Musicology, by Frank Ll. Harrison, Mantle Hood, and Claude V. Palisca

October 1, 1964

Musicology ("Humanistic Scholarship in AmericaThe Princeton Studies"), by Frank Ll. Harrison, Mantle Hood, and Claude V. Palisca. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963. [xii, 337 p., 8vo; $8.95]

Thirty years ago musicology scarcely existed as far as American colleges and universities were concerned. "You might as well speak of grandmotherology" was the classic remark of Harvard's President Lowell. This book signifies the change that has taken place, for in it musicology takes its place beside its sister disciplines—history, classics, art history, literature, philosophy—in the reports sponsored by the Council of Humanities of Princeton University on the present state of humanistic scholarship in America. The general editor of the series, the distinguished historian Richard Schlatter, defines the role of the humanist scholar thus: as historian to organize our cultural inheritance and make it available to the present, and as critic to judge the present by the experience of the past. The three authors whose essays make up this book, each an outstanding musicologist, look as historian and critic upon musicology itself. The result is a stimulating and informative book, unprecedented as a history and critical examination of American musicology.

Frank Ll. Harrison, now teaching at Oxford but well acquainted with American universities and scholarship, writes on "American Musicology and the European Tradition." Claude V. Palisca, professor at Yale, reports on "American Scholarship in Western Music." Mantle Hood, ethnomusicologist at UCLA, contributes an essay on the growth of his field, "Music, The Unknown." Space limitations forbid a detailed report on everything discussed in these essays. I simply insist that everyone with an interest in music scholarship read this book. Though no textbook, it comes nearer than any to providing an up-to-date survey of the field, and teachers and graduate students will surely profit from it.

I shall limit this review to certain controversial matters raised in the essays by Harrison and Palisca.

Palisca, more than Harrison or Hood, is the spokesman here for American musicology. His approach is more historical than critical, but he begins with one of the most problematic questions of all—what is "musicology?" Palisca finds that American scholars have developed their own brand of musicology, narrowing the limits set by the German pioneers of the last century. Peripheral fields, such as acoustics, psychology, physiology, and pedagogy have been set to one side. Theory is largely left to composers, and esthetics to philosophers. Thus the "scientific" emphasis of 19th century European scholarship has given way to a more humanistic orientation, to which Palisca does not take exception. The definition at which he arrives is admirable: "The musicologist is concerned with music that exists, whether as an oral or a written tradition, and with everything that can shed light on its human context." By this definition, the ethnomusicologist is as much a musicologist as the historian. What about the theorist? To be sure, "theory" is many-sided. Some branches are extensions of the composer's training and activity, in which musicology for better or worse plays little part. There is also the field of speculative, or "pure" theory, closely linked to esthetics and not necessarily scholarly in nature. It too stands apart. We are left with "analytical" theory, systems of analysis based on existing bodies of music, generally within an historical category. Some musicologists are active in this area, but so are non-musicologists. Palisca pulls his punches here, though he does state firmly that analytical theory contributes to musicology. I would have preferred him to state that it is musicology. Analysis of music cannot disregard scholarship, which is the very means by which music of the past is made available to the scrutiny of the analyst. Moreover the historical context is essential to a correct understanding of any art, especially one transmitted by so limited a written language. (Harrison, by the way, insists strongly on a sociological orientation in style analysis—an attitude quite a bit more extreme than Palisca's.) Analysis not carried out within the framework of musicological method and in conformity with its standards is too apt to be amateurish, even dangerous.

Palisca traces the mushroom-like growth of musicology in America in the space of one generation, while underlining the long-held barrier to scholarship maintained by the old-line music faculties. Music in the 19th and early 20th century curriculum was an accessory, with no standing among learned disciplines. As the pressure for graduate degrees increased, the demand was first met by music educationists and conservatory teachers, whose ends were the practical ones of public school teaching and performance. Faculties and administrators often joined forces with them, for they knew that musicologists tended to be "difficult," insisting that libraries acquire basic reference and scholarly books and critical editions of music, and demanding the "dilution" of musical training by historical and liberal studies. This situation persisted throughout the '20's and '30's, and remains true in some schools today—to our sorrow. With the influx of European scholars, who had fled Nazi persecution and the war, these attitudes quickly changed. The new arrivals were accepted by their scholar colleagues. Then, and only then, did music departments open their doors to musicology. Scars of the old hostility still remain, within and without the academic community. Both Palisca and Harrison decry the failure of the publishing industry to meet its responsibility to musical scholarship in proportion to other disciplines.

Harrison's essay is less comfortable than Palisca's for American musicology. Much of it is a resumé—excellent, too—of the development of musical scholarship in Europe, and its transfer to America. Beyond this, Harrison is rather sharply critical of American musicology for adopting too much of the superstructure of European scholarship without its foundation. Harrison believes that the "professional" approach to musicology in higher education, such as is advocated by Bukofzer (in The Place of Musicology In American Institutions of Higher Learning) and practiced in most graduate schools, reinforces the cultural isolation of the scholar. He stresses that the humanist scholar must contribute to social communication, and deepen the understanding of music by nonscholars. The burden of Harrison's criticism properly falls on school and college music, which make the gap between society and scholarship inevitable. "So-called educational music," says Harrison, "is of poor taste and deleterious esthetic value." In most secondary schools "the attitude to the arts amounts to miseducation, because it fails to recognize in them an avenue to emotional maturity and control." By raising an artificial distinction between "popular" and "classical" music, he feels that the schools predetermine the cultural isolation of the musicologist. Lacking thorough undergraduate background in "practical" music, and ill-acquainted with his own cultural inheritance, the American graduate student marches behind his better-prepared European counterparts toward premature specialization.

All of us agree with Harrison's insistence that professional scholarship must be built on sound basic education. But surely musicologists are least to blame for the prevailing situation. Even college music, with which Harrison deals rather harshly, has made great strides in the last decade. Public school music is undoubtedly our Achilles heel, and it is proper that our attention be drawn to it.

Harrison's criticism of American musicology cannot fairly be applied to musicologists alone. Unilateral action by graduate faculties, whether it be introducing jazz into their curriculum, giving credit or degrees in performance, or instituting a course in the sociology of music, will not correct the basic weaknesses that the student brings with him, and might even undermine the standards of the program itself. Corrective action must be undertaken on all levels. It is about time, for example, that we insist upon humanistic as well as professional standards in teacher education.

The process desired by Harrison is moving ahead more rapidly than he may realize. The "appreciation" approach is retreating before solid historical and theoretical training of undergraduates. In addition, the failure of musicology to communicate with the general historian and humanist is also less apparent now than it was a few years ago. However, we all share the blame for whatever cleavage exists between the lay public and musicologists and between their two vastly different conceptions of music.

One example that Harrison cites to point up this lack of communication—even between musicologists and other scholars—is Wallace K. Ferguson's fundamental study of The Renaissance in Historical Thought (1947), which makes no reference to music or its historians. Ferguson's latest book, Europe in Transition, 1300-1520 (1962) more than makes amends, and well illustrates the change that is taking place in the general attitude toward musicology in America. Music is there accorded a place comparable to that of literature and the visual arts. The efforts of Bukofzer, Lang, Leichtentritt, Lowinsky, and Reese (all of whom are cited in the bibliography) have borne fruit in a work that will be widely read by undergraduates and laymen. This event is as important, in my opinion, as the publication of the Musicology volume in The Princeton Studies. Both are hopeful signs of the advancing maturity of American musicology.

5397 Last modified on November 15, 2018