Guido Adler and Music History

Guido Adler and Music History

When did it start and who thought of adding facts together to come up with a history in music? Discover the pioneer of musicology...
The word 'history' itself comes from the old Greek language, where 'hysto' means to find out, and 'historeo' means to discover things as a result of research. Ancient Greeks' conception regarding history was that one cannot know something unless he was present when the event took place or he has researched in order to discover the real facts from the existent sources. Even nowadays, a golden rule in journalism is to check your information from at least three sources before you publish news or any other kind of material. A good documentation is necessary, and it is the very thing that ensures the trustworthiness of the document. Thucydides the Greek historian who lived between 460 BC - 395 BC also considered that history must be based on proofs, and people should not be so easily persuaded to believe what they hear―they should have real evidence.

All these ideas about evidence in the history of music were first shaped by the Austrian writer and musicologist Guido Adler (1855 - 1941). He studied music (piano) in the Vienna Conservatory of Music. In 1878, he was a University of Vienna graduate as doctor of jurisprudence, and two years later, he got another doctorate in philosophy within the same university.

It is Adler who first published an article about the history of music, entitled 'Umfang, Methode und Ziel der Musikwissenschaft', meaning 'The Scope, Method, and Aim of Musicology' (1885), where he makes an ample description of music study, but also separates this discipline in two other―historical musicology and systematic musicology. Adler also tapped into another topic that was comparative musicology, and later on was to become a discipline on its own: ethnomusicology. This is the reason why he is considered to be the pioneer of musicology as a discipline. He pointed out the social and cultural factors that played an important role when it comes to music influences. Therefore, the history of music still keeps the prints of its forefather, and it treats the evolution of art systematically, and also based on documents and evidence. It deals with the evolution of sounds' art from the oldest of times. Musical history along ethnography and psychology are part of musicology (the general science of music).

This is how Adler divides his article in main lines:

Firstly, the historic field that comprises the history of music delimited by eras, people, countries, cities, schools and artistic personalities where he treats the musical paleography (musical notes), musical forms of the main historic categories, laws (as they are reflected by compositions of each epoch) and musical instruments.

Secondly, he speaks about the codification of the main musical rules that apply to different musical branches; he investigated these laws within harmony, rhythm and melody which represent the tonal and temporal harmonization. He then goes on to the aesthetics and music psychology comparing and evaluating it in connection with discourse―as it is perceived―adding matters regarding discourse preparation stages.

Another subject of his article is represented by the musical education and its components namely harmony, composition, orchestration, vocal and instrumental interpretation etc.

Adler also made a well-known list of sciences associated with musicology or more precisely with ethnomusicology and some of these are: general history, paleography, documents, libraries and archives; also within the systematic field, there are mentioned on his list sciences like mathematics, acoustics, logic, grammar aesthetics etc. All these mentioned sciences are believed to have a direct influence on music.

Later on, Adler's list has been modified in the sense that more interdisciplinary ideas were added yet, he remains the precursor of today's music history as a discipline and his merits are recognized for his crucial contribution regarding this matter.

Music history is in itself a fascinating subject as it offers in a contracted and organized way, a panorama over the whole world (and since the beginning of humanity), an interesting taste of the first musical perceptions and styles following their development journey through the middle age to nowadays' complexity.

Adler was the first who put it on paper, thus opening a great opportunity for the following generations to build on the foundation he laid for a better understanding of music as a result of a certain historical period. This fact offers a wider context for criticism aesthetics as well, deepening the appreciation for music and its complexity.