Systematic Musicology is a field which grew tremendously over the last decades to such an extend and into so many topics that for quite some time researchers as well as students in the field are demanding a comprehensive overview of the different parts of the discipline. As Systematic Musicology is so wide, there is a need for introductions, reviews, teaching materials or the display of recent trends for researchers in related fields, who want to connect and interact within this highly interdisciplinary area. Therefore the International Working Group of Systematic Musicology decided to compile such a volume, covering the major areas of research in Systematic Musicology and making them easily accessible to the community. This volume tries to present the state-of-the-art in the field while also giving an overview in basic and fundamental methodologies and terminologies. It also discusses recent trends and topics and therefore hopefully is also inspiring in terms of an interchange of ideas and subjects.

Systematic Musicology is a highly interdisciplinary field, which it was ever since its ancient origins with philosophers like Pythagoras, Archytas of Tarrent or Aristoxenos. Here the connection between music, mathematics, geometry, astronomy, well-being, politics and other fields were discussed. Much attention was laid on music theory, especially tonal systems or rhythm theory. Ancient writings of music theory like the Indian Natyashastra on music and the arts or the music theory embedded in the ancient Tamil epic Cilappatikāram of today’s Sri Lanka show complex tonal system theories. The Chinese Yueji from 1st and 2nd century BC is not only a music theory but also discusses aspects of nature and the social role of music. In all these traditions musicology concerned with all aspects of music continued to the present day in many forms.

In modern times the roots of Systematic Musicology lie in Comparative Musicology which tries to find laws and universals by comparing the musical traditions of the world. This was only possible from around 1900 after the invention of the Edison phonograph which made it possible for the first time to record and playback music on wax cylinders. Following the systematic approach, right from the start the Hornbostel/Sachs classification of musical instruments used a taxonomy based on the acoustical and mechanical driving mechanisms of musical instruments, plucked, bowed, blown, etc. The Berlin phonogram archive, recording music from around the world on wax cylinders started with a recording of a Thai phi pha orchestra in the Berlin Tiergarten in 1900. Jaap Kunst was among the first to collect recordings in today’s Indonesia in the 1920th and 30th developing Ethnomusicology by his many fieldtrips. In the US Charles Seeger was a co-founder of the Society of Comparative Musicology and Frances Desmond was collecting the music mainly of native Dakota Indians.

Carl Stumpf was among the first to introduce music psychology in modern terms, by discussing how a pitch sensation can appear from a multi-sensory input of many frequencies entering the ear. A considerable influence on this early findings were by Gestalt psychologists, which indeed used musical melodies at first to derive their Gestalt laws. Early experiments on musical timbre were performed again by Stumpf and others, especially focusing on music and speech as well as on musical transients and tone color.

Many problems of music psychology, like the problem of tonal fusion addressed by Stumpf were based on the experimental evidence that sounds consists of overtones, which was published by Hermann v. Helmholtz in 1863. The growing field of electronic music enhanced research in these fields in the Bell labs in the US or in the Heinrich-Hertz Institute for vibration of Karl Willy Wagner in Berlin, where also Barkhausen was working on tubes and on the light bow for building a loudspeaker and microphone in one device. Research on musical instruments was prominently performed by Felix Savart around 1800, especially on violins building a trapezoid shaped violin body and an octobass ranging over two floors. Within this time Friedrich Chladni was discovering longitudinal waves building musical instruments with this invention, the clavicylinder and the euphonium, and wrote the first comprehensive work on vibrating musical systems.

All these, and many more early works building up the field of Systematic Musicology were followed by tremendous increase of works after WW II. Today the topics discussed in Systematic Musicology range from Musical Acoustics and Musical Signal Processing, Music Psychology and Neuromusicology, Music Ethnology and Comparative Musicology, Musical Syntax and Philosophy to Musical Applications in modern music production and distribution, next to many related topics. Still the aim of the discipline is to understand music, its production and perception, its cultural, historical and philosophical background in a systematic way. This cannot be done by discussing one aspect alone. So e.g. the development of musical instruments is shaped not only by tradition, but by acoustical, physiological and psychological constraints, the need of different compositional styles, technical state-of-the-art or political or economic demands. Therefore Systematic Musicology needs to consider all aspects of music to aim for the system of music, the Kunst (art) in the Renaissance or Baroque sense of a system of rules, as J.S. Bach used the term in his Die Kunst der Fuge (the art of the fugue). This late work of him was about to display the rules and possibilities which lie in the polyphonic system of fugue composition.

So Systematic Musicology is convinced that understanding music can only truly be by considering all aspects of music. The Handbook is trying to reflect this interdisciplinary nature of Systematic Musicology in seven sections. These sections follow the main topics in the field, Musical Acoustics, Music Psychology and Music Ethnology while also taking recent research trends into consideration, like Embodied Music Cognition and Media Applications. Other topics, like Music Theory or Philosophy of Music are incorporated in the respective sections. Of course they could also have been taken as a section on their own taking their salience into consideration. Still in the recent development in the field these topics seem to be discussed within the sections. Still this may be subject to development within the next decades.

Related Publications

Bader, R. (ed.): Springer Handbook of Systematic Musicology. Springer, Heidelbert 2018.