Taruskin, Richard 1945–

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Taruskin, Richard 1945–

PERSONAL: Born April 2, 1945, in New York, NY. Education: Columbia University, Ph.D., 1975.

ADDRESSES: Office—Music Department, University of California, 216 Morrison, Berkeley, CA 94720-1200. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Writer, editor, musician, musicologist, critic, and educator. Columbia University, New York, NY, assistant professor, 1975–81, associate professor, 1981–87; University of California, Berkeley, associate professor, 1986–89, professor of music, 1989–. Visiting professor at University pf Pennsylvania, 1985, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1987.

MEMBER: American Philosophical Society.

AWARDS, HONORS: Fulbright-Hays traveling fellowship, 1971–72; Greenberg Prize, American Musicological Society, 1978; Alfred Einstein Award, 1980; Guggenheim fellowship, 1986; Dent Medal of England, 1987; Deems Taylor Award, American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, 1988; Kinkeldey Prize, 1997.


Opera and Drama in Russia As Preached and Practiced in the 1860s, UMI Research Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1981.

(Selector and annotator, with Piero Weiss) Music in the Western World: A History in Documents, Schirmer Books (New York, NY), 1984.

Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works through "Mavra," two volumes, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1986.

Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1993.

Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1997.

The Oxford History of Western Music, six volumes, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 1992, and to periodicals, including Early Music, Nineteenth-Century Music, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Opus, New Republic, and Music Theory Spectrum. Also editor of musical scores.

SIDELIGHTS: Richard Taruskin is a prominent musicologist, editor, educator, and critic. A scholar of Russian music, he is especially interested in the works of Igor Stravinsky, as well as fifteenth-century music, the theory of performance practice, and analytical methods.

Taruskin's Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue was described as "a collection of seven previously published studies bookended by two new essays" by New Republic reviewer Thomas P. Hodge. The critic added that it "belongs on the shelf of all professional Russianists and students of Russia; but it will also be read with considerable relish by non-music-specialists and nonscholars who simply wonder about the enigmas of Russian high culture at one of its most staggering zeniths" of quality. "Few will dispute that the most impressive writing on Musorgsky in recent years has been that of Richard Taruskin," commented Michael Russ in Music & Letters. "Revisionist and historiographical in tone, it has increasingly concerned itself with setting the record straight, with correcting the false picture of Musorgsky created by [critic and biographer] Stasov and built upon by Soviet musicologists." Taruskin's "knowledge and understanding of virtually all aspects of the period in which the composer lived is unrivaled today," observed David Lloyd-Jones in Notes. Taruskin works to put Musorgsky within the context of his time, and also places his musical output into its proper framework. He strives to tear down negative conceptions of Musorgsky and show that the composer "knew clearly what he was doing and worked steadily at accomplishing his goals," stated Patrick J. Smith in Opera News. "Essentially what Taruskin is attempting to do is to rid the musical world of the image of Musorgsky as an idiot savant," Smith commented. Taruskin's effort "represents a stunning display of knowledge, scholarship, and closely argued reasoning, supported by a cornucopia of wide-ranging references," concluded Lloyd-Jones.

Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance "presents virtually all Taruskin's major writing on performance criticism," reported John Butt in Early Music. He writes against what has come to be known as the authenticity movement, which identifies the important part of music as being the intent of the composer rather than the interpretation of the performer. Music is not a pure expression of the will of the composer, but is instead meant to be engaged with by the performer and the audience. In no circumstances, Taruskin claims, can a performer achieve the purity demanded by those who want to see music as completely authentic. "Performance is necessarily and inevitably a form of intervention between 'the score' and the audience," observed Sanford Levinson and J.M. Balkin in Notes. In his book, Taruskin "presents devastating arguments against the very possibility of 'interpretation-free' performance," reported Levinson and Balkin. "What Taruskin prizes above all is active engagement with the music of the past, however that engagement is accomplished."

