The Institute of Musicology


Narrating Musicology: Fachgeschichte(n) der Musikwissenschaft

Narrating Musicology: Reviewing the History/ Histories of Musicology

In November 1996, a musicological colloquium was held at the University of Bern under the title «Musikwissenschaft – eine verspätete Disziplin?» («Musicology – a Delayed Discipline?»). The discussions and outcomes that took place were then published four years later in an anthology of the same title, edited by Anselm Gerhard. The aim of both the conference and the publication was to focus less on specific people or institutions, and instead foreground general tendencies within the history of musicology: from its beginning in the late 19th century until the time of publication, and with a scope also beyond the German-speaking world. Although this discussion itself was perhaps due sooner, the approach proved essential for considering the history of the musicological discipline as an object of study in itself. In light of the upcoming 100-year anniversary of the Institute of Musicology, Bern, which will take place in 2021, we now take the opportunity to once again reflect on these issues: What is the current state of the history of musicology as a discipline? How has the reflection on musicology changed current research as well as teaching contents? Can musicology still be understood as a «delayed discipline»?

Traditionally, musicology has been divided into three strands: historical musicology, systematic musicology and ethnomusicology. Additionally, related subjects such as music theory and music pedagogy have had an important impact on current research on the history of the discipline. The result of this, however, is that multiple — and at times even isolated — histories of musicology have developed. This conference focuses on these various narratives, and aims at encouraging an inter- as well as intra-disciplinary dialogue. The Bernese colloquium twenty years ago focused on the field of tension in musicology «between belief in progress and rejection of modernity». The discrepancy between international orientation and nationalist and chauvinistic tendencies, which were both present in the 1990s, were also addressed. The present conference asks, do such tensions still remain today?

Herein, a first focus concerns the question of whether the disclosure of the various historically conditioned ideological pitfalls, as well as the culturally specific contradictions within the discipline, have changed the self-perception of musicology as a whole. How important are national, social and ethnic categories in shaping the principal focus of the discipline’s history nowadays? This conference focuses on the various narratives that have evolved within our field and questions the motivations which have led to these various regional histories. Therefore, the focus shall be extended beyond Western academic perspectives to a more global approach.

Another important aspect of this conference is the question of why we should study the history of our discipline at all. What kind of interaction is at play when, on the one hand, we focus on disciplinary self-reflection, and on the other our objects of study? What are the objects of study of the history of this specific academic discipline? On the topic of musicology’s protagonists: who is responsible for narrating the histories of musicology? How much power do various institutions have in shaping and constructing the narratives surrounding musicology? What roles do these narratives play in shaping the identities of scientists, institutions, and various schools of thought? How can musicologists deal with the history of musicology with regard to current debates concerning the digital age and decolonisation?

Since the first Call for Papers for this conference in October 2019 a lot of changes have happened in discussions surrounding musicology as a discipline. Starting with the Black Lives Matter movements, strong protests against explicit (and hidden) structural racism have led to heated debates in various realms of our field. Discussions concerning the «whiteness» of musicology, anti-Semitism in music theory and decolonialisation in ethnomusicology, show how urgent intradisciplinary communication has become.

Booklet (Version: 07.09.2021) (PDF, 1.3 MB)