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Topic: What is Musikwissenschaft? The Origins, Context, and Composition of German-Language Musicology
Abstract: Compared to musical research practiced all over the globe, the system of musicology originating from Austro-German discourse—Musikwissenschaft, established principally by Guido Adler’s famous article “The Scope, Method, and Aim of Musicology” of 1885—has a unique and broad profile. First, it maintains a distinctly scholarly approach to music, separating its analysis from practical music making. Second, it supplements the branches of historical and ethno-musicology—disciplines that also from part of Anglo-American music studies—by the umbrella discipline of “systematic” musicology, i.e. (empirical) research focusing on the nature of music, which involves diverse subjects such as acoustics, physiology, psychology, or aesthetics. How did this colorful assembly of fields and its strict separation from composition and performance come about and was this scholarly profile without suitable alternatives in German-language academia?
Derived from this question, I present two ongoing research projects on the history of academic musical research. No. 1 explores the conspicuous methodological orientation of Musikwissenschaft and the key factors leading to its tripartite makeup. Here, I implement a comparative investigation into the formation of musicology and art history as related but ultimately diverging disciplines. The chiefly historical outlook of art history (Kunstgeschichte)—a field whose origins predates the modern profile of music studies by several decades—will form an ideal foil to evaluate the composition of musicology (Musikwissenschaft). No. 2, related directly to questions of the origins and evolution of musicological methodology, analyzes the historical alternatives to musicology’s current profile. Which models of musical research were propagated during the formative years of this field and why did they not take hold in Austro-German discourse? Only by exploring both questions can we understand the development and ideological background of Musikwissenschaft as an academic discipline.
Alexander Wilfing is primarily interested in aesthetics, criticism, and the history, methodology, and development of musicology as an academic discipline. From 2014 to 2021, he was a doctoral and postdoc researcher in several projects on the historical, political, and cultural contexts of Hanslick’s aesthetics at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. From 2021 to 2023, he lead the project “Creating an Academic Discipline: Eduard Hanslick, Guido Adler, and the Establishment of Musicological Methodology” at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt and Masaryk University Brno. He recently was a Research Fellow at the Vossius Center for the History of Humanities and Sciences in Amsterdam, exploring the intersections of musicology and art history. He currently is P.I. of the project “Eduard Hanslick’s Criticism between Aesthetics, Journalism, and Scholarship” (2022–2025, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna) in collaboration with the University of Salzburg and Stanford University. He is author of Re-Reading Hanslick’s Aesthetics (Vienna, 2019), editor of Hanslick in Context (Vienna, 2020) and The Aesthetic Legacy of Eduard Hanslick (New York, forthcoming), as well as editor-in-chief of Musicologica Austriaca: Journal for Austrian Music Studies.
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