AskDefine | Define musicologist

Dictionary Definition

musicologist n : a student of musicology

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  1. One who studies musicology

Extensive Definition

Musicology (Greek: μουσική = "music" and λόγος = "word" or "reason") is the scholarly study of music. The word is used in narrow, broad and intermediate senses. In the narrow sense, musicology is confined to the music history of Western cultural elites. In the intermediate sense, it includes all relevant humanities and a range of musical forms, styles, genres and traditions. In the broad sense, it includes - at least potentially - all musically relevant disciplines and all manifestations of music in all cultures. The broad meaning corresponds most closely to the word's etymology, the entry on "musicology" in Grove's dictionary, the entry on "Musikwissenschaft" in Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, and the classic approach of Adler (1885).
In the broad definition, the parent disciplines of musicology include history; cultural studies and gender studies; philosophy, aesthetics and semiotics; ethnology and cultural anthropology; archeology and prehistory; psychology and sociology; physiology and the neurosciences; acoustics and psychoacoustics; and computer/information sciences and mathematics. Musicology also has two central, practically oriented subdisciplines with no parent discipline: performance practice and research, and the theory, analysis and composition of music. The disciplinary neighbors of musicology address other forms of art, performance, ritual and communication, including the history and theory of the visual and plastic arts and of architecture; linguistics, literature and theater; religion and theology; and sport. Musical knowledge and know-how are applied in medicine, education and therapy, which may be regarded as the parent disciplines of Applied Musicology.


Historical Musicology

Music history or historical musicology is a diverse subfield of the broader discipline of musicology that studies the composition, performance, reception, and criticism of music over time. Historical studies of music are for example concerned with a composer's life and works, the developments of styles and genres (e. g. baroque concertos), the social function of music for a particular group of people (e. g. court music), or modes of performance at a particular place and time (e. g. Johann Sebastian Bach's choir in Leipzig). Like the comparable field of art history, different branches and schools of historical musicology emphasize different types of musical works and different approaches to music. There are also national differences in the definition of historical musicology.
In theory, "music history" could refer to the study of the history of any type or genre of music (e.g., the history of Indian music or the history of rock). In practice, these research topics are more often considered within ethnomusicology (see below).
The methods of historical musicology include source studies (esp. manuscript studies), paleography, philology (especially textual criticism), style criticism, historiography (the choice of historical method), musical analysis, and iconography. The application of musical analysis to further these goals is often a part of music history, though pure analysis or the development of new tools of music analysis is more likely to be seen in the field of music theory.
The intellectual products of music historians include editions of musical works, biography of composers and other musicians, studies of the relationship between words and music, and the reflections upon the place of music in society.


Ethnomusicology, formerly comparative musicology, is the study of music in its cultural context. It is often considered the anthropology or ethnography of music. Jeff Todd Titon has called it the study of "people making music". Although it is most often concerned with the study of non-Western musics, it also includes the study of Western music from an anthropological or sociological perspective.
Ethnomusicologists often apply theories and methods from cultural anthropology, cultural studies and sociology as well as other disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. Though some ethnomusicologists primarily conduct historical studies, the majority are involved in long-term participant observation. Therefore, ethnomusicological work can be characterized as featuring a substantial, intensive ethnographic component.
Closely related to ethnomusicology is the emerging branch of sociomusicology.

Intersections of Historical Musicology and Ethnomusicology

Several forms of musical inquiry combine the two larger fields of musicology. Some draw upon the tools or methodologies of ethnomusicology to analyze the main repertories of historical musicology. Others explore popular music primarily from a cultural perspective, yet also employ tools of Western tonal theory to make analytic observations.

New Musicology

New musicology is a term applied since the late 1980s to a wide body of work emphasizing cultural study, analysis, and criticism of music. Such work may be based on feminist, gender studies, queer theory, or postcolonial theory, or the work of Theodor Adorno. Although New Musicology emerged from within historical musicology, the emphasis on cultural study within the Western art music tradition places New Musicology at the junction between historical, ethnological and sociological research in music.
New musicology was a reaction against traditional historical musicology, which according to Susan McClary, "fastidiously declares issues of musical signification off-limits to those engaged in legitimate scholarship." Today, many musicologists no longer distinguish between musicology and New Musicology, since many of the scholarly concerns that used to be associated New Musicology have now become mainstream, and the term "new" clearly no longer applies.

