Cover image for A question of balance : Charles Seeger's philosophy of music
A question of balance : Charles Seeger's philosophy of music
Greer, Taylor Aitken, 1955-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xv, 273 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library ML423.S498 G74 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



One of this century's most influential musical intellects takes center stage in Taylor Greer's meticulously wrought study of Charles Seeger (1886-1979). Seeger left an indelible mark in the fields of musicology, music criticism, ethnomusicology, and avant-garde musical composition, but until now there has been no extended appreciation and critique of Seeger's work as a whole, nor has an accessible guide to his texts been available.

Exploring the entire corpus of Charles Seeger's writing, A Question of Balance highlights the work of those persons who most influenced him, especially Henri Bergson, Bertrand Russell, and Ralph Perry. Invited to inaugurate the music department at the University of California's Berkeley campus in 1912, Seeger became keenly aware of his deficiencies in general education and put himself on a rigorous regimen of intellectual development that included studying history, anthropology, political theory, and philosophy. For the remainder of his life his ideas about music heavily influenced the development of ethnomusicology and systematic musicology.

Charles Seeger is perhaps best known as the father of the folk singers Pete, Mike, and Peggy Seeger and as the husband of the innovative American composer Ruth Crawford. This book makes clear that Seeger was an extremely important thinker and educator in his own right. Seeger's intellectual curiosity was as eclectic as it was enthusiastic, and Greer skillfully weaves together the connections Seeger made between music, the humanities, and the sciences. The result is a luminous tapestry depicting Seeger's ideal schemes of musicology. At the same time it reflects the turbulence and vitality in American musical life during the early decades of the century.

Author Notes

Taylor Aitken Greer is Associate Professor of Music at Pennsylvania State University.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The makings of an iconoclast are never easily detailed. Charles Seeger, best known as the husband of Ruth Crawford Seeger and father of Peggy Seeger and Pete Seeger, had as liberal an interest in all fields of knowledge as any thinker of the 20th century. Known in the musical world mainly as a composer and teacher, Seeger actually drew on fields of knowledge outside of music--e.g., anthropology, linguistics, folklore. Greer (Pennsylvania State Univ.) espouses the view that Seeger's main contribution was as a philosopher--a philosopher who understood art from the inside out and in relation to many different aspects of human experience. Seeger's reaction against the musicological traditions of the 19th century came in the form of writings that ranged over music criticism, compositional theory, and ethnomusicology. Greer examines four of Seeger's main writings, emphasizing key intellectual influences on Seeger: Henri Bergson, Bertrand Russell, and Ralph Barton Perry. Greer does an excellent job of illustrating the confluence of ideas in Seeger's work, and he convincingly places Seeger's contribution to the speculative musical world at least on a par with that of Charles Ives. The only detailed examination of Charles Seeger's work, and a valuable contribution to the scope of musical thinking in the 20th century. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals. M. Neil; Augustana College (IL)

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