Speaker: Dr Ian Pace
The writing of music history has a profound significance upon processes of canon-formation, perceptions of the reputations of musicians and musical developments, and of the value of particular aesthetic approaches.
While there have been some important developments relating to the historiography of earlier periods – for example the debates around the relative significance of the work of Beethoven and Rossini – the historiography of twentieth- and twenty-first century music remains a relatively under-theorised and under-researched area.
In this paper, I give an overview of the essential directions in the writing of such music history, focusing upon publications centred on Western art music from 1945 onwards, by which time some perspective on the earlier half of the twentieth century was possible.
In particular, I consider the changing constructions of music in the second half of the century in different editions of Donald Jay Grout’s A History of Western Music, later taken over by Claude Palisca, then J. Peter Burkholder.
From this overview, I raise a series of critical questions relating to the historiography, including:
- (a) in light of a disjunction between critical canon and repertory in the twentieth-century, how representative is an approach to writing a history which privileges musical innovation?
- (b) is it important, and if so how possible, to integrate wider popular and vernacular traditions into such a history?
- (c) should the post-1945 avant-garde be seen as a historical moment whose time has passed, as reflected in later editions of Grout/Palisca/Burkholder and other writings, or is it of more central importance?
- (d) should European and North American developments be viewed as inhabiting essentially separate spheres, very distinct if sometimes overlapping?
- (e) how have historians argued that the end of the Cold War has impacted upon music history?
- (f) to what extent should such a history be conceived globally, rather than focused upon Europe and North America?
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