Musicology Must-Reads

VERSION 2.5 (updated 10/2/11):

[Thanks to Nathan Baker (Casper College), Nina Eidsheim (UCLA), Robert Fink (UCLA), Phil Gentry (William and Mary), Loren Kajikawa (U. of Oregon), Ralph Locke (Eastman), Drew Massey (Harvard), Anne Dhu McLucas (U. of Oregon), Timothy Taylor (UCLA), and Marc Vanscheeuwijck (U. of Oregon) for their contributions. All annotations by Mark and Zach unless otherwise noted. You can buy most of these books from on our personalized page here. For more information about the list, see here. For notes on each update, see the bottom of this list.]

GENERAL MUSICOLOGY (Books on the discipline of musicology that tackle broad questions and problems for scholars):

Adorno, Theodor and Richard Leppert, ed. Essays on Music (2002): “A superb collection of Adorno’s writings on music. He’s a curmudgeon, but his thoughts on the relationship between music, cultural production, and capitalism are very illuminating.”

Adorno, Theodor. Introduction to the Sociology of Music (1988): “The title says it all from this influential German philosopher and music writer.”

Attali, Jacques. Noise: The Political Economy of Music (1985): “One of the most referenced works of the last 25 years. Attali suggests that changes in music precipitate changes in society. A fascinating read.”

Bergeron, Katherine and Philip Bohlman, eds. Disciplining Music: Musicology and its Canons (1996): “What questions should musicology ask? What are the rules and boundaries? This collection contains a number of influential essays on a discipline at the crossroads.”

Brett, Philip, Elizabeth Wood and Gary Thomas, eds. Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology (1994): “This is the essay collection that launched LGBT perspectives in the study of music. A highly influential book with some truly eye-opening material.”

Clifton, Thomas. Music as Heard: A Study in Applied Phenomenology (1983): “A fascinating study that examines the perceptual implications of music. How we consciously (and unconsciously) hear music is perhaps more important that the musical works themselves. This ambitious book sets out to theorize music as a heard phenomenon.”

Cone, Edward T. The Composer’s Voice (1975): “A major achievement, Cone takes on the philosophy of music and analysis in this classic text derived from his 1972 Bloch lectures.”

Cook, Nicholas and Mark Everist, eds. Rethinking Music (1999): “Twenty-four scholars tackle current musicological issues, methodologies, and concerns in this collection of essays.”

Dahlhaus, Carl. Esthetics of Music (1982): “A compelling historical study of musical aesthetics from an influential German scholar.”

___________. Nineteenth-Century Music (1991): “Stunningly erudite work packed with many sparkling analytical gems. An essential text for understanding this essential century of music-making.”

Deutsch, Diana (ed) The Psychology of Music (1999): “The classic compendium on issues in psychomusicology, this book is a fabulous resource that comes in handy, it seems, with every project. If you get one book outlining the major issues in this field, this would be the one.”

Gracyk, Theodore and Andrew Kania. The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music (2011): “Fifty-six essays, grouped under the headings: general issues; emotion; history; figures; kinds of music; music, philosophy, and related disciplines.”

Goehr, Lydia. The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music (1992): “A provocative historical examination of how music turned into a thing, ie. an object like a painting. It’s a classic on how we conceptualize music.”

Huron, David. Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation (2006): “One of the clearest recent explorations of how we take in music and what its power over us is.” (AM)

Kerman, Joseph. Contemplating Music: Challenges to Musicology (1986): “A hugely influential book that launched the so-called ‘New Musicology,’ Kerman’s meditation urges the discipline to think outside of the musical text.”

Korsyn, Kevin. Decentering Music: A Critique of Contemporary Research (2003): “Engages with interpretive and epistemological approaches of modern musical critics.”

Kramer, Lawrence. Music as Cultural Practice: 1800-1900 (1993): “Kramer is an insightful music scholar and a master stylist who has been pivotal in the so-called ‘new musicology.’ This is a great place to start into his large body of important work.”

Leech-Wilkinson, Daniel. The Modern Invention of Medieval Music: Scholarship, Ideology, Performance (2002): “Examines the performance practice of medieval music, with an eye towards how the revival of this repertoire in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries reflects a modern aesthetic as much as a medieval one.”

McClary, Susan. Conventional Wisdom: The Content of Musical Form (2001): “Feminine Endings might be the better known book; it certainly generated more controversy. But this series of essays presents a more cogent and explicit statement about the central questions driving the so-called ‘New Musicology.’ Whether you agree with the analysis or not, whether you find the critiques of her peers in musicology and music theory fair or not, her central hypothesis — that analyzing musical conventions (and their subversion) might provide us with evidence of our culture’s ideological underpinning — deserves recognition and reflection.” (LK)

_______. Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality (1990): “McClary applies feminist criticism to music history, from Monteverdi to Madonna. This book turned the world of musicology upside-down and continues to provoke thought and controversy for students today.” (MS/AM)

Meyer, Leonard. Music, the Arts, and Ideas (1967): “A fundamental investigation into musical aesthetics, modern compositional practices, and the directions in which music might be heading.”

_______. Emotion and Meaning in Music (1961): “A classic text asking fundamental questions about the nature of meaning in music.”

Solie, Ruth, ed. Musicology and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Music Scholarship (1995): “Gender and sexuality have been important topics in the humanities in recent decades. This collection of essays was one of the first to grapple with them on musical terms.”

Subotnick, Rose Rosengard. Developing Variations: Style and Ideology in Western Music (1991): “From the amazing scholar who introduced Adorno into the mainstream discourse, this must-read book brings critical theory and cultural history to bear on the study of the classics.”

Taruskin, Richard. Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance (1995): “Another collection of essays—always thought-provoking, always entertaining. Taruskin presents a compelling challenge to the notion of ‘authentic’ performance practice.” (AM/ZW)

Treitler, Leo. Music and the Historical Imagination (1990): “In these 11 groundbreaking essays, Treitler spans a wide, eclectic swath of music, addressing a number of fascinating issues in music philosophy and historiography as he goes. A real tour de force from a one-of-a-kind thinker.”

HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHY (Books focused on specific eras, composers, genres, etc.):

Allanbrook, Wye. Rhythmic Gesture in Mozart (1986): “An exemplary analytical study of opera, treating specifically Le nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni.”

Avins, Styra, ed. Johannes Brahms: Life and Letters (2001): “I don’t know a better place to start to get a sense of the highly principled, sometimes emotionally conflicted nature of this amazing composer.  There’s a great intro by Avins, and a separate essay on Clara and Brahms that offers somewhat different emphases than does Reich.  Fascinating to read different takes on a single topic by two lively and insightful writers who are equally steeped in the documentary record.” (RL)

Beghin, Tom and Sander M. Goldberg, eds. Haydn and the Performance of Rhetoric (2007): “A collection of fascinating essays exploring the role rhetorical concepts played in the music of Haydn.”

Bellman, Jonathan. The Style Hongrois in Western European Music (1993): “An examination of the style hongrois (“Gypsy” style), and its use in nineteenth century music by composers such as Liszt and Brahms.”

Bianconi, Lorenzo. Seventeenth-Century Music (1987): “Rich, detailed, and beautifully written, Bianconi’s classic brings a pivotal century of music into sharper focus.”

Brown, Carolyn. Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham (2009): “Memoir by Brown, dancer in Cunningham’s dance company.”

Budden, Julian. The Operas of Verdi (3 Vols., 1984): “I’ve published two articles on Aida myself, and have read recent articles by other scholars that add new insights about this opera, but Budden’s 100 pages on Aida (in vol. 3) remain unsurpassed in musicodramatic acumen and accurate in nearly every detail.  The same is true for his discussion of La traviata, of Il trovatore, of Don Carlos, and so on.  Wow!” (RL)

Burnham, Scott. Beethoven Hero (2000): “Beethoven wasn’t simply a brilliant composer; he was a myth, a spiritual leader, a demigod. This compelling work explores how and why Beethoven was transformed into what he was (and, arguably, still is).”

Christenson, Thomas. Rameau and Musical Thought in the Enlightenment (2004): “This is the first intellectual biography of the French composer and theorist Jean-Philippe Rameau, who synthesised the vocabulary and grammar of musical practice into a concise scientific system, earning himself the popular title of ‘Newton of the Arts’. The author examines Rameau’s accomplishments in the context of the musical and intellectual thought of the eighteenth century.” (amazon)

Clément, Catherine. Opera, or the Undoing of Women (1999): “The ramifications of this book are still being felt. Her contention: all great operatic drama has to end with the death of a woman. Music, in its sumptuousness, actually serves to distract us from the masochistic horrors onstage.”

