School of Advanced Study, University of London


Music History and Historical Materialism: Reflections and Possibilities

Friday, 13 April 2018, 09:30 - 18:00

A One-Day International Conference at the University of London Senate House, WC1E 7HU

Organisers: Dr Johan Siebers (IMLR/Middlesex); Dr Jeremy Coleman (IMLR/Aberdeen)
Keynote: Professor Benjamin Korstvedt (Clark University, USA)


Marxist thought and music historiography have only occasionally combined in critical writing or scholarly research, and from the perspective of the present most examples of such approaches appear as so many moribund historical curiosities. This one-day international conference, organised by the Ernst Bloch Centre, believes that a genuinely fruitful interaction between music history writing and historical materialism has yet to be carried out and, at the same time, that signs towards such a mode of criticism are discernible in the very agents and materials of music history and of the history of philosophy. Beyond Marxist cultural theory or critical theory, the conference seeks to ask what musicology could still learn from the central insights of Marx and Marxism and to what extent music history and historical materialism can even be ‘thought together’. Thus the aim is not merely to excavate cases of officially Marxist historiography of music, nor to consider music in relation to Marxist individuals and political regimes, but – taking a more speculative approach – to evaluate the potential of Marxist thought for historical musicology and for philosophy of music today.

We invite submissions of paper abstracts (c. 250 words) from scholars across the humanities that consider critical encounters between music history and historical materialism.  It is anticipated that proceedings will form the basis of an edited book collection in the Historical Materialism Book Series published by Brill. Papers should be twenty minutes in duration and will be followed by ten minutes of Q&A and discussion. We are delighted that Professor Benjamin Korstvedt (Clark University) will deliver a keynote speech at the conference.

Acknowledging that historical materialist ideas have so far found greater resonance in popular music studies and in ethnomusicology than in Western art music historiography, the focus of the symposium will be on Western art music history with respect to its complex relations to industrial capitalism, bourgeois liberalism and modernity. Papers may either take a theoretical/philosophical approach or be more case-study-oriented, focusing on any historical time, place and culture; however, we particularly welcome papers that address the following topics:


  • Music History and Modes of Production
  • Historical Perspectives on Musical Labour
  • Radical Temporalities: Musical Time – Historical Time – Labour Time
  • Musical Production, Exchange, Consumption
  • Music and Commodity
  • ‘Natural History’, Reification, Alienation
  • Ernst Bloch’s Philosophy of Music
  • Musical Value: music criticism, canonicity, theories of value
  • Musical Material and Materialism(s)
  • Public and Private Musical Spaces
  • Music Criticism, Discourse, Ideology
  • Humanist vs. Anti-Humanist Marxism

Please submit an abstract of c. 250 words in a Word document attachment by email to [log in to unmask] by Wednesday, 31 January 2018, including your name and affiliation (if any). Applicants will be notified of the decision by Friday, 9 February 2018.

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