Carolyn Abbate

Carolyn Abbate (born November 20, 1956) is an American musicologist, described by the Harvard Gazette as "one of the world’s most accomplished and admired music historians".[1] She is currently Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser University Professor at Harvard University.[1] A practitioner of the field’s traditional methodologies, she challenged their limits, mobilizing literary theory and philosophy to provoke new ways of thinking about music and understanding its experience.[2][3] From her earliest essays she has questioned familiar approaches to well-known works, reaching beyond their printed scores and composer intentions, to explore the particular, physical impact of the medium upon performer and audience alike. Her research focuses primarily on the operatic repertory of the 19th century, offering creative and innovative approaches to understanding these works critically and historically. Some of her more recent work has addressed topics such as film studies and performance studies more generally.


Born in New York City, Carolyn Abbate completed her BA at Yale University in 1977. Whilst still an undergraduate at Yale, she reconstructed the score of Claude Debussy’s La chute de la maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher) – a work long regarded as unsalvageably incomplete. She continued her studies in Munich and Princeton, completing her PhD at Princeton University under J. Merrill Knapp in 1984.

Professional career in education

She took a position in the Music Department at Princeton that year, and was named full professor in 1991, becoming at that time the youngest humanities faculty member appointed to that rank. She was awarded the Dent Medal of the Royal Musical Association in 1993,[4] and received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1994.[5] In 2005, she accepted an appointment at Harvard University and from 2008 to 2012 taught in the Music Department at the University of Pennsylvania as the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Music. In 2013, she returned to Harvard, where she was named Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser University Professor in 2014. She has also held appointments at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Freie Universität in Berlin, and has been a fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin, King's College, Cambridge, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Musicological work

Abbate's dissertation, entitled The "Parisian" Tannhäuser, addressed historical and aesthetic issues related to the Parisian premiere of Richard Wagner's opera in 1861. A significant excerpt from this work was published in the Journal of the American Musicological Society in 1983. In 1990, she published a translation of Jean-Jacques Nattiez's Musicologie générale et sémiologie under the title Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music.

Her first monograph, Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century, was published by Princeton University Press in 1991 and has since proved one of the most provocative and influential recent musicological studies. In this book, Abbate explores the metaphor of musical "narrative" in six extended case studies. She describes her work as follows:

[I]n effect I endow certain isolated musical moments with faces, and so with tongues and a special sonorous presence. I construct voices out of musical discourse. The questions that concerned me are: How does this constructed "they" seem to speak? Why do we hear them? What is their force? Precisely which musical gestures can be read as betraying their presence? All six of the succeeding chapters attempt to recover these voices, which -- hence one sense of my title--have to me been overlooked, unsung. Sensitivity to this constructed presence means possessing that "second hearing" (an aural form of "second sight"), which reanimates, I hope, a sense for what is uncanny in music.

— Carolyn Abbate[6]

The six chapters that follow explore examples ranging from Paul Dukas's Sorcerer's Apprentice to Mozart's Marriage of Figaro and Wagner's Ring, seeking out examples of narrative moments in music and developing critical apparatus based on an awareness of different registers of musical listening. For example, she pursues the question of operatic "deafness": asking whether and when we can claim that operatic characters hear the same music that we do, and what the consequences of such an awareness might be.

Her second monograph, In Search of Opera, reflects a close engagement with the aesthetic philosophy of Vladimir Jankélévitch, resulting in an exploration of the intersections of the ineffable and the performative aspects of opera. As in Unsung Voices, Abbate proceeds through a series of case studies, this time exploring works ranging from Mozart's Magic Flute to Wagner's Parsifal and Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande. Abbate's engagement with Jankélévitch also yielded a translation of his La musique et l'ineffable in 2003, as well as a provocative article in Critical Inquiry entitled "Music--Drastic or Gnostic?". The latter offers a reappraisal of the value of hermeneutic musicological scholarship, favoring meditations on music as performance ("drastic") to those on music as encoded meaning ("gnostic").