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life: A History (2001): “A completely different way of looking at American musical history.” (AM)

Crocker, Richard. A History of Musical Style (1966): “The one text book that I think merits re-reading.” (AM)

Cusick, Suzanne. Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court: Music and the Circulation of Power (2009): “My most recent revelation—a true feminist musicological biography, with surprising revelations at every turn.” (AM)

Earlmann, Veit. Reason and Resonance: A History of Modern Aurality (2010): “Earlmann tells the story of hearing from the perspective of our evolving understanding of the human ear. Fascinating, original book that shows the profound influence the dialog between the sciences and philosophy had on the way we conceive of sound.”

Ellis, Mark. A Chord in Time: The Evolution of the Augmented Sixth from Monteverdi to Mahler (2010): “Ellis traces the development of this bewitching sonority through the work of dozens of composers spanning hundreds of years. A fascinating chronological exploration of a single chord through the Common Practice era. The #6 has a story to tell.”

Feldman, Martha. Opera and Sovereignty: Transforming Myths in 18th Century Italy (2007): “A dazzling social history that explores the connections between opera and socio-political change. This is some rich, deep historical writing.”

Gossett, Phillip. Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera (2008): “Gossett chronicles—in a highly engrossing way—the intersection between opera scholarship and performance. Never a dull page, read this in counterpoint to Roger Parker’s book.”

Harnoncourt, Nikolaus. Baroque Music Today: Music as Speech. Ways to a New Understanding of Music (1988): “Harnoncourt’s essays paint a vivid portrait of what Baroque music means today, and how it might differ from the way the music was originally understood. Also an impassioned statement of support for historically-informed performance.”

Haynes, Bruce. The End of Early Music: A Period Performer’s History of Music for the Twenty-First Century (2007): “A ‘pros-and-cons’ look at the contemporary performance of ‘early music,’ Haynes’s thoughts are provocative for both the advocate and the skeptic of the early music movement.”

Kerman, Joseph. Opera as Drama (1956): “Written in his late twenties (!), Kerman’s maiden voyage as an author is full of probing insight into how dramatic motion works in opera. His verdict: only a handful of operas in the history of the genre really work. Even the canonic Tosca is nothing but a “shabby little shocker.” Don’t see judgments like that in musicological writing very often! A penetrating and at times titillating read.”

Lang, Paul Henry. Music in Western Civilization (1941): “One of the first books I read that tried to capture how music fit into the rest of history.  Lots of details are wrong, but the overall concepts are rich.” (AM)

Le Guin, Elisabeth. Boccherini’s Body: An Essay in Carnal Musicology (2005): “Le Guin takes the performer’s embodied experience as the starting place for analysis, developing a wholly original perspective for how to think about music making in historical context.”

Lowinsky, Edward. Secret Chromatic Art in the Netherlands Motet (1946): “This was the first book that taught me that musicology can read like a mystery—that one can discover wholly new ways to see how music works.” (AM)

_________. Tonality and Atonality in Sixteenth Century Music (1961): “Few studies that are so factually wrong are still worth reading, but this is one of them. Lowinsky was a daring scholar who asked some provocative questions of his subjects. Here he discusses the blurry line between tonality and atonality in relation to a repertory that is, well, blurry. Those with interest in the madrigal should give this highly readable (through flawed) work a read.”

Palisca, Claude. Studies in the History of Italian Music and Music Theory (1994): “A collection of essays on the Italian Renaissance by one of the greatest scholars of the era (you may also know him from his association with Grout). Palisca explores some fascinating ground here, including the all-important, hugely complex relationship between theory and practice.”

Parakilas, James, ed. Piano Roles: A New History of the Piano (2002): “A thorough cultural history of this beloved instrument.”

Parker, Roger. Remaking the Song: Operatic Visions and Revisions from Handel to Berio (2006): “In a mere 140 pages, Parker manages to cut to the heart of a number of philosophical questions besetting opera in the 21st century. He asks: if we can update and modify staging and setting of an opera while retaining the thrust and meaning of the work, why not the music as well? Read in counterpoint to Philip Gossett’s book.”

Reich, Nancy. Clara Schumann: The Artist and the Woman (2001): “One of the most thoughtful biographies of a musician ever penned.  Very smartly laid out in a way that permits the reader to grasp the main flow of CS’s life and career, but also explore in greater depth such topics as CS’s relationship to Brahms.” (RL)

Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven (1970): “An unparalleled classic that really sheds light on what you’re hearing when you listen to late 18th century music. A historical, analytical triumph.”

____________. The Romantic Generation (1998): “Unbelievably rich scholarship rendered by one of the field’s most engaging writers and thinkers. Anyone interested in this highly influential intellectual movement, or in 19th-century music in general, needs to read this book. It’s fairly mind-blowing.”

Ross, Alex. The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century (2008): “Ross offers his compelling take on the music of the twentieth century. Anecdotal, incisive, and accessible to the non-specialist, this book has instantly become an essential piece of our emerging picture of the most recent century’s music. See Zach’s review here.”

Sachs, Harvey. The Ninth: Beethoven and His World in 1824 (2010): “A fascinating, detailed exploration of this iconic work and its milieu, Sachs’s recent book has been deservedly getting a lot of press. For more, read our post here.”

Solomon, Maynard. Beethoven (rev. 2001): “This is one of the most impressive musical biographies every penned, folks. Filled with probing insights and written with Solomon’s characteristic grace and style, we all need this one in our libraries.”

Sterne, Jonathan. The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (2003): “A book like no other, Sterne’s research into sound paints a fascinating picture of our cultural attitudes towards audio technology. In an iPod era, it’s indispensable reading.”

Taruskin, Richard. Defining Russia Musically (2001): “Taruskin has upturned the way we understand the history of Russian music. This collection gathers several of his essays on the topic. It is challenging reading and highly technical at times, but equally rewarding.”

______. The Oxford History of Western Music (2005): “Goes without saying!”

Thompson, Emily. The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of Listening in America, 1900-1933 (2004): “Another already-classic book in the burgeoning area of ‘sound studies,’ Thompson reconstructs what the sonic environments of the past actually sounded like. Fresh, enlightening, and stunningly original.”

Tomlinson, Gary. Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance (1990): “1600 was a momentous year in musical history. This classic text examines the transition from the Renaissance into the Baroque, focusing on the most important composer from the era, Claudio Monteverdi.”

_______. Music in Renaissance Magic: Towards a Historiography of Others (1994): “In this virtuosic turn by one of today’s most talented scholars, Tomlinson examines the resurgence of magic and the occult sciences in the 16th century and their connection to musical practice and theory.”

_______. The Singing of the New World: Indigenous Voice in the Era of European Contact (2007): “Positively stunning work. How do we reconstruct voices that were forcibly silenced 500 years ago? Tomlinson’s audacious interpretation combines analysis of classical Nahautl poetry with rich historical digging.”

Tucker, Sherrie. Swing Shift: “All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s (2000): “Including many interviews, Tucker chronicles the hardships and triumphs of all-girl swing bands.”

Wolff, Christoph. Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician (2001): “A dazzlingly rich and comprehensive exploration of the life and work of a man who needs no introduction from one of today’s foremost Bach experts. Truly breathtaking scholarship that no musicologist should do without.”

MUSIC AND CULTURE (Works dealing with music and culture):

Bangs, Lester. Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic: Rock’n’Roll as Literature and Literature as Rock’n’Roll (1988): “Collected writings of this irreverent and singular rock critic.”

DeNora, Tia. Music in Everyday Life (2000): “Coming out of the Platonic premise that music is in active force in the composition of collective action and character, DeNora’s book is a captivating look at how people use music to help structure, order, and provide meaning to their everyday lives.”

Feld, Steven. Sound and Sentiment: Birds, Weeping, Poetics and Song in Kaluli Expression (1982): “A seminal ethnomusicological monograph, Feld’s contributions to the way we interpret music in culture cannot be overstated. You probably don’t have any prior knowledge of the Kaluli people, but don’t let the perceived specificity of the study deter you: the implications of this book are universal.”

Fink, Robert. Repeating Ourselves: American Minimal Music as Cultural Practice (2005): “An in-depth analytical and historical study of minimalism as it relates to larger cultural/economic trends in the US. Fink offers a compelling take on the dynamic interconnections between musical practice and cultural forces.”

Frith, Simon. Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock ‘n’ Roll (1981): “Those with an interest in pop music scholarship would do well to start with Frith. With characteristic depth and swift, energetic prose, Frith analyzes the nexus between socio-political forces and rock music.”

_______. Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music (1998): “Condemned, downplayed, or just plain ignored for decades, popular music today has a definite place in the academy, in part thanks to Frith’s advocacy. This book is a lively defense of popular music and its relevance to music scholarship.”

Hahn, Tomie. Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture Through Japanese Dance (2007): “A bold, brave book that explores a traditional Japanese dance genre from the perspective of bodily practice.”

