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What is 'Western' About Early Modern 'Western Art Music'?

AuthorsIrving, David R. M.
KeywordsWestern Art Music
Repertory and practices from before circa 1800
Cultural stereotyping
Cultural grey-out
Issue Date2019
PublisherUniversity of Cambridge
CitationMusicology or Ethnomusicology? Discussing Disciplinary Boundaries in Non-Western Art Music : (2019)
AbstractIt is often assumed that the concept of 'Western Art Music' implies the predominantly notated tradition produced by music cultures based in specific areas of the European continent, with its influence spreading to other parts of the world. Historical musicologists and ethnomusicologists tend frequently to use the label 'Western Art Music' -- or 'Western Music' as a term that embraces 'serious' and 'popular' genres -- in a totalising and monolithic vein. The term is so ubiquitous and pervasive that we tend to overlook the cultural stereotyping and cultural grey-out that its use can perpetuate and reinforce. Yet the term itself is of recent origin. Until the late nineteenth century, the term 'Western music' in European-language discourse most often implied the liturgical music practices of Western Christendom (as opposed to those of Eastern Orthodox churches). A new meaning of 'Western music' that referred collectively to a broad set of pan-European musical practices, as well as those that had been transplanted to colonial contexts, emerged in line with a new 'Western' identity that reflected worldwide power imbalances created through economic and cultural imperialism. This paper argues that the idea and concept of 'Western Art Music' -- grounded largely in the canon, the work-concept, and an emerging set of standardised practices -- is largely inapplicable for repertory and practices from before circa 1800. With reference to works by Goehr, Cook, Taruskin, Born, Hesmondhalgh, Shelemay, and Yri, I attempt to critique the idea of 'Westernness' as applied wholesale to musics from early modern Europe, and to de-essentialise and de-exceptionalise the notion of 'the West' in this context. I argue that to project retrospectively the label of 'Western Art Music' as a totalising concept onto early modern repertories and practices is both misleading and problematic, because of the complex and contradictory history of the idea of 'the West' itself.
Appears in Collections:(IMF) Comunicaciones congresos
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