Aphorisms in musicology: Reflections on historico-cultural contextualisation taking the case of Igor Stravinsky as a starting point
The last three decades have witnessed radical changes in musicological methodology in the context of the so-called “New Musicology”. Central to such methodological developments has been the practice of historico-cultural contextualisation, scrutiny of the role of historical and cultural contexts in the study of music, intertwined with a shift of focus from the isolated musical work to historical and cultural factors that defined musical life more generally. This article focuses on and discusses certain practices of historico-cultural contextualisation that have been employed in musicology. Igor Stravinsky’s notorious statement that music is unable to express anything serves as the starting point of my discussion. I analyse the way Richard Taruskin has associated this phrase with musical modernism as well as with modernist ideas surrounding music in his historiographical contextualisation of twentieth-century music and musicological thought. Taruskin effectively correlates Stravinsky with modernist modes of thought and practices, which have been criticised by “New Musicology”. My article challenges such an association and underlines the necessity to reconsider and re-evaluate the meaning of Stravinsky’s statement, as well as his actual embrace of this view.