This volume demonstrates the recent direction of cultural history, as it is now being practiced in both history and musicology, to grasp the realms of human experience, understanding and meaning-how they are constructed, negotiated and communicated on both an individual and a social level. Just as historians in their quest to understand the construction and transmission of meaning, musicologists are turning to new inquiries into cultural representations and their social dynamics, while remaining aware of music's distinctive "register" of representation as an abstract language and a performing art. As the case studies analyzed by musicologists and historians in this volume attest, both fields are not only posing similar questions but attempting to study music itself together with the relevant framing factors and contexts that imbued it with meaning. They are seeking to do so within a factually accurate yet theoretically sophisticated interpretation that combines the insights into language and semiotics characteristic of "the new cultural history" and "new musicology" of the 1980s and '90s with more recent sociological theories and their perspective on how symbols function within the larger field of social power.
The volume illuminates how musicologists and historians are practicing the new cultural history of music, employing similar rubrics and specifically those emerging from the recent synthesis of theoretical perspectives on language, symbols, meanings, and their social as well as political dynamics. These include questions of cultural identity and its expression, or its constructions, representations and exchanges, into which music provides a significant mode of access. The scholars who work in these areas are concerned with those cultural sites of the construction or attempted control of identity, as well as its interrogation through active agency on a social and on an individual level, which embraces subjectivity in its relation to the larger cultural unit. Here we may see attempts on the part of both historians and musicologists to engage with the new ways of perceiving the articulation of music, ideology, and politics opened up by figures such as Foucault, Bourdieu, Elias, Habermas and others. Their study of meanings and symbols is thus both relational and contextual as they strive to unlock the idioms not only of social and political power, but of the strategies of contestation or of refusal.
Other scholars represented in this volume are particularly interested in cultural practice, collective memory, transmission and evaluation as it is forged and then negotiated, here influenced by figures such as de Certeau, Corbin, Chartier and Nora. Hence a part of this collection is devoted to cultural experience, practice and appropriations, grouping together those cultural arenas in which music both illuminates and is further illuminated by a study of uses, collective practices, modes of inscription, and of evaluation or reception. The contributors here, both historians and musicologists, are apprised of all the dimensions that may affect the construction of signification, including specific material inscriptions as well as the symbolic potential of the artistic language. Hence here we see a concern, characteristic of "the new cultural history," with how the forms assumed by texts may become an essential element in the creation of their meaning since different groups encounter, "possess," and experience a work in various ways, and within the context of substantially different aural and visual cultures.
It's a book to be applauded for the courage of its reach, for its eloquence, and for creating an agenda for a thriving new area of research. (Classical Music Magazine
Especially admirable (and enjoyable) is the sense of freshness and freedom of always engagingly pointed essays that challenge current orthodoxies. (Classical Music