Thomas Christensen

thomas christensen
Avalon Foundation Professor of Music and the Humanities
Wieboldt 401
Ph.D, 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 have concerned the writings of the 17th-century savants, Marin Mersenne and Seth Calvisius, thorough-bass theory in the 18th century;  the reception of Rameau’s theories in Germany; 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. Most recently, Christensen received Fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation (2015) and the ACLS (2015) to support his present project on the music theory of the Belgian music scholar, Joseph Fétis, and its reception in the 19th-century. 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 worked for several decades to further collaborative ties with German and French colleagues in music.