David Irving

Institució Milà i Fontanals

The history of western music has become an increasingly complex field in the digital age. With the unprecedented expansion in the availability of primary source materials and the rapid diversification of knowledge, it is no longer possible to write a single narrative of its concepts and practices. Nor can any scholars even attempt to be comprehensive in coverage, given the sheer diversity of styles, genres, instruments, media, and contexts involved in western music’s proliferation around the world. Even so, there is still an academic need to address and critique the broader topic as a whole, and to produce for readers of many backgrounds a kind of musicological mosaic. One way forward is to work collaboratively and to use cultural-historical approaches that help us understand how music functions within and alongside diverse forms of human behaviour. It is also essential to go beyond old notions of western music as a set of notated “works” and to write in ways that interrogate and explain musical activities across a full range of expression. One recent

result of such an endeavour is A Cultural History of Western Music, released in November 2023 by Bloomsbury Academic in their Cultural History series, with Alexander Rehding (Harvard University) and David R. M. Irving (ICREA & IMF, CSIC) as General Editors. The six volumes of this series, each co-edited by two experts in the respective area, are devoted to specific epochs: Antiquity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Age, and the Modern Age. Professors Rehding and Irving were commissioned to propose eight themes that are applicable to all of these periods, providing a set of “pathways” through them: Society, Philosophies, Politics, Exchange, Education, Popular Culture, Performance, and Technologies. The history brings together fifty-four contributors, leaders in their fields, to reassess almost three thousand years of musical activities that are now often called “western”.

  • References:
    – Alexander Rehding and David R. M. Irving, general editors, A Cultural History of Western Music, 6 volumes (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2024 [published 30 November 2023]). ISBN: 9781350075634
    David R. M. Irving and Estelle Joubert, eds, A Cultural History of Western Music in the Age of Enlightenmen,t Vol. 4 of A Cultural History of Western Music (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2024 [published 30 November 2023]). ISBN: 9781350075573