Taruskin returns to his favored subject in Russian music with Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works through "Mavra." In this book, Taruskin seeks out Stravinsky's musical origins and his activities during his early Russian period, when he composed his best-known and most enduring works. The work is "a spectacular achievement, unique in its integration of cultural history, biography, and music analysis," asserted Lynne Roger in Notes. In Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays, Taruskin "illuminates, in short, the myths that composers and historians (those encamped both behind the Neva and behind the Rhine) have constructed around Russian music since the 1880s," remarked Simon Morrison in the Journal of the American Musicological Society. He addresses topics such as Russian nationalism; the works of noted Russian composers such as Chaikovsky, Scriabin, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich; and the problems inherent in interpreting authentic Russian music as genuine, and folkloric music as patriotic. "Defining Russia Musically is a marvelous book, on balance the finest volume on Russian music to date," commented Morrison, and a work that "constitutes a seminal contribution to Russian cultural studies." Malcolm Hamrick Brown observed in a Notes review that the book is "the best short course on eighteenth-and nineteenth-century Russian music history I know." A Publishers Weekly contributor called it "a major and challenging contribution to the field, with much valuable information."

More recently, Taruskin completed The Oxford History of Western Music, a six-volume comprehensive history of Western music. Producing such a work is a task of staggering proportions, but Taruskin has "assumed this burden and, what is more, acquitted himself nobly," commented Patrick J. Smith in the New Criterion. He provides careful analyses of major pieces of music and centers his discussions on the interpretation of significant musical works. He also "attempts to place the music within its own time-frame, safe from today's attitudes, and to try to understand how contemporaries viewed and heard the music," Smith observed. The author covers the progress of Western music from the earliest notations to the sixteenth century, and all the way to the popular crooners and composers of the twentieth century. "Taruskin's sweep is not just ambitious, but astonishing," commented Peter Phillips in the Spectator. Opera News contributor John W. Freeman concluded: "There's no place else to look for such a comprehensive, entertaining overview of this immense subject."



Early Music, May, 1996, John Butt, "Acting Up a Text: The Scholarship of Performance and the Performance of Scholarship," review of Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance, p. 323.

Journal of the American Musicological Society, summer, 2000, Simon Morrison, review of Defining Russia Musically: Historical and Hermeneutical Essays, p. 412.

Library Journal, May 1, 1997, Bonnie Jo Dopp, review of Defining Russia Musically, p. 106; February 15, 2005, Timothy J. McGee, review of The Oxford History of Western Music, p. 132.

Music & Letters, August, 1995, Michael Russ, review of Musorgsky: Eight Essays and an Epilogue, p. 450.

New Criterion, November, 2005, Patrick J. Smith, "Der Dichter ist tod," review of The Oxford History of Western Music, p. 73.

New Republic, August 8, 1994, Thomas P. Hodge, review of Musorgsky, p. 38; November 18, 1996, Caryl Emerson, review of Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works through "Mavra," p. 34.

Notes, March, 1994, David Lloyd-Jones, review of Musorgsky, p. 908; December 1996, Sanford Levinson and J.M. Balkin, review of Text and Act, p. 419; December, 1997, Lynne Roger, review of Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions, p. 438; September, 1998, Malcolm Hamrick Brown, review of Defining Russia Musically, p. 71.

Opera News, February 27, 1993, Patrick J. Smith, review of Musorgsky, p. 44; September, 2005, John W. Freeman, review of The Oxford History of Western Music, p. 95.

Publisher Weekly, March 31, 1997, review of Defining Russia Musically, p. 50.

Spectator, March 19, 2005, Peter Phillips, "The Latest and the Best," review of The Oxford History of Western Music, p. 35.


Stanford University Web site, http://www.standord.edu/ (March 14, 2006), biography of Richard Taruskin.

University of California, Berkeley Department of Music Web site, http://ls.berkeley.edu/dept/music/ (March 14, 2006), biography of Richard Taruskin.