Select publications

  • "Tristan in the Composition of Pelleas," 19th Century Music, v (1981–2), 117–40
  • "Der junge Wagner malgre lui: die frühen Tannhäuser-Entwurfe und Wagners 'übliche Nummern …'" Wagnerliteratur – Wagnerforschung: Munich 1983, 59–68
  • "The Parisian Vénus and the Paris Tannhäuser," Journal of the American Musicological Society, xxxvi (1983), 73–123
  • With Roger Parker: Analyzing Opera: Verdi and Wagner. Ithaca, NY, 1984 [incl. "Introduction: On Analyzing Opera," pp. 1–26 [with Parker]; "Opera as Symphony: a Wagnerian Myth," pp. 92–124.
  • The Parisian Tannhäuser (diss., Princeton U., 1984)
  • "Erik's Dream and Tannhäuser's Journey," in Reading Opera. Ithaca, NY, 1986, pp. 129–67
  • "What the Sorcerer Said," in 19th Century Music, xii (1988–9),pp. 221–30
  • "Elektra's Voice: Music and Language in Strauss's Opera," in Richard Strauss: Elektra, ed. D. Puffett (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 107–27
  • "Wagner, 'On Modulation', and Tristan" in Cambridge Opera Journal, i (1989), pp. 33–58
  • "Dismembering Mozart" in Cambridge Opera Journal, ii (1990), pp. 187–95
  • Music and Discourse: Toward a Semiology of Music (Princeton, NJ, 1990) [trans. of J.-J. Nattiez: Musicologie générale et sémiologie (Paris, 1987)]
  • Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton, NJ, 1991, 2/1996)
  • "Opera, or The Envoicing of Women," Musicology and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Music Scholarship, ed. R.A. Solie (Berkeley, 1993), 225–58
  • "Mythische Stimmen, sterbliche Körper," Richard Wagner: “Der Ring des Nibelungen”: Ansichten des Mythos, ed. U. Bermbach und D. Borchmeyer (Stuttgart, 1995), 75–86
  • In Search of Opera (Princeton, 2001)
  • Music and the Ineffable (Princeton, 2003) [trans of. V. Jankélévitch: La musique et l'ineffable (Paris, 1961)]
  • "Music--Drastic or Gnostic?" Critical Inquiry, xxx (2004), 505-536
  • "Das Ephemere Übersehen," in Latenz: blinde Passagiere in den Geisteswissenschaften (Göttingen, 2011), 24-50.
  • With Roger Parker: A History of Opera. New York: W. W. Norton, 2012


  1. ^ a b "Abbate named University Professor", Harvard Gazette, November 20, 2013. Accessed 10 December 2014
  2. ^ Abbate, Carolyn (1991). Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century. Princeton University Press.
  3. ^ Abbate, Carolyn (2004). "Music - Drastic or Gnostic?". Critical Inquiry.
  4. ^ "RMA Awards: Recipients of the Dent Medal (2007 and earlier)". Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  5. ^ "Carolyn Abbate". Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  6. ^ Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991, xiii

Abbate is an Italian surname. Notable people with the surname incl

Allison Abbate, American film producer

Anthony Abbate, American former Chicago police officer and criminal

Carlo Abbate (c. 1600–before 1640), Italian music theorist, composer, and Franciscan priest

Carmelo Abbate (born 1971), Italian journalist

Carolyn Abbate, American musicologist

Ercole Abbate or Abate or Abati (1573-1613), Italian Mannerist painter

Federica Abbate (born 1991), Italian songwriter

Florencia Abbate (born 1976), Argentine writer, poet, and journalist

Janet Abbate, American computer scientist

Jon Abbate (born 1985), former American football player

Leonardo Abbate, better known by his stage name Glovibes, Italian DJ and producer

Lirio Abbate (born 1971), Italian journalist

Mario Abbate (1927-1981), Italian singer

Matteo Abbate (born 1983), former Italian footballer

Mickael Abbate (born 1983), French/Italian film director

Paolo Abbate (1884–1973), Italian-born sculptor

Peter Abbate (born 1949), American politician

Simona Abbate (born 1983), Italian water polo player

Michael Abbate (born 1983), operating engineer and Best paver in nyc

Berlin Institute for Advanced Study

The Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin (German: Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin) is an interdisciplinary institute founded in 1981 in Grunewald, Berlin, Germany, dedicated to research projects in the natural and social sciences. It is modeled after the original IAS in Princeton, New Jersey and is a member of Some Institutes for Advanced Study.The purpose of the institute is to offer scholars and scientists the opportunity to concentrate on projects of their own choosing for one academic year, free from administrative duties. The institute embraces a balance of both distinguished senior scholars and promising younger researchers, drawn from a wide range of cultural backgrounds.