Hart, Mickey, Jay Stevens and Frederic Lieberman. Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion (1990): “So you have this guy with a day job, drummer for the Grateful Dead, who starts to be interested in the history and folklore behind the tools he uses. Hmmm, just like musicologists – musicians who look at the history of music. What you see is how far and deep that investigation can take you, how much you benefit from getting experts involved, and how much deeper your understanding is at the end. It’s rather a good case study on how to be an historian and how to be the best in your field by delving deeper and wider.” (annotation from reader MEKB on the comment board)

Horowitz, Joseph. Understanding Toscanini (1994): “Focusing especially on the place of Arturo Toscanini as a giant of the genre, Horowitz embeds the 20th-century classical music scene in its cultural, commercial, and political context.”

Jeffery, Peter. Re-Envisioning Past Musical Cultures: Ethnomusicology in the Study of Gregorian Chant (1992): “An ethnomusicological investigation of Gregorian chant, meant to launch other studies in the same vein.”

Johnson, James. Listening in Paris: A Cultural History (1996): “We spend a lot of time thinking about pieces of music and how they were created, but how much time do we spend thinking about listening habits and the ways people listen? Johnson’s book in a powerful, fascinating reminder that all listening is socially constructed and historically contingent. An essential read.”

Jones, LeRoi [Amiri Baraka]. Blues People (1963): “Jones’s intro blurb says it all: The path the slave took to ‘citizenship’ is what I want to look at. And I make my analogy through the slave citizen’s music — through the music that is most closely associated with him: blues and a later, but parallel development, jazz… [If] the Negro represents, or is symbolic of, something in and about the nature of American culture, this certainly should be revealed by his characteristic music.

Katz, Mark. Capturing Sound: How Technology has Changed Music (2004): ” ‘Technology of sound recording, writ large, has profoundly transformed modern life.’ (Katz, 1) Recording does not merely record, it mediates. In this history of recording technology, Katz traces what he calls “phonograph effects,” or ways that various stages of recording technology have affected the course of music, from violin vibrato to digital sampling.

Keil, Charles and Steven Feld. Music Grooves: Essays and Dialogues (1995): “It’s amazing what a complex concept ‘groove’ can be – this book is a great place to start in theorizing the many elements to this multi-dimensional idea. Keil and Feld’s work introduces the notion of ‘participatory discrepancies,’ the theory that a sense of identification with the groove is actually intensified by all-too-human blemishes. Take that, rave music!”

Knapp, Raymond. The American Musical and the Formation of National Identity (2006): “Long an elusive topic in musicology, the American musical is treated with both scholarly rigor and loving care in this unique book. Rich in musical and historical detail, Knapp’s book also masterfully weaves trends in musical theater into the broader shifting cultural landscape of America.”

Kun, Josh. Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America (2005): “From amazon: ‘Josh Kun insists that America is not a single chorus of many voices folded into one, but rather various republics of sound that represent multiple stories of racial and ethnic difference.”

Leppert, Richard. The Sight of Sound: Music, Representation, and the History of the Body (1995): “We tend to focus on what music sounds like, but this original study takes as its starting point what music looks like. This, of course, involves the bodies of the people producing it. A fascinating historical journey through cultural attitudes of music performance, representation, and the human body, Leppert’s swift, muscular prose only adds to this book’s rich rewards.”

Leppert, Richard and Susan McClary, eds. Music and Society: The Politics of Composition, Performance, and Reception (1989): “As the old saying goes, it’s all politics. Including music. This classic essay collection looks at classical music from the perspective of politics and culture. Includes the influential, controversial McClary piece on Bach.”

Lipsitz, George. Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism, and the Focus of Place (1994): “Lipsitz explores how transnational flows of cultural influence manifest themselves in pop musics around the globe.”

Marcus, Greil. Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music (1974): “A provocative look at American culture through the lens of rock ‘n’ roll and its practitioners.”

McAllester, David. Enemy Way Music: A Study of Social and Esthetic Values as Seen in Navaho Music (1954): “This study of the ways in which Navahos value music made me even more aware of how many different ways music can work in a society.” (AM)

Monson, Ingrid. Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction (1997): “Monson places the jazz combo rhythm section under the microscope, mapping language and social interaction onto their relationship to give a fresh perspective on the phenomenon. It is a wonderful example of developing methodologies of music analysis that are tailored to answer the particular questions raised by the subject at hand.”

Murray, Albert. Stomping the Blues (1989): “A much-hailed study of the blues, incorporating aesthetics and cultural significance.”

Nettl, Bruno. The Study of Ethnomusicology: Thirty-one Issues and Concepts (2005): “A fantastic one-stop primer on the big issues in ethnomusicology today. Written in a conversational, flowing style and filled with stories and anecdotes, Nettl’s popular work (often used as an intro textbook) is the ideal starting place for the neophyte in ethno- methods, philosophies, and problems.”

______. Heartland Excursions: Ethnomusicological Reflections on Schools of Music (1995): “What if an ethnomusicologist from Mars came to study the social and political ecosystem of a Midwestern music school?”

______. Blackfoot Musical Thought: Comparative Perspectives (1989): “Nettl contrasts the musical aesthetics of the Blackfoot Indians with that of Western European musicians in a thought-provoking way that sheds light on both kinds of music-making.” (AM)

Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (1994): “This is a seminal analysis of hip-hop and contemporary urban black culture which combines ethnographic and historical approaches with a slew of social theory. A ground-breaking scholarly work on a genre that has only recently received the attention it deserves.”

Savigliano, Marta. Tango and the Political Economy of Passion (1995): “A stunning piece of interpretive scholarship, Savigliano posits that the quality of unbridled passion has propelling the tango genre onto the world stage. Her analysis looks at gender, power, race, nationality, sexuality, class, and colonialism, and what tango can tell us about these things.”

Schafer, R. Murray. The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (1977): “Quite possibly one of the most strange, powerful, audacious books on music published in the last forty years. Actually, it’s not really about music at all – it’s about sound and our environment. This is the work that launched sound studies; a vital, timely argument.”

Seeger, Charles. Studies in Musicology I and II (1997, 1994): “A collection of his articles spanning fifty years, showing the amazing breadth of thought of one of the founders of American musicology and ethnomusicology.” (AM)

Seeger, Anthony. Why Suyá Sing: A Musical Anthropology of an Amazonian People (2004): “Seeger’s concise ethnographic study is a textbook case in how to conduct fieldwork and analyze the results into rich, fascinating conclusions. A brilliant and influential book.”

Shepherd, John, Phil Virden, and others. Whose Music? A Sociology of Musical Languages (1977): “A great work on a complex ethnomusicological problem.”

Shepherd, John and Peter Wicke. Music and Cultural Theory (1997): “If you’re searching for a primer on the interrelationship between music and cultural studies, look no further. Shepherd/Wicke’s classic introduction to the analysis of music as cultural practice (or conversely, of cultural practice through the lens of music) would find an essential place in your library.”

Small, Christopher. Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening (1998): “Gives us the realization that music is not only about great men and women. Instead of a thing, music is a process. The introduction alone is worth the price of admission.” (AM/ZW)

Taylor, Timothy. Beyond Exoticism: Western Music and the World (2007): “Taylor’s work is a deft examination of the interactions, both historical and contemporary, between western music and global styles. Composers and musicians in the west have always drawn from the musical languages of the Others, and vice versa. This book explores how this cultural commingling has taken place.”

____________. Global Pop: World Music, World Markets (1997): “A necessary examination of the uses of ‘world music’ in today’s global music business. Really a one-of-a-kind study.”

Wald, Elijah. How the Beatles Destroyed Rock’n’Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music (2009): “This recent work has been generating a lot of discussion in the popular press, and for good reason. Wald’s rich history covers a lot of ground and ends with a provocative claim: the Beatles tilted American pop towards European sensibilities and away from the blues, helping to enact a racial division that is still with us.”

Walser, Robert. Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (1993): “One of the books, arguably THE book, to launch new musicology’s investigation of popular music. Blends musical analysis with cultural theory and manages to stay engaging and accessible throughout. What is more, Walser’s analysis of heavy metal music’s appropriation of classical (baroque) virtuosity challenges scholars of traditional musicological topics to rethink the field, and how we might approach canonical works in new ways.” (LK)

Waterman, Christopher Alan. Jùjú: A Social History and Ethnography of an African Popular Music (1990): “Eschewing the common disciplinary focus on traditional musical styles, Waterman looks at a vibrant African pop genre and comes up with a gem of a book. A wonderful analysis of cross-cultural flows of musical influence.”

Wong, Deborah. Speak it Louder: Asian Americans Making Music (2004): “Wong’s study focuses on the diverse musical practices of an equally diverse and ethnographically underrepresented group – Asian Americans.”

