History of the conference

The first Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology (CIM04) was held in Graz/Austria, 15-18 April 2004. CIM04 was open to all musical research questions; it was hosted by the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of Music (ESCOM) and the Department of Musicology, University of Graz and endorsed by 24 participating societies. The second Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology (CIM05) was held in Montreal/Canada, 10-12 March 2005. CIM05 focussed on the theme of timbre, and was hosted by the Observatoire international de la création musicale (OICM) and the Faculty of Music of the University of Montréal.

Although CIM addresses the whole of musicology in the broadest sense, its origins lie within the subdiscipline of systematic musicology. Thus, an additional aim of CIM is to convince historical musicologists and ethnomusicologists that CIM serves the best interests of all musicologists. We believe that we can achieve this aim by developing a coherent series of conferences that address themes of interest to all musicological subdisciplines as well as balancing the traditions of the past against the challenges of the future.

Why a conference on interdisciplinary musicology?

Musicology has always been interdisciplinary. But before CIM there had never been a conference devoted to "interdisciplinary musicology" as such. Smaller interdisciplinary conferences on musicology have tended to restrict their attention to a specific area within the humanities. The larger ones (e.g., International Musicological Society, Musical Intersections) presented an overwhelming amount and diversity of information, and were primarily multi- rather than interdisciplinary. Scholars from different disciplines became more aware of each other's existence, but – with some promising exceptions, such as the Joint Sessions at Musical Intersections – effective, creative communication across disciplines remained limited.

Interdisciplinarity is necessary...

History of musicological multi- and interdisciplinarity

For the ancient Greeks, music was not only an art but also a matter for scientific and philosophical investigation; it involved number theory and ratios, musical intervals and their consonance, tetrachords and scales, musical emotion and ethos, and music's supposedly cosmic foundation (harmony of the spheres). In spite of this early flowering of theoretical discourse around music, musicology was not recognized an independent field of knowledge and research until the mid 19th century (e.g., Chrysander, 1863).

Adler (1885) divided musicology into two subdisciplines: historical  and systematic. In response to a growing interest in non-western musics, Haydon (1941) separated ethnomusicology from systematic musicology to create the well-known tripartite division of musicology: historical, ethnological and systematic. Developments of recent decades have tended to erode the tripartite model. Systematic musicology comprises several independent and essentially unrelated subdisciplines, including a USA-led music theory founded on, and now diverging from, pitch-class theory and Schenkerian analysis; music psychology, whose international revival in the 1970s and 1980s was triggered by the emergence of cognitive science in the 1960s; and music acoustics, which maintained a strong autonomous identity throughout the 20th century. At the same time, other fields of musical research such as music education have become as important as the traditional three, and a range of smaller interdisciplinary fields within and around musicology have asserted their independent identity. Perhaps the straw that finally broke the tripartite-musicological camel's back was the 1990s emergence of new musicology with its focus on culture, gender, and subjectivity and strong links to all three "old" musicologies.

The above examples and arguments suggest that musicology is, and has always been, inherently multi- and interdisciplinary. In 2003, Nicholas Cook (at that time FBA Research Professor of Music, University of Southampton) put it like this in an email to CIM04: "... I've never seen musicology/music theory as a discipline. Departments of history consist of different sorts of historians, but departments of music consist of historians, anthropologists, popular culture theorists, aestheticians, and psychologists (as well as composers and performers, of course)--it's just that they all happen to work on music. In other words, a department of music doesn't represent a discipline, rather it is an interdisciplinary (or at least multidiciplinary) research centre--or to put it another way, musicology is inherently multidisciplinary!"

The internal structure of musicology is in a constant state of flux – at least as much as other academic disciplines. Interdisciplinarity may be best regarded as a temporary state - as soon as a new interdisciplinary combination becomes routine, it is time to speak of a new discipline and to stop regarding the research as interdisciplinary. For example, music semiotics may be regarded as a combination of music theory and cultural studies (or other aspects of systematic musicology). In its early days, music semiotics was clearly interdisciplinary; now, it may better be regarded as an established subdiscipline of musicology. The establishment of a new discipline opens up new interdisciplinary opportunities between the new discipline and its older "sisters" (e.g. between semiotics and psychology). The transition from an interdisciplinary combination to a new discipline is always a gradual process; the exact point in time when it is complete is a matter of opinion. CIM does not, therefore, support specific interdisciplinary combinations. Instead, it supports the process of interdisciplinarity and, in that way, the transformation, modification and development of any and all musical knowledge.


Adler, G. (1885). Umfang, Methode und Ziel der Musikwissenschaft. Vierteljahresschrift für Musikwissenschaft, 1, 5-20.

Chrysander, F. (1863). Preface and introduction to Jahrbuch für musikalische Wissenschaft, 1, 9-16. [Cited in New Grove (2001) under "Musicology", vol. 17, p. 526.]

Haydon, G. (1941). Introduction to musicology. New York: Prentice-Hall.

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