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Although his vigorous interdisciplinary perspective was unique in music scholarship of his time, I will show that his approach was firmly anchored in a wider trend in East German cultural theory in the 1960s and 1970s.
Inspired by the work of East German philosophers and scientists, he developed a paradigm of historical-materialist musicology and music anthropology that combined the teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels with modern interdisciplinary research fields such as cybernetics, semiotics and bioacoustics.
However, the process of de-Stalinization of the 1960s allowed for new (and partially Western) intellectual influences to form symbiotic relations with the principles of Marxism and, so-called, Marxism-Leninism.
The person who did the most to develop the potential of such a synthesis in the field of musicology was the Austrian musicologist Georg Knepler.
The essay resituates Knepler’s work and ideas in the context of twentieth-century debates about the aims and assumptions of Marxist and critical aesthetics and revisits previous interpretations of his relationship to New Musicology.
At the center of the discussion is Knepler’s notion of music as an evolving system of communication linked on the one hand with social and material conditions, and on the other with biological and anthropological universals.