As we consider music's role in defining races, cultures, and species, musicologists may benefit from examining more closely the history of conceptions of musical style. That history offers an opportunity to reassess the question of how and how much one of the core tools of music scholarship—the recognition and categorization of musical style—reflects a historical tradition of categorizing culture as a form of essential, biologized difference. This exercise seems particularly relevant in the present moment, when scholarly style categories converge with a renewed interest in evolutionary science. Tracing notions of style from the days of Guido Adler to the present, I argue that classifications of musical style have offered a way for music scholars to explore changing concepts of human difference. By asking what it means to identify a musical style, it is possible to engage more sensitively with music's power to classify human cultures, define human beings, and demarcate the perimeter of the humanities.
Evolutionary Categories and Musical Style from Adler to America
Rachel Mundy is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Pittsburgh. She specializes in twentieth-century sonic culture, with interests at the juncture of music, the history of science and technology, and animal studies. She is currently working on Animal Musicalities, a forthcoming book contracted with Wesleyan University Press that shows how music allowed listeners in the twentieth century to negotiate new ideas of species, culture, and human identity.
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Rachel Mundy; Evolutionary Categories and Musical Style from Adler to America. Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 December 2014; 67 (3): 735–768. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2014.67.3.735
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