Musical biography has rarely been an object of theoretical and methodological reflection.
Our present-day perception of the lives of prominent composers and performers of the past has been largely formed by cultural and political assumptions of nineteenth-century biographers and their twentieth-century followers.
While older biographies are being scrutinized for veracity and 'updated' with new evidence, their historiographical premisses and narrative techniques remain largely unchallenged. The epistemological upheavals in the humanities since the 1960s have generated a body of theoretical thought that has undermined many of the assumptions of traditional biography.
Consequently, many of these assumptions have lost their hold as viable underpinnings for present-day scholarly biography.
For example, the accumulation of facts is no longer believed to bring us closer to an understanding of the subject; nor are the traditional views of the unified self and the self as a foundational idea taken for granted. This volume brings together musicologists and historians who explore, through individual case studies, the rich potential of these new theories for writing musical lives.
The authors of this volume examine how the insights provided by these theories illuminate our critical reassessment of older biographies - and the interpretations of musical works these biographies were used to construe - and help forge new approaches to musical biography. The authors also explore the functions musical biographies served in different historical contexts, the relevance of biography for musical criticism, the reliability of archival evidence, the ethics of biography, the demands placed on biography by feminist and gender history, and the new possibilities offered by cinema. The contributors to this volume challenge the view that biography has little importance for music history, analysis, and criticism.
Collectively, they reassert biography's centrality and relevance, and dem