Towards The History of Ideas in Ethnomusicology

Theory and Methods Between the Late 18th and The Early 20th Century

"The history of ethnomusicology is the history of ideas and concepts of why and how to deal with expressive practices in social formations which are usually located outside the researcher’s primary cultural experience. Ideas in ethnomusicology (comparative musicology, anthropology of music, folk music research, folkloristics) are interlinked with other scholarly disciplines and academic fields. The history of the field is sometimes described as a shift from either a more philologically oriented study of “national” folk music or “armchair anthropology” to a modern anthropological concept expressed in context-oriented, sociological, and performer-centered research, as well as in urban ethnomusicology. However, quite a few of the issues frequently associated with English-speaking mainstream ethnomusicology of the last five decades (the “ethnographic turn”) appeared in the intellectual folk music discourses as early as the late 18th and the 19th century. In a similar way, the history of comparative musicology as a scholarly concept can be traced back at least to the Age of Enlightenment. This article traces the emergence and early history of motivations, theoretical paradigms and research methods by discussing the following key issues and conceptual oppositions:

Comparative study of musical cultures; Fieldwork experience; Aesthetic appreciation vs. value-free textual analysis; Relativism of expressive cultures: "our" and "their" concepts (emic/etic issues); The paradigm of orality vs. Kunstlieder im Volksmunde; “Living antiquities” vs. the sociology of folklore; Cultural homogeneity vs. performer-centered research; Studying songs vs. studying singing; Music in its cultural context—“uses and functions”; Standards of notation and documentation; Rural vs. urban research;"

Journal Musicologist
Year 2018
Volume 2
Issue 1
Pages 1-31

Morgenstern, Ulrich (2018) Towards The History of Ideas in Ethnomusicology: Theory and Methods Between the Late 18th and The Early 20th Century. In: Musicologist: International Journal of Music Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 1-31. Available at



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