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The Globalization of Music: Origins, Development, & Consequences, c1500–1815

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Lecture Series by D. R. M. Irving (Christ’s College, Cambridge)

Globalization is one of the most controversial issues to be debated in the humanities and social sciences today. Whether seen as a set of cultural processes or economic complexes, this phenomenon is considered by many theorists to be characterized chiefly by sustained and regular exchanges that forge interdependencies and a sense of interconnectivity on a worldwide scale, resulting in or contributing to the development of a global consciousness. Globalization emphasizes difference, promotes pluralism, and increases diversity through the accelerating circulation of a multiplicity of cultural practices. This literal revolution is intensified by the mass movement of peoples (voluntary or involuntary) and the creation of diasporas, as well as the transcultural consumption of artistic practices and commodities. Yet at the same time globalization comes bound up with the need for standardization and intercultural compatibility, while requiring the creation of interfaces and protocols for exchange; in this way it institutes some degree of cultural homogeneity and precipitates the simultaneous sharing of common artistic practices by geographically dispersed communities. This is one of the paradoxes of globalization, and it seems that no one artform encapsulates it more singularly than music. Such a circumstance calls for analytical scrutiny, and this series of lectures thus aims to explore many of the seminal issues relating to the complex and entangled relationship between music and globalization in the unprecedented, inexorable, and irrevocable integration of the earth’s societies from c1500 to 1815. Almost every form of art music or popular music that we cultivate or study today is in some way related to the patterns of intercultural reciprocity that were set in place during this age of incipient globalization. The rise of Western art music, in particular, can be linked inextricably to the genesis and evolution of global capitalism from the sixteenth century onwards, and seen to depend on the extraction of valuable material resources – not to mention the absorption of artistic inspiration – from the rest of the world. Music acted as a tool of empire and colonialism in the context of European expansion, but it also served as a form of resistance and cultural self-identification for subaltern societies. Global flows of capital, the development of fundamentally new epistemologies based on empirical evidence drawn from global exploration, the growth of world religions and dissemination of new ideologies, the delineation of geocultural and geopolitical boundaries (not to mention the devising of strategies by which they could be traversed), the nascence of human rights, and the ongoing global class struggle – exacerbated by a widening wealth gap – all had profound effects on musical practice throughout the world. In turn, music affected these elements of globalization in significant and often unexpected ways. These lectures will address topics relating to intercultural encounter and engagement, negotiations of power, clashes between literate and non-literate musical cultures, and standardization and (in)compatibility of musical practices, in order to question theories of value, to challenge Eurocentric notions of music history, to explore the beginnings of music commodification, and to provide a radically new assessment of the origins, development, and consequences of the early modern globalization of music.

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