Acceptance Speech – Rome, 24.11.2006


Ludwig Finscher

2006 Balzan Prize for the History of Western Music since 1600

For his wide-ranging research activity in the field of musicology; for his penetrating, memorable insights into great works of music; for his profound commentaries on musical phenomena as well as his editorial direction of the new edition of the encyclopaedia Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, which makes the newest research accessible to a wide circle of musicians and music lovers.

Mr. President,
Members of the Balzan Foundation,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Balzan Prize is the most prestigious international distinction a member of the humanities can achieve, and I hardly can find appropriate words to thank the Balzan Foundation for the great honour it has bestowed on me. It gives my scholarly work recognition on an international scale far beyond the field of musicology, and it enables me to carry on with new projects which have been on my mind for a long time but for which so far I have seen no chance of realization. It is also a welcome opportunity to look back.

Trying to find my way through the inexhaustible treasures of our musical heritage, I have from the beginning moved between two regions which I found especially fascinating: on the one hand, sacred and secular music of the 15th and 16th centuries, and on the other, the music of Viennese classicism, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. In trying to find out why and how they gained their unique position in music history and why and how they have kept this position until now, it was inevitable that I should go on to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and at the same time back to the roots from which they grew to such a dominating stature, that is, on to the romanticists up to Brahms and Schönberg, and back to Bach and Händel. I have also tried to look at the classical masterworks from as many different points of view as possible, without fear of methodological eclecticism. At the same time, I have always tried to understand not only the most sublime works but also the endeavours of the lesser luminaries – seeing the history of musical composition as a never-ending discourse between all kinds of composers, music history as the history of all aspects of musical culture in society, and music historiography as the reconstruction and narrative construction of a virtually all-encompassing structure from which the great works of art shine on. We are still far from such a comprehensive point of view. The Balzan Prize will enable me to work on a few aspects of this approach, and I am immensely grateful for that.

On the other hand, I am convinced that my work, like any endeavour to understand works of art generated in a historical moment and changing in the course of their own history, can only yield tentative and temporary results. So I am sure that I have not found and will never find the magic flute which could lead me into the realm of the initiated who know the truth. But I have found deed gratification in my work, not least because l have had the chance to pass on its principles and results to the students with whom l have worked for so many years and from whom l have learned so much, and to the larger public with which we ought to share our insights. A scholar’s existence is a privileged existence, the privilege being granted by society. A scholar having the privilege to work with occidental art music, one of the greatest achievements and treasures of our culture, is bound to feel as if always at the beginning of an exciting journey – and is thus bound to be a happy person.

There is another aspect which is important to me. The Balzan Prize has been awarded for achievements in the field of music only twice before: in 1962 to Paul Hindemith, and in 1991 to György Ligeti. Today, in choosing a musicologist for the first time, the Balzan Foundation has honoured a scholarly discipline which is, to put it mildly, not in the foreground of public interest and which nowadays has a rather difficult time as a university discipline. In adopting musicology into the canon of disciplines which you deem worthy of encouragement, you are giving moral support to the whole field of scholarly research in music. I am deeply grateful for that.

Thank you.

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