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David Josephson

Phone: +1 401-863-3948
Phone 2: +1 401-863-3234

My current research examines the forced emigration of musicians and music scholars from Nazi and Fascist Europe, 1933-1945. I have completed a biography on one such scholar, the musicologist Kathi Meyer-Baer, and published four major articles on various facets of the subject. I have begun a second book about two extraordinary organizations that helped émigré music scholars re-establish themselves and their careers in the United Kingdom and the United States.


David Josephson received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in music from Columbia, where he also directed the Concert Band for three years and helped edit the journal Current Musicology. He has taught at Brown since 1972, where he founded and directed the Brown Early Music Group and chaired the Music Department in 1979-1985. As chairman he built the Orwig Music Library, initiated an artists-in-residence program around a campus-based string quartet, supported creation of a jazz program, and brought Brown its first professional music theorist. He is author of a biography of the German-born American scholar Kathi Meyer-Baer (2010), John Taverner: Tudor Composer (Ann Arbor/London, 1979), Conversations with Ella Grainger (Music Monograph No. 1, Grainger Society Journal, 1993), and numerous articles and review-essays on the musical emigration from Nazi Europe, the composer/pianist Percy Grainger, and Taverner. He teaches courses on Baroque and Classic music, Mozart and Beethoven, conductors and conducting, the culture of death in 19th-century Europe, 19th-century religious music, the sociology of 20th-century music, and the European musical emigration of the 1930s.


My current research examines the forced emigration of musicians and music scholars from Nazi and Fascist Europe from 1933 to 1945. It began with the assembly of a comprehensive database. The flight of Europe's music had an overwhelming impact on the transmission of a great musical tradition from Europe to America. The forced emigration redefined the terms of the production, performance, and dissemination of that tradition and redrew the musical landscape of the societies that provided its refuge, most notably the United States. Of course, musicians constituted only one group in a vast migration, but the classical tradition they brought holds a special place in western culture. The transplantation of that tradition within one decade overwhelmed the American musical scene; no significant college, conservatory, university, opera house, concert hall, concert agency, or music publisher was left untouched. The impact was felt in every movie house in the nation. Not even jazz remained immune; Blue Note, the record company that arguably did more to disseminate jazz in the 1940s than any other, was the project of two émigrés. Two areas where the émigré influence counted less were Broadway and the synagogue, though even here they made their influence felt.

The prestige of the immigrant musicians would have guaranteed their impact on music in America, even if had they not taught a generation of eminent students. But most of them did teach, whether by habit or necessity, exerting enormous influence as pedagogues, and some went on to create music schools and summer festivals. Less visible but no less significant was the impact of the hundreds of lesser musicians who found work in metropolitan and provincial opera houses and orchestras, in concert agencies, in high schools and settlement schools, in conservatories and colleges. Quietly, unrecognized outside their communities, these people grafted their culture onto America's.

While the émigré impact was obvious, assessing their impact is another matter. To simply assert that that migration was for the good of music in America and leave it at that is to read history backwards, from the point of view of the victors. On the other hand, to assert that that movement stifled the development of a native American music is to retreat into an isolationist fantasy. For all the good the migration produced, there was also a cost, and the balance sheet remains to be drawn up.

American musicology has followed a similar path. A fledgling discipline from the founding of The Musical Quarterly in 1915 until the arrival of the first refugees, it cast a bold amateur net across the European continent, south to Latin America, and along the Pacific and Indian Ocean rims. By 1950 the émigrés had established musicology as a profession in American research universities; but they had narrowed its focus, concentrating on the Central European tradition they had brought with them and studying it exclusively in terms of philology and style analysis. The critical editions that sit in the stacks of our research libraries bear silent witness to their program. The émigré model remained dominant into the 1980s, long after the passing of their generation, thanks to the teachings and writings of their American students. Only in the past two decades have alternative critical models emerged, and with them acceptance of world and popular American repertories as legitimate subjects of scholarly investigation.

Since tracing and evaluating the impact of the émigrés on the culture and production of American music is a social study built on personal stories, so too is the impact of America on the émigrés. Who adapted successfully to America, and on what terms? Who did not? Although we find many successes and signal failures, it is the gray area in between failure and success that is most instructive, particularly when considering those musicians who did well but never managed a successful personal transition, retaining instead their European identities and predilections. Many stayed in the United States, usually for financial and family reasons, while others returned to Europe, either for good or for long regular visits, after the war's rubble began to clear.

Adaptation was related to personal factors, among them a person's age, personality, fluency in English, and, in the cases of performers and composers, their familiarity to American audiences and the influence of American publishers and agents. Here individual narratives play a vital role, and the canvas is a sweeping one. There are stories of every stripe, ranging from the inspiring to the heartbreaking, many of them buried in archives, obscure journals, newspapers, and memoirs.

I am planning two books on focused aspects of this general subject. The first is a biography, much of which I have now written, of Kathi Meyer-Baer, the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in musicology (Leipzig 1915). Unable to find a position in the German academic world as a woman and a Jew, she earned a living as a music journalist in the 1920s, published as an independent scholar, and managed the largest private music library on the continent. In 1938 she fled with her husband and child to France, then to the United States two years later, where she encountered many of the same professional hurdles she had found in Europe. Nevertheless, she produced a large and varied output of books and articles, and maintained a lively presence in the American musicological community. A biography is long overdue. The second book, the research for which is also largely completed, will be an account of the involvement of the two great American and British academic rescue committees of the 1930s in helping émigré music scholars establish themselves in their host countries.


Trustee, International Percy Grainger Society, 1977-97
First Vice-president, International Percy Grainger Society, 1992-95


American Musicological Society


I teach an introduction to music history and literature; a survey of 17th- and 18th-century European music (Monteverdi to Beethoven) for music concentrators; life-and-works courses on Mozart and Beethoven; and seminars on conductors and interpretation, the musical treatment of death in the 19th century, the displacement of Europe's music and musicians in the 1930s, and sacred music from Handel to Elgar. Other recent courses include one co-taught with Rose Rosengard Subotnik on thematically-related theater works of Sondheim and operas; a sociology of 20th-century music; and readings in contemporary musicology.

Funded Research

Faculty summer stipend, Brown University, 1973-74
Research fellowship, Howard Foundation, 1977-78
Research fellowship, University of Melbourne, Summer 1978

Curriculum Vitae

Download David Josephson's Curriculum Vitae in PDF Format