Dr. Taruskin has pioneered a new dimension in Western music culture through musicology research that transcends conventional historiographical methodologies, issuing sharp critical analysis backed by exhaustive knowledge of many diverse fields. His unrivaled perspective has significantly influenced both performance and study, elevating the importance and creative value of critical discourse to the music world.
Opera and Drama in Russia as Preached and Practiced in the 1860s, UMI Research Press, 1981.
Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue, Princeton University Press, 1993.
Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance, Oxford University Press, 1995.
Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works through Mavra, University of California Press, 1996.
Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays, Princeton University Press, 1997.
The Oxford History of Western Music, Oxford University Press, 2005.
The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays, University of California Press, 2008.
On Russian Music, University of California Press, 2008.
Russian Music at Home and Abroad: New Essays, University of California Press, 2016.
Dr. Richard Taruskin is a musicologist and critic whose revolutionary approach to early music, modern Russian music and Western music history inspires and fascinates music scholars and music lovers worldwide.
Born in New York in 1945, Dr. Taruskin studied the Russian language at Columbia University before furthering his musicological studies at its graduate school. He joined its faculty after earning his Ph.D. In the 1980s, while writing for The New York Times, other newspapers and academic journals, he provocatively asserted that contemporary performances of early music were not true examples of “authenticity,” as was commonly claimed, but rather reflections of late 20th century aesthetics. This argument influenced the performance world of early music and even today, Dr. Taruskin’s argument underlies the varied approaches these performances tend to take.
Dr. Taruskin has left an even larger mark in the music world through his Russian music research. His books on Russian Opera, Mussorgsky and Stravinsky for example, spawned from a revolutionary method of detailed analyses alongside extensive study of contextual circumstances, including folkloristics, have radically reshaped our image of the original composers—and updated the methodology of musicology research itself.
His 6-volume The Oxford History of Western Music (2005), focusing exclusively on music in the Western literate tradition, represents a literary landmark in musicology and perhaps the largest overview of music history ever written by a single author. Under the influence of ethnomusicology and historiography which has critical approach to the writing of histories, Dr. Taruskin critically overstepped the description method based on some aesthetic and/or historical universality. He presented an enormous amount of descriptive evidence that Western music history written under homogeneous standards actually consists of an aggregation of historical matters that are minuscule and heterogeneous. His deep knowledge of diverse cultural fields allows him to make an incisive analysis of the literate tradition of Western music in the socio-cultural context. Every chapter of his first-edition Western musicology history, which exceeds 4,000 pages, is both thrilling and illuminating.
Dr. Taruskin’s critical practices and deep academic insights have changed music as we know it, pioneering a new realm of music research which can go beyond the boundary between conventional criticism and musicology, and between historical musicology and ethnomusicology.
The quality and volume of his work reveal that in music, creativity can be found not only in composition and performance, but also in meticulous discourse contextualizing the art—and that this, in itself, can contribute significantly to the world’s music cultures.
For these reasons, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to present the 2017 Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy to Dr. Richard Taruskin.
Using my own exceptionally lucky career as illustrative material, I will address some issues in historiography and criticism, as well as the relationship between musicology and other aspects of musical study and practice. They include the dialectic, or interplay, between agency and contingency; the nature of causality; the proper balance between factual reportage and value-laden interpretation or critique in scholarship; the importance of discourse in the mediation of artworks, and the role of musicologists in establishing it.
In one sense mine has been a straightforward career in which I followed a path that was already clear to me in childhood. In another sense it has been a tortuous journey that has taken me into areas of inquiry I never predicted, and has given me opportunities that rarely arise for an academic scholar. My activity as a musicologist and music historian has benefitted enormously from my temporary pursuit of other musical activities that might have tempted me off the path I did pursue had chance not intervened. These have included, within music, the study of composition and a brief career as a professional performer of early music, and, outside of music, the field of Russian language, literature and culture. The opportunity to practice journalism alongside more formal academic research and writing has taught me important lessons in style and communication that I have tried to pass on to my pupils. Moreover, my idiosyncratic combination of experiences and expertise have led me to some seemingly improbable, but eventually fruitful and influential, hypotheses. The unlikelihood of my path to them leads me to reflect on the contingent and provisional nature of all human achievement.
As I used to tell my pupils, all significant creative careers require three things: aptitude (talent, ability, call it what you will), ambition (or, if you prefer a less contentious term, drive or motivation), and opportunity (also known as luck). Without any one of these, the other two will not suffice. What is true of each of us is true of all of us. In my historical writing I have therefore given what I consider due emphasis to the push and pull of strategy and contingency as determinants, along with the talents or genius of the major figures, of the course of events. To the extent that the historiography of the arts has retained traces of the romanticism that attended the birth of the discipline, these more realistic emphases have been at times controversial. Introspection is therefore a necessary reality check, and I welcome the opportunity this occasion has given me to engage in it.