PRIMARY SOURCES OF MUSIC HISTORY (Works of music history that have historical value themselves; generally pre-1950; organized chronologically, with compilations at the top):

Strunk, Oliver and L. Treitler. Source Readings in Music History (1998): “There’s no substitute for digging into primary sources, even if it is mostly in translation. Let the book fall open to any page and you’re sure to be richly rewarded. Available in a single volume or by era.”

Weiss, Piero and Richard Taruskin. Music in the Western World: A History in Documents (1984/2007): “This indispensable resource features primary source snippets (a la Strunk) from a wide, important range of historical eras and authors, annotated with Weiss/Taruskin’s penetrating insights. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into here.”

1773. Herder, Johann Gottfried von. Shakespeare.

1776. Burney, Charles. A General History of Music from the Earliest Ages to the Present Period. Vol. I (1776); Vol. II (1782); Vol. III (1789); Vol IV (1789). “Arguably the first of its kind; packed with insights, both on the music that forms his subject and, for today’s scholar, on the history of music historiography.”

1824. Stendhal, Life of Rossini.

MUSIC THEORY (Works by theorists and composers on the technical and philosophical dimensions of music-making):

Berry, Wallace. Structural Functions in Music (1987): From amazon: “A brilliant investigation into musical structure and experience through a systematic exploration of tonality, melody, harmony, texture and rhythm, and their important interpretations. These are illuminated in penetrating analyses of musical works ranging from early madrigals and Gregorian chants through Bach, Beethoven and Brahms to Ravel, Bartók and Berg.”

Cadwaller, Allen and David Gagne. Analysis of Tonal Music: A Schenkerian Approach (2006): “The analytical technique of Heinrich Schenker, love it or hate it, is an essential part of music theory and analysis today. This introduction would be an excellent addition to any scholar’s toolbox.”

Cage, John. Silence: Lectures and Writings (1961): “A completely sui generis work: part meditation on music and sound, part philosophical reflections, part theory, Silence is provocative in every way.”

Christensen, Thomas. The Cambridge History of Western Music Theory (2006): “Absolutely indispensable for anyone wishing to integrate their music history and music theory–wonderful essays on all of the major theoretical writers through history, the concepts advanced by period, and a specialist can use the reference list to go to the original treatises and secondary literature.” (NB)

Cogan, Robert. Sonic Design: The Nature of Sound and Music (1976): “A non-academic reflection on music. Philosophical and rewarding.”

Fux, Johann. The Study of Counterpoint (1965): “The classic text on counterpoint that has inspired generations of composers, originally published in 1725.”

Jeppesen, Knud. The Style of Palestrina and the Dissonance (1946): “The first book that really did justice to Palestrina’s music and though it is almost eighty years old it is still the main source for understanding 16th-century counterpoint.” (from Mikkel Vad on the comments board)

Hasty, Christopher. Meter as Rhythm (1997): “An extraordinary, unique study of rhythm, periodicity, and musical time. A must for anyone interested in temporal structures and music.”

Helmholtz, Hermann von. On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music (1867): “This book remains stunningly original and packed with juicy insights into the behavior of sound. Although not all of his experimental models stood up to scrutiny over the last 150 years, it’s a classic that still deserves attention.”

Hepokoski, James and Warren Darcy. Elements of Sonata Theory (2006): “Dig deep into the history and theory of the most classic of all forms, the sonata, in his already quintessential study. A peerless resource.”

Kostka, Stefan and Dorothy Payne. Tonal Harmony (5th ed, 2003): “Slightly dated now, but still an essential contemporary text on harmony. Chances are you might have used this one in your undergrad theory sequence.”

Lester, Joel. Compositional Theory in the Eighteenth Century (1994): “An ambitious study of the musical languages of the 18th century.”

Rameau, Jean-Philippe. Treatise on Harmony (1971): “What Fux did for counterpoint, Rameau did for harmony. A hugely important work, originally published in 1722.”

Russell, George. Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization for Improvisation (1959): “The book that laid the foundations for a theoretical approach to jazz improvisation and indirectly the key stone for i.e. Kind of Blue.” (from Mikkel Vad on the comments board)

Schoenberg, Arnold. Style and Idea: Selected Writings (1984): “Rarely do we scholars get such cogent accounts of the music-making process directly from the composer’s mouth. An absolutely one-of-a-kind text.”

Zbikowski, Lawrence. Conceptualizing Music (2002): “Zbikowski aims to show how our embodied cognition functions in the structuring of musical meaning. Not the standard music theory book, this work synthesizes models of perception with musical form/content.”

EXTRAMUSICAL GEMS (Works by cultural theorists, anthropologists, philosophers, etc. that may not feature music as their specific topic but apply in important ways):

Albright, Daniel. Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature, and Other Arts (1999): “In this investigation into the aesthetics of modernism, Albright claims that many modern masterpieces have been misunderstood because they’ve been yanked from their original context (as cross-media collaborations) in contemporary historiography. An engrossing read.”

Auslander, Philip. Liveliness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture (2008): “A penetrating analysis of the status of ‘live’ events (music, sport, theater, etc.) in a culture saturated with technologized media representations.”

Behar, Ruth. Translated Woman: Crossing the Border with Esperanza’s Story (2003): “A feminist anthropological narrative from conversations with a vivacious homeless woman in Mexico.”

Baudrillard, Jean. Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings (1988): “One of Baudrillard’s main contributions to music is the idea of the ‘simulacrum,’ a representation of reality that in fact becomes something real (the ‘hyperreal’).”

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1984): “This social theorist’s ideas have been widely influential in methodologies and philosophies of music in the recent decades. Distinction is an analysis of the social dimensions of taste.”

_____. The Field of Cultural Production (1993)

_____. The Logic of Practice (1990)

Butler, Judith. Giving an Account of Oneself (2005): “Butler’s classic philosophical work examining the the moral self, the ‘situated knowledge’ of the individual, and the ethical dimensions of self-knowledge.”

Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century (1998): “The revolutionary fervor brought out by the Great Depression had lasting effects on American culture. Complete with an interesting analysis of the role jazz musicians like Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday played in the creation of a new ethos, Denning’s book is a lively read.”

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (1973): “A collection of writings from a pioneering anthropologist, Geertz’s thoughts are essential in the problematic yet necessary pursuit to conceptualize human culture.”

Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness (1993): “Illuminating study of black diasporic culture that seamlessly intermingles Du Bois, Adorno, and hip-hop.”

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success (2008): “All of Gladwell’s books are worth reading, but this one is the most pertinent to music history. His challenge to how we think of success and genius could change the way we write a biography of Mozart, or any composer.”

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (2008): “Through case studies that inclue SurvivorAmerican IdolStar WarsThe Matrix, Jenkins tackles the social effects of media convergence, collective intelligence, and participatory culture in the 21st-century. He has been called the 21st-century Marshall McLuhan.”

Kittler, Friedrich. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (1999): “Kittler argues that the popularization of certain technologies changed our collective paradigm of human communication away from the printed word, irrevocably altering the landscape of culture. A mind-blowing read.”

Kuhn, Thomas. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962): “This now-classic study introduced the idea of ‘paradigm shift’ to the world and showed how scientific knowledge progresses – in fits and starts. His arguments apply equally well to other areas, including music.”

Lord, Albert. The Singer of Tales (1960): “Not a book about musicology at all, but one that reminds me vividly of how creative and important oral traditions are.” (AM)

Mann, Thomas. Doctor Faustus (1948). “Mann’s Goethe-based novel is an account of a modernist composer’s deal with the devil in his pursuit of innovation and musical ‘progress.’ The protagonist (if we can be so generous), Adrian Leverkühn, who was modeled on Schoenberg, is one of the most fascinating fictional musicians in literature. You won’t be able to put this novel down.”

Marx, Karl. Capital, Vol. 1 (rep. 1992): “Perhaps the most fundamental critique of capitalism ever penned, this dense work is essential reading for those curious about how music fits into the dominant economic framework.”

Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. The German Ideology (rep. 1970): “Marx incorporates history into his developing theoretical universe, arguing that historical processes should be viewed through the prism of economic principles and class conflict. An argument no historian can ignore.”

Roach, Joseph. Cities of the Dead (1996): “A riveting exposition of cultural intermingling in the very different but equally hybridized cities of London and New Orleans.”

_______. It (2007): “Roach’s work examines that ambiguous, dynamic j’ne sais quoi quality that some people possess. An illuminating study on the nature of celebrity.”

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Essay on the Origin of Languages (1781): “Hugely influential philosophical musing on the relationship and genesis of music and language.”

Theweleit, Klaus. Male Fantasies (1987): “A study of men—particularly a group of Germans involved in the rise of Nazism—through examining how they imagine women in their writings.”

