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Historical musicology studies the composition, performance, reception, and criticism of music over time.
Tokyo String Quartet at Samford University
Historical studies of music are for example concerned with a composer's life and works, the developments of styles and genres (e. g. baroque concertos), the social function of music for a particular group of people (e. g. court music), or modes of performance at a particular place and time (e. g. Johann Sebastian Bach's choir in Leipzig). Like the comparable field of art history, different branches and schools of historical musicology emphasize different types of musical works and different approaches to music. There are also national differences in the definition of historical musicology. In theory, "music history" could refer to the study of the history of any type or genre of music (e.g., the history of Indian music or the history of rock). In practice, these research topics are more often considered within ethnomusicology (see below) and "historical musicology" is assumed to imply Western Art music.

The methods of historical musicology include source studies (esp. manuscript studies), paleography, philology (especially textual criticism), style criticism, historiography (the choice of historical method), musical analysis (the analysis of music in order to find "inner coherence"),[1] and iconography. The application of musical analysis to further these goals is often a part of music history, though pure analysis or the development of new tools of music analysis is more likely to be seen in the field of music theory. Music historians create a number of written products, ranging from journal articles describing their current research, new editions of musical works, biography of composers and other musicians, or book-length studies. Music historians may examine issues in a close focus, as in the case of scholars who examine the relationship between words and music for a given composer. On the other hand, some scholars take a broader view, and assess the place of a given type of music in society using techniques drawn from other fields, such as economics, sociology, or philosophy. New musicology is a term applied since the late 1980s to a wide body of work emphasizing cultural study, analysis, and criticism of music. Such work may be based on feminist, gender studies, queer theory, or postcolonial theory, or the work of Theodor Adorno. Although New Musicology emerged from within historical musicology, the emphasis on cultural study within the Western art music tradition places New Musicology at the junction between historical, ethnological and sociological research in music. New musicology was a reaction against traditional historical musicology, which according to Susan McClary, "fastidiously declares issues of musical signification off-limits to those engaged in legitimate scholarship." Charles Rosen, however, retorts that McClary "sets up, like so many of the 'new musicologists', a straw man to knock down, the dogma that music has no meaning, and no political or social significance".[2] (I doubt that anyone, except perhaps the nineteenth-century critic Hanslick, has ever really believed that, although some musicians have been goaded into proclaiming it by the sillier interpretations of music with which we are often assailed.)' (Rosen 2000).Today, many musicologists no longer distinguish between musicology and New Musicology, since many of the scholarly concerns that used to be associated New Musicology have now become mainstream, and the term "new" clearly no longer applies.

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