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Last modified: Thursday, March 30, 2006

J. Peter Burkholder

Distinguished Professor


Peter Burkholder

Print-Quality Photo

Jacobs School of Music
Indiana University Bloomington
Appointed to IU faculty, 1988
A.B., Earlham College, 1975
M.A., The University of Chicago, 1980
Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 1983

From rewriting the definitive text on the history of Western music, to establishing himself as one of the world's foremost authorities on American composer Charles Ives, to developing a greater understanding of the concept of "musical borrowing," Indiana University Bloomington musicologist Peter Burkholder has made a lasting impact on music scholarship throughout the world.

He's even managed to turn up in the occasional dream.

"I will confess to having a classic anxiety dream," says Mary Ann Hart, chair of the Voice Department in the IU Jacobs School of Music. "I was lecturing about song texts in Ives, only to discover Peter in the classroom listening and evaluating. My dream-brain was saying, 'Oh no! You are in way over your head here,' but even in my dream, Peter was beaming encouragingly, and as the dream progressed, with his unspoken support, I narrowed my topic, organized the discussion, and found that I knew more than I had given myself credit for."

That Burkholder is regarded with such awe, appreciation, and fondness by his colleagues and peers is testament to his generous spirit, imaginative scholarship, and leadership in the field of music history.

"He is a central figure in American music studies," says Jacobs School of Music Dean Gwyn Richards, noting Burkholder's international recognition as a scholar and as president of the American Musicological Society and Charles Ives Society.

Colleagues at other universities echo Richards' assessement.

"Peter is universally respected and accepted as a major musicologist — perhaps the major American musicologist — of his generation," says H. Wiley Hitchcock, Distinguished Professor of Music Emeritus, City University of New York.

"He is, by every measure, one of the top handful of leading scholars in musicology from both national and international perspectives," says Joseph Auner, associate provost and professor of music, Stony Brook University.

Burkholder's ability to cut across disciplinary boundaries and apply interesting ideas to a variety of subjects distinguishes him from other scholars, says Massimo Ossi, chair of the Musicology Department.

"I have found myself confronted with the evidence of Professor Burkholder's prolific and original mind at almost every turn of my development as a musicologist, largely because his work raises interesting questions that all of us who work in the field can adopt as methodological models," says Ossi. "Many of us work in more than one area, but not many of us can find useful parallels between different subjects and then fruitfully transfer a given methodology from topic to topic."

His groundbreaking scholarship on musical "borrowing" — the use of existing material as a basis for new composition — continues to enlighten historians as to how music is created and stylized and how it evolves across cultures and centuries. Similarly, his research and writings on the legendary composer Charles Ives remain essential reading for all subsequent Ives scholarship, says Thomas J. Mathiesen, Distinguished Professor and Davvid H. Jacobs Chair in Music. They have "illuminated the workings of the composer's mind and art in ways that had either not been realized at all or only imperfectly perceived," says Mathiesen.

Malcolm Brown, professor emeritus of music at IU and past chair of the Musicology Department, who recruited Burkholder to IU from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, adds, "Peter realized that he could understand Ives' music only if he understood the composer in the historical, sociological, cultural, and psychological context of his life and times."

Burkholder's landmark revision of A History of Western Music (7th edition, Norton, 2005), which is the quintessential resource for the study of Western music in higher education, reflects the author's belief that to fully explain music's significance, historians should attempt to understand the people who composed, performed, and appreciated it.

In many respects, the book represents a continuation of Burkholder's longstanding commitment to teaching and to the growth and development of future scholars and musicians. A History of Western Music, with its elegant and engaging prose written for both the technical and non-technical reader, is a "testament to his love for his students," says Professor Robert Hatten. Burkholder is reconstructing the "traditional role of scholar-teacher, which has already made him a model for the next generation of American-trained scholars of music," adds Brown.

Bryon Almén studied piano literature with Burkholder at IU 15 years ago and chose him to be his dissertation adviser. Today, he teaches music theory at the University of Texas at Austin. Burkholder remains his friend and role model, embodying everything that is most "admirable and worthy" in his profession, Almén says.

"If I communicate only a fraction of the humanistic spirit, the love of learning, the empathic concern for others, and the integrity that I have seen in Dr. Burkholder, then I will consider my career to have been a great success."