Richard Taruskin
Taruskin in 2014
Richard Filler Taruskin

(1945-04-02)April 2, 1945
New York City, U.S.
DiedJuly 1, 2022(2022-07-01) (aged 77)
Cathy Roebuck
(m. 1984)
Academic background
EducationColumbia University (B.A., M.A., PhD)
Academic work
DisciplineRussian music
Notable worksOxford History of Western Music

Richard Filler Taruskin (April 2, 1945 – July 1, 2022) was an American musicologist and music critic who was among the leading and most prominent music historians of his generation.[1] The breadth of his scrutiny into source material as well as musical analysis that combines sociological, cultural, and political perspectives has incited much discussion, debate and controversy.[2][3] He regularly wrote music criticism for newspapers including The New York Times. He researched a wide variety of areas, but a central topic was Russian music from the 18th century to the present day.[4] Other subjects he engaged with include the theory of performance, 15th-century music, 20th-century classical music, nationalism in music, the theory of modernism, and analysis.[4] He is best known for his monumental survey of Western classical music, the six-volume Oxford History of Western Music.[2][5] His awards include the first Noah Greenberg Award from the American Musicological Society in 1978 and the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy in 2017.

Early life and education

Richard Filler Taruskin[6] was born on April 2, 1945, in New York.[4] Taruskin was raised in a family described as liberal, intellectual, Jewish and musical; his mother, Beatrice (Filler), was a piano teacher and father, Benjamin Taruskin, an amateur violinist.[2][7] He attended the High School of Music & Art, now part of Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, where he studied cello.[2] Taruskin went on to receive his B.A. magna cum laude (1965), M.A. (1968), and Ph.D. in historical musicology (1976) from Columbia University.[7] As a choral conductor he directed the Columbia University Collegium Musicum. He played the viola da gamba with the Aulos Ensemble from the late 1970s to the late 1980s.[2][4]

During his PhD studies, he worked with Paul Henry Lang, who had pioneered placing music within its socio-cultural context, as in Music in Western Civilization.[6] Through a family member who had stayed in Russia after the Revolution, Taruskin had access to recordings of Russian operas besides the most familiar ones, which sparked his interest in Russian music. He went to Moscow for a year on a Fulbright Scholarship, where he was interested not only in the language and music, but also in the way music connects to social and political history. In the 1980s he explored the archives of Igor Stravinsky when they were held by the New York Public Library.[1]


Taruskin was on the faculty of Columbia University from 1975 until 1986.[6] He then moved to California as a professor of musicology at the University of California, Berkeley,[1] where he held the Class of 1955 Chair.[2] He retired from Berkeley at the end of 2014.[8]

Taruskin published his first book in 1981, Opera and Drama in Russia as Preached and Practiced in the 1860s.[6] He also wrote extensively for lay readers, including numerous articles in The New York Times beginning in the mid-1980s.[6][9] They were often "lively, erudite, fiercely articulate"[6] and controversial, with targets such as Elliott Carter, Carl Orff, and Sergei Prokofiev.[6] Many of his articles were collected in books such as Text and Act,[10] a volume that exhibits him as having been an influential critic of the premises of the "historically informed performance" movement in classical music,[1][2][9] The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays,[11] and On Russian Music.[12] His writings frequently took up social, cultural, and political issues in connection with music—for example, the question of censorship. A specific instance was the debate over John Adams’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer.[13][n 1]

Taruskin's extensive 1996 study Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works through Mavra showed that Igor Stravinsky drew more heavily on Russian folk material than had previously been recognized. The book analyzed the historical trends that caused Stravinsky not to be forthcoming about some of these borrowings.[1][14]

His survey of Western classical music appeared as the six-volume Oxford History of Western Music.[2][5] The first volume, devoted to Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, "wove facts and impressions from histories, visual art and architecture", and was characterized at the time of his death as possibly "the best overall introduction to 'early music' available".[6]

