Joseph Wilfred Kerman (born April 3, 1924) is an American critic and musicologist. One of the leading musicologists of his generation, his 1985 book Contemplating Music: Challenges to Musicology (published in the UK as Musicology) was described by Philip Brett in The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians as "a defining moment in the field."  He is Professor Emeritus of Musicology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Kerman, the son of an American journalist, was born in London and educated at University College School there. He then attended New York University where he received his BA in 1943 and Princeton University where he received his PhD in 1950. While at Princeton he studied under Oliver Strunk, Randall Thompson and Carl Weinrich and wrote his doctoral thesis on the Elizabethan madrigal. From 1949 to 1951 he taught at Westminster Choir College in Princeton. Then he joined the faculty of University of California, Berkeley where he became a full professor in 1960 and was chairman of the music department from 1960 to 1963. In 1971, he was appointed Heather Professor of Music at Oxford University, a post he held until 1974, when he returned to Berkeley, where he again became chairman of the music department, from 1991 until his retirement in 1994.
He based his first book, Opera as Drama (1956), for which he is best known to general readers, on a series of essays written for The Hudson Review beginning in 1948. Opera as Drama, which has been published in several languages and multiple editions, expresses Kerman's view that an opera's story is key and provides the basis for the structuring of both the librettist's text (which expresses the narrative) and the composer's music (which expresses the emotions in the story). For Kerman, the value of an opera as drama is undermined when there is a perceived disconnection between text and music. Among the operas Kerman discussed in the book was Puccini's Tosca which he controversially described as a "shabby little shocker." (Kerman's assessment echoed George Bernard Shaw's earlier description of Sardou's play La Tosca on which the opera was based as an "empty-headed turnip ghost of a cheap shocker.")
His doctoral thesis on Elizabethan madrigals was published in 1962 and was notable for contextualizing them in the preceding Italian madrigal tradition. He maintained an interest in the English madrigal composer William Byrd throughout his career, and wrote several influential monographs on his work. He also wrote several monographs and articles on Beethoven's works and with his wife, Vivian Kerman, wrote the widely used textbook, Listen, first published in 1972 and now in its 6th edition. In 1985 he published his history and critique of traditional musicology, Contemplating Music: Challenges to Musicology, which argued that the intellectual isolation of musical theorists and musicologists and their excessively positivistic approach had hampered the development of serious musical criticism. Described in The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians as "a defining moment in the field", the book has been credited as helping to shape a "new musicology" that is willing to engage with feminist theory, hermeneutics, queer studies, and post-structuralism.
From 1997 to 1998 Kerman held the Charles Eliot Norton Memorial Chair at Harvard University, where he gave a series of public lectures on the importance of approaching musical texts and performances via a "close reading" similar to that used in literary studies, a theme that was central to many of his writings. The Norton lectures were published in 1998 as Concerto Conversations. Kerman has written regularly for The New York Review of Books since 1977 and was a founding editor of the journal, 19th Century Music. Critical essays written by Kerman from the late 1950s to the early 1990s are collected in his 1994 book, Write All These Down, which takes its title from a phrase in one of William Byrd's songs. Joseph Kerman was elected Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in 1972, Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1973, and Fellow of the American Philosophical Society in 2001. He also received ASCAP's Deems Taylor Award for excellence in writing on music in 1981 and 1995, and the Otto Kinkeldey Award from the American Musicological Society for an outstanding work of musicological scholarship in 1970 and 1981.
- Opera as Drama (1956)
- The Elizabethan Madrigal (1962)
- The Beethoven Quartets (1967)
- The Kafka Sketchbook (1970)
- The Masses and Motets of William Byrd (1980)
- The New Grove Beethoven (1983) (with Alan Tyson)
- Contemplating Music: Challenges to Musicology (1985) (UK title: Musicology)
- Write All These Down: Essays on Music (1994)
- Concerto Conversations (1998)
- The Art of Fugue: Bach Fugues for Keyboard, 1715-1750 (2005)
- Opera and the Morbidity of Music (2008)
Notes and references
- Colby (1991) p. 481
- Kernan (1994) p. ix
- Pratt (2009) p. 74
- Kerman (2005) p. 205; Nicassio (2002) p. 311; Tambling (1994) p. 16; Evans (1999) p. 56; Wingell and Herzog (2001) p. 169
- Budden (2005), p. 181
- Harvard University Gazette (May 22, 1997)
- Kerman, Tomlinson, and Kerman (2007)
- See for example: Brett in The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians; Alperson (1998) p. 156; and the Harvard University Gazette (May 22, 1997)
- Lorraine (December 1995), pp. 505–507
- Rothstein (October 30, 1999)
- Cummings (2003) p. 295
- Alperson, Philip, Musical Worlds: New Directions in the Philosophy of Music. Penn State Press, 1998. ISBN 0-271-01769-4
- Brett, Philip. "Kerman, Joseph (Wilfred)", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (accessed 7 September 2010), grovemusic.com (subscription access).
- Budden, Julian (2005). Puccini: His Life and Works. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195179749
- Colby, Vineta, World Authors, 1980-1985, H.W. Wilson Co. (1991). ISBN 0-8242-0797-1
- Cummings, David, "Kerman, Joseph (Wilfred)", International Who's Who of Authors and Writers. Routledge, 2003, pp. 294–95. ISBN 1-85743-179-0
- Evans, David Trevor, Phantasmagoria: A Sociology of Opera. Ashgate, 1999. ISBN 1-85742-209-0
- Harvard University Gazette, "Norton Lectures To Be Delivered by Musicologist", May 22, 1997
- Kerman, Joseph, Write All These Down: Essays on Music. Berleley and Los Angeles: University of California Press (1994). ISBN 0-520-08355-5
- Kerman, Joseph, Opera as Drama. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press (2005, first published New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956). ISBN 0-520-24692-6
- Kerman, Joseph; Tomlinson, Gary; and Kerman, Vivian, Listen (6th edition), Bedford/St. Martin's, 2007. ISBN 0-312-43419-7
- Lorraine, Renee Cox, "Write All These Down: Essays on Music by Joseph Kerman" (review), Notes, Second Series, Vol. 52, No. 2 (December 1995), pp. 505–507.
- Nicassio, Susan Vandiver, Tosca's Rome: The Play and the Opera in Historical Perspective. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. ISBN 0-226-57972-7
- Pratt, Scott L., "Opera as Experience", The Journal of Aesthetic Education, Volume 43, Number 4, Winter 2009, pp. 74–87
- Rothstein, Edward, "The Concerto as a Metaphor for the Individual in Society", New York Times, October 30, 1999
- Tambling, Jeremy, A Night in at the Opera: Media Representations of Opera. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-86196-466-7
- Wingell, Richard and Herzog, Silvia, Introduction to Research in Music. Prentice Hall, 2001. ISBN 0-13-014332-4
- Joseph Kerman, Professor Emeritus, Musicology, Department of Music, University of California, Berkeley
- Joseph Kerman on WorldCat
- Erich Leinsdorf, "Culture and Musical Thinking" (review of Kerman's Contemplating Music: Challenges to Musicology), New York Times, May 26, 1985