Popular Music Studies

Popular music studies emerged in the 1980s as an increasing number of musicologists, ethnomusicologists, and other varieties of historians of American and European culture began to write about popular musics past and present. The first journal focusing on popular music studies was Popular Music, which began publication in 1981. It was not until 1994 that an academic society solely devoted to the topic was formed, the IASPM (the International Association for the Study of Popular Music).

Psychology and cognition

Music psychology applies the content and methods of all subdisciplines of psychology (perception, cognition, motivation, personality and so on) to all aspects of musical behaviour and experience (performance, listening, composition).
Music cognition is the study of music as information, from the viewpoint of cognitive science. Since it primarily addresses the processing of musical information by humans, it may be regarded as a subdiscipline of music psychology. The discipline shares the interdisciplinary nature of fields such as cognitive linguistics.

Music theory, analysis and composition

Music theory is a field of study that describes the elements of music and includes the development and application of methods for composing and for analyzing music through both notation and, on occasion, musical sound itself. Broadly, theory may include any statement, belief, or conception of or about music (Boretz, 1995). A person who studies or practices music theory is a music theorist.
Some music theorists attempt to explain the techniques composers use by establishing rules and patterns. Others model the experience of listening to or performing music. Though extremely diverse in their interests and commitments, many Western music theorists are united in their belief that the acts of composing, performing, and listening to music may be explicated to a high degree of detail (this, as opposed to a conception of musical expression as fundamentally ineffable except in musical sounds). Generally, works of music theory are both descriptive and prescriptive, attempting both to define practice and to influence later practice. Thus, music theory generally lags behind practice in important ways, but also points towards future exploration, composition, and performance.
Musicians study music theory in order to be able to understand the structural relationships in the (nearly always notated) music, and composers study music theory in order to be able to understand how to produce effects and to structure their own works. Composers may study music theory in order to guide their precompositional and compositional decisions. Broadly speaking, music theory in the Western tradition focuses on harmony and counterpoint, and then uses these to explain large scale structure and the creation of melody.

Performance practice and research

Performance practice draws on many of the tools of historical musicology to answer the specific question of how music was performed in various places at various times in the past. Although previously confined to early music, recent research in performance practice has embraced questions such as how the early history of recording affected the use of vibrato in classical music, or instruments in Klezmer.
Within the rubric of musicology, performance practice tends to emphasize the collection and synthesis of evidence about how music should be performed. The important other side, learning how to sing authentically or perform an historical instrument is usually part of conservatory or other performance training. However, many top researchers in performance practice are also excellent musicians.
Music performance research (or music performance science) is strongly associated with music psychology. It aims to document and explain the psychological, physiological, sociological and cultural details of how music is actually performed (rather than how it should be performed). The approach to research tends to be systematic and empirical, and to involve the collection and analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data. The findings of music performance research can often be applied in music education.


Arbitrary exclusion of disciplines and musics

In its most narrow definition, musicology is the music history of Western cultural elites. Such a definition arbitrarily excludes disciplines other than history, cultures other than Western, and forms of music other than "classical" ("art", "serious", "high culture") or notated ("artificial") - implying that the omitted disciplines, cultures, and musical styles/genres are somehow inferior. A somewhat broader definition incorporating all musical humanities is still problematic, because it arbitrarily excludes the relevant (natural) sciences (acoustics, psychology, physiology, neurosciences, information and computer sciences, empirical sociology and aesthetics) as well as musical practice.
Within historical musicology, scholars have been reluctant to adopt postmodern and critical approaches that are common elsewhere in the humanities. According to Susan McClary (2000, p.1285) the discipline of "music lags behind the other arts; it picks up ideas from other media just when they have become outmoded." Only in the 1990s did historical musicologists, preceded by feminist musicologists in the late 80s, begin to address issues such as gender, sexualities, bodies, emotions, and subjectivities which dominated the humanities for twenty years before (ibid, p.10). In McClary's words (1991, p.5), "It almost seems that musicology managed miraculously to pass directly from pre- to postfeminism without ever having to change - or even examine - its ways."
Furthermore, in their discussion on musicology and rock music, Susan McClary and Robert Walser also address a key struggle within the discipline: how musicology has often "dismisse[d] questions of socio-musical interaction out of hand, that part of classical music's greatness is ascribed to its autonomy from society." (1988, p. 283)

