This is a few weeks late, but I just saw that Tim over at The Rambler noticed a significant revision to the paperback edition of Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music. Briefly, a few years ago Tim argued that Taruskin's discussion of Penderecki was rather flawed. Apparently, those flaws were fixed up in the new paper edition, with a citation for Tim and everything. A nice move on RT's part.
But it makes me wonder--how many other changes are there between the hardcover and paperback editions? Neither the Oxford site nor sales outlets like Amazon make any note of changes. Apparently an Oxford rep claimed in at least one instance that the editions are "essentially identical" with the exception of "stray typos and minor items" being corrected. I guess the Penderecki could be thought of as a minor item, but it makes one wonder.
This seems particularly apropos now that we're all being inundated with sales calls and emails from eager little Oxford representatives about the forthcoming one-volume textbook edition, which will no doubt be a formidable player on the textbook market when it comes out. I certainly would never fault Taruskin and his editors too much for problems like that noticed by Tim, given how much music history he dealt with. Nor do I have a problem with the erudition and utility of OHWM; like most of us working musicologists I use it all the time to help prepare for my teaching. When you're teaching a survey for the first time, especially material far outside of your own research interests, it's a great source for getting updated on the contemporary scholarly issues for a given time period.
But--and this is a big "but"--I do have great reservations with the project as a whole. I think one of the biggest challenges facing our discipline is our tendency towards monophony. We're a very small group of scholars, of startling uniformity of background, and for various historical reasons we operate under a tremendous amount of "discipline," in the Foucauldian sense. That is, attempts to introduce new methodologies and subject matter into musicology are tightly regulated and usually prevented full scale. Not by any one person or institution, of course, but by the manner in which power circulates in musicology. Just look at the experience of someone trying to introduce, oh, let's say, feminist criticism into musicology in the 1990s. Not exactly a radical proposition given that other scholarly fields had been doing feminist criticism for several decades, but we all know how that went over.
I worry that a project like OHWM only serve to discipline us even more, boiling what limited diversity of voices and opinions we have down to that of one man. I'm sure that is not Taruskin's intention at all, but I just don't think its existence augurs well for musicology.
4 days ago