The SMA (Society for Music Analysis) recently announced the inaugural winner of the Pascall Medal (2020), James Hepokoski (Henry L. and Lucy G. Moses Professor Emeritus of Music, Yale University).
Few scholars can hope to make a truly signal contribution to their field within an academic discipline, but James Hepokoski has done it for several. He made his name in the 1980s as a historian of Italian opera, particularly Verdi, and was responsible for several important essay collections and editions (for instance, Giuseppe Verdi: Falstaff (Cambridge, 1983); Giuseppe Verdi: Otello (Cambridge, 1987); and Otello di Giuseppe Verdi (Milan, 1990), ed. with M. Viale Ferrero).
Following an intense scholarly engagement with the ‘Dahlhaus project’, from the early 1990s he shifted focus to German music of the early modernist period, in particular Strauss, Sibelius, and Elgar. In this he more or less single-handedly inaugurated an entirely new way of conceiving of the tonal tradition within modernist composition at the level of its form and its embedded social meaning – in effect elevating the potently gnomic quasi-analytical arguments of Adorno and Dahlhaus into a genuine, and broadly applicable theory of musical form and social meaning which forged an exciting new synthesis of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ musicological approaches, the one text-based, the other broadly contextual. Hepokoski’s synthesis has provided an exciting, philosophically acute, and theoretically rigorous model for subsequent generations of musicologists and music analysts.
Hepokoski’s profoundly influential work on early modernism alone would qualify his admission to the pantheon of great music theorists, but his expansion of the historical and stylistic purview of what he came to call, with his collaborator Warren Darcy, ‘Sonata Theory’ into the music of the Viennese classics demonstrated the depth of his theoretical and interpretative tools. In some ways a culmination of his work, this new theory has made a profound contribution to the ‘new Formenlehre’, and the collision of perspectives between Hepokoskian and alternative ways of thinking about form, society, history, and meaning in music from the mid eighteenth to the mid twentieth century has been an important stimulus for much recent work in the field.
Prof. Hepokoski’s acceptance statement
It is an honor indeed not only to have been awarded the Pascall Medal but also to have been the first scholar to have received this award. This is wonderful news in the midst of continuing pandemic times! My thanks to the Society for Music Analysis for this distinction, and I very much look forward to participating in the next SMA conference