Alex Rehding

Alex Rehding is Fanny Peabody Professor and Chair of the Harvard University Department of Music. As a music theorist, Rehding is interested in the question of how music has been understood at different times in history. This has taken his work in a number of different directions — from Ancient Greek music to the Eurovision Song Contest. He is interested in the history of music theory, paleo- and neo-Riemannian theory, music-aesthetic questions, and issues of sound and media.

He has worked extensively on Hugo Riemann¹s theories and musical culture in nineteenth-century Germany, resulting in the books Hugo Riemann and the Birth of Modern Musical Thought (2003, pb 2008) and Music and Monumentality (2009). He is also co-editor of Music Theory and Natural Order (2001, pb 2005, with Suzannah Clark) and The Oxford Handbook of Neo-Riemannian Music Theory (2011, with Ed Gollin), which was awarded the Special Citation of Merit by the SMT.

Rehding’s interest in tonal theory’s encounter with non-tonal music has found expression in an exhibition (with online catalog) “Sounding China in Enlightenment Europe” (2010), which he curated with a group of graduate students, as well as a number of article-length studies on a range of topics including ancient Greek music theory (with John McKay), ancient Egyptian music, and enharmonicism in Rameau and Rousseau. His article “The Quest for the Origins of Music in Germany ca. 1900” (2001) was awarded the inaugural Jerome Roche Prize of the RMA.

The wider questions of how ancient music was imagined by theorists and how non-western music was transmitted to Europe led Rehding to an engagement with musical media, including notation but also recording technology. Articles in the field of media aesthetics and music include studies on Edison’s phonograph, the gramophone, the radio, as well as work on sirens.

At present Rehding is interested in how music theory has engaged the question of sound. Recently he completed the entry on “Acoustics” for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. His current book project, Notes on Sound: Nineteenth-Century Music between Acoustics and Aesthetics, examines how nineteenth-century music theory is situated between science and philosophy. Thanks to a generous grant from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, he is the convener of the 2013/14 John E. Sawyer Seminar in the Comparative Study of Culture, Hearing Modernity.

Rehding has been awarded numerous awards and fellowships, including Guggenheim, ACLS, Mellon, Humboldt, and Channing.

WAMC: Monumental Music
Amusicology: Guest Post by Alexander Rehding: Happy Birthday, Tonality!
PLOS Biology: Neuroaesthetics and the Trouble with Beauty