Tullia Magrini



  Archons of Salonika, all, small and great,
My son mounted on a horse to go to war,
He carries lutes and instruments, instruments of all types,
And where he stops, my son plays the instruments,
The sky resonates, the earth moves and all the world trembles

When these lines of from a Cretan rizitiko concluded Tullia Magrini’s 2000 essay, “Manhood and Music in Western Crete: Contemplating Death” (Ethnomusicology 44, 3 (2000): 429-60), she had herself begun to contemplate the path along which her life of intensive engagement with the ways in which life and death in the Mediterranean enter into counterpoint was beginning to lead her. The contemplation of death that resonates through rizitika do not make them songs of death or even about death, though its images and its topoï permeate these songs marked by the performance of manhood. In Magrini’s sensitive sounding of the rizitiko it instead becomes a song that celebrates the ways in which singing practice synthesizes all that gives life to performance and performance to life: “ … the image of death, the value of friendship and alliance, the virtue of courage understood as risk-defying, the ability to coordinate in a collective performance, skill in improvisation, and resorting to irony as a resource of the individual” (ibid.: 430).

How richly Tullia’s rizitika now give voice to her own celebration of life as an ethnomusicologist. How profoundly they ask us to her contemplate the ways in which "the sky resonates" at her own passing on 24 July 2005, just before midnight, when one day was passing to the next.

It is surely not entirely ironic that the news of Tullia’s death reached most of us through the electronic media that had allowed her so eloquently to reach out to the world. In the course of some three decades as a scholar—she had taken degrees in piano (1972) and composition (1975), and in the social sciences (1973), all at conservatories and universities in Bologna—Tullia had seized upon the transformative powers of electronic communication and the ways they enhance the representation of the musics we encounter as ethnomusicologists. In the studies of Cretan lyrical song that were fundamental to her early research, she postulated the occurrence of “modal mobility,” whereby she interpreted vocal performance as a matrix for the expression of a broad field of human activities (see, e.g., her second book, Vi do la buonasera, Clueb 1982). Throughout the 1980s, as she expanded her interests into other geographic regions, notably Italy and Bali, and to include other domains of music making, particularly drama and gender, Tullia Magrini was clearly seeking ways to combine music and its electronic representation in new forms of “modal mobility.”

Tullia’s network grew and grew, it reached out as did she, stretching across the many worlds of music she wanted us all to experience. The network had practical dimensions in the journals she founded and edited, especially the online journal Music and Anthropology, and it was realized through the metaphors she employed in her writing, perhaps most extensively in the title of one of her final books, Universi sonori: Introduzione all’etnomusicologia (The Universe of Sound: Introduction to Ethnomusicology), Einaudi 2002. During the years of her illness that network drew the world closer to her, and in the wake of her death it was that network that drew her innumerable friends and colleagues to her.

As a scholar, Tullia Magrini insisted always on connecting music making close to home with that elsewhere in the world. Her beloved Italy never ceased being a primary laboratory for her fieldwork and for laying the groundwork for some of her most sweeping theoretical considerations. Italy in all its diversity, from its encounter with modernity in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna around Bologna, to its realization of ritual in the southern regions of Calabria, where she traveled regularly for holidays that mixed the professional and the personal, emerges as a microcosm in her projects and publications. She was careful always to balance documentation projects—recorded studies of Holy Week processions, or the marvelous films of the dramatic productions of the Maggio—with organizational undertakings—the planning of an international conference in Venice or Bari, and the tireless participation in musical and social scientific meetings, establishing the types of connections and inspiring the forms of collegiality that breathed new life into Italian ethnomusicology from the 1980s until the time of her death.

The impressive range of Tullia Magrini’s scholarly achievements was unquestionably a result of her passion for collaboration. Ironically, one might even say, her collaborative spirit was also highly personal. So often, she began to formulate a new idea for a conference or a collective of scholars, and then she would embark on a journey to find others to join them, at once charming and inspiring them to join her for a new challenge. I remember clearly the moment I met her, at the 1989 ICTM meeting in Schladming, Austria, when she pulled me aside, quickly dispensing with introductions in order to get on with the business of instituting the ICTM Study Group on the “Anthropology of Music in Mediterranean Cultures.” The history of that Study Group itself, moreover, reveals much about the ways in which Tullia succeeded as an institution builder and as an inspiration for ethnomusicologists around the world. In 1992, it began meeting every three years in Venice, with conferences and publications generously supported by the Fondazione Levi. Each conference strove to bring together Italian and international scholars, and each theme depended on an extraordinary level of interdisciplinarity. As a collective, with Tullia undertaking the editorial spadework and motivating the interaction with the Fondazione Levi, the Study Group generated a steady stream of publications, some in its own online journal, Music and Anthropology (coedited by Martin Stokes), and much in special volumes, from the Antropologia musicale e culture mediterranee (Il mulino 1993) to a special issue of Ethnomusicology OnLine (coedited with Karl Signell, 1997) to Music and Gender: Perspectives from the Mediterranean (University of Chicago Press 2003). At the time of her death, Tullia remained dedicated to the activities of the Study Group, devoting herself to the publication of work on the Anthropology of Music in the Mediterranean from the meeting of June 2004 in Venice.

The measure of a scholar’s reach and influence must also include her commitment to pedagogy and the inspiration of a new generation. For a generation of students at the University of Bologna, Tullia Magrini came to symbolize the transformation of a modern Italian ethnomusicology. Many of her international colleagues—I count myself among them—had the opportunity to experience her interaction with students at Bologna first hand. I remember well how, as a visiting lecturer 1996, teaching a block seminar on Diaspora in the Mediterranean, I participated in the intensive discussions and conversations with her students. On one hand, typical for Bologna, my lectures and seminars were filled with far more students than one should expect in any seminar. On the other, these engaged students came regularly to my office hours, which I often shared with Tullia so that each one could work intimately on their own projects. It was my further great fortune to invite Tullia Magrini to the University of Chicago in 1999 as a Fulbright Guest Professor, where she was able to explore different pedagogical potentials and to expand her local community fully to North America.

To know Tullia was to experience an ethnomusicologist whose sense of scholarly community inevitably depended on personal dimensions. As an anthropologist of music she realized the ways in which the differences between researcher and researched, ethnomusicologist and music maker, were diminished by her very human presence. Of Tullia it would be impossible to say that she was ever alone in the field. So often, in Italy and abroad, she was joined by her husband, the distinguished music theorist, Loris Azzaroni, who survives her. So often, also in Italy and abroad, she was joined by those of us who responded to her inspiration and found new meaning in the sounds and scholarship that she disseminated so generously on the networks constituting her world. Our lives are so much richer for having known Tullia and having joined her along the routes forged by those networks.

Philip V. Bohlman
University of Chicago
President-Elect, Society for Ethnomusicology



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