Arbitrary exclusion of popular music

According to Richard Middleton, the strongest criticism of (historical) musicology has been that it by and large ignores popular music. Though musicological study of popular music has vastly increased in quantity recently, Middleton's assertion in 1990-- that most major "works of musicology, theoretical or historical, act as though popular music did not exist" -- holds true. Academic and conservatory training typically only peripherally addresses this broad spectrum of musics, and many (historical) musicologists who are "both contemptuous and condescending are looking for types of production, musical form, and listening which they associate with a different kind of music...'classical music'...and they generally find popular music lacking" (Middleton 1990, p.103).
He cites (p.104-6) "three main aspects of this problem":
  1. "a terminology slanted by the needs and history of a particular music ('classical music')."
    1. "on one hand, there is a rich vocabulary for certain areas [harmony, tonality, certain part-writing and forms], important in musicology's typical corpus, and an impoverished vocabulary for others [rhythm, pitch nuance and gradation, and timbre], which are less well developed there"
    2. "on the other hand, terms are ideologically loaded...these connotations are ideological because they always involve selective, and often unconsciously formulated, conceptions of what music is."
  2. "a methodology slanted by the characteristics of notation," 'notational centricity' (Tagg 1979, p.28-32)
    1. "musicological methods tend to foreground those musical parameters which can be easily notated...they tend to neglect or have difficulty with parameters which are not easily notated", such as Fred Lerdahl. "notation-centric training induces particular forms of listening, and these then tend to be applied to all sorts of music, appropriately or not."
    2. Notational centricity also encourages "reification: the score comes to be seen as 'the music', or perhaps the music in an ideal form."
  3. "an ideology slanted by the origins and development of a particular body of music and its aesthetic...It arose at a specific moment, in a specific context - nineteenth-century Europe, especially Germany - and in close association with that movement in the musical practice of the period which was codifying the very repertory then taken by musicology as the centre of its attention."
These terminological, methodological, and ideological problems affect even works symphathetic to popular music. However, it is not "that musicology cannot understand popular music, or that students of popular music should abandon musicology" (p.104).

See also


  • Adler, Guido (1885). Umfang, Methode und Ziel der Musikwissenschaft. Vierteljahresschrift für Musikwissenschaft, 1, 5-20.
  • Honing, Henkjan (2006). "On the growing role of observation, formalization and experimental method in musicology." Empirical Musicology Review, 1/1, 2-5
  • Kerman, Joseph (1985). Musicology. London: Fontana. ISBN 0-00-197170-0.
  • McClary, Susan, and Robert Walser (1988). "Start Making Sense! Musicology Wrestles with Rock" in On Record ed. by Frith and Goodwin (1990), pp. 277-292. ISBN 0394564758.
  • McClary, Susan (1991). Feminine Endings. Music, Gender, and Sexuality. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 0-8166-1899-2 (pbk).
  • McClary, Susan (2000). "Women and Music on the Verge of the New Millennium (Special Issue: Feminists at a Millennium)", Signs 25/4 (Summer): 1283-1286.
  • Middleton, Richard (1990/2002). Studying Popular Music. Philadelphia: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-15275-9.
  • Pruett, James W., and Thomas P. Slavens (1985). Research guide to musicology. Chicago: American Library Association. ISBN 0-8389-0331-2.
  • Randel, Don Michael, ed. (4th ed. 2003). Harvard Dictionary of Music, pp. 452–454. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01163-5.
  • Tagg, Philip (1979, ed. 2000). Kojak - 50 Seconds of Television Music: Toward the Analysis of Affect in Popular Music, pp. 38-45. The Mass Media Music Scholar's Press. ISBN 0-9701684-0-3.

