memento of May 4, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Without date (accessed on September 8, 2014).
  10. ^ Alan Lomax : The Cross-cultural Variation of Rhythmic Style. In: Martha Davis (Ed.): Interaction Rhythms. Periodicity in Communicative Behavior. Human Sciences Press, New York 1982, pp. 149-74.
  11. ^ Martin Clayton, Rebecca Sager, Udo Will: In Time With the Music: The Concept of Entrainment and Its Significance for Ethnomusicology. In: ESEM CounterPoint. Volume 1, 2004
  12. George Tzanetakis, Ajay Kapur, W. Andrew Schloss, Matthew Wright: Computational Ethnomusicology. In: Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies. Volume 1, No. 2, 2007, pp. 1-24
  13. Tim Rice: In Memoriam Mantle Hood. Professor of Ethnomusicology, Emeritus. ( June 1, 2010 memento on the Internet Archive ) University of California
  14. Michael Tenzer: Categorizing Periodicity. SEM conference in Honolulu, November 18, 2006