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (rep. 2001): “The most well-read book from a great sociologist, Weber draws the connection between capitalism and religion. A fundamental resource for those interested in how economic forces drive culture and vice versa.”

Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature (1977): “Williams applies Marxist theory to literature in a compelling, lucid, and provocative way. A fine example of how to use social theory to talk about the arts.”

ESSENTIAL REFERENCES (Great basic resources for the music scholar and prospective grad student):

Allen, Dwight Warren. Philosophies of Music History: A Study of General Histories of Music 1600-1960 (1962): “Completely unique in the literature, Allen’s book is a history of music history and the changing historiographical philosophies that went with it. An essential resource.”

Bolker, Joan. Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis (1998): “An indispensable guide to diss. writing by psychologist and co-founder of the Harvard Writing Center. This is a must-have resource for those scaling the summit of their dissertation.”

Duckles, Vincent. Music Reference and Research Materials: An Annotated Bibliography (1997): “Another indispensable reference containing citations for bibliographies in every area of music scholarship. Good place to start your research.”

Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (1998-2002): “Organized geographically, this standard source features signed essays by leading scholars in each area.”

Goldsmith, John and others. The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career: A Portable Mentor to Scholars from Graduate School through Tenure (2001): “Another excellent resource for the (aspiring) musicologist. Written in a casual, clear style, Goldsmith et al. takes you through the whole process, from dissertation writing to getting a job to working your way up to tenure.”

Gray, Paul and David Drew. What They Didn’t Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career (2008): “From’s editorial review: ‘In 199 succinct, and often humorous but seriously practical hints, Paul Gray and David E. Drew share their combined experience of many years as faculty and (recovering) administrators to offer insider advice—the kind that’s rarely taught or even talked about in graduate school.’”

The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2004; also online edition): “This is the music scholar’s bible; the first place most research projects begin.”

Peters, Robert. Getting What You Came For: The Smart Student’s Guide to Earning an M.A. or a Ph.D. (1997): “A career in musicology means graduate school. Go into it with your eyes open.”


Version 2.1 (6/10/10): added Katz, Jenkins.

Version 2.2 (9/12/10): added Jones, Keil/Feld, Kerman, Knapp, Leppert, Lowinsky, Mann, Sachs, Weiss/Taruskin

Version 2.3 (12/15/10): added Ellis, Hepokoski, Jeppesen, Palisca, Russell, Tomlinson, Treitler, Wolff

Version 2.4 (6/25/11): added Tomlinson, Burney, Christenson, Deutsch, Dahlhaus, Rousseau, Earlmann, Hahn, Zbikowski, and Helmholtz.

Version 2.5 (10/2/11): added Brown, Gracyk, Korsyn, Tucker



  1. Anne Dhu McLucas says:

    Zowie! That’s quite a list!

  2. Sator Arepo says:


    Are there no Music Theory books as indispensable to the discipline of Musicology as, say, Kaptial?

    I would suggest that there are.

    Also, I have just found your blog, and I too am currently tackling Taruskin. I’ll be checking in.


  3. Zach Wallmark says:

    Sator — Thanks for your suggestion. You’re absolutely right: we should have some theory books on the list. Which would you recommend?

  4. klangfarben says:

    Timothy Taylor’s “Beyond Exoticism”

  5. Sator Arepo says:


    Of course, that’s a great question. Generally speaking:

    It seems that historical books would be of more musicological interest, as they partake in the thinking of the time as well as providing information. In this way, Rameau’s “Treatise on Harmony” would be of more historical and musicological value than a contemporary overview of tonal harmony (e.g. the almost-ubiquitous Kostka & Payne). In the same way, Schoenberg’s “Harmony” is a fantastic read which should be included on any list of texts on music.

    However, it seems that someone whose goal is to, say, be able to read Taruskin’s harmonic and formal analyses and understand them might be better served with something like a Kostka “Harmony” than by, for instance, even something as old and “outdated” as Piston, or certainly Schoenberg (although both are outstanding books).

    That aside (sort of), I’d suggest, as the beginning of a Music Theory subheading:

    Fux, “The Study of Counterpoint”
    Rameau, “Treatise on Harmony”
    Lester, “Compositional Theory in the 18th Century” (an anthology)
    Cage, “Silence”
    Cogan & Escot, “Sonic Design”

    and more…I’ll think about it;


    -some contemporary harmony text (Kostka, or pick one)
    -some Schenker book [about but not by Schenker], perhaps Cadwaller/Gagne, or even Salzer, “Structural Hearing”

    Schoenberg’s “Style and Idea” should be on the list, somewhere.

    Looking forward to following the blog. (Taking Theory doctoral comps this month.)


  6. Nathan Baker says:

    For the typical reader going through the Taruskin, I think I’d recommend the Roig-Francoli theory text. When reviewing current texts for theory ped a few years ago, I decided I liked it best of all the current texts for a grad theory review/bookshelf reference text, although it’s just a tad high-level for the average undergrad encountering this stuff for the first time (I use the Marvin/Clendinning for my undergrads here–very accessible text and generally does a good job of explaining theory concepts with occasional historical contextualization). Kostka/Payne is an old respected warhorse for many solid reasons, but I find it to be a tad old-fashioned and vertically-oriented in its approach to harmony (newer texts integrate some basic Schenkerian linear concepts to varying degrees of success–both of the texts I recommended here strike a nice balance between the linear and the vertical).

    For Schenker, Cadwaller/Gagne is a great choice, as is the Forte text on Schenkerian theory.

  7. Nathan Baker says:

    Oh, and the Cambridge History of Western Music Theory is absolutely indispensable for anyone wishing to integrate their music history and music theorists–wonderful essays on all of the major theoretical writers through history, the concepts advanced by period, and a specialist can use the reference list to go to the original treatises and secondary literature.

    1. Briawna Anderson says:

      The CHWMT (my friends and I endearingly call it the “chow-mut”) is every musicologist’s best friend. My copy is a go-to for most early stages of research, and has proven indispensable in preparing for exit exams.

      Also, Schoenberg’s Style and Idea really should be on this list. The new 60th anniversary edition (ed. Leonard Stein) is lovely, with a brilliant forward by Joseph Auner.

  8. Sator Arepo says:


    I’d agree that the Kostka is a bit old-fashioned in that it doesn’t really have linear (read: neo-Schenkerian) concepts, but everyone seems to have one.

    (When we reviewed texts for Ped class, I liked the Laitz, but it just seemed like too much for beginners. Our approach was to add linear concept materials to a Kostka-based curriculum.)

    Also, the form sections in Kosta are a bleeding mess, as are the obviously forcibly-inserted forays into pop chord charts. I have enough problems without worrying about “C-Triangle”.

    1. Zach Wallmark says:

      Thanks, guys — We’ll update over the weekend!

      1. Zach Wallmark says:

        Done! Also, if anyone would like to be credited for their contributions up top (w/institutional affiliation), please let me know.

    2. Ian says:

      Must disagree. I find the Laitz far superior to K & P; it certainly deserves a place on the list.

  9. MEKB says:

    One of the books that I think all starting musicologists should read is
    Hart, Mickey; Jay Stevens. Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion. San Francisco: Harper, 1990.

    So you have this guy with a day job, drummer for the Grateful Dead, who starts to be interested in the history and folklore behind the tools he uses. Hmmm, just like musicologists – musicians who look at the history of music. What you see is how far and deep that investigation can take you, how much you benefit from getting experts involved, and how much deeper your understanding is at the end. It’s rather a good case study on how to be an historian and how to be the best in your field by delving deeper and wider.

    1. Zach Wallmark says:

      Thanks for the suggestion – this sounds like stimulating reading. We’ll add it in our next update.

  10. Mike says:

    no Subotnik? really?

  11. A long time ago, as a Master’s student, I once asked my Profs. for a summer reading list. What I got back was a nightmare, but many of them suggested Wallace Berry’s ‘Structural Functions in Music’

    They were quite right, this text, perhaps more than any other, was quite influential to me.

  12. Andy Olson says:

    Yes, Subotnik’s Developing Variations: Style and Ideology in Western Music and Barthes’ Image Music Text need to be on this list.

  13. mclaren says:


    A History of Consonance and Dissonance, James Tenney (1980)

    Scientific Theories of Music of the 18th and 19th centuries, Laurent Fichet (in French, 1996)

    Le combat de Chronos et d’Orphee: Essais by Jean Jacques Nattiez (in French)

    New Directions in Music, David Cope (9th ed.)


    Music theory. Most are off the beaten path, but a surprising number of ’em qualify as “must-reads”:

    Tonal Harmony from Its Natural Origins to Its Modern Expression, W. A. Mathieu. An odd book that makes sense only if you recognize Mathieu is talking about 5-limit just intonation. In 12 equal, only traces of the structures he’s talking about remain audible. Still valuable in tracing historical origins of many contemporary practices (why are fifths called “perfect,” for example?)

