Joseph Salem

Joseph Salem
Associate Professor, Graduate Advisor
Music History, Musicology, Theory

BMus (Texas at Austin), MA (Wisconsin-Madison), MA, MPhil, PhD (Yale)

Area of expertise

Music History, Musicology, Theory

Areas of research

With backgrounds in music theory, performance, and musicology, my research interests encompass a broad spectrum of topics, including musical semiotics, sketch studies, intertextuality in music, the critical exegesis of composer’s writings and works, the sociology of music, the analysis of non-noted music, and sound studies. I have published extensively on the music of Pierre Boulez, but previous research includes opera studies on Cavalli, Rameau, and Verdi, as well as studies in common-practice musical form and semiotics. Currently, I have an SSHRC Insight Grant to fund the completion of an archival project at the Paul Sacher Stiftung on the collection 12 Hommages à Paul Sacher, which includes works composed by Beck, Berio, Boulez, Britten, Dutilleux, Fortner, Ginestera, Halffter, Henze, Holliger, Huber, and Lutosławski. I also have a back-burner project on the rock band The National which focuses on relationships between lyrics, popular song structures, and sociological changes related to the adoption of smart phones and social media. My work is featured in several flagship journals, including the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Music Theory Spectrum, Twentieth-Century Music, the Journal of Music Theory (JMT), and Contemporary Music Review, as well as in books from Oxford, Cambridge, Wesleyan, and Ashgate presses. As a pianist, I maintain a connection with piano repertoires from 1700 through the early 1900s.


I routinely advise graduate-level work across a wide variety of subjects spanning from Enlightenment to contemporary musical practices. My strongest areas of expertise are mid-century avant-garde composition, history of music theory and aesthetics, and formal analysis, although I also maintain an interest in sound studies.  I have a soft spot for opera and voice studies, including UVic’s own graduate voice program and new Staged Voice emphasis program with Pacific Opera Victoria.  I also have a fondness for jazz and experimental electronic music and have advised theses on both.  I’m proud to know students of mine have gone on to pursue PhDs at institutions such as Columbia University, Indiana University, McGill, Oxford, and U. Toronto.

Courses taught at UVic

  • MUS 534, Advanced Research Forum: Musicology
  • MUS 533, Graduate Forum in Musicology
  • MUS 531/2, Old and New: Intertextuality and Musical Reference in the Modern Era
  • MUS 532, History of Opera: Practice and Performance
  • MUS 532, Sound Studies and The History of Electronic Music
  • MUS 531, Serialism as Style, Technique, and Aesthetic
  • MUS 531, Case Studies in the History of Music Theory
  • MUS 532, Old and New: Intertextuality and Musical Reference in the Modern Era
  • MUS 503, Introduction to Music Bibliography and Methodology
  • MUS 502, Musical Aesthetics and the Theory of Criticism (History of Music Theory)
  • MUS 499, Graduating Projects in Music History
  • MUS 323/391, Forms and Genres in Music: The Twentieth Century String Quartet
  • MUS 323/391/532, Modes of Listening at the Intersection of Sound Studies and Music
  • MUS 301B, Language of Music (Music Theory VI), 1945-Present
  • MUS 220B, Music History IV, 1900-Present
  • MUS 220A, Music History III, 1750-1900

Brief biography

I was born and raised in Cincinnati, OH, and studied at the University of Cincinnati CCM Preparatory Department, where I had the privilege of working with members of the illustrious studios of Frank Weinstock and William Black. After completing studies in piano performance at the University of Texas at Austin (alongside Betty Mallard, Tim Lovelace, and Esther Wang), I went on to study music theory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with theses on J-P Rameau and Chopin. I began Yale as a music theorist, but later transitioned music history. After receiving a Fulbright scholarship and a Paul Sacher Stiftung Scholarship, I completed over 14 months of archival work in Switzerland on the music of Boulez, and then split my time between New Haven and New York City. I was appointed at UVic in 2015 after teaching a year at Yale. I am an avid gym-goer, love to cook, and encourage social hours with my graduate students whenever possible.

Selected publications

  • Pierre Boulez: The Formative Years. Oxford University Press, 2023.
  • “Challenging Historiographic Assumptions: Opening up Serialism with Pierre Boulez’s Don.” Twentieth-Century Music1: 1-28.
  • “Teasing the Ever-Expanding Sonnet from Pierre Boulez’s Musical Poetics.” Music Theory Spectrum 41 (2)1-27.
  • Boulez’s Künstlerroman: Using blocs sonoresto Overcome Anxieties and Influence in Le Marteau sans maître.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 71 (1): 109-154.
  • “The Integrity of Pierre Boulez’s First Forays in Integral Serialism.” Contemporary Music Review 5: 337-361, DOI: 10.1080/07494467.2017.1401366
  • “Serial Processes, Agency and Improvisation.” In Boulez Studies. Ed. Edward Campbell and Peter O’Hagan, 221-245 (Cambridge UP).
  • “Engineering Social Space: The ’Silent’ Structures of Alan Bishop’s Radio Palestine.” In Punk Ethnography: Artists and Scholars Listen to Sublime Frequencies. Ed. Michael E. Veal and E. Tammy Kim, 237-264 (Wesleyan UP).
  • “How Necessity Fueled Invention in Boulez’s L’Orestie.” Mitteilungen der Paul Sacher Stiftung28: 23-29.
  • Review Article: Jonathan Goldman, The Musical Language of Pierre Boulez(Cambridge UP, 2011). Journal of Music Theory 2: 433-49.
  • Review: Edward Campbell, BoulezMusic and Philosophy(Cambridge UP, 2010). voiceXchange1: 53-9.