Bruno Nettl was born in 1930 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, and emigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of nine, settling first in Princeton, New Jersey, and then in Bloomington, Indiana. He studied principally at Indiana University (PhD, 1953) and, after several years on the faculty of Wayne State University and the University of Kiel, Germany, has spent most of his career, since 1964, teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he is now professor emeritus of music and anthropology. 

Professor Nettl’s main research interests are ethnomusicological theory and method, music of Native American cultures, and music of the Middle East, especially Iran. He has done field work with the Blackfoot people of Montana, and in Iran, Israel, and India, and he has an interest in the music history and folk music of his native Czech Republic. Professor Nettl has been focusing in recent years on the study of improvisatory music, the understanding of musical change throughout the world, and especially the intellectual history of ethnomusicology. He has published many articles and more than a dozen books, the best known being The Study of Ethnomusicology (1983, 2nd ed. 2005), The Western Impact on World Music (1985), Blackfoot Musical Thought: Comparative Perspectives (1989), Heartland Excursions: Ethnomusicological Perspectives on Schools of Music (1995), and Encounters in Ethnomusicology (2002), a professional memoir. Certain of his books have been translated into French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Persian.

As a teacher, Professor Nettl gave courses on a large number of musicological and ethnomusicological subjects, including “Introduction to World Music,” “Music of the Middle East,” “Native American Music,” “Music of the Czech Lands,” “Anthropology of Music,” and seminars on improvisation, music and culture change, the history of musicology, and the interaction of Western and non-Western musics. He is the advisor of over 30 dissertations, and current faculty members at institutions such as Harvard, UCLA, University of Texas, University of Chicago, and Carleton, Colorado, and Smith Colleges.

Professor Nettl has received honorary doctorates from the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, Carleton College, and Kenyon College. He is an honorary member of the American Musicological Society and the Society for Ethnomusicology and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Professor Nettl has taught as visiting professor at Harvard, Northwestern, and the universities of Chicago, Minnesota, Washington, and Texas, among others, and served as Benedict distinguished professor of music at Carleton College. in recent years, he has published an edited collection (with coeditor Gabriel Solis), Musical Improvisation: Art, Education, and Society (2009), and is the author of Nettl’s Elephant: On the History of Ethnomusicology (2010). He continues teaching part time in the University of Illinois School of Music.

Professor Nettl has been married for over 60 years to Wanda, an artist. They have two daughters: the older one is a dancer, choreographer, and educator of dance, and the younger one is a singer-songwriter. His hobbies are baking Viennese cakes and making marzipan with his wife, low-stakes poker games, and writing light verse for family and friends.

The 2014 Charles Homer Haskins Prize Lecture