Original citation

Babette Babich, “Postmodern Musicology” in: Victor E. Taylor and Charles Winquist, eds., Routledge Encylopedia of Postmodernism (London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 255-259.


Ethnomusicology | Intellectual History | Musicology


The discipline of musicology is a rather specificially 20th century institution growing out of a disparate range of 19th century studies of music theory, history, composition, etc. The OED edition extant at the time of the writing of this article dates the term musicology itself to 1909 or later. Although there are indeed practitioners throughout the world, most theorists are Anglo-American, with echoes in the French tradition of musicologie and German Musikwissenschaft. As a still-modern project, postmodern musicology derives from a predominantly Austro-German generation of scholars who translated an originally European tradition of analysis (Heinrich Schenker and -- in London -- Donald Frances Tovey and Hans Keller) along with the formal music theory at the time articulated by then-contemporary 'new' composers (Arnold Schoenberg. Rudolf Reti, along with Theodor Adorno and in addition to Karl-Heinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez) into Anglophone university contexts. Postmodern musicology in its theoretical expression has tended for some to be equivalent to ethnomusicology, but this would be prcisely the point of the petit recits of Jean-Francois Lyotard. Hence and in its subsequent disciplinary fortunes, postmodern musicology mirrors the poststructuralist and deconstructive movements but also the fate of postmodernism more broadly. But where the mode fades, the substantive contributions of postmodern musicology continues in different forms.



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