    20th century Harmony, Vincent Persichetti. Excellent open-minded modern harmony text.

    Sound Structure in Music, Robert Erickson. Superb survey of the structure of music from plainchant to musical procedures of the 1950s.

    Harmony, Walter Piston. Suitable for entry level music theory. A classic covering traditional harmony. Still useful today, for all its relative conservatism.

    Composing Interactive Music: Techniques and Ideas Using Max, Todd Winkler. Most music theory texts tend to falter and fade around Debussy or Webern. This is one of the few that takes a leap into modern technology.

    Audible Design, Tervor Wishart. A unique book, essential for dealing with the philosophy and theory behind electroacoustic composition.

    Computer Music: Synthesis, Composition, and Performance, Charles Dodge. A classic. Essential for conveying the basic elements behind acoustically compiled (as opposed to live interactive) computer music.

    The Computer Music Tutorial, ed. Curtis Roads. Covers a wide range of types of computer music. One of the few texts which attempt to deal with the philosophy and theory of modern computer music.

    The Structure of Recognizable Diatonic Tunings, Easley Blackwood (1985). Admirably clear discussion of harmonic and melodic characteristics of various equal divisions of the octave other than 12.

    Genesis Of A Music, Harry Partch (2nd ed.) Idioyncratic discussion of the author’s extended just intonation system with digressions on music history, aesthetics, American culture, and instrument-building. Occasionally tiresome and distinctly odd, but always provocative and imaginative.

    Guide de objets sonore by Pierre Henry (french). Arguably the bible for musique concrete and electroacoustic composers.

    A Theory of evolving tonality by Joseph Yasser (1930). Peculiar tome replete with strange ideas, but useful enough withal that most of its inaccuracies and quirks can be overlooked in favor of the musically intruiging novelties.

    Multiple division of the octave and the tonal resources of the nineteen tone equal temperament by M. Joel Mandelbaum (PhD thesis, 1960). Superb survey of the history of 19 equal tuning, together with a discussion of its contemporary musical resources.

    Timbre, tuning, spectrum, scale by William Sethares. Radical discussion of matching timbre to tuning so as to control the acoustic smoothness of vertical complexes in any tuning. Opens up a whole new sound-world for electronic composers, based on Helmholtz’s and Plomp & Levelt’s scientific investigations of sound and psychoacoustics.

    New musical resources by Henry Cowell (1930). Perhaps the single most daring and imaginative music theory text by an American. Contains musical approaches still vibrant and exciting and largely unexplored even today.

    On the Sensation of Tone, Hermann Helmholtz (Dover ed. with foreword & afterword by Alexander James Ellis). The only 19th century discussion of music and psychoacoustics still valid today.

    The mathematical Basis of the Arts, Joseph Schillinger (2 volumes) 1946 A weird book full of pseudoscience and strange arrogance – at one point, Schillinger “improves” a Beethoven composition using his mathematical techniques. It has enough potentially useful and musically fertile innovations to repay study, however.

    The science of musical sounds – cognition and perception by Johann Sundberg (1991). Best single-volume survey of psychoacousics and its intersection with music.

    The craft of musical composition: Theoretical part (book 1) by Paul Hindemith. Quirky and in some ways obsolete, but still full of intriguing and provocative approaches. Almost alone among all these theory texts, Hindemith attempts a theory of melody, for example.

    Rhythm and meter patterns by Gary Chaffee. One of the better books discussing polyrhythms and metric modulation.

    African Polyphony and Polyrhythm: Musical Structure and Methodology by Simha Arom, Martin Thom, Barbara Tuckett, and Raymond Boyd. Absurdly overpriced but excellent introduction to African tradition music practices.

    Just Intonation primer by David Doty. Any composer interested in extended just intontion should get this text.

    Foundations of Harmonic Language by Alexei Ogolevets (Russian) 1936. Essentially impossible to obtain; pioneering work by a remarkable Russian microtonal composer. Covers the history of microtonality, as well as his own personal advocacy of the 17 tone equal tuning.


    A special category of music theory texts must be defined for texts which qualify as stark raving batshit insane, but which inexplicably enjoy wholly unwarranted prestige and respect:

    Crackpot gibberish:

    Silence by the coin-flipping kook. This book exemplifies they way in which “modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.”

    The Energy Grid: Harmonic 695: The Pulse of the Universe by Bruce L. Cathie. Incoherent numerology not discernably different from the next book on the list.

    Harmonielehre by the Viennese Kook. Misreadings of music history combined with Pythagorean number-mysticism and Hegeian historicism in a toxic brew.

    The myth of invariance by Ernest G. McClain. Bizarre pseudo-scholarship in which entirely non-musical fragments of ancient texts get misinterpreted into vast musical significance. Eerlier reminiscent of the next book on the list.

    Collected writings of the Darmstadt kook. As acoustician John Backus pointed out in his 1963 review in the Yale Journal of Music Theory, a vast mass of mystical numerology which, when sublimated, boils off leaving a dry precipitate of gobbledygook.

    The Harmonic Conquest of Space by Bruce L. Cathie. More number mysticism involving UFOs, etc.

    The geriatric kook: collected essays and lectures (1937 – 1995) by Elliott Carter and Jonathan W. Bernard. Reading a book like this, as George Orwell pointed out in “Politics and the English Language” (1946) “one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy… And this is not altogether fanciful. [Someone] who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself.”

    Keely and his discoveries (sympathetic vibratory physics and the cosmic ecstasy of sound) by Clara Bloomfield Moore. Medieval number mysticism applied to sound in ways remarkably similar to the Darmstadt theorists.

    The structure of atonal music, by the set-theory kook. As George Orwell remarked in “Politics and the English Language” (1946) ” …If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.” This text epitomizes such classic bad usage in a way which raises antimusical obscurantism to the level of a religion.

    The 7 Secrets of Sound Healing: Includes a FREE Sound Healing CD! (Book & CD) by Jonathan Goldman. This sort of thing resists being labeled as a “con job” primarily because of the writer’s passionate belief in his own absurdities…a peculiar trait shared with the output of the better known music theorists on this list.

    The Princeton kook: words about music. Prose that stick to your ear like congealed bacon fat, devoid of identifiable musical meaning.

    The Healing Power of Sound: Recovery from Life-Threatening Illness Using Sound, Voice, and Music by Mitchell L. Gaynor. Another self-deluded tome which would prove pathetic if this sort of thing didn’t sell so well.

    Orientations: collected writings by the Parisian kook. The polemics of a Stalinist show trial wedded to numerological and historical self-delusion. Unreadable today except as a sinister monument to the power of hate speech.

    Communism, hypnotism and the Beatles: An analysis of the Communist use of music, the Communist master music plan by David A Noebel. Bizarre grand historical conspiracy theory — less hallucinogenic than “Orientations,” but about as deluded as “Harmonielehre.”

    1. Zach Wallmark says:

      Wow, thank you very much for this extensive list! We’ll add it to the must-reads next time we update, probably in the next 2-3 weeks.

    2. Sator Arepo says:

      Jesus. Lumping in Cage and Schoenberg (and Carter and Babbitt and even Forte) with music-healing tracts and outright mysticism is a little…unfair? Biased? Palin-esque?

      I second the Cowell, Partch, and Helmoltz. But I don’t see how Schillinger (for fuck’s sake) belongs on the “valid” list while Cage and Schoenberg make the “kooks” list.

    3. Anonymous says:

      don’t worry, the “mclaren kook” is well known in the microtonal community as someone who has produced no theoretical or compositional work of any importance, yet feels the need to randomly blast and insult others who do have creative intelligence. nothing to see here, just move on.

  14. Pingback: The Year One ADME
  15. ... says:

    This should be made into a book list on it’ll help me to compare the selection to what I have in my library.

  16. Mikkel Vad says:

    Two highly influential books that I find are missing:

    Jeppesen, Knud: The Style of Palestrina and the Dissonance. The first book that really did justice to Palestrina’s music and though it is almost eighty years old it is still the main source for understanding 16th-century counterpoint.

    Russell, George: Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. The book that laid the foundations for a theoretical approach to jazz improvisation and indirectly the key stone for i.e. Kind of Blue.

    Great list, though. Too bad I don’t have time to read it all.

    1. Zach Wallmark says:

      Thanks, Mikkel — These are great suggestions; I’ll add them!

  17. Javier Guijarro says:

    I would like to recomend some books I have enjoyed a lot and are not in the list (I think).

    The first one is “Elements of Sonata Theory” by James Hepokoski and Warren Darcy, a wonderfull study in the classic (and romantic) sonata wich I find very usefull in my analisys class.

