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News & Press: In Memoriam

Bruno Nettl, 1930-2020

Tuesday, February 4, 2020   (0 Comments)

Bruno Nettl, 89, of Champaign, beloved husband, father, grandfather, scholar, teacher, and mentor to students and colleagues around the world, passed away on January 15, 2020. Nettl was a musicologist and anthropologist who specialized in the field ethnomusicology, which he taught at the University of Illinois from 1964 to 2011. He was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, on March 14, 1930. His parents, Paul Nettl, a distinguished music historian and Gertrude (nee Hutter) Nettl, a pianist and piano teacher, both of Jewish background, had to leave Europe to escape the Nazis, and settled first in Princeton, New Jersey. To escape the Holocaust, other members of his family immigrated to Australia, Israel, England, and India; but many of his other relatives perished in the camps.

Bruno Nettl's family became U.S. citizens in 1945. He attended schools in Princeton and in Bloomington, Indiana, becoming a student at Indiana University and receiving a PhD there in 1953. He later also studied librarianship at the University of Michigan. From 1953 to 1964 he was on the faculty of Wayne State University, then moving to Champaign-Urbana, where he served on the faculty until 1992, continuing his teaching and research part-time for several more years. With his family, he spent two years teaching at the University of Kiel, Germany, a year doing field research in Tehran, Iran, and a half-year in Madras (now Chennai), India. He was fascinated by the diversity of the world's musics, taught to make them known, and developed theories to account for the musical behavior of the world's cultures.

While a student at Indiana University, he met the love of his life, the former Wanda Maria White, an art student from Columbus, Indiana, and they married in 1952. She survives. They had two children, Rebecca Nettl-Fiol (Stephen Fiol) and Gloria Roubal (Peter Roubal), both of Champaign, and grandchildren Natalie Fiol (of Champaign), Shareen Vogel (of Eugene, Oregon) and Stefan Fiol (of Cincinnati, Ohio), as well as great-grandchildren Louis and Elian Vogel, Amaya Fiol, and Olykai Brownridge-Fiol. Also surviving are stepbrother Robert von Gutfeld, of New York City and stepsister Gabrielle Rosenfeld of Los Angeles, and a cousin, Lotte Mulligan, of Melbourne, Australia, as well as other relatives in Brisbane, Australia, and in Velp, Netherlands.

Nettl was a devoted scholar who did field research among the Blackfoot people of Montana, in Iran, and in Southern India. He was one of a small number of people who established the then new field of ethnomusicology in American universities, and he was the author or co-author of over 100 scholarly articles and over twenty books, the best known of which were "The Study of Ethnomusicology" (3rd edition 2015), "Heartland Excursions" (1995—an anthropological analysis of university schools of music), and "Nettl's Elephant" (2010, essays on the history of his field)—all published by the University of Illinois Press. He was one of the founders of the Society for Ethnomusicology, served as its president and as editor of its journal. He was widely recognized for his accomplishments, receiving honorary doctorates from the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, Carleton College, and Kenyon College. At the University of Illinois, he was a "Senior University Scholar" (1987–90), he was appointed twice an associate of the Center for Advanced Study, and served as chair of the Division of Musicology in the School of Music for twelve years. In 1986, his Alma Mater, Indiana University, awarded him the title "Distinguished Alumnus," and he was the recipient of the Koizumi Prize, given annually to one of the world's outstanding ethnomusicologists, and he was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

An enthusiastic teacher, Dr. Nettl introduced the field of ethnomusicology at Illinois and built a program that eventually was served by a half dozen faculty, considered one of the national leaders. He taught courses on world music, Native American music, music of the Middle East, folk music, musical improvisation, and the music of his homeland in the Czech Republic. He was the advisor of over forty dissertations, and he was inordinately proud of the achievements of his students, some of whom became distinguished authors and teachers at institutions such as Harvard, UCLA, the Universities of Chicago, Texas, and Washington. Nettl also held visiting professorships and titled chairs at a number of institutions, including Harvard, the Universities of Chicago, Washington, and Louisville, Colorado College and Carleton College. Late in life he resumed contact with scholars in his original home, and taught at Charles University of Prague, Czech Republic, where his father had taught about seventy years earlier. In 2013 he published a book titled "Becoming an Ethnomusicologist" which has lengthy essays about people by whom he was influenced, significantly including his parents.

Bruno Nettl was a person of few hobbies. He was greatly devoted to the members of his family, enjoying frequent gatherings, and encouraging their careers as professionals in the arts. He considered it a special blessing that his daughters, with their families, remain living in Champaign. He enjoyed going to concerts and operas, played in low-stakes poker games, and did a bit of baking and preparation of sweets, particularly marzipan, with his wife Wanda. He liked to write humorous verses for friends and family, for birthdays and holiday occasions, and for his eightieth birthday he published an anthology of these titled "Perverse at Eighty." Together with his wife, Wanda, he was for decades an addict of the New York Times crossword puzzles. He often said that he felt that he had been, throughout his life, extraordinarily fortunate.

UPDATE: The memorial service for Bruno Nettl that was previously scheduled for Sunday, May 10 has been canceled. It will be rescheduled.