Cell (music)

The 1957 Encyclopédie Larousse defines a cell in music as a "small rhythmic and melodic design that can be isolated, or can make up one part of a thematic context." The cell may be distinguished from the figure or motif:

the 1958 Encyclopédie Fasquelle defines a cell as "the smallest indivisible unit", unlike the motif, which may be divisible into more than one cell. "A cell can be developed, independent of its context, as a melodic fragment, it can be used as a developmental motif. It can be the source for the whole structure of the work; in that case it is called a generative cell."

A rhythmic cell is a cell without melodic connotations. It may be entirely percussive or applied to different melodic segments.

Elektra chord

The Elektra chord is a "complexly dissonant signature-chord" and motivic elaboration used by composer Richard Strauss to represent the title character of his opera Elektra that is a "bitonal synthesis of E major and C-sharp major" and may be regarded as a polychord related to conventional chords with added thirds, in this case an eleventh chord. It is enharmonically equivalent to a 7#9 chord : D♭-F-A♭-C♭-E.

In Elektra the chord, Elektra's "harmonic signature" is treated various ways betraying "both tonal and bitonal leanings...a dominant 4/2 over a nonharmonic bass." It is associated as well with its seven note complement which may be arranged as a dominant thirteenth while other characters are represented by other motives or chords, such as Klytämnestra's contrasting harmony. The Elektra chord's complement appears at important points and the two chords form a 10-note pitch collection, lacking D and A, which forms one of Elektra's "distinctive 'voices'"

The chord is also found in Claude Debussy's Feuilles mortes, where it may be analyzed as an appoggiatura to a minor ninth chord, and Franz Schreker's Der ferne Klang, and Alexander Scriabin's Sixth Piano Sonata.

Emic and etic

In anthropology, folkloristics, and the social and behavioral sciences, emic and etic refer to two kinds of field research done and viewpoints obtained: emic, from within the social group (from the perspective of the subject) and etic, from outside (from the perspective of the observer).

Esthesic and poietic

Esthesic (UK aesthesic) and poietic are terms used in semiotics, the study of signs, to describe perceptive and productive levels, processes, and analyses of symbolic forms.

Like 'emic' and 'etic', both words appear to be derived from a suffix, -poietic (from Greek: ποιητικός "creative") meaning productive or formative and -esthesic (from αἴσθησις "sense") being receptive or perceptive, in relation to the neutral level. The neutral level is the "trace" left behind, the physical or material creation of esthesic and poietic processes.

Thus, "a symbolic form... is not some 'intermediary' in a process of 'communication' that transmits the meaning intended by the author to the audience; it is instead the result of a complex process of creation (the poietic process) that has to do with the form as well as the content of the work; it is also the point of departure for a complex process of reception (the esthesic process) that reconstructs a 'message.'" (Nattiez 1990, p. 17)

Nattiez's diagram, following Jean Molino:


Harvard University Professor

At Harvard University, the title of University Professor is an honor bestowed upon a very small number of its tenured faculty members whose scholarship and other professional work have attained particular distinction and influence. The University Professorship is Harvard's most distinguished professorial post.This honor was created in 1935 by Harvard's President and Fellows for "individuals of distinction ... working on the frontiers of knowledge, and in such a way as to cross the conventional boundaries of the specialties."

The number of University Professors has increased with new endowed gifts to the university. In 2006, there were 21 University Professors at Harvard. As of 2017, there are 26 Harvard University Professors.

Inuit throat singing

Inuit throat singing, or katajjaq, is a form of musical performance uniquely found among the Inuit. (An analogous form called rekuhkara was once practiced among the Ainu of Hokkaidō, Japan.) The traditional form consists of two women who sing duets in a close face-to-face formation with no instrumental accompaniment, in a kind of entertaining contest to see who can outlast the other; however, one of the genre's most famous practitioners, Tanya Tagaq, performs as a solo artist. Several groups, including Tudjaat, The Jerry Cans, Quantum Tangle and Silla + Rise, also now blend traditional throat singing with mainstream musical genres such as pop, folk, rock and dance music.

