|Waldo Selden Pratt|
Revisiting the article today, it is quite remarkable just how forward-thinking, even proto-New Musicology-ish sounding his discussion reads in some passages. This is particularly palpable where he characterizes musicology as a discipline open to engaging with a virtually infinite field of reference points:
“The world of music” [...] is extremely complex. It includes both subjective experiences and objective things, facts, principles, laws, processes, products, utensils, creators, organizations, institutions, powers, ideals. Any or all of these may be taken as topics of scientific scrutiny, and such scrutiny ought to yield something toward the building up of a comprehensive “science of music.” Here, then, we may expect to find the field of “musicology” (4).In reality, the discipline Pratt helped bring into existence hardly set out to produce ideologically sensitive “institutional analyses” in the vein of Georgina Born—this would take generations to achieve. Yet I suspect that most readers today still find that his discussion resonates with present-day debates regarding the purpose and subject-orientation of musicology within the academy. (Indeed, an email thread I received this morning reminds me there is still considerable internal speculation as to what generally constitutes musicological practice.) Given how radically the discipline has shifted focus over the past decades (let alone the last century), one might be forgiven for believing that “what goes around comes around.”
While Pratt’s unconventional vocational path makes for fascinating study, it's perhaps the wider historical context of 1915 hovering faintly in the background that is ultimately decisive. The First World War had erupted the summer before his pioneering article appeared - perhaps, we might speculate, even while it was being drafted. As the historian Adam Tooze has recently discussed in his magisterial book The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916–1931, the war cataclysmically shook the institutional foundations of Pratt's (albeit much more pedigreed, resourced and organized) European counterparts to their core. Although American musicology would always be indebted to these roots, it would often be marked by a self-conscious awareness of an intellectual rift between Old- and New-World conceptions of the discipline. This was especially true during fundamental changes to musical thought and scholarship in the early 1960s and late 1980s.
A century now gone by, the American Musicological Society, which Pratt lived to see established in 1934, has become the world's largest, most active and (arguably) intellectually diverse scholarly organization devoted to the study of “musicology.” Whether a certain restlessness about its intellectual heritage was already latent in 1915 remains a question open to future research.
NOTE: More on Waldo Pratt in our next blog post.