    The second one would be the “Studies in the History of Italian Music and Music Theory”, by Claude V. Palisca. It’s a collection of studies about a range of subjects, but all of them with great insight. A wonderfully writen musicology.

    And the third one is “A Chord in Time: The Evolution of the Augmented Sixth from Monteverdi to Mahler” by Mark Ellis. Is just what the tittle sugests. But is a very nice piece of music history!!

    By the way, as this is my first message, I would like to congratulate you by the idea and the blog. I’m just beginning to read Taruskin’s books, so I’m quite late, but I read your comments to every chapter. Sorry for my english if it’s not too good!!!

  18. k8mcgowan says:

    As a student, this blog has been absolutely inspirational, and your Musicology Must-Reads are fantastic. Thank you guys so much!!

    1. Mark Samples says:

      Thanks K8!

  19. R. J. Stove says:

    Rather to my surprise, one of the great recent books on keyboard history has thus far gone unmentioned: Kenneth Hamilton’s After the Golden Age. Nobody will ever be able to think about leading early 20th-century pianists in the same way again, after reading Hamilton’s masterly and often amusing insights.

  20. Powell DeGange says:

    We have recently learned that the American Musicological Society is hosting their upcoming conference at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco. On June 8, 2010 employees at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco went on strike and called for a boycott of their hotel. We write to inform members of the AMS about the dispute and respectfully ask your organization to relocate the event to a different venue and to not eat, sleep or meet at the Hyatt Regency.

    The members of Local 2 have been struggling to renegotiate a contract that secures affordable health care and retirement benefits. In San Francisco, and in cities around North America, Hyatt Hotels is squeezing housekeepers, dishwashers, cooks, bellpersons, and others harder than ever, trying to lock in ever-higher profits as the hotel industry grows. In wage and benefit agreements over the last several decades, we have forgone larger wage increases to keep our medical benefits affordable for ourselves and our families. Now Hyatt is pushing proposals that would lock workers into a permanent recession even as Hyatt benefits from the economic recovery.

    Recent multi-city strikes represent a major escalation in a labor dispute involving Hyatt and its billionaire owners—the Pritzker Family—who have been the target of a number of major demonstrations in more than a dozen cities across North America this summer. Hotel workers have endured months of chronic understaffing and excessive injury rates. Now Hyatt has become an obstacle to the recovery of working families. While many hotel workers live in poverty, the Pritzker Family cashed out over $900 million in their sale of Hyatt shares in November 2009.

    On January 18th, 2011 Hyatt workers took to the streets to defend their Legal Fund from Hyatt hotel management. The Legal Fund protects members from evictions and foreclosures and facilitates legal immigration (citizenship, work permits and family reunification).

    In recent negotiations, Hyatt went backwards in their pension proposal and it has become abundantly clear that this labor dispute is going to continue well into next year.

    The AMS and its convention patrons are caught in the middle of this contentious labor dispute. The dispute will continue to escalate as will demonstrations, strikes, civil disobedience actions and the on-going boycott, until workers secure a fair contract. AS members of the larger Bay Area Community we ask you to respect SF Hotel Workers and encourage your organization to avoid the labor dispute and meet at an alternate venue.

    For more information about hotel labor disputes in San Francisco, you can visit our website at Please contact us to address any questions and so that we may assist you in moving to a hotel not subject to a labor dispute.


    Powell DeGange

    415.864.8770, ext. 759

    Meetings and Conventions Department

    1. Mark Samples says:

      The AMS has been following these developments closely. Thank you for your notice.

  21. Powell DeGange says:


    I have been in contact with AMS for months and they keep deflecting all responsibility by stating that they are “monitoring the situation.” The reality is that workers are crystal clear in their call for boycott. The Hyatt is crystal clear on their ambitions to strip workers of medical benefits. AMS has not spoken with any workers, only Hyatt management. So I’m curious what developments are they following so closely???

    As the conference becomes closer and closer, the time to act is now. The workers are fighting for their families and futures and need the AMS to relocate their event and not write a huge check to the Hyatt corporation.

  22. Kathryn Whitney says:

    I’m sure you will know this already, but the key word in the Auslander title (Extramusical Gems section) is “Liveness” not “Liveliness”.

    Thanks for this fantastic resource!

  23. This must read list is obscenely biased in favour of new musicology. It is in no sense representative or synoptic, save perhaps in the theory section, where new musicologists have neither interest nor competence. A woid to dah wise..

  24. Having complained here, I thought should offer some additions and possible correctives to the biases above:

    Agawu, V. Kofi. 1991. Playing with signs : a semiotic interpretation of classic music. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
    A nuanced and detailed study of musical meaning, carefully thought out and argued.

    Barker, Andrew. 1984. “Greek Musical Writings, Volume I: The Musician and His Art.” in Cambridge Readings in the Literature of Music, edited by J. S. P. LeHuray. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    —. 1989. “Greek Musical Writings, Volume II: Harmonic and Acoustic Theory.” in Cambridge Readings in the Literature of Music, edited by J. Stevens and P. LeHuray. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    Superb translations and commentaries.

    Bartók, Béla and Benjamin Suchoff. 1997. Bela Bartók studies in ethnomusicology. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
    Suchoff, Benjamin. 1976. “Béla Bartók Essays. Selected and Edited by Benjamin Suchoff.” London: Faber & Faber.
    Profound conbtributions on musical culture and cultures, composition, language(s) and music, and more.

    Becking, Gustav. 1958. Der musikalische Rhythmik als Erkenntnisquelle. Stuttgart: Ichthys Verlag.
    A refreshing alternative to the pitch-dominated narratives of music theory and musicology.

    Berliner, Paul F. 1994. Thinking in Jazz. The Infinite Art of Improvisation. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
    Compendious yet never aims for systematic completeness, opting instead for lucid discussions of countless facets of jazz. Important to know regardless of one’s interest in jazz or even music at all; a classic.

    Blacking, John. 1973. How Musical Is Man? Seattle and London: University of Washington Press.
    Like Berliner, a statement of interest and importance to virtually anyone in the humanities and social sciences.

    Blaukopf, Kurt. 1992. Musical Life in a Changing Society: Aspects of Music Sociology. Translated by D. Marinelli. Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press.
    A critical but evenhanded overview of the theories of the social dimensions of musical experience.

    Bonds, Mark Evan. 1991. Wordless Rhetoric. Musical Form and the Metaphor of the Oration. Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: Harvard University Press.
    —. 1996. After Beethoven : imperatives of originality in the symphony. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
    —. 2006. Music as thought : listening to the symphony in the age of Beethoven. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
    Classical musicology by one of its most brilliant contemporary practitioners, deftly commingling musical analysis, philosophical argument, social history, and lucid textual study.

    Cook, Nicholas. 1990. Music, Imagination, and Culture. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
    A remarkably concise study of very broad and difficult issues.

    Cooper, Grosvenor and Leonard B. Meyer. 1960. The Rhythmic Structure of Music. Chicago: University of Chicago.
    Still fundamental in its approach to rhythm.
    Dahlhaus, Carl. 1977. Grundlagen der Musikgeschichte. Cologne: Musikverlag Hans Gerig Köln.
    —. 1987. Schoenberg and the New Music. Essays by Carl Dahlhaus. Translated by D. P. a. A. Clayton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    Important complements to the Aesthetics book, and key to the thought of this formidable musical philosopher.

    DeVeaux, Scott Knowles. 1997. The birth of bebop : a social and musical history. Berkeley: University of California Press.
    A social and musical history of early 40s jazz, carefully considering the music’s relation to its predecessors; an important hitorical and historiographical study.

    Georgiades, Thrasybulos. 1956. Greek music, verse and dance: Merlin Press.
    —. 1982. Music and language : the rise of western music as exemplified in settings of the Mass. Cambridge, [Cambridgeshire] New York: Cambridge University Press.
    Georgiades, Thrasybulos and Irmgard Bengen. 1985. Nennen und Erklingen: die Zeit als Logos. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.
    Deeply philosophical approach to musical history and the history of ideas by a great scholar still little known in the English speaking world.

    Hanslick, Eduard. 1980. Vom Musikalisch-Schönen. Ein Beitrag zur Revision der Ästhetik der Tonkunst. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf & Härtel.
    Still not adequately translated aesthetic classic.

    Hornbostel, Erich Moritz von. 1986. Tonart und Ethos. Aufsätze zur Musikethnologie und Musikpsychologie, Edited by C. Kaden and E. Stockmann. Leipzig: Verlag Philipp Reclam jun.

    Karbusický, Vladimír. 1975. Empirische Musiksoziologie : Erscheinungsformen, Theorie u. Philosophie d. Bezugs “Musik-Gesellschaft”. Wiesbaden: Breitkopf und Härtel.
    Kneif, Tibor. 1971. Musiksoziologie. Cologne: Musikverlag Hans Gerig Köln.
    Two important statements on music and society.