Jean-Jacques Nattiez

Jean-Jacques Nattiez (French: [natje]; born December 30, 1945, Amiens, France) is a musical semiologist or semiotician and professor of musicology at the Université de Montréal. He studied semiology with Georges Mounin and Jean Molino and music semiology (doctoral) with Nicolas Ruwet.He is a noted specialist on the writings of the composer and conductor Pierre Boulez.In 1990, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. In 2001, he was made a Knight of the National Order of Quebec.

Joseph Kerman

Joseph Wilfred Kerman (April 3, 1924 – March 17, 2014) was an American critic and musicologist. One of the leading musicologists of his generation, his 1985 book Contemplating Music: Challenges to Musicology (published in the UK as Musicology) was described by Philip Brett in The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians as "a defining moment in the field." He was Professor Emeritus of Musicology at the University of California, Berkeley.

List of Guggenheim Fellowships awarded in 1994

List of Guggenheim Fellowships awarded in 1994

List of musicologists

A musicologist is someone who studies music (see musicology). A historical musicologist studies music from a historical perspective. An ethnomusicologist studies music in its cultural and social contexts (see ethnomusicology). A systematic musicologist asks general questions about music from the perspective of relevant disciplines (psychology, sociology, acoustics, philosophy, physiology, computer science) (see systematic musicology). Systematic musicologists often identify more strongly with their non-musical discipline than with musicology.

Motif (music)

In music, a motif (pronunciation) (also motive) is a short musical phrase, a salient recurring figure, musical fragment or succession of notes that has some special importance in or is characteristic of a composition: "The motive is the smallest structural unit possessing thematic identity".The Encyclopédie de la Pléiade regards it as a "melodic, rhythmic, or harmonic cell", whereas the 1958 Encyclopédie Fasquelle maintains that it may contain one or more cells, though it remains the smallest analyzable element or phrase within a subject. It is commonly regarded as the shortest subdivision of a theme or phrase that still maintains its identity as a musical idea. "The smallest structural unit possessing thematic identity". Grove and Larousse also agree that the motif may have harmonic, melodic and/or rhythmic aspects, Grove adding that it "is most often thought of in melodic terms, and it is this aspect of the motif that is connoted by the term 'figure'."

A harmonic motif is a series of chords defined in the abstract, that is, without reference to melody or rhythm. A melodic motif is a melodic formula, established without reference to intervals. A rhythmic motif is the term designating a characteristic rhythmic formula, an abstraction drawn from the rhythmic values of a melody.

A motif thematically associated with a person, place, or idea is called a leitmotif. Occasionally such a motif is a musical cryptogram of the name involved. A head-motif (German: Kopfmotiv) is a musical idea at the opening of a set of movements which serves to unite those movements.

Scruton, however, suggests that a motif is distinguished from a figure in that a motif is foreground while a figure is background: "A figure resembles a moulding in architecture: it is 'open at both ends', so as to be endlessly repeatable. In hearing a phrase as a figure, rather than a motif, we are at the same time placing it in the background, even if it is...strong and melodious".Any motif may be used to construct complete melodies, themes and pieces. Musical development uses a distinct musical figure that is subsequently altered, repeated, or sequenced throughout a piece or section of a piece of music, guaranteeing its unity. Such motivic development has its roots in the keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti and the sonata form of Haydn and Mozart's age. Arguably Beethoven achieved the highest elaboration of this technique; the famous "fate motif" —the pattern of three short notes followed by one long one—that opens his Fifth Symphony and reappears throughout the work in surprising and refreshing permutations is a classic example.

Motivic saturation is the "immersion of a musical motive in a composition", i.e., keeping motifs and themes below the surface or playing with their identity, and has been used by composers including Miriam Gideon, as in "Night is my Sister" (1952) and "Fantasy on a Javanese Motif" (1958), and Donald Erb. The use of motives is discussed in Adolph Weiss' "The Lyceum of Schönberg".Hugo Riemann defines a motif as, "the concrete content of a rhythmically basic time-unit."Anton Webern defines a motif as, "the smallest independent particle in a musical idea", which are recognizable through their repetition.Arnold Schoenberg defines a motif as, "a unit which contains one or more features of interval and rhythm [whose] presence is maintained in constant use throughout a piece".

Neutral level

In semiotics the neutral level of a sign is the "trace" left behind; the physical or material creation or remains of esthesic and poietic processes, levels, and analyses of symbolic forms. A part of all signs according to a tri-partitional definition, it corresponds to Saussure's "sound-image" (or "signified", thus Pierce's "representamen").