On-line Journals

The following musicology journals can be accessed on-line through JSTOR (requires subscription for full access). Many of them have their latest issues available on-line via publisher portals (usually requiring a fee for access).
  • 19th-Century Music (1977-2004)
  • Acta Musicologica (1931-2002) (current organ of the International Musicological Society)
  • Mitteilungen der Internationalen Gesellschaft für Musikwissenschaft / Bulletin de la Société internationale de Musicologie (1928-1930)
  • American Music (1983-2005) (Society for American Music)
  • Archiv für Musikwissenschaft (1918-2003)
  • Sammelbände der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft (1899-1914)
  • Asian Music (1968-2002)
  • Black Music Research Journal (1980-2004) (Center for Black Music Research)
  • The Black Perspective in Music (1973-1990)
  • British Journal of Ethnomusicology (1992-2002)
  • Cambridge Opera Journal (1989-2002)
  • Computer Music Journal (1977-2002)
  • Early Music (1973-1999)
  • Early Music History (1981-2002)
  • Ethnomusicology (1953-2003) (Society for Ethnomusicology)
  • The Galpin Society Journal (1948-2002) ([Galpin Society] (organology))
  • International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music (1971-2002)
  • International Review of Music Aesthetics and Sociology (1970)
  • Journal of Music Theory (1957-2002)
  • The Journal of Musicology (1982-2004)
  • Journal of Research in Music Education (1953-2006)
  • Journal of the American Musicological Society (1948-2004) (American Musicological Society)
  • Bulletin of the American Musicological Society (1936-1948)
  • Journal of the Royal Musical Association (1986-2000) (Royal Musical Association)
  • Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association (1944-1984)
  • Proceedings of the Musical Association (1874-1943)
  • Latin American Music Review / Revista de Música Latinoamericana (1980-2004)
  • Anuario Interamericano de Investigacion Musical (1970-1975)
  • Anuario (1965-1969)
  • Leonardo Music Journal (1991-2002)
  • Lied und populäre Kultur / Song and Popular Culture (2000-2003)
  • Jahrbuch für Volksliedforschung (1928-1999)
  • Music & Letters (1920-2001)
  • Music Analysis (1982-1999)
  • Music Educators Journal (1934-2007)
  • Music Supervisors Journal (1915-1934)
  • Music Supervisors Bulletin (1914-1915)
  • Music Theory Spectrum (1979-2003) (Society for Music Theory)
  • The Musical Quarterly (1915-1999)
  • The Musical Times (1903-2004)
  • The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular (1844-1902)
  • Music Library Association Notes (1934-2002) (Music Library Association)
  • Perspectives of New Music (1962-2000)
  • Popular Music (1981-2002)
  • Revue belge de Musicologie / Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Muziekwetenschap (1946-2002)
  • Revue de musicologie (1922-2002)
  • Bulletin de la Société française de musicologie (1917-1921)
  • Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae (1961-2002)
  • Tempo (1939-2002)
  • Tijdschrift van de Koninklijke Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis (1995-2002)
  • Tijdschrift van de Vereniging voor Nederlandse Muziekgeschiedenis (1960-1994)
  • Tijdschrift der Vereeniging voor Noord-Nederlands Muziekgeschiedenis (1882-1959)
  • Bouwsteenen (1869-1874)
  • Yearbook for Traditional Music (1981-2003)
  • Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council (1969-1980)
  • Journal of the International Folk Music Council (1949-1968)
musicologist in Bambara: Fɔlikankalan
musicologist in Catalan: Musicologia
musicologist in Czech: Muzikologie
musicologist in Corsican: Musiculugia
musicologist in Danish: Musikvidenskab
musicologist in German: Musikwissenschaft
musicologist in Estonian: Muusikateadus
musicologist in Modern Greek (1453-): Μουσικολογία
musicologist in Spanish: Musicología
musicologist in Esperanto: Muzikologio
musicologist in French: Musicologie
musicologist in Western Frisian: Muzikology
musicologist in Friulian: Musicologjie
musicologist in Korean: 음악학
musicologist in Icelandic: Tónlistarfræði
musicologist in Italian: Musicologia
musicologist in Hebrew: מוזיקולוגיה
musicologist in Georgian: მუსიკათმცოდნეობა
musicologist in Luxembourgish: Musekwëssenschaft
musicologist in Limburgan: Musicologie
musicologist in Dutch: Musicologie
musicologist in Japanese: 音楽学
musicologist in Norwegian: Musikkvitenskap
musicologist in Norwegian Nynorsk: Musikkvitskap
musicologist in Polish: Muzykologia
musicologist in Portuguese: Musicologia
musicologist in Russian: Музыковедение
musicologist in Simple English: Musicology
musicologist in Slovenian: Muzikologija
musicologist in Serbian: Музикологија
musicologist in Serbo-Croatian: Muzikologija
musicologist in Finnish: Musiikkitiede
musicologist in Swedish: Musikvetenskap
musicologist in Tajik: Мусиқишиносӣ
musicologist in Turkish: Müzikoloji
musicologist in Yiddish: מוזיקאלאגיע
musicologist in Chinese: 音乐学

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