Music and Worship Faculty Publications

Strengthening the ‘History’ in ‘Music History:’ An Argument for Broadening the Cross-disciplinary Base in Musicological Studies

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College Music Symposium



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This paper is the result of years of teaching both music history and world history. Formally a musicologist by training, my experience with the world history curriculum has afforded me a broad perspective of Europe's position in the context of the larger sphere of world history. As a result I have come to view the Western tradition of music history not as a single line of progress that began with the singing of chant in early Christian rites and can be traced to today; but rather, as but one part of the world's musico-cultural tradition, not being as isolated from other traditions as we have been formerly and formally taught.

This paper examines the points of contact between Western "classical music" and non- Western cultures at the borders of Europe. One of the most extensive of these was between the Muslim world and European civilizations. Most of the eras generally covered in Western music history courses, from the medieval to the modern, coincide with the presence of Islam at the borders of Europe; however, this fact is usually ignored or at best marginalized. Much of this period of world history included the rapid spread of Islam westward and eastward from Arabia from the mid-seventh century onward, the clash of cultures and religions in the wars collectively known as the Crusades, the conquest of the Byzantine Empire by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 and the subsequent 400- year presence and at times dominance of the Ottoman Empire in southeastern Europe. Because of the dominant presence of the Muslim world at the very borders of Europe throughout much of its history, this paper targets Islamic influence on Western traditions. My method is to examine three particular topics frequently covered in Western music history courses, each from a different era: the Mozarabic rite in eighth-century Spain; the Florentine Camerata in sixteenth-century Italy, and Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in early nineteenth-century Austria.

The questions I explore are, first, what effect did the earliest occupation of Arabs have, in their spread of the Muslim faith, on the practice of Christianity in Spain? Second, how did the Florentine Camerata become intrigued with and find source material for ancient Greek musico-dramatic practices? Finally, during the Ottoman reign from 1453 to 1918, how were Islamic musical practices and culture incorporated into the Western tradition? In a particular example, what was Beethoven's reason for inserting a Turkish march into the finale of his Ninth Symphony? My thesis is that the European music tradition can not be studied as a historical line in itself. It must include an adequate understanding of its general history in relationship to the developments of other peoples within its sphere of contact. Neither in the medieval era nor in any other age was Europe as isolated as we have been led to believe. My method in preparing this study was to compare the discussion of these topics in three college-level textbooks in Western music history survey courses, followed by a comparison of the pertinent general history in three college-level world history textbooks.

I draw first from the Schirmer History of Music, a 1982 publication and the oldest of the textbooks here under consideration. This was published under the general editorship of Léonie Rosenstiel, with detailed sections written by sub-specialists. As far as I know, this textbook has not been revised. Second, I refer to the 2006 edition of A History of Western Music by J. Peter Burkholder, Donald Grout, and Claude Palisca, a revision of a publication that goes back to 1960. This is the standard textbook for music history courses and is now in its seventh edition. The third textbook is the most recent of these three, now in only its second edition, published in 2006. By Mark Evan Bonds, this is the History of Music in Western Culture. The world history textbooks I reference are Howard Spodek's The World's History, published in 1998; Jeremy Bentley's Traditions and Encounters, 2003 edition; and John McKay's A History of World Societies, 2007 edition