What is Musicology?

Library Resources | Georg Burgstaller| October 03, 2018

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Georg Burgstaller, Editor at Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM), shares a brief introduction to the field of musicology.

Since its formal inception in nineteenth-century Europe, musicology has come to cover the gamut of music-making worldwide. In its original conception the discipline was, and to a large part remains, distinct from solely enjoying or even making music, although scholars tacitly understood from the outset that it would or rather should benefit any given listener and, especially, the performer. Seeking to mirror the artistry of composers and the virtuosity of singers and players, musicologists aim to discover—usually having developed a background as musicians themselves—why music sounds the way it does, what it wishes to express, and how this is best achieved in performance.

At the same time, musicology intersects with a host of other disciplines, often in complex and unexpected ways.

Adding to this, the cultural study of music known as ethnomusicology has created awareness of music’s meaning in societies around the globe. While ethnomusicology and popular-music studies frequently remain institutionally separate from musicology, their concerns have come to increasingly influence all music scholars, encouraging them to look beyond musical structures codified in musical notation and emphasize other ways of thinking about musical production and consumption, often broaching historically marginalized themes and considering historically marginalized people.

At the same time, musicology intersects with a host of other disciplines, often in complex and unexpected ways. These include the power of music to evoke any range of emotions in listeners and the application thereof in medicine and therapy, its interplay with other art forms and interactive media, and inquiries into music's acoustic and metaphysical dimensions unfolding in time and space. At its most ambitious, musicology helps to uncover, recover, and reposition the way we view a universal human activity that is likewise telling of the human condition. To that end, musicologists are perhaps less preoccupied with their discipline's scientific status (as signaled by the suffix -ology), but rather inspired by their own curiosity about, enthrallment with, and deep love for music.

RILM Suite of Music Resources – An Introduction from EBSCO

Learn about musicology databases from RILM.

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Georg Burgstaller
Editor, Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale

As editor at Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale, Georg Burgstaller focuses on German-language materials and prepares records on all areas of music for RILM Abstracts of Music Literature. Prior to this, he completed his doctoral studies at the University of Southampton, England, which were embedded in the Schenker Documents Online international research project and funded by the U.K.'s Arts and Humanities Research Council. More recent research interests include the role of temporality in postmodern aesthetics and, after receiving support by the American Musicological Society's Janet Levy Fund, the perceived meanings of music in postwar societies. In addition to his work at RILM, Dr. Burgstaller is a research associate for the project Karol Rathaus as Viewed through His Letters under the auspices of Queens College, The City University of New York (CUNY).

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