Evolutionary categories and musical style from adler to America

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


As we consider music's role in defining races, cultures, and species, musicologists may benefit from examining more closely the history of conceptions of musical style. That history offers an opportunity to reassess the question of how and how much one of the core tools of music scholarship-the recognition and categorization of musical style-reflects a historical tradition of categorizing culture as a form of essential, biologized difference. This exercise seems particularly relevant in the present moment, when scholarly style categories converge with a renewed interest in evolutionary science. Tracing notions of style from the days of Guido Adler to the present, I argue that classifications of musical style have offered a way for music scholars to explore changing concepts of human difference. By asking what it means to identify a musical style, it is possible to engage more sensitively with music's power to classify human cultures, define human beings, and demarcate the perimeter of the humanities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)735-767
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of the American Musicological Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music


  • Animals and music
  • Birds and music
  • Evolutionism
  • Music criticism
  • Musical style


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