American Music Theory, 1955–2017

David Forrest, Severine Neff and John Reef

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:
American Music Theory, 1955–2017

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  • Applied Music
  • Ethnomusicology
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  • Musicology and Music History
  • Music Education and Pedagogy


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Since ancient Greece, the discipline of music theory has offered explanations for the nature of musical phenomena and the fundamental principles governing their use. As early as the Middle Ages, musicians utilized such explanations to analyze specific musical compositions. However, analysis as a subdiscipline of theory burgeoned only centuries later in 19th-century Europe. At that time, conservatory musicians, most often composers, taught theory as compositional craft—counterpoint, harmony, and form. In the mid-1950s, American composer-theorists began reformulating the conceptual basis of the 19th-century European tradition by proposing new explanatory models of musical structure influenced by the developments in contemporary science, philosophy, and linguistics. Their investigations resulted in their advocacy of a music-theoretical discipline centered at universities and composed of professional theorists or composer-theorists who had mastered an essential tripartite core of knowledge: Schenkerian theory and analysis, history of theory, and the pioneering subfields addressing post-tonal music, twelve-tone theory, and set theory. From the 1980s to the present, new paradigms and approaches including the topics of challenges from the New Musicology and music criticism, musical meaning (encompassing approaches from nonanalytic philosophy and semiotic approaches), phenomenological approaches, approaches from literary theory, popular music studies, non-Western approaches, multimedia studies, timbre, cognition, and social issues such as gender, queer, and disability studies, have further expanded the nature and scope of the discipline. Together these rich and varied fields of music-theoretical inquiry offer a scholarly literature unprecedented in Western musical thought.

Article.  21277 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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