Guest Colloquium: Thomas Christensen, University of Chicago

Date(s) - 04/26/2013
2:30 pm - 4:30 pm

Rm. 3491 (Large Seminar Rm.), Graduate Center

“Tonality and the Racial Imagination in Nineteenth-Century France”

The concept of “tonalité”  articulated by the Belgian musicologist, Francois-Joseph Fétis was one of the most powerful and influential musical concepts circulating in the mid-19th century.  Originally coined to describe the scale system of “modern” tonality and its affective qualities, the concept was soon applied by Fétis—and then by many later musicologists—to the various scale systems of non-western cultures:  Indian rāgas, the Arabic maqam, and various East Asian anhemitonic patterns.  Of course, most European observers viewed (since so few of them actually had a chance to hear) such scales as inferior musical resources, and  indicative of their culture’s more primitive evolutionary state.  But the story was not a simple one of racial orientalism, as many of these tonalities evinced far more complexity  in terms of structure and intonation than their Western counterparts.  Further disrupting the teleological narrative of Fétis and his contemporaries were the perplexing—and disconcerting—traces of Eastern influences that they believed to have found in certain modes practiced in early European history.



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