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From 'Early Modernity' to 'Modernity' in Musicological Discourse: Interpreting Change in European Music from the Perspective of Global History

AuthorsIrving, David R. M.
KeywordsMusicological discourse
Musicological practice
Western Europe
Nineteenth century
Early Modernity
European music history
Worldwide connections and exchanges
Issue Date2019
PublisherInternational Network for a Global History of Music
CitationModernisation of Musical Traditions: Global Perspectives : (2019)
AbstractIn the decades surrounding the turn of the nineteenth century there was a profound transformation in discourse and practice of music in Western Europe, and in aesthetic and philosophical conceptualisations of music's past and contemporary states. These changes in musical action and thought were intertwined with political, economic, religious, and technological transitions of old and new regimes before and after c.1800, corresponding to periods that today's historians typically label 'early modern' and 'modern'. Such terms are, of course, anachronistic; writers from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries only ever conceived of a dialectic between 'modern' and its various antitheses, interpreted from a variety of chronological scales and ontological frameworks. Today 'early modernity' and 'modernity' as historical concepts have been extended beyond Europe to global scopes and contexts (not without controversy), since these centuries were coterminous with the building of immense colonial empires by European nations; moreover, the rising wealth and knowledge appropriated by Europeans through their rise to hegemony were arguably significant factors in the transition to 'modernity'. Yet, until fairly recently, historical musicologists have usually studied the aesthetic shift from 'early modernity' to 'modernity' in European music by examining European contexts largely in isolation from the rest of the world. The 'global turn' in musicology has signalled a need to consider European music history in the context of worldwide connections and exchanges. This paper explores how a global perspective can transform our view of the shift from 'early modernity' to 'modernity', by taking account of: comparative ethnology (which led to discourse of cultural essentialism and exceptionalism); the systematic colonial exploitation that fuelled technological and cultural change; and what anthropologist Johannes Fabian called 'the denial of coevalness'. It also attempts to relate shifts in music discourse to systems of thought that Michel Foucault called the 'classical episteme' and the 'modern episteme'.
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