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Three Observations and Three Possible Directions: Musical and Eighteenth-Century Studies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 June 2023

Patricia Anne Simpson
Affiliation:
University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Birgit Tautz
Affiliation:
Bowdoin College, Maine
Sean Franzel
Affiliation:
University of Missouri, Columbia
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Summary

IN PREPARING MY OBSERVATIONS on and considering the possible directions for musical studies in relation to eighteenth-century (German) studies, my choice of departure was browsing issues of the international journal Eighteenth-Century Music. My premise was that a simple perusal would provide a sense of how musicologists and musical historians have shaped the field over the past decade or so. Eighteenth-Century Music is a relatively new journal; its first biannual volume came out only in 2004. This fact alone is surprising for a number of reasons. In the words of Richard Taruskin, “the eighteenth century provides the unshakeable bedrock of our scholarly and performing canons—canons that started forming precisely during the eighteenth century …, and continue, for better and worse, to sustain our musical occupations and institutions.” Following Taruskin's line of thought, one wonders why it took so long to establish an international journal of and for eighteenth-century music? One might argue that precisely because the music of the eighteenth century carries such a foundational weight for the field of musicology as a whole, it does not need special or specialized attention. Assuming that this is the case, the journal's existence then indicates, as a flipside and first observation, a shift within the larger field of classical musicology: no longer is eighteenth-century music the omnipotent authority; rather, it has become merely a foundational platform within the field of musicology.

Taruskin's extensive review of The Cambridge History of Eighteenth- Century Music (2009) also helps to develop a second observation. He begins his major argument with the bold statement that “since the late 1960s the status of the eighteenth century as a music-historical period has been very much in question.” The reason for facing this uncertainty derives from the fact “that all attempts at writing the history of eighteenth-century music … have been misguided because all had been looking for ways of connecting the style of Bach and Handel to the style of Haydn and Mozart.” In the recent past, one way of overcoming or at least sidestepping this trap has been to organize musical history by genre, as the Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Music and the New Oxford History of Music have both done. Pursuing this method is, at least in the eyes of Taruskin, “a deplorable decision, because it prevents (or absolves) this purported history of eighteenth-century music from ever engaging with the historiographical problems.”

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Goethe Yearbook 28 , pp. 323 - 328
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2021

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