Thomas Christensen


Avalon Foundation Professor of Music and the Humanities;
Associate Dean and Master of the Humanities Collegiate Division


Ph.D., Yale University, 1985


Office: Goodspeed Hall 308
Phone: (773) 702-8030

Thomas Christensen’s scholarly research centers on the history of music theory. Fundamental to his work has been a desire to situate the many intellectual frames, arguments and linguistic models used by writers in the early modern period deeply within cultural discourses. Hence, as one example, Christensen’s 1993 monograph on Jean-Philippe Rameau attempted to analyze his music theory as a complex response to both the empirical as well as synthetic values of Enlightenment science. Some of his more recent work on the writings of the 17th-century savant, Marin Mersenne or the 19th-century Belgian scholar Joseph Fetis, have likewise sought to analyze their enigmatic writings in the light of coterminous intellectual currents and social frames. But Thomas Christensen’s research is not solely focused on individual theorists. He has also attempted more synthetic surveys of problems in music theory, particularly as editor of the Cambridge History of Western Music Theory (published in 2003). A Chinese edition of 'CHWMT' will appear in 2011. His work has received support and recognition over the years from a variety of academic associations and funding agencies. In turn, Christensen has been an active citizen in the broader intellectual community of music scholars, with a particular interest in fostering collaborative ties with German and French colleagues in music. In 2011-12 he will be a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin where he will be writing a monograph on the early historiography of tonality.

Recent Courses Taught

  • History of Music Theory. Spring 2011.
  • Advanced Tonal Analysis. Spring 2009.
  • Stravinsky. Spring, 2008.
  • Sonata Theory. Spring 2007.
  • Music and Science in the Early Modern Period. Spring 2006.
  • History of Medieval Music Theory. Winter 2006.
  • "Reading" Bach. Fall 2005
  • Rousseau and Music. Fall 2003

Selected Publications

  • Tonalité in the 19th-Century French Musical Imagination. Forthcoming.
  • “The Sound World of Father Mersenne,” Sound and Sensibility in the 17th Century, ed. Susan McClary (Garland Press, forthcoming).
  • Harmonia Temporis: Seth Calvisius und Chronologie,” in Sethus Calvisius, Kongress Bericht, ed. Gesine Schroeder.  (Olms Verlag, forthcoming).
  • The Work of Music Theory: Essays in the Social History of the Music Theory Text (Ashgate Publishing, 2014).
  • Cambridge History of Western Music Theory (general editor). Cambridge University Press, 2002 (Second Paperback Edition, 2005). 
  • Aesthetics and the Art of Musical Composition in the German Enlightenment: Selected Writings of Johann Georg Sulzer and Heinrich Koch (co-authored and translated with Nancy Baker). Cambridge University Press, 1995 (Second Paperback Edition, 2007).
  • Rameau and Musical Thought in the Enlightenment.  Cambridge University Press, 1993 (Second Paperback Edition, 2004).
  • Handwörter Buch der musikalischen Terminologie, "Fundamentum, fundamental, basse fondamentale" (Mainz, 2005).
  • “Bemetzrieder’s Dream: Diderot and the Pathology of Tonal Sensibility in the Lecons de clavecin,” in Music, Sensation and Sensuality, ed. Linda Austern (New York: Garland Press, 2001), 39-56.
  • "Public Music in Private Spaces: Piano-Vocal Scores and the Domestication of Opera,” in Music and the Cultures of Print," ed. Kate van Orden (New York: Garland Press, 2000), 67-93.
  • "Four-Hand Piano Transcriptions and Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Musical Reception." Journal  of the American Musicological Society 52/2 (1999), 255-98.
  • "Bach Among the Theorists," Bach Perspectives 3 (1998), 23-46.