A Music Historian Reflects

Richard Taruskin reflects on the historiography of music and its embrace of a Whiggish paradigm that he argues has had a deleterious effect on the value and practice of music.



Richard Taruskin (1945-2022) was a profoundly influential musicologist and critic known for his extensive work on the historiography of music, among many other contributions to the field of musicology. His reflections on music historiography often challenged established narratives and introduced new perspectives on the interpretation of music history and its cultural implications. Taruskin’s work is characterized by its breadth, depth, and critical analysis, covering a wide range of topics from early music to contemporary compositions.

### Critiques of Traditional Narratives

Taruskin was particularly critical of the traditional Eurocentric narratives that have dominated music history. He argued that these narratives often excluded non-Western music and overlooked the social and political contexts that shaped musical developments. His critiques extended to the glorification of certain composers and styles at the expense of a more inclusive and accurate portrayal of music’s diverse history.

### Methodology and Approach

Taruskin’s approach to music historiography was interdisciplinary, incorporating insights from cultural studies, political history, and philosophy into his analysis of music. He emphasized the importance of understanding music within its historical context, including the intentions of composers, the conditions of its performance, and its reception by audiences. This approach allowed for a more nuanced and complex understanding of music’s role in society.

### “The Oxford History of Western Music”

One of Taruskin’s most significant contributions to music historiography is his six-volume work, “The Oxford History of Western Music.” In this monumental project, Taruskin offers a comprehensive survey of Western music from the earliest notations to the late 20th century. The work is notable for its critical perspective, challenging traditional views and highlighting previously marginalized composers and styles. It has become a seminal text in the study of music history, praised for its scholarship and provocative insights.

### Impact on Musicology

Taruskin’s reflections on music historiography have had a profound impact on the field of musicology, prompting scholars to reconsider the ways in which music history is written and taught. His work has encouraged a more critical and inclusive approach to music history, one that acknowledges the complexity of musical practices across different cultures and periods.

### Legacy

Richard Taruskin’s legacy in the historiography of music is characterized by his unwavering commitment to challenging the status quo and expanding our understanding of music’s place in the world. Through his writings and teachings, he inspired generations of students and scholars to approach music history with a critical eye and a deep appreciation for its cultural significance. His work continues to influence the field of musicology, ensuring that his insights and methodologies will remain central to the study of music history for years to come.

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