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Compagnia di San Paolo

Historiography and Ethnography: Two Perspectives on Musical Facts

Organized by Gianmario Borio

The object of the study day is to raise a complex of questions relevant to the humanities today, with a particular interest in music studies. In the last two decades efficiencies in communicative networks and technological media have arguably underwritten a qualitative shift toward a newly constituted “world society,” whose cultural output has become marked by new modalities of global awareness and interchange. The social process is mirrored in the practice, reception and adoption of music. The following phenomena can be considered symptoms of a more general situation: 1. The increasing popularization of the masterworks of baroque, classical and romantic music, which appeared in contexts foreign to the concert practice; 2 the spectacularization of the performance of art music through advertising by the record companies, radio and television broadcasts; 3. the gradual dissolution of the so-called ‘New Music’; 4. the expansion of so-called ‘popular music’, which, in academic approaches, requires joint strategies of historiographical and ethnographical research.

Historiographical research, which since the mid-19th century was at the core of musicology, is no longer considered adequate to the task of mapping the multifarious and sometimes contradictory listening experiences and discourses on music today. Increasingly, we witness the methodological integration of ethnographic approaches into traditional musicological ones. The co-habitation of ethnomusicology with musicological historiography has its own genealogy (paradigmatic examples include musicologists such as Curt Sachs, André Schaeffner and Harold Powers), but these have hitherto tended to be the exception instead of the rule. On the other hand, the increasing availability of historical sources of the musics of oral traditions, along with the erosion (and even disappearance) of many local traditions, place ethnomusicology in close contact with the historiographical practices of music historians. During the study day, music historians and ethnomusicologists will discuss these questions with an eye to drafting future scenarios.