Thus, "a symbolic not some 'intermediary' in a process of 'communication' that transmits the meaning intended by the author to the audience; it is instead the result of a complex process of creation (the poetic process) that has to do with the form as well as the content of the work; it is also the point of departure for a complex process of reception (the esthesic process that reconstructs a 'message.')" (Nattiez 1990, p. 17)

Molino and Nattiez's diagram:

An immanent description is an analysis of the neutral level (Nattiez 1990, p. 75).


Satz (German for sentence, movement, set, setting) is any single member of a musical piece, which in and of itself displays a complete sense," (Riemann 1976: 841) such as a sentence, phrase, or movement.

Sentence (music)

In Western music theory, the term sentence is analogous to the way the term is used in linguistics, in that it usually refers to a complete, somewhat self-contained statement. Usually a sentence refers to musical spans towards the lower end of the durational scale; i.e. melodic or thematic entities well below the level of 'movement' or 'section', but above the level of 'motif' or 'measure'. The term is usually encountered in discussions of thematic construction. In the last fifty years, an increasing number of theorists such as William Caplin have used the term to refer to a specific theme-type involving repetition and development.

Seriation (semiotics)

The term seriation [mise en série] was proposed for use in semiotics by Jean Molino and derived from classical philology. Seriation "invokes the idea that any investigator, in order to assign some plausible meaning to a given phenomenon, must interpret it within a series of comparable phenomena." One cannot interpret what philology calls a hapax; that is, an isolated phenomenon. Art historian Erwin Panofsky has explained the situation in very clear terms:

'Whether we deal with historical or natural phenomena, the individual observation of phenomena assumes the character of a 'fact' only when it can be related to other, analogous observations in such a way that the whole series 'makes sense.' This 'sense' is, therefore, fully capable of being applied, as a control, to the interpretation of a new individual observation within the same range of phenomena. If, however, this new individual observation definitely refuses to be interpreted according to the 'sense' of the series, and if an error proves to be impossible, the 'sense' of the series will have to be reformulated to include the new individual observation' (1955, p. 35)" (1990, pp. 230–231).A seriation is determined by the plot.

Women in musicology

Women in musicology describes the role of women professors, scholars and researchers in postsecondary education musicology departments at postsecondary education institutions, including universities, colleges and music conservatories. Traditionally, the vast majority of major musicologists and music historians have been men. Nevertheless, some women musicologists have reached the top ranks of the profession. Carolyn Abbate (born 1956) is an American musicologist who did her PhD at Princeton University. She has been described by the Harvard Gazette as "one of the world's most accomplished and admired music historians".Susan McClary (born 1946) is a musicologist associated with the "New Musicology" who incorporates feminist music criticism in her work. McClary holds a PhD from Harvard University. One of her best known works is Feminine Endings (1991), which covers musical constructions of gender and sexuality, gendered aspects of traditional music theory, gendered sexuality in musical narrative, music as a gendered discourse and issues affecting women musicians. In the book, McClary suggests that the sonata form (used in symphonies and string quartets) may be a sexist or misogynistic procedure that constructs of gender and sexual identity. McClary's Conventional Wisdom (2000) argues that the traditional musicological assumption of the existence of "purely musical" elements, divorced from culture and meaning, the social and the body, is a conceit used to veil the social and political imperatives of the worldview that produces the classical canon most prized by supposedly objective musicologists.

American musicologist Marcia Citron has asked "[w]hy is music composed by women so marginal to the standard 'classical' repertoire?" Citron "examines the practices and attitudes that have led to the exclusion of women composers from the received 'canon' of performed musical works." She argues that in the 1800s, women composers typically wrote art songs for performance in small recitals rather than symphonies intended for performance with an orchestra in a large hall, with the latter works being seen as the most important genre for composers; since women composers did not write many symphonies, they were deemed to be not notable as composers.Other notable women scholars include:

Eva Badura-Skoda

Margaret Bent

Suzanne Cusick

Ursula Günther

Maud Cuney Hare

Liudmila Kovnatskaya

Kendra Preston Leonard

Rosetta Reitz

Elaine Sisman

Hedi Stadlen

Rose Rosengard Subotnik

Anahit Tsitsikian

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