Shall We Change the Subject?

A Music Historian Reflects. Part I

Richard Taruskin
In the first part of this lecture given in Stanford University, March 3, 2008, Taruskin presents in a concise way many fundamental arguments that have developed in the course of his work, and which can be found in The Oxford History of Western Music (2005) and The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays (2008). Taruskin underlines, and deplores, the uncritically accepted influence of German scholars (such as Adorno and Dahlhaus) on American musicology, and, more specifically, their approach of musical composition through an idea of historical development, inherited from Kant and Hegel, which is conceived as a linear evolution (or, even, an ascension towards complexity and atonality, which would mean Art’s final «emancipation»). In the same movement, the romantic notion of the autonomous «genius» biases the appreciation of specific works, the idealisation of composers preventing musicians and scholars alike to approach their work with a critical eye. This brings another question, namely the role of the artist in society, which has come to be systematically associated, from the middle of the 19th century onwards, with the act of «transgression», which should not be confused with «progression».

by moxi