Philip V. Bohlman

2022 Balzan Prize for Ethnomusicology

For his seminal contribution to ethnomusicology and music research more broadly, and for his work on music and European nationalism, music, race, and the colonial encounter; globalization; the interstices between music and religion; Jewish music in modernity; and the historically informed performance of Jewish urban musics.

Philip Bohlman’s multifaceted, prolific work – which includes research, teaching, mentoring, editorial work, translation, and performance – interrogates music and culture across space and time, in individual experience, and in encounters with others. He has carried out field and archival research in Central and Eastern Europe, Israel, India, and among the Jewish diaspora in the United States. An American ethnomusicologist, he is Ludwig Rosenberger Distinguished Service Professor in Jewish History, Music and the Humanities in the College at the University of Chicago, where he also holds a position as Faculty Associate in the Divinity School. In addition, he has taught in Germany at the University of Hildesheim and the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover, where he is also an Honorary Professor. Through his research, teaching, translation, and consulting for academic institutions in the US and Europe, he has contributed to creating channels of communication and cooperation between ethnomusicologists and institutions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Using a multidisciplinary approach in which ethnography, historical research, and music performance intersect, Philip Bohlman’s publications interrogate the multiple ways in which humans use music; how nationalism contributes to the ontology of European music both in the past and present; the relationship between Jewish music and modernity; the articulation between music, race, and the colonial encounter; the connections between music and religion, and between sacred musics and European modernity; and the histories of folk music research and ethnomusicology. As artistic director of the New Budapest Orpheum Society, he promotes the historical performance of Jewish cabaret and film music.

Philip Bohlman has published widely in English and German. One of his important monographs, Music, Nationalism, and the Making of the New the Europe (2011), in its second edition,received the Derek Allen Prize for Musicology from the British Academy. It examines music and nationalism in Europe both in the past and the present, drawing on different genres of written and orally/aurally transmitted musics, including folk, popular, religious, and art musics. Philip Bohlman draws contrasts between national and nationalist musics, highlighting their positive or negative impact on society in several parts of Europe. Dealing with a wide range of issues, musical genres, and practices, both historical and contemporary, the book argues that nationalism is the key to understanding European music.

He has also made a seminal contribution to the critical study of Jewish music both past and present. His book Jewish Music and Modernity (2008), the final volume in a trilogy, explores the dynamic response of Jewish music to the challenges of modernity. Focusing on various border regions of Central and Eastern Europe from the eighteenth-century Jewish Enlightenment up to the destruction of European Jewry in the Holocaust, this historical narrative examines diverse musical traditions in Jewish villages and on the stages of the modern city. Philip Bohlman argues that Jewish music is a hybrid of diverse musical genres, styles, and repertoires in different languages. He also offers a critical discussion of how assumptions about Jewish music acquire an ontology of their own, of Jewish music collecting, and of the impact of Jewishness on music and of Jewish music on modernity.

Philip Bohlman’s intellectual leadership and his capacity to mobilize scholars to explore new issues and themes in music research and to mediate between worlds of scholarship is also evident in his extensive work as editor and co-editor of landmark volumes, monograph series, and scholarly journals. This includes: Music and the Racial Imagination, co-edited with Ronald Radano (2000), which pioneers multidisciplinary reflection on the entanglement of music and race; The Cambridge History of World Music (2013), an extensive tome that makes an important contribution toward a historiography of music on a global scale; and Jazz Worlds/World Jazz (2016), including wide-ranging essays on jazz in global modernity. The latter two volumes received prestigious awards, respectively, the Bruno Nettl Prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology (2015) and the Ruth Solie Award from the American Musicological Society (2017).

Philip Bohlman’s scholarly contribution also extends to his work as curator and translator into English of Johann Gottfried Herder’s writings on music and nationalism (2017), thereby making his fundamental work accessible to contemporary readers.

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