Cantatas to Led Zeppelin: Exploring Time and History Through Music


A new collection of essays, titled Postmodernity’s Musical Pasts seeks to “understand the meaning of time and history … in Western musical practices and cultures” since 1945. The book was edited by Tina Frühauf (The Graduate Center).

The 11 essays span a wide range of composers, musical works, and genres, from classical to pop, mirroring the “eclectic and diverse nature of the postwar era.” Contributors explore topics ranging from cantatas composed in Chile between 1941 and 1969, to the iconic rock albums by Jethro Tull, The Who, and Led Zeppelin conceived in 1971. One chapter looks at Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams, who wrote the opera Nixon in China, while another examines indie neofado, a contemporary iteration deriving from traditional Portuguese fado music.

In her introduction, Frühauf writes that the “guiding thread” for each essay is “how the present relates to any given histories, in light of the future.” On these grounds, the collection moves away from “established notions” connecting music to “linear conceptions” of time, rejecting terms like “revival” and “neoclassicism” in favor of more “nuanced” descriptions.

Frühauf defines postmodernity as “a time and condition in which both modernism and postmodernism coexist.” In music, she adds, “modernism has clearly lingered on, with works still being created that bear signs of its longevity,” while postmodernity is not only “expressed in undecidability and ambivalence, the combination of the ‘high’ and ‘low’ … and of the ‘new’ and ‘old’ …the universal and the local” but also in the “post-1945 dovetailing and overlapping of modernist and postmodernist ideas.”

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Postmodernity’s Musical Pasts
Boydell & Brewer, 2020

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Tina Frühauf (Music) | Profile 1

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The Graduate Center