Thomas Christensen

Thomas Christiansen
Avalon Foundation Professor of Music and the Humanities; Director of Admissions
Wieboldt 401
PhD, Yale University, 1985

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 attempts to analyze his music theory as a complex response to both the empirical as well as synthetic values of Enlightenment science. Other key articles over the years have concerned the writings of the 17th-century savants, Marin Mersenne and Seth Calvisius, thorough-bass theory and practice in the 18th century; problems in the historiography of music theory; and the history and social aesthetics of playing piano transcriptions in the 19th century. Many of these articles have recently been reprinted in a volume that was published in 2014 entitled “The Work of Music Theory.” He has also attempted more synthetic surveys of historical music theory, particularly as editor of the Cambridge History of Western Music Theory (published in 2003; translations into Macedonian and Chinese).

Christensen’s research has received support and recognition over the years from a variety of academic associations and funding agencies. In 2011-12, he spent a year as Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. More recently, Christensen received Fellowships from the the ACLS (2015) and the Guggenheim Foundation (2019) to support his most recent book concerning the concept of tonality as first elaborated by the Belgian music scholar, Joseph Fétis, and its reception in the 19th-century (Tonality in the Age of François-Joseph Fétis University of Chicago Press, 2019). An active citizen in the broader intellectual community of music scholars, Christensen has served as President of the Society for Music Theory (1999-2001) and as a member of the Executive Board of the American Musicological Society. Over his scholarly career, he has worked energetically to further collaborative ties with German and French scholars in music. In 2019-20 he was a Guggenheim Fellow at the Statliches Institut für Musikforschung in Berlin Germany.

Selected Publications

“Reicha’s Cours de composition musicale: a Textbook for the New Century.” In Antoine Reicha: the Making of a Nineteenth-Century Composer, ed. Fabio Morabito.   Forthcoming. 

“Music Theory, Cultural Transfer, and Colonial Hybridity.”  Zeitschrift der Gesselschaft für Musiktheorie. 15/2, 2018, eds. Christian Utz and Ullrich Scheideler, 15-21.

 “Music Theory Pedagogy,” The Cambridge History of Sixteenth-Century Music, eds. Iain Fenlon and Richard Wistreich.  Cambridge:  University of Cambridge Press, 2018, 416-40.

“Music Theory,” The Cambridge History of Medieval Music, ed. Mark Everist and Thomas Kelly.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018, 357-81.

"Dahlhaus and the Origins of the Origin." Theoria, vol. 24 (2017), 141-56.

“The Improvisatory Moment,” Studies in Historical Improvisation: From Cantare super Librum to Partimenti, ed. Massimiliano Guido.  New York:  Ashgate, 2017,  9-24. 

“Dahlhaus und die Poetik des Zweifels.”  Zeitschrift der Gesselschaft für Musiktheorie.  Sonderausgabe: Carl Dahlhaus und die Musiktheorie, ed. Stefan Rohinger (2016), 19-28.

“Mishearing Rameau: Rameau’s Theory of Harmony in Eighteenth-Century Germany,” Rezeption und Kulturtransfer:  Deutsche und französische Musiktheorie nach Rameau, ed. Birger Petersen. Spektrum Musiktheorie.  Mainz, 2016, 106-25.

 “A Theorist for our Times,” Rameau, Entre Art et Science, eds. Sylvie Bouissou, Graham Sadler and Solveig Serre.  Paris:  École des Chartes, 2016, 329-44.

“Soundings Off Stage,” The Oxford Handbook of Opera, ed. Helen Greenwald.  Oxford University Press, 2014), 899-920.