product header background


The following review is reprinted from Fontes Artis Musicae 59/1 (January–March 2012) 81–83.

Blažekovic, Zdravko, and Barbara Dobbs Mackenzie, editors. Music’s intellectual history. RILM Perspectives I. New York: Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale, 2009. [938 pp., illustrations. ISBN 978-1-932765-05-2, $155]

This encyclopedic volume can be traced back to the conference Music’s Intellectual History: Founders, Followers, and Fads, which was held at the RILM International Center in 2005. Organized by a mixed committee of cooperating organizations—RILM, the International Musicological Society (IMS), the International Association of Music Libraries (IAML) and the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM)—the conference united a large number of music historians from all over the world. With this conference and the recently published proceedings that inaugurate the new RILM series RILM Perspectives, an era nearly comes to an end. This era was shaped by the view that German music culture and German musicology, with its music-historiographical approach, is internationally authoritative. Originally a majority of German musicologists, who walled themselves safely within their institutions and displayed an arrogant and hegemonic attitude, followed this decades-long fad (one of the fads discussed in the volume), and many non-German musicologists voluntarily accepted it. Perhaps here and now is the right place and moment to welcome the end of this era, and to be pleased and surprised about the richness and diversity of international traditions in music historiography.

This diversity is documented in 66 historiographical contributions that were originally presented at the RILM conference (some in greatly abbreviated form), which was the first of its kind. An intellectual history—or history of ideas, as they say in Germany—that aims to summarize the achievements of music scholars since the Renaissance has not appeared before. In addition, the volume attempts to provide an overview, and includes detailed studies of specialists. The achievements described and analyzed in this encyclopedically conceived collection range from antiquity to the present, and include continents outside of Europe; thus this publication can be described as unique in its character and quality.

Sebald Heyden, a scholar who lived in the first half of the 16th century, is introduced as perhaps the first music historian. Surely the line of those individuals who have written music history will need to be pushed forward, as some appeared already in late antiquity. Walter Kurt Kreyszig’s over-100-page contribution is of special importance; he engages the humanist educational context, which was already evident in Leopold Mozart’s Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, in great detail. His contribution clarifies the central significance of this widespread work, which appeared in several editions during Mozart’s time and not only for his private students.

Anna Maria Busse Berger’s comparative account of the two German-speaking 20th-century medievalists Friedrich Ludwig and Jacques Handschin unfortunately does not consider more recent findings on Ludwig’s relationship to his Strassburger teacher Gustav Jacobsthal (probably because it was only a reprint of an older lecture). At least, inconsistencies and shortcomings in Friedrich Ludwig’s views are no longer concealed.

Anton Schindler is presented as Beethoven’s executor, who transgressed his duties both as a friend and as a historian, as he destroyed the master’s conversation books in their original form and falsified them. In a future second step, one would need to uncover how many Beethoven legends are consequently no longer valid. Some quite unexpected topics are discussed as well—for example, the reflection of music history in the writings of the Hans Christian Andersen, and how intelligent Saint-Saëns was as a scholar. Even the great importance of Curt Sachs for music-related museum theory and practice is discussed, among many other things not mentioned here.

The second section, which focuses on composers, examines two very different 19th-century approaches to editing Bach’s music. The central role that Handel played in British music historiography is discussed twice. The hitherto little-known history (at least in Germany) of Schoenberg’s development in America is also a topic—especially his late work, which to a great extent was no longer atonal and was influenced by politics and his renewed turn to Judaism. The spectrum of the subsequent national-historical studies is very broad; it includes contributions to the history of music from an impressive list of places: Africa, Brazil, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, New Zealand, Romania, Serbia, and the United States.

The chapter on music dictionaries and magazines provides interesting and novel insights as well. The famous Riemann-Lexikon, although it was been translated into several languages, is very much centered on the German tradition, similar to Grove’s British focus in its early days. The contribution of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in the 19th century to the emergence of a modern musicology and to a musical canon oriented toward the Viennese Classic is presented in summary, and the enormous role of the French Revue musicale for the foundation of modern music, aesthetic debates, and dance in the 1920s and 1930s is discussed. The last section explores the various directions and references of historiography and musicology in relation to other arts, contemporary trends, and scientific disciplines.

This book is rich in content, great in format, beautifully designed, and on thin paper, and will take a long time to be fully and exhaustingly explored. It tells of great upheavals in the history of music scholarship and, because it deepens and sharpens historical consciousness, it in itself can lead to further changes. The volume should not be missed or missing in any music library on earth in which scholars come and go.

Peter Sühring
Universität der Künste, Berlin

Translated by Tina Frühauf