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Waldo Selden Pratt
"On Behalf of Musicology"
Musical Quarterly

Vol. 1 (1915)

Waldo Selden Pratt, “On Behalf of Musicology” Musical Quarterly

German scholars were the pioneers in the formal academic study of music, an enterprise they called “Musikwissenschaft.” Its English-language counterpart, “musicology,” was slower to catch on. The word was still considered a dubious neologism in 1915, when Waldo Selden Pratt inaugurated the brand-new Musical Quarterly with “On Behalf of Musicology.”

Pratt divides musicology into seven categories: Musical Physics (or acoustics), Musical Psychics (that is, psychology), Musical Poetics, Musical Aesthetics, Musical Graphics (“or Semeiotics, if a somewhat more general term is desired”), Musical Technics, and Musical Practics. Approaching it from a different angle, he adds that the scientific treatment of music can be divided four ways: Musical History, Musical Encyclopaedia (“to use the technical term for scientific taxonomy”), Musical Criticism, and Musical Pedagogy. He argues that “Musical scholarship is fully equal in ability to scholarship in any other field whatsoever. But its total impression upon the general world of thought is slight, partly because its well-equipped workers are relatively few, partly because scientists in other fields are too busy with their own affairs to keep up with what has been going on here for several decades, partly because many who are proud to be musicians have the habit of waxing scornful over people who merely study and write ‘about music.’” Pratt concludes by suggesting that “It may even be that sometime there will be in the faculties of certain large institutions a professorship of ‘musicology,’ whose function shall be to unfold the broad outlines of the science and to demonstrate not only its intellectual dignity among other sciences, but its practical utility on a large scale to hosts of musicians and music-lovers.”

Though he did not hold a professorship of musicology at any of those “certain large institutions,” Pratt (1857–1939) did teach music at the Hartford Theological Seminary, the Institute of Musical Art (the predecessor of the Juilliard School) and elsewhere, and he wrote extensively on church music and other topics.

Numerous music periodicals (ranging from Dwight’s Journal of Music to New Haven’s own Loomis’ Musical, Masonic, and Ladies’ Fashion Journal) were published in the United States in the 19th century, but the Musical Quarterly is regarded as our first scholarly journal, and until the establishment of the Journal of the American Musicological Society in 1948, it had few peers. The Musical Quarterly’s founding editor was Oscar Sonneck (1873–1928), head of the Music Division of the Library of Congress and later an editor at G. Schirmer. The Society for American Music was initially named the Sonneck Society, in his honor.

The article is available on JSTOR at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/738038 [access limited to Yale affiliates]

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