    Kodály, Zoltan. 1971. Folk Music of Hungary, Edited by L. Vargyas. Translated by R. T. a. C. Jolly. Budapest: Corvina Press.
    An important study of melody altogether as well as a classic of folk music and ethnomusicology.

    Kurth, Ernst. 1923. Romantische Harmonik und ihre Krise in Wagners “Tristan”. Berlin,: M. Hesse.
    —. 1969. Musikpsychologie. Hildesheim, New York: Georg Olms Verlag.
    Crucial twentieth century theorey statements.

    Loesser, Arthur. 1954. Men, Women and Pianos. A Social History. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
    Relaxed and readable, but packed with fascinating information and ideas on American musical life.

    Magee, Bryan. 1988. Aspects of Wagner. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
    A short book but rich with perspectives on everything from performance tempi to ant-semitism; beautifully written into the bargain.

    Mueller, John H. 1951. The American Symphony Orchestra. A Social History of Musical Taste. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
    A pioneering approach to the social history of music through repertoire analysis.

    Neubauer, John. 1986. The Emancipation of Music from Language. New Haven: Yale University.
    Musicology as the history of ideas.

    Potter, Pamela Maxine. 1998. Most German of the arts : musicology and society from the Weimar Republic to the end of Hitler’s Reich. New Haven: Yale University Press.
    A sober and unflinching study of musicology and musicologists during the 1,000 year reich.

    Schoenberg, Arnold. 1947. 1969. Structural Functions of Harmony. New York: W W Norton & Company Inc.
    Key statement of Schoenberg’s later conceptions of harmony. Designed as a college text, it is admirably clear and intelligent.

    Seeger, Charles. 1977. Studies in Musicology 1935-1975. Berkeley Los Angeles London: University of California Press.
    A grand introduction to the the thought of a great American thinker on music.

    Small, Christopher. 1987. Music of the Common Tongue. Survival and Celebration in Afro-American Music. London/New York: John Calder/Riverrun Press.
    Musical post-modernism without the dogmatic relativism and incessantly jarring jargon.

    Spitzer, John and Neal Zaslaw. 2004. The birth of the orchestra : history of an institution, 1650-1815. New York: Oxford University Press.
    Fine social history.

    Stein, Jack M. 1960. Richard Wagner and the Synthesis of the Arts. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
    A neglected but profound tour of this composer’s convoluted ideas, and a vital statement on the relations of words and music generally.

    Van Der Merwe, Peter. 1989. Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century Popular Music. New York: Oxford University Press.
    A dazzling survey of the connections between a huge range of cultures and classes.

    Weber, Max. 2002. Zur Musiksoziologie 1910-1920, vol. I/14, Edited by C. Braun and L. Finscher. Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).
    Translated as the Rational and Sociological [sic] Foundations of Music, this is a draft of the great sociologist’s ideas on musical progress.

    Weber, William. 2004. Music and the middle class : the social structure of concert life in London, Paris and Vienna between 1830 and 1848. Aldershot, England ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
    Fine social history.

    1. Zach Wallmark says:

      Michael — Thank you very much for this fascinating and diverse list. If you wouldn’t mind, I would really like to move these titles and your comments up into the list proper (with your name/institutional affiliation too, if you’d like). Please let me know, and thank you for taking us to task on the “new musicology” bias.

      1. Absolutely! Sorry for the delay in replying!

  25. Laurence says:

    I think you should include Dahlhuas 19th Century Music and I think you should remove the rest is noise. It isn’t very accurate and it does raise enough interesting questions to make it worth the time.

  26. Elizabeth says:

    Pardon me for taking the comments in a different direction, but I have a question that is somewhat related to “must-reads.” I’m looking for something that will notify me when new issues of music journals are released. The AMS-Announce list does this to an extent, but not all journals are announced. My goal is to be aware of recently published articles in music, esp. from major journals, even if this just means reading tables of contents and maybe the abstracts. Does anyone know of such a resource?

    Just for fun, here are two recommendations for summer reading (perhaps not must-reads for everyone, but you can take them to the beach): “Swing Shift” by Sherrie Tucker–engaging, well-written, couldn’t put down, learned so much about jazz music production and consumption during World War Two. And Carolyn Brown, “Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham”–Brown’s eye-witness account of the beginnings and development of the New York School through her role as a dancer in Cunningham’s company.

  27. Nathan Baker says:

    Offering up another book that I’ve been thoroughly enjoying lately: The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music, edited by Theodore Gracyk and Andrew Kania (2011). This book features a large collection of fairly short chapters/essays on different philosophical topics pertaining to music, and I’d say it’s been the most thought-provoking book I’ve read since, well, the Taruskin.

    1. Zach Wallmark says:

      Thanks for the recommendation, Nathan – this volume is fantastic! (Just picked it up)

  28. Shingoya says:

    Korsyn, Kevin. 2003. Decentering Music: A Critique of Contemporary Research. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
    For me, this is a fantastic book full of wit. Despite I haven’t finish it, I would like to recommend it.

  29. David says:

    It seems that in british and anglo-american scholar world almost every aspect of life, not only Art, also Science, Economy, Politics, whatever, is isolated from Philosophy, quite the opposite to french or italian academia.
    I don’t criticize the anglosaxon academia, but as a musician educated in Latin Europe it surprises me a lot.
    So let me suggest a few texts, I’d said “complementary”, since some of them aren’t really on musicology but on philosophy; but if we accept aesthetics -philosophy of Art- as part of the «acervus» a musicologist must have, I believe that some writings that are deeply related to music, by «professional» philosophers are very important. If d’Arezzo stated that «Musicorum et cantorum magna est distantia. Isti dicunt, illi sciunt quaet componit musica. Nam qui facit quod non sapid, deffinitur bestia.» I think that a musicologist who only knows the «technicalities» of musical practice along History but doesn’t study their aesthetical/philosophical facets, in justice «deffinitur bestia»
    F. Nietzsche: Über Musik, Nietzsche contra Wagner, Der Fall Wagner. Ein Musikanten-Problem, Die Geburt der Tragödie.
    Eugenio Trías: El canto de las sirenas.
    Enrico Fubini: Estetica musicale dall’antichita al Settecento, L’estetica musicale dal Settecento a oggi, Musica e linguaggio nell’estetica contemporanea.

    Surely, I’m going to remember several more books in 5 minutes, but I think I better end here my brief contribution.

    Best regards.

  30. David says:

    Oh, I’ve cited the original titles because I don’t know how they are titled in the english translations, but I think most of them, if not all, are translated to english. If not, and if you can read spanish, they are all published in spanish.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Worth adding:
    Gjerdingen’s MUSIC IN THE GALANT STYLE – some cultural/emotional/artistic context for the harmonic gestures we often take for granted.

  32. magnet school says:

    No Abbate?

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  35. Matthew46 says:

    Mark and Zachary,

    Slightly off topic but I wanted to know if you strongly agree or disagree with the following statements.

    1) “Understanding music is at root being able to hear it in a certain way or experience it in a certain manner, and the long and short of it is that this ability can be achieved through repeated present-focused listening alone. One need only position oneself and then be willing to listen closely and repeatedly, until the unique shape of a given musical entity engraves itself on the mind’s ear…… Contemplation of formal patterns, apprehension of spatial wholes, intellectual grasp of large-scale structural relations are of an entirely different, and lesser, order of importance. One can readily forgo them and still have entrée to the essential. Music for listening appreciation, of whatever scale or ambition, lives and dies in the moment and it is there that it must be fundamentally understood, there that its fundamental value lies. No reflective analysis of or theoretical grip on musical architecture can substitute for the real-time, part by part synthetic apprehension of a musical work”

    2) “Why do we listen to music, how do we listen to music, and what is the main source of our satisfaction in listening to music? The answer to those three closely related questions, I believe, is to be found in the phenomenon of following music, that is to say, of attending closely to, and getting involved in, its specific movement, flow, or progression, moment by moment. That is to say, it is not so much a matter of thinking articulately about the music as it passes, or contemplating it in its architectural aspect, as it is a matter of reacting to and interacting with the musical stream, perceptually and somatically, on a non-analytical, pre-reflective level. The important thing is not what is listened to (i.e., what aspect of the overall structure), but how one listens; a) how unity and organization are perceived; b) how one appreciates and imaginatively participates in music; c) how one relates the preceding parts and anticipates the future ones; d) how ready one is to respond to music’s expressive dimension, to be alive to its human content…. Here is the plain truth: Every time we attentively listen with patience, we find different properties and qualities of the musical work. Our ear becomes more acute and sophisticated and we understand the piece to a more complex degree. And we have more evidence which suggests that listeners without musical training do have an implicit knowledge of things that musicologists and scholars can talk about explicitly”

  36. Joel says:


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