Personal life and death

Taruskin married Cathy Roebuck in 1984. They had two children.[1][6] He died from esophageal cancer at a hospital in Oakland, California, on July 1, 2022, aged 77.[6][7][15]

Awards and honors

Taruskin received numerous awards and honors for his scholarship. In 1978, he was the first recipient of the Noah Greenberg Award from the American Musicological Society (AMS) for his research and recording of Ockeghem's Missa prolationum.[16] He received the Alfred Einstein Award (1980) from the AMS and the Dent Medal (1987) from the Royal Musical Association.[17] He received the Otto Kinkeldey Award from the AMS twice, in 1997 and 2006.[4] In 1998, he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.[18] The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers awarded him the Deems Taylor Award in 1988 [19] and again in 2006.[20] In 2017 he was the recipient of the Kyoto Prize in Arts and Philosophy (Music).[8][9][21] In 2012, a conference honoring him and his work, After the End of Music History, was held at Princeton University.[6]






Review Articles



  1. ^ See, for example, “The Klinghoffer Controversy” in Thomas May, ed., The John Adams Reader (Amadeus Press, 2006), pp. 297–339; Taruskin’s original 2001 The New York Times article is reprinted there and, with a lengthy postscript, in The Danger of Music.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Kosman, Joshua (May 31, 2014). "UC music historian Richard Taruskin relishes provocateur role". SF Gate. Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h McBride, Jerry (2008). "Richard Taruskin". Stanford University Libraries and Academic Information Resources. Archived from the original on January 30, 2021. Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  3. ^ Anon. 2017, "Achievement Digest".
  4. ^ a b c d e Morgan 2001.
  5. ^ a b Ritzarev 2017, pp. 124–125.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Page, Tim (July 2, 2022). "Richard Taruskin, provocative scholar of classical music, dies at 77". Washington Post. Retrieved July 3, 2022.
  7. ^ a b c Robin, William (July 1, 2022). "Richard Taruskin, Vigorously Polemical Musicologist, Dies at 77". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 2, 2022. Retrieved July 1, 2022.
  8. ^ a b "Music Professor Wins Prestigious Kyoto Prize". June 20, 2017. Retrieved July 2, 2022.
  9. ^ a b c Anon. 2017.
  10. ^ Taruskin, Richard (1995). Text and Act: Essays on Music and Performance. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-509458-9.[page needed]
  11. ^ Taruskin, Richard (2010). The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays. Univ of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-26805-0.[page needed]
  12. ^ Taruskin, Richard (2008). On Russian Music. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-94280-6. Project MUSE 25677.[page needed]
  13. ^ Maddocks, Fiona (February 17, 2017). "John Adams: 'Trump is a sociopath – there's no empathy, he's a manipulator'". The Guardian. Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  14. ^ Fink, Robert (1997). "Review Essay: Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions: A Biography of the Works Through Mavra". Modernism/Modernity. 4 (3): 147–154. doi:10.1353/mod.1997.0053. S2CID 146710688. Project MUSE 23184.
  15. ^ Brachmann, Jan (July 2, 2022). "Ukraine und Stalins Völkermord: Schostakowitschs Chefankläger" (in German). FAZ.NET. Retrieved July 2, 2022.
  16. ^ "The Noah Greenberg Award Winners". American Musicological Society. Retrieved May 28, 2022.
  17. ^ "Richard Taruskin". University of California, Berkeley. March 5, 2014. Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  18. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved December 2, 2021.
  19. ^ "30th Annual ASCAP Deems Taylor Award Recipients". American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  20. ^ "38th Annual ASCAP Deems Taylor Award Recipients". American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  21. ^ "Musicologist Richard Taruskin Wins Japanese 'Nobel'". The Forward. June 21, 2017. Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  22. ^ Anon. 2017, Profile: Selected Publications.
  23. ^ Morgan 2